Prayer. Just the mention of the word can evoke a variety of emotional and cognitive responses. Feelings of guilt for not praying more, or correctly. Excitement and anticipation for some who love to talk openly and often with the Lord. Despondency – even anger – for many prayers prayed that seem to have gone unanswered. Fear of not knowing how to pray or what to say. Shock of someone having the audacity to think they can approach the Almighty God. Grief over prayers that circumstance has definitively made clear will never be answered in the way one had hoped. Gratitude for prayers answered that have been according to one’s desire. Praise, or adoration, to the One through whom all prayer is answered.
The list could go on, and most, if not all, have wrestled trying to find the different parts of prayer and right combination necessary for answered prayer. The Bible gives plenty of helpful, necessary direction, but often it is not the direction we want.
So what is necessary for answered prayer? And if our prayers are answered will they be the answers we want?
Jesus gives the disciples a solid outline, or pattern for prayer that is incredibly helpful – though not limiting. In Matthew 5:5-15 Jesus holds up the necessary disposition of humility as key to prayer (v. 6). He follows this with a helpful pattern for how to pray. (Though I won’t spend time here today, vv 9-13 are invaluable.)
Building on the disposition of humility, or meekness, James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Meekness and humility are not celebrated in our day and age. Yet they are essential to a life of effective prayer.
James gets to the heart of the issue, which is that selfish desire often motivates our prayer, rather than a desire or concern for the glory of God. In Psalm 79:9 Asaph prays for deliverance and salvation for the glory of God’s name!
Here we feel the tension – praying with concern for God’s glory will sometimes be difficult to do sincerely. But it is vital to effective, and answered, prayer. This motive is valid in big aspects of life as well as little. It is necessary for specific as well as broad requests. And praying with concern for God’s glory as our motive is ultimately the only way to have lasting peace and rest while living in this turbulent world.
And sometimes underlying this lack of concern for God’s glory is an inherent lack of trust for who God is, and what God deems best to accomplish in the world. Do you trust God? Thankfully Jesus was rightly motivated in every instance where doubting was possible. Thankfully Jesus lived to do the Father’s will, and so doing, enabled those who trust Him to live, love, and pray in the same way.
With your next concern, will you trust God, and pray motivated by a desire for His glory?