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April 2, 1993

Self-Centered Praying

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When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on pleasures. JAMES 4:3
It has been said that God responds to our prayers with three different answers: “Yes,” “No,” and “You’ve got to be kidding.” He affirms some prayers with a yes. He says no to others. But then there are those prayers that cause Him to smile and say, “Whom are you trying to fool?”
James makes the case that many times, although we utter words that sound like prayers, they actually are rooted in a self-centered agenda. Rather than being directed to God, they have a selfish ambition at their core. If you want a clue about the motivation behind such prayers, examine the personal pronouns used in James 4:3. The word you is used no fewer than five times. Instead of being centered on God, the prayers are all about us.
The debaters among us would step back and quote Matthew 7:7: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Certainly that promise is available to followers of Christ, but it is not an ironclad pledge that functions like a slot machine with God. We can’t just plug our prayers in to God and expect Him to respond automatically and immediately.
Rather, we must attune our hearts to the heart of God. But that can be difficult. Ours is a culture of sophisticated and well-developed role-playing. We are so used to plastering smiles on our faces when we are anything but happy inside. Our culture has discouraged authenticity and transparency. This has had a detrimental effect on the way we pray. We think we can put on a façade before we come to God, but we forget that He knows what we want before we ask. We forget that He knows our innermost thoughts before we even think them.
Next time you pray, remember that God already knows your heart. So don’t come to Him with a list of self-centered requests. Don’t put the spotlight on yourself. Just talk to Him as if He were your loving Father. Because He is.

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