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Lessons in intercession

Looking at our motives

Have you ever asked yourself why you pray? Prayer can become almost a reflex in difficulties – so much so that we don’t even consider our motives anymore. What has led you to intercede lately? Was it selfless concern for others? In theory, we probably acknowledge that this should be the starting point. In practice, however, this may not always be the case. I occasionally hear myself praying from frustration. Something bothers me – and I react against it, perhaps not in words but through a prayer! (“Oh, God, pleeease change this!”) Yet if we draw back the curtain of frustration, we find pride. Pride causes us to be impatient with others and impatience, in turn, leads to frustration. To complicate matters further, pride is a sin that takes many different forms, such as complaining, aggression, judgment and condemnation, to name but a few of its forms. And so it may take us a very long time to discover that pride may be motivating our prayers as well.

Even the prettiest of our prayers can rise from a judgmental heart! When confronted with troublesome neighbours, we may pray “Oh, Lord, have mercy and let our neighbours stop drinking too much” and yet not care about them in any way. Or then we may call on God to move in our “dry church and restore it to its first love” out of a place of self-complacency. Even our prayers for societal change can smack of eloquent arrogance if we pray them while peering down from our steeples. Yet, I am finding out that if our starting point is an attitude of criticism towards the one we are praying for, our prayers will just bang the ceiling.

When confronted by the sins or differences of others, we are put to the test. If we are humble, we won’t judge the person. We will be free to pray for them from a place of love rather than the place of “I-can’t-stand-it”. Mark Gungor, a humorous Christian marriage counsellor, discusses the principle in marriage in the following way:

It is ineffective to pray, “God, change my wife so I can get along with her.” You can pray for change, but you can’t pray for change because you can’t stand your husband the way he is. If there is no desire to be in a relationship with our spouses irrespective of how they act, our prayers will be worthless. We must start by asking God to fill us with desire to be in a relationship with our spouses before they change, and watch what God does!*

Although this is advice relating specifically to marriage, we can extend the principle to other relationships and situations. If we do not pray from a place of love, we are not really praying like we should.

But didn’t Jesus say “Ask and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7)? Didn’t He promise us results in His Name? Surely He desires to see change even more than we do! And if He desires the same results as we do, wouldn’t He just overlook any underlying attitude problems from our side? James points out that there is such a thing as asking in prayer – and not receiving. Even for faith-filled, Charismatic Christians! And the crux of the matter is in the motives. Why do we ask for something? Is it to make us feel better? To make our lives easier? Or even to achieve some kind of vengeance? James makes it plain:

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives (James 4:3).

In other words, selfishness can render a prayer ineffective.

If we are simply looking for prayer to change difficult situations, we have limited its power. When we have met with God, been broken by Him and prayed with His heart, we are ready to receive an answer. The next time we feel bothered by something, let’s take a moment to re-connect with God’s heart and then pray about it. May we be filled with love so that we can pray like Jesus did: for our enemies and not against them.

Elina Placentino

*Laugh your way to a better marriage, Mark Gungor, p.115

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