Friday, January 25, 2013

Praying "For Others"...Selfishly?

Photo by adzika

Have you ever caught yourself praying "for others"...selfishly?

Don't get me wrong...there's nothing wrong with anticipating blessing, with desiring God's gifts for oneself.  God has lavishly promised blessings throughout Scripture, and it's good to desire them.  We are creatures of desire, and if we don't desire good, we will desire evil.

Few things could be more harmful to our prayer lives than navel-gazing...searching our prayers for any speck of self-interest and then feeling defeated when we find it there.  Such introspection is, by definition, totally self-centered.  The Enemy of our Souls LOVES to get us into traps like that.

We are commanded to rejoice in God's kindness towards us, and it would be wrong to refuse His kindness, or to receive it with a guilty spirit that is concerned only with our own perceived piety.  We don't want to go there.

But putting that aside, let me ask again...have you ever caught yourself praying for others selfishly?

I caught myself doing that the other morning.  I was wrestling my way through the usual, painfully difficult morning routine with a particular child of mine, and I realized that I was praying "for him" with only one goal in mind.

I want to be done with frustrating mornings like this!

Again...that's not a bad desire.  But it was the only desire behind my prayer that morning.  The child for whom I was supposedly praying was not even in my thoughts except as the source of my frustration.


Am I the only one who is this self-centered?

I'm tempted to say, "I hope not," but then again, the world would be a much better place if everyone else in it loved their neighbors better than I do.

How can can we pray for others unselfishly?

The key is not to try to eliminate all self-interest.  Christian prayer is not like Buddhist meditation.  It is not an attempt to empty oneself of Self.  It is not an endless cycle of subtraction.

Christian prayer prioritizes.  Instead of trying to annihilate Self, it seeks to dethrone Self and bring it to its knees.  It seeks first the Kingdom, understanding full well that other desires (both worthy and unworthy) will be there as well.  Unworthy desires must be repented of, but worthy ones need no repentance.  They need only to be put in their proper places.

But how?

If you've been following this blog over the past several months, you've seen how the Lord has been shaping my prayer life to align it with His priorities, especially those priorities revealed in the "Lord's Prayer" and the Beatitudes.  I continue to be amazed at the power that comes with praying this way...power to submit myself to God and His desires, rather than trying to manipulate Him into giving me my selfish desires.

And yet, as I caught myself doing the other morning, it's possible to pray even these prayers with a selfish spirit.

"Lord, may this child do Your Will the way it's done in Heaven...cheerfully, lovingly, trustingly... because He's driving me nuts!!!"

Of course God wants us to be honest with Him in prayer, so that wasn't a bad way to start.  But if the Holy Spirit hadn't grabbed me and convicted me, it would have been the whole prayer, not just the beginning of it.

Betsy, do you care about this boy, too?

Oh Lord, forgive me.  Yes, of course, but not nearly enough, at least not when I'm frustrated.

And so I prayed the Lord's priorities again, but this time I added, "for (this child's) sake and Your Glory."  I'm not talking about rote words, of course, but once again, aligning my priorities with God's and submitting to Him.  I had already prayed for my own sake.  It was time to move on to bigger things.

Such softening came to my soul!  Frustration gave way to tenderness, and selfishness yielded to love.

Ok, it didn't last long, because I'm such a selfish person.  But I knew I'd hit on something vital, something I would have to return to again and again.

Pray God's priorities not only for your own sake, but also for the sake of others apart from you, and for the glory of God.  Do it deliberately.

It's so basic that it hardly seems like I should have to say it.  And yet I know that I need to be reminded of it, often.  Perhaps you do, too.  So here is a helpful outline.

When I pray for others whose lives rub up against mine, I need to pray about several spheres:

  • The sphere of my relationship with God.  I cannot relate to others well if I'm in a state of rebellion myself.
  • The sphere of my relationship with that other person
  • The sphere of that person's relationship to others apart from myself...for his sake, other people's sakes, and for God's glory.
  • The sphere of that person's relationship to God...for his sake and God's glory.
Do you see how love is encouraged when I deliberately choose to pray for others' sakes in our relationship, and even in the spheres of their lives that don't rub up against mine at all?  I can begin to see others as the whole people that they are, not just as the sum total of their impact on my own life.

Of course, in the midst of a rushed and frustrating morning routine, there's rarely time for a thorough, deliberate prayer time.  That's why I find it so vital to pray thoroughly for others all throughout the day, so that when crisis situations arrive, my attitudes and priorities have already been shaped in good ways.  

If my heart has often knelt before God, then in the moment of crisis, my heart can kneel even when I don't have time for thorough prayer.  My "knee jerk" can change.  So can yours, by the grace of God.

And our worlds will be better for it.

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