Teach Us to Want

2015 RightNow Conference


Most people are asking two basic questions about prayer: How does it work? and How can I get better at it? In this 37-minute session from the 2015 RightNow Conference, Jen Pollock Michel explores the Lord’s Prayer and other biblical prayers to address the role of desire, even disappointment, in holy, human conversation with God.

Jen Pollock Michel is a speaker and the author of Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition and the Life of Faith, Christianity Today's 2015 Book of the Year.

As you watch this session, take notes and write down thoughts about how this session can impact the way you pray. 


What role does desire have in the things you pray for? When do you tend to pray for specifics and when do you tend to pray “your will be done”?
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2 Samuel 12:15-25 (ESV)

15Then Nathan went to his house.

David’s Child Dies

And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick.16David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground.17And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them.18On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us. How then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.”19But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.”20Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate.21Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.”22He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’23But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

Solomon’s Birth

24Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the Lord loved him25and sent a message by Nathan the prophet. So he called his name Jedidiah, because of the Lord.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Jen talked about 4 lessons on how to pray both humanly and holy prayers illustrated in this passage of Scripture as well as other biblical prayers.
  1. We pray best when we are most aware of our sin. 
  2. We pray best when we involve our bodies.
  3. We pray best when we pray our gut honest desires.
  4. We pray best when we remember God’s grace. 

David was praying for the life of his child who was born at the height of his moral failure. Jen reminded us of how David prayed boldly, knowing he deserved nothing. What does your prayer life look like when you have been confronted by your sin? How do you pray? Does that keep you from praying?
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Ephesians 3:14-19 (ESV)

Prayer for Spiritual Strength

14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,15from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,16that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,18may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Jen also talked about recovering the involvement of our bodies: bended knee=repentance, upturned palms=receiving, dancing=joy & celebration, laying prostrate=tragedy. What role does your body play in your spiritual practices?
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Genesis 18:23-32 (ESV)

23Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?24Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?25Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”26And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

27Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.28Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.”29Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.”30Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.”31He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.”32Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


1 Samuel 1:1-20 (ESV)

The Birth of Samuel

1There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite.2He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

3Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord.4On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters.5But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.6And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb.7So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat.8And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

9After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord.10She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.11And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

12As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth.13Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman.14And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.”15But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.16Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”17Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.”18And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.

19They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her.20And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Matthew 26:39 (ESV)

39And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Matthew 6:9-11 (ESV)

9 Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

10 Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread,

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



David’s prayer for the life of his child, Abraham’s prayers on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah, Hannah’s prayers for a son, Jesus' prayer for the cup of sacrifice to be removed, plus the very model Jesus gave us to pray show us that “to be human is to want. We are desiring creatures made in the image of a desiring God.” Jen acknowledged that prayer is risky business. We don’t deserve anything, we don’t have wisdom, we have experiences of praying for good and holy desires and not receiving.  

What risky prayer are you praying now? What are you afraid to pray for? When have you pleaded with God for a specific thing and it was not granted? Did that move you closer to God, or make you wary?
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Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)

6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Jen encouraged us to come like David and recognize how God is gracious. As you reflect on you “risky” prayer—answered or unanswered—write down times that God has been gracious to you. Can you—will you—surrender your specific, gut honest, risky to God’s gracious and sovereign hands?
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What will you take away from this session to implement in your own conversations with God? What will change in your prayer life?
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Romans 8:31-33 (ESV)

God’s Everlasting Love

31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?33Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



We are invited to pray desire-full prayers, not desire-less prayers knowing that God may not give us what we ask for. It is not a failed prayer. God’s sacrifice of His innocent Son for our lives shows that it is not about the outcome, it’s about restored relationship with God.  


Jen referred to Francis Chan’s RightNow Conference session. You can find Rooted in Christ, Not Just Faking It here.

For information about the upcoming RightNow Conference, go to rightnowconference.org

For more from Jen about the role of desire in the Christian life, check out her RightNow Media Original Bible study, Teach Us To Want.