A few weeks back we had a friend cancel a date because she was ill. Gracie was disappointed, but had a measure of concern in her voice asking: “Is she going to the doctor?” I said yes, and suggested we say a prayer for our friend. Gracie bowed her head and prayed: “Lord, please make her feel better!” A few days later we saw our friend who relayed her visit to the doctor. Gracie smiled and said: “OH! I prayed for you!” And our friend’s heart was touched. She knew the motivation of that prayer was a love for her.
The Lord has me focused lately on what motivates our hearts to pray and what results from that. He keeps bringing me back to Jesus’ instructions in the Sermon on the Mount.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go to your room, close the door and pray to your father who is unseen. Then your father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matt 6:5-8)
Jesus tells us that the motivation of our heart matters! The force and power of our prayer centers on why we are praying! Jesus warns us not to have the attitude of the Pharisees who want reputation for being “good” prayers. They think because of their deeds God will have to bless them, people will have to admire them. But Jesus says: When you pray go to your Father in Secret. Why? Because when you get ALONE with God it creates the opportunity for a different motivation. Keep in mind; however this is just an opportunity! Even when we get alone to pray with Him we bring in all our mess and poor motives.
There are a couple of ways we approach God in prayer that are wrongly motivated and the results are a lack of transformative power. What are these prayers of poor motivation?
~God is Your Boss. [i]This is the “works” based way of relating to Him. I do my job, the boss pays me. Our example is the Pharisees. They believe: I am praying, that’s part of my “job”— My works should equal rewards. But that motivation is really just trying to control God and manipulate people. It’s a quid-pro-quo relationship. And that’s not how God wants us to relate to him. Does your prayer life look like this? I know sometimes mine is! I approach Him like I’m going to a business meeting. I’m All business and I’ve got my “agenda” ready to go over with him. I might as well show up in my skirt suite and pull up my power point! How about you? When you pray, are you all business? Are you setting the agenda? Or are you allowing the Holy Spirit to move and lead your prayer time in His agenda?
~ God is your Vending machine. I put my money in the vending machine, a candy bar pops out. In prayer this equates to: I am praying, so God owes me answered prayers! I’m sure you’ve had that vending machine experience before— when you’ve put your money in and the little spiral thing spins, but something goes wrong and your candy bar is just hanging there on the edge. Nothing you do is going to get it to come out. You start kicking the machine and yelling: “Give me my candy bar! I put my money in— you owe me!” None of us want to admit that this is how we approach God in prayer. But if we are honest, it sometimes is! We say: “Lord, I have been praying on this! I have been praying on this for MONTHS! You owe me some answers!” Sometimes our real heart says to God: “You owe me.”
We spend so much time trying to “get” our prayers answered, and it’s not that we shouldn’t ask… it is the motivation of our asking that matters. James 4:3 says: When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
James tells us we ask wrongly. We ask for the passions and desires of our own will and hearts to be answered. To ask rightly means doing as Saint Augustine says: re-ordering our disordered loves. In prayer that is laid on good foundation we begin to think God’s thoughts after him, desire his desires, love what he loves, grieve what he grieves, we will his will. [ii]
So what’s the right motivation for our prayer life? Let’s get back to the premise we established Life with GraceMinistry on:
You are a child of the King!
~God is your Father. That changes everything about how you go to Him in prayer. A child on a father’s knee is sometimes good, and sometimes bad, but always loved! [iii] That can’t be changed. It can’t be taken away. Remember: Nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Romans8:39) When that is at the heart of your relationship with God everything changes. God is your powerful, but gentle Father. All of your motivations are centered on how much HE loves you, not on your performance. [iv]As a result you lose the “you owe me” mentality. Your prayer life moves from all business and petitions to actually enjoying being with Him. Children have the pleasure of both serious and joyous relationships with parents. [v]
Do you ever just enjoy God, when you pray— just smile with Him, and laugh with Him? You are allowed to, you know— you’re His beloved child! The Father-child relationship is the strongest foundation and motivation for your prayer life. When you approach God as your abundantly loving father, it totally transforms the motivation of all your prayers. That is why Jesus instructs us when we pray to begin with “Our Father”
But, Jesus instruction for us to Pray in Secret is more than just trying to reorient our motivation for prayer. His motivation is to get you to spend time with your Father! In a relationship with a person you do that. My mentor Bill always says: “God takes the time to talk to those who take the time to talk to Him!” What makes your human relationships work is spending time together! You get together to love on each other and to work out any problems you may have, to get your relationship right and healthy.
This should be exactly what happens between you and God when you go to your room, close the door and get alone with Him in prayer! The real aim is to get you alone with God so he can fill you up and transform your heart. Because this is no “vending machine God” waiting for us to press the button of which prayer we want answered. He already knows what we need before we open our mouths. Remember: “…for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:8) Then why petition God if he already knows our petitions?
The point is this- Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes us.
The point of petition is not to pray fervently for what we want. It’s a time to allow God to work on our hearts so our petitions come in line with what God wants. We stop praying for our “selves” and start praying for others. We start asking how we can be a part of fulfilling God’s plan for their benefit.
See Jesus’ ultimate example:
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” …. He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:39; 42 NIV)
When this is the model of prayer I follow things transform. “My will” transforms to “Thy will.” I humble myself, I get my face on the ground and say: “THY WILL, Father.” It’s not about what I want. It’s about what He wants, and how I can be a part of His plan to work all things to the good. This is the transformation that happens in prayer, and it happens because we approach Him in time alone as Our Father.
I pray you will: go to your room, close the door and pray to your father who is unseen. And you can rest on the promise that your father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you…because in the end it’s His reward that you really want!
What is that reward?
Remember: Jesus is the answer! Jesus is always the answer! He is your ultimate reward.
Yes, when we pray we experience transformation. Yes, we move the focus away from ourselves and are deeply motivated to pray for others. But in the end, what we really receive when we get alone with God is HIM. And that is the ultimate point…. to get Him.
We can rest on the knowledge that when we go to get Him, we absolutely will get Him. We know it because of what Jesus suffered and accomplished in the Garden and on the Cross. For our sake he experienced the cosmic abandonment by the Father. When he reached for the Father he found silence. He was cast into the outer darkness. It was that sacrifice that allowed you and I to become a child of the one true King and gain access to Him and all his riches. Because of that, now when you pray, you won’t be abandoned. You will be held by the Father who loves you, rescued by the hero who gave his life for you. You will get Him… and like Christ you will get to serve Him. There are no better riches, no greater rewards, no more valuable treasures than this…
Go and get Him—for it is
Christ in whom are hidden all the treasures.
[i]Keller, Dr. Timothy, Prayer and the Poor, Sermon Series: Savior and Teacher- A Study of Matthew, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NYC 2012.
[ii]Foster, Richard J., Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, Harper Collins, San Francisco, 1998, p. 33
[iii]Keller, Dr. Timothy, Ibid.
[v]Foster, Richard, Celebration of Discipline, 1998, p. 40