Praying with messed up motives

Published 2:08 pm Thursday, May 7, 2020

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A motive is the reason for doing something, especially one that is hidden or not obvious. Our motives, unfortunately, can often be messed up and sinful especially if our biggest concern is self. Philippians 1:9-11 says, “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ. Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.” As Christians, we must always strive to be sincere and genuine while being motivated by sacrificial love only! We cannot have hidden agendas based on self-interest. Jesus shared two powerful parables in Luke 18 that addressed these issues. In Luke 18:1-8, is the parable of the unjust judge. This judge was anti-God and anti-people. He cared for only himself. The widow in the parable was completely helpless and was being harmed by an adversary. The Scripture teaches we are to respect widows and to protect them as God would defend them. Widows were often among the most vulnerable people in Jewish society, and apparently this one had no other family member to help plead her case. She wanted this judge to avenge her. He had no interest in helping her at all, but she continually came to ask him. At some point, he could not take her begging and granted her request as he was tormented by her continual begging.
Many times this parable has been preached as if it was about us being persistent with God in prayer, but God is anything but an unjust judge.
William Barclay says that the point of the parable is less about persistent prayer, but rather the contrast between God and mankind. In prayer, one is speaking to a loving Father ready to give out of pure love. God is only motivated by his love for each of us. I was praying one time saying, “God, I am begging you to help me!” At that moment, I heard a still small voice say, “Child, you don’t have to beg me. All you must do is ask and believe!” We have a loving Father that cares deeply about His children and wants to converse with them continually. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray without ceasing.” Why did he give us this directive? There is a spirit of dependence that should permeate all we do. This is the very spirit and essence of prayer, and the Father wants to speak with his children. If the only time my son spoke to me was to ask for something else, it wouldn’t be me that he cared for, but for himself. Our prayers should not be motivated by self-interests. We pray most when we need something, and that is not a suitable relationship. Jesus then tells another parable that once again addresses corrupt motives. In verses 9-14, we read the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. Jesus addressed this story-illustration to those who trusted in themselves and believed everyone else amounted to nothing. This parable definitely is connected to the first one. This description was not an exaggeration, but a true picture of what was wrong with the Pharisees of that day. The Temple was used not only for public religious transactions, for the bringing of sacrifices, and for teaching, but also for private devotions. It is not strange, therefore, that we see a Pharisee entering the Temple for that purpose. The Pharisee had one motive for coming into the temple to pray: to be seen of men! He wanted the appearance that he was holy, pious, and just. A tax collector enters at the same time to pray. Tax collectors were hated individuals due to their occupation and many of them taken advantage of folks by overcharging them and keeping the money for themselves. Here is the Pharisee’s prayer. “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.”
We immediately see the word “I” numerous times and before he begins praying, the Bible says that he prayed to himself. He was not there to speak to God, but rather to put a façade for the others to see and hear. His motivation was appearance. He goes on to list that all he does for the Lord. If we keep track of what we do for God and others, we have messed up motives. Sacrificial love does not keep score! The publican who refused to look up and beat upon his own chest then says, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” The publican was sincere, genuine, dependent, and found himself guilty! He did not claim to be anything that he wasn’t. We must come to God just as we are. Jesus then tells us that the publican went back to house justified. The publican knew that he was nothing and that God was his only hope! When we think of ourselves something when we are nothing, we are only deceiving ourselves. The Pharisee thought of himself as something grand that deserved and earned God’s favor! Wicked motives are the thread that runs throughout both parables, and then in the same passage of scripture an event transpires that should show us exactly how God wants us to come to him.
Parents begin bringing helpless infants for Jesus to lay his hands on and bless. These infants could not be beneficial to Jesus, and the disciples quickly rebuked their parents and told them to leave. Jesus then called out for the parents to return. He blesses the children and explains that except we all come as little children, we should not enter the kingdom of God. Why must we become dependent children? God wants our only motivation to be love for him. A small child has no wicked motives. In fact, a baby has no motives at all, and is totally helpless and dependent on its caregiver. A child begins to develop motives as they age, and at some point, will begin to act out of self-interest. This a work of our flesh and it is dangerous. We are directed by God to be like infants. We must choose to examine our motives. If our motive is anything but sacrificial love for God or others, it is all is vain!
(The Solution Column is provided by Pastor Brandon Young of Harmony Free Will Baptist Church, Hampton, and his associate, David Odom.)

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