"Pray then like this: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread...'" (Matthew 6:9-11a ESV)
Many of us find that our our prayers often don't seem to rise above our own personal needs or immediate family concerns. We see that we're called to pray for the honor of God's name, the coming of Christ's kingdom, and that God's will would be done on earth... but daily bread may seem more real and practical. Besides, how does one measure the effectiveness of big prayers, like the advance of the gospel or the coming of his Kingdom?
I've been helped recently in praying for bigger things, things that relate to progress of God's Big Story on earth, or what theologians call "the history of redemption." Consider Revelation 8:3-4...
"And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel." (Cf. Rev. 5:8)
The "prayers of the saints" -- those words uttered to God in prayer meetings, prayer closets, nursing home rooms, prison cells, home groups, at breakfast nooks and bedsides -- are heard, presented, savored, and made a part of the Lord's sovereign activity in heaven, as he rules over the earth.
When we pray about matters that matter to God, we are participating in his work around the world. Prayer is a very real participation in the ongoing history of redemption. This is "kingdom-centered" praying, which in the Lord's instruction on prayer, comes before "daily bread" praying.
Our personal story, along with our family and church stories, all need to be embedded in God's much larger story. Praying for the honor and sanctity of God's name around the world, for the advance of his gospel into all the nations, for the coming of his Kingdom, and for the day of universal obedience -- these are not vague and far-off requests. They are very close to us in our identity as beloved children of the sovereign God. John calls them "prayers of the saints." Such prayer, as Tim Keller writes, will "give us relief from the melancholy burden of self-absorption.”
Indeed, prayer can give us a greater sphere of influence than our words and deeds alone. What we do and say around others has a limited circle of effect. But prayer, by contrast, can be involved in many events around the world: comfort for believers under trial, power for the proclamation of the gospel, judgment upon the forces that oppose the Lord, assurance for new believers, conviction upon the unrepentant, for conversions, for healing, perseverance, light, and strength to churches and believers we are yet to meet. (But one day will!)
By our lives we influence those around us. By prayer we share in God's activity in the world, and in history. In prayer we become partakers with God in his great work of redemption.