Most people, before their prayers are soaked in Scripture, simply bring their natural desires to God. In other words, they pray the way an unbeliever would pray who is convinced that God might give him what he wants: health, a better job, safe journeys, a prosperous portfolio, successful children, plenty of food, a happy marriage, a car that works, a comfortable retirement, etc. None of these is evil. They’re just natural. You don’t have to be born again to want any of these. Desiring them– even from God– is no evidence of saving faith. So if these are all you pray for, there is a deep problem. Your desires have not yet been changed to put the glory of Christ at the center.
But when you saturate your mind with the Christ-exalting Word of God and turn it into prayer, your desires and your prayers become spiritual. That is, they are shaped by the Holy Spirit into God-centered, Christ-exalting prayers. The glory of Christ, and the name of God, and the spiritual well-being of people, and the delight you have in knowing Jesus– these become your dominant concerns and your constant requests. You will still pray for health and marriage and job and journeys, but now what you want to happen is that, in all these, Christ will be exalted. This changes the pattern and passion of your prayers. Your prayer for a journey is not merely that it will be safe, but that all along the way your joy would be in God and that He would shine through you. Your prayer for your job is not merely that it will be stable and peaceful and prosperous, but that it truly serves the needs of society and that in all your labor and all your relationships your joy in Christ and love for people would make a name for Jesus.
When I Don’t Desire God (165-166)
If you were to rise early every morning as an instance of self-denial, as a method of renouncing indulgence, as a means of redeeming your time and fitting your spirit for prayer, you would find mighty advantages from it. This method, though it seems such a small circumstance of life, would in all probability be a means of great piety. It would keep it constantly in your head that softness and idleness were to be avoided, that self-denial was a part of Christianity. It would teach you to exercise power over yourself, and make you able by degrees to renounce other pleasures and tempers that war against the soul…
But, above all, one certain benefit from this method you will be sure of having; it will best fit and prepare you for reception of the Holy Spirit. When you thus begin the day in a spirit of religion, renouncing sleep, because you are to renounce softness and redeem your time; this disposition, as it puts your heart into a good state so it will procure the assistance of the Holy Spirit; what is so planted and watered will certainly have an increase from God.
Quoted by John Piper in When I Don’t Desire God (160)
Prayer without meditation on the Word of God will disintegrate into humanistic spirituality. It will simply reflect our own fallen ideas and feelings– not God’s. And meditation, without the humility of desperate prayer, will create proud legalism or hopeless despair.
Without prayer, we will try to fulfill the Word in our own strength and think we are succeeding and so become proud Pharisees; or we will realize we are not succeeding and give up in despair. Those are the only alternatives for those who try to live the Word of God without the Spirit of God– that is, those who try to separate the discipline of meditation from the dependence of prayer.
When I Don’t Desire God (149)
Being more satisfied in God than in prosperity or the praise of man makes you willing to be persecuted for the sake of Christ. So it was said of the early Christians, “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34). That is what joy in God (not earthly security) produces. Therefore praying for such liberating joy in God is one of the most worshipful and loving things a person can do. And it is very dangerous.
Praying for joy is not the emotional pampering of a joyless people. It is preparation for sacrifice. What’s at stake in the fight for joy is the radiance of love flowing from the joy of blood-bought, soul-satisfied, Christ-exalting people. When Paul said to the Corinthians, “We work with you for your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24), he was not saying, “We pamper you.” He was saying, “We prepare you for radical, Christ-exalting sacrifices of love.”
When I Don’t Desire God (140)
The joy-producing effects of memorizing Scripture and having it in my head and heart are incalculable. The world and it’s God-ignoring, all-embracing secularism are pervasive. It invades my mind every day. What hope is there to have a mind filled with Christ except to have a mind filled with His Word? I know of no alternative.
When I Don’t Desire God (119)