I recently started reading The Vow: The True Events that Inspired the Movie. “The movie,” by the same name, is based on real-life events, though it has been rather substantially Holywoodised. The “true events” were events that unfolded in the life of Kim and Krickitt Carpenter in 1993. Kim and Krickitt were married for two months before a horrific car accident on Thanksgiving Eve hospitalised them both. Krickitt was given less than one percent chance of survival by her doctors. Even if she did survive, medical wisdom predicted that she would have severe, irreversible brain damage.

Krickitt’s major medical concerns after the accident were twofold. First, she had severe swelling of the brain. Her doctors informed her husband, Kim, that it would take at least 48 hours for the swelling to go down, but by that time the loss of blood and oxygen to the brain would have put her in a permanently vegetative state. The second problem, exacerbating the first, was low blood pressure. The swelling was already restricting blood flow and oxygen to the brain, and the low blood pressure made matters worse.

Kim and Krickitt were both believers. Given Krickitt’s condition and the dire medical diagnosis, Kim and the family were feeling increasingly hopeless. But at that point in the story, things changed. Kim writes,

Due to all the stress and drama of the past twenty-four hours, it took us awhile to remember that we weren’t really hopeless at all. We had forgotten that God’s miracles are a prayer away. We all knew that our prayers aren’t always answered the way we want, but we hadn’t even made the effort to ask God for what we wanted in an organized way.

Kim and a few friends went to the hospital’s chapel to pray. “We prayed specifically for the pressure on Krickitt’s brain to go down. We prayed for a miracle, asking God to relieve the pressure in time to save her.”

After twenty minutes in prayer, they went back to the ICU. They were astonished to see that the pressure on Krickitt’s brain was going down. The nurses were so surprised that they even called for a doctor to check the probe, but it was fine.

Their pastor arrived and they returned to the chapel to pray for her blood pressure. When they returned to the ICU, they found that her blood pressure was steadily rising.

As I read that, it struck me that that story illustrates perfectly one reason we don’t always see prayer answered as we would like: We don’t pray specifically enough. Kim Carpenter did not pray for his wife’s “healing”—at least not as vaguely as that. He prayed specifically for the two medical needs she had: that the swelling would reduce and her blood pressure would rise. And God answered wonderfully.

The Bible gives grand promises for prayer, but it is not always our experience that those promises are fulfilled. But perhaps the problem sometimes lies with us. Perhaps we are so general in our requests that we don’t even realise when God has answered.

For example, we might pray, “Lord, please bless me.” There is nothing wrong with asking for God’s blessing, but how do you want him to bless you? If you are not specific, is it not possible that you will in fact miss the blessing when it comes?

Of course, God knows what is in your heart and what you need, but he nevertheless invites us to bring our prayers to him.

Consider the account recorded in Mark 10:46–52. Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, called Jesus to have mercy on him. When Jesus addressed him, he asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” Only when he asked to receive his sight did Jesus heal him.

Now, ask yourself: Wasn’t it fairly obvious what Bartimaeus wanted? Why did Jesus ask? One reason, I think, was that Jesus wanted him to be specific. And no doubt Bartimaeus’s faith was strengthened all the more when he saw Jesus’ answer to his specific request.

The same principle can be seen in the story of the invalid in John 5. He lay beside a pool that was superstitiously renowned for healing, but when Jesus spoke to him, he asked, “Do you want to be healed?” (v. 6). Wasn’t it fairly obvious that the man did want to be healed? Why did Jesus ask? Again, I suspect that Jesus wanted the man to specifically express his wishes before they would be answered.

In both cases, Jesus knew the heart cry of the men involved, but in both cases he waited for them to specifically ask for what they wanted before he healed them.

The principle is sometimes abused by those who demand from God whatever they please with no thought whatsoever to what God’s will might be. On the other hand, there are those who are so misguidedly careful about praying for God’s will to be done that they neglect to tell him in prayer what they actually want.

There is a lesson to be learned here: We could all do better when it comes to specific prayer. Can you think of requests that you have lifted to God that perhaps need to be lifted a little more specifically?

Recently, in our small group ministry, a young woman asked us to pray that she would find a job. She specifically asked us to pray that it would be a job close to her home as she does not own a vehicle, and that it would be something that she can fit into her schedule with relative ease so she can continue with her studies. We prayed that night, and no doubt group members continued praying for her throughout the week.

When we sat down for our time of prayer the following week, she offered praise that God had given her employment fitting precisely those requests that she had asked us to take to him.

We never want to presume upon God. We never want to demand that he cater to our will. At the same time, he does invite us to bring our requests to him—and he invites us to do so, I am convinced, in a specific manner. So let’s bring our requests before him specifically, stretching our faith, and ultimately giving him all the glory when he does far more abundantly than we could ever ask or think (Ephesians 3:20–21).