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Sharing Our Faith Together

Prayer - What is our motive?

by Andy Cokayne 16 September 2020

James 4:2-3

You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

As explained previously, during ‘Lockdown’, like many others, I have been doing things I enjoy but normally have insufficient time for, one such thing is reading. One book I have found easy to read, yet challenging and informative, is by Pete Greig titled ‘God on Mute’. In it he offers various suggestions why God does not answer prayer, he points out that it is not exhaustive, and some are from personal experience.

In the letter of James 4 v 2-3, motives are questioned ‘You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.’ Very sturn words, but sometimes justified.

I guess everyone prays selfishly sometimes. I like the story about the ambitious mother who sidled up to Jesus one day and asked if her two boys, James and John, could have the top jobs in his coming kingdom! (Matthew 20 v 20-21) I can remember as a boy praying for a new bike, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted, so I advised God accordingly. I didn’t want a second hand one again, I wanted new, and with lots of gears. I remember being presented with this bike, it had gears. Well it had 3! I was disappointed! But nevertheless it became my pride and joy, and I rode it miles.

When our prayers over a period of time fail to bring any sort of breakthrough, we may need to ask whether we are really pursuing the Lord’s will in the Lord’s way or merely our own ambition. The apostle John puts it like this: ‘This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him’ 1 John 5 v14-15.

So if we are frustrated that our prayer is not being answered, perhaps we should honestly consider our motives. And if we are still not sure, then pray them through with Our Father, He understands us better than we know ourselves, but of course He cannot be fooled, so we need to be honest. But note also that Our Father encourages us to pray, and to look for answers. So we may be receiving answers to our prayers, not necessarily what we want, but perhaps what we need, because Our Father knows best. The quote that Pete uses in pages 295-6 of his book, puts it far better, and which I share below.

An unknown soldier of the American Civil War captured these priorities in a famous verse about the blessings of unanswered prayer:

I asked for strength that I might achieve;

He made me weak that I might obey.

I asked for wealth that I might do great things;

I was given grace that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy;

I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;

I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;

I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

I received nothing that I asked for, all that I hoped for.

My prayer was answered, I was most blessed.

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