Can You Please Be Less Specific?

We have either heard or spoken the phrase, “Can you please be more specific?”  We often need more details before making any kind of decision.  Vagueness is not welcome.  We have even moved this need for details into our prayer life.  Over the past 30 years I’ve been told at least 100 times, if not more, “Be specific in your prayers.  Tell God exactly what you want.”

I’ve learned to accept this wisdom and don’t intend on refuting it, but I have come across some interesting counter arguments for being specific.  In this posting I use the prayers and commands of Jesus as an example of why it sometimes pays to be general and not specific.

If anyone could be specific and declare details in His prayer it would be Jesus, who unquestionably knew more about the Father than any other living soul.  And yet, His recorded prayers are very general in nature.  Let me start with a well-known example, the Lord’s Prayer.

There are a couple versions of this prayer, but I will only reference the account given in Luke chapter 11.  In this account He was teaching His disciples how to pray.  Although, we have never really noticed it, there are very general statements given in this account of how to pray.  The first example is the phrase ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”  Well, this is as general a request as one can make.  One might as well say, “Peace on earth.”  Which will are we talking about?  And when will this take place?  Is this the general will of God, or is this the will that concerns each individual life?  Is it the will that drives each nation?

The next phrase of this prayer is also pretty general – “Give us day by day our daily bread.”  Which bread?  Does that include meat, too, or just bread?  Can I have bread and not work, or is work required?  Where will this bread come from?  We have no specific details.

“And forgive us our sins” – is the next phrase.  Which sins?  All sins?  Can we actually speak a general forgiveness phrase and have all sins wiped out, or do we need to confess them one by one?  Any way you want to look at it, this is pretty general and not specific.

Understand me here.  I’m not knocking the Lord’s Prayer.  No, not at all.  It is one of the most beautiful prayers in the world.  What I’m knocking is our restricted view that our prayers have to be specific and cannot be general.

Now on to another example.  We know that Jesus arrived at Lazarus’ tomb and demanded that the stone be taken away.  By this time Lazarus had been dead four days.  We do not know what Lazarus died of, but he was sick of some disease or ailment before he died.  Could have been a heart attack, could have been cancer.  Could have been some other fatal ailment.  Whatever Lazarus died of, it was severe enough to take his life.  Why is this important?  It is important because of what Jesus said.  “Lazarus come forth”…  Wrapped up in this very general statement is the following processes that had to occur in order for Lazarus to walk out of the tomb:

  1. Life had to come back into Lazarus’ body.
  2. Organs that had failed had to be regenerated.
  3. The disease or sickness that caused him to die had to be eliminated, and its damage reversed.
  4. The blood which had long since died after 4 days in the grave had to be regenerated.
  5. The brain which had long since been starved of oxygen and suffered permanent damage, had to be restored.

All of this in the single three words – “Lazarus come forth”…

If you will take careful note, this is the repeated pattern in Jesus’ life and the commands he issued, whether it was for resurrection, or healing.

Now at this point you might argue that this is Jesus we are talking about, and He was different.  Yes, He was different, but He made the statement we could do the same things He did.  In fact, it is recorded in the Book of Acts that Peter’s shadow performed healings on those he passed by.  Apparently, no prayer was even required.

Now before some of you go ballistic on me, I see no significant problem with being specific in our prayers.  But I do wonder if maybe we miss the forest for being too close to the trees.  In other words, while we are spending so much time being specific in our prayers is it possible we are missing the mark?

Let me illustrate…

A lady tells me to pray that she be healed of her pain in her side that she believes is her appendix.  While I’m praying for her to be healed of her afflicted appendix, she really has a stomach ulcer.  How is this really going to happen?  I suppose God understands our confusion and turns a prayer for an appendix into a prayer for an ulcer.  In fact, what we should be praying for is that she be healed of ‘her affliction’ whatever that may be.

I know this posting goes against most of what we have been taught, and have taught, for a number of years.  But, I only ask that you review the prayers and proclamations of Jesus to see when He made a general statement, and when He was specific.  I think you will find that in most cases He spoke in fairly general terms.  When He said, “Peace, be still” to the winds and waves, He didn’t specify what peace and still were.  Does that mean winds of 5mph, or 0 mph?  Does that mean that all waves ceased, or just waves of a certain size?  In every view of this phrase it was general in nature, but it accomplished it’s purpose.

Ok, here is my final thought….

One further reason why general prayers are ok —  lies in the simple fact we do not always know all the details of a particular situation.  If we don’t know all the details we could easily pray amiss if we try to be too specific.  You can only be specific when you know exactly what you are talking or praying about.  But, in most cases we don’t know all the details, do we?

I started out my prayer life with the Lord speaking in general terms.  But, as I became more educated I was taught to be more specific.  And now, after many years, I’ve come full circle, and now speak to the Lord in general terms again.  I’m comfortable with this, and He is comfortable with this, for as the scripture plainly says, “he knows our needs even before we pray”…


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