"When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you
may spend what you get on your pleasures." (James 4:3 NIV)
When I was young, I had huge character flaws. I was frivolous, selfish and pleasure seeking. Sadly, huge chunks of these still remain in my life!
I remember spending one Christmas in Los Angeles. I had discovered a Nintendo game I really hoped to receive for Christmas. I became obsessed by the desire to have it, and I didn't cease to make my request known to anyone who would listen! Naturally, my wife purchased the game for me. I was really excited to receive it, but I have to admit that when I played it the first time, I was extremely disappointed. It just wasn't what I expected it to be at all! Interestingly, now I can't even remember what that game was called, or anything else about it!
When my wife purchased that game for me, she did so as a gesture of love. However, unbeknownst to her, she was also nurturing my tendency towards selfishness and pleasure-seeking. Video games did very little to bring me closer to my wife. On the contrary, they drove us apart. I spent time with the games instead of helping her out in the house, instead of listening to her, instead of showing her support. My "I" increased instead of diminished.
Reflecting on that time in my life, I am shocked of the depths of my selfishness. I acted like nothing more than a low-life, wasting precious time on frivolous things and all the while neglecting to nurture the relationship God had granted me. I am totally undeserving as I stand in awe at the foot of the cross of the Miracle Maker!
Sadly, our prayer lives can come to look like my Christmas wish list: geared towards the desires of the world. In fact, most of our prayer requests are for things that are far from benefiting us eternally!
Take this prayer, for example: "God, grant Jim another job so he won't have to suffer hardship!" Where does experiencing God's provisions and learning to discover dependency upon God come into that prayer?
Or here's another: "Lord, help me find another job! I can't tolerate my boss! He's such a jerk!" Where does learning to love those who persecute us come in? Wouldn't it be better to ask: "Lord help me to get along with my boss and show him an exemplary way to the cross!"
Here's another common prayer: "Jesus, hold my car together! I can't afford repairs right now!" What about learning to trust the Lord for ALL of our needs, including finances for repairs, or, maybe even a new car?
We can learn so much from Jesus' prayers, not only by looking at WHAT He prayed, but also by examining what He did NOT pray for. Let's look at the His prayer for Simon Peter: "I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail." (Luke 22:32 NIV)
I'm afraid that I would have prayed a very different prayer for Peter: "Lord, put a wall of protection around Peter, so that the devil won't even be able to tempt him!" Or even "Lord, remove the vocal cords of those who might tempt Peter into sinning!"
Instead Jesus prayed that Peter's "faith may not fail".
Temptation is not a sin, friends. The sin comes when we allow the temptation to grow desire in our hearts: "Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." (James 1:25). Instead, temptation offers us the possibility of growing closer to God! "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Heb 4:15-16 NIV)
Only once did Jesus request a personal favor during prayer: "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me." (Matt 26:39a NIV) . Imagine bearing all the sins of the world on your shoulders! Imagine facing the cruelest death possible in order to save thankless humanity from destruction! My prayers would have been filled with venom: "Lord, strike down those who want to lay hands on the Holy One. They don't even deserve salvation!"
But to God, this thankless humanity, including myself, deserved a chance for salvation! Notice the second part of Jesus' personal request: "Yet not as I will, but as you will." (Matt 26:39b NIV).
Every prayer Jesus uttered was completely void of selfishness! He thought of God and others first, even in prayer! He truly lived what He preached: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matt 22:37, 39 NIV)
Friend, selfish prayers, prayers that will lead us away from God and from others, cannot be granted! Imagine if your child would come up to you and beg you to buy him some crack! You wouldn't grant his request! And just like a parent could never grant the self-destructive requests of his or her child, God cannot and will not grant us anything that will lead us away from His salvation: "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matt 7:9-12 NIV)
Do we even know what is good for us? Too often we treat God as a Santa Claus: "God give me this and give me that and don't forget that either!" Too often we walk away from our Heavenly Father, grumbling and dissatisfied because our selfish requests seemed to be ignored. "God is SO unfair"?
Think of it this way: How can someone be unfair when He willingly died for you? How can someone be unfair when He has eternity planned for you? How can someone be unfair when we are more important to Him than His own Son? Do you want to know just how important you are to God? "This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life." (John 3:16 The Message)
Friends, most of our prayer requests are for things that are far from being beneficial to us eternally! In fact, many of our prayer requests are best left unanswered! Imagine what it would be like if every prayer request in the world were to be answered! Whole civilizations would be destroyed! Greed would be on the rise! People would serve God as a way to obtain what they want in life, over the dead bodies of others!
Would we be any better off?
Unanswered prayers do not mean that God does not care. In fact, His greatest gift is often that of an unanswered prayer! May we learn how to: "grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…" (Eph 3:18-19 NIV)
"Honey, I just saw this stunning diamond ring . . ."
Nothing can be more precious that the love of the One who willingly died for you!
"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." (Eph 3:20-21 NIV)
P. S. In other devotionals, I have insisted that God always answers prayers. This message may seem contradictory to this idea. Believe me, it is not. A seemingly unanswered prayer becomes an answer to prayer, if your original prayer could potentially lead you away from your Heavenly Father. Remember: "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30 NKJV) It all depends on our perspective!
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