I came across a comment by a Lutheran pastor who said that more spiritual formation takes place in the church basement than in the sanctuary. That's because, she said, there’s more honesty in the basement than in the sanctuary and honesty is the door to the soul which in turn is a prerequisite for God to do what God does: Remake and restore.
The other day a well intended acquaintance asked, out of the blue, ‘How can I pray for the work of God in your life?’
I initially, thought: ’Isn't that kind? However, you probably couldn’t handle an honest answer to that holy question, so I will offer you a holy answer, if for no other reason than to save you some embarrassment.’
Were I in a bad mood, and had I not believed that said acquaintance was well intended, I’d have likely have answered honestly with something like, ‘Where to begin? Well, you can pray that I’d be less of a a** h*** when I have to wait any line of any sort. Or, you can pray that I’d stop suffocating people with my with self righteous scrutiny. Or, you can pray that I’d stop despising all those smug, snarky millennials. Or, you can pray that I’d get off the couch more often and help my wife with household chores more often. Or, you can pray that I’d stop holding in contempt, the man who is intentionally trying to thwart a project I’ve invested a lot of blood, sweat and tears in and actually pray for him rather than gossip about him. Or, you can pray that I’d stop cutting people apart on twitter for their audacity to disagree with my enlightened opinion on how things should be. Or, you can pray that I’d stop hating people who dare to annoy me when I am driving. Or, you can pray that I’d stop making an idol out of Philadelphia sports teams, somehow believing that I need them to win to feel a little more important. Or, you can pray that I’d stop trying to punish, through a host of passive-aggressive means, those who have injured or angered me.'
My experience is that most people who ask such questions do so out of a sense of religious duty. It’s well intentioned, so far as it goes. The problem is that it doesn’t go very far, and that’s by design. They really don’t so much wanna know just how messed up my life is, and it’s because they know that they don’t know how to fix the self centered, self righteous mess that is so often, me. It’s not unlike trying to replace drum brakes on a car. If you can’t replace em, don’t touch em…and certainly don't attempt to remove them as it will only make matters worse.
So, it’s generally a wise policy, for the sake of all involved, to simply play it safe, (which is to say, ‘holy’) and brief. I typically reply with something like, ‘Please pray for my prayer life.’ While nothing significant has taken place, neither has any damage been done and, with some questions, that’s about as much as one can accomplish.