Making prayer about what God can do for me--my wants and needs, my anxieties and cares, my agendas and to-do lists--reveals that I am once again putting myself at the very center of things. The Bible calls this idolatry. Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion that man's heart is a perpetual factory of idols. The idols of my heart often reveal themselves in my spoken and unspoken prayers.
Derek Thomas in his helpful book on the Lord's Prayer called Praying the Saviour's Way gives some penetrating questions to analyze our prayers.
Are they worshipful?
Are they God-centered?
Are they focused on the kingdom of God?
Are they humble and not presumptive?
Do they reveal an increasing sense of our sinfulness?
Is their chief end to glorify God?
When I ask these questions about my prayers, they are too often sorely lacking. For example, many of my prayers become a series of medical reports. Prayers about health concerns are not wrong, of course. But without worship and adoration and praise and thanksgiving accompanying them, they become self-centered in an unhealthy way--as I'm praying for health! Derek Thomas comments:
The very sickness which solicits the prayer may well have been sent to make us focus on the Sender, that in our frailty we might acknowledge his sovereign purpose and worship him accordingly. "Some graces grow best in winter," wrote Samuel Rutherford, "and some prayers mature when life is bitter."
There is no better model for our prayers than the prayer Jesus taught his disciples:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.