HOW TO MOTIVATE GOD

I think I got your attention with that title! It does sound a bit presumptuous and perhaps irreverent. God knows my heart and I do not at all mean to imply that God is lazy or lacks motivation to do the right thing. That shoe fits us rather than Him, to be sure! But what I mean is that sometimes we approach God in prayer without realizing that God has an agenda too and it does not necessarily coincide with ours. We appeal to Him for help but He seems not to be listening to us. Of course, God may be about to do what we ask of Him but He is doing it on a different schedule than ours, the schedule that says - "Do it now, if not sooner!" But sometimes it may truly be that He does not intend to answer our prayer, at least not in the form we are requesting.

One thing we know is that God does delight in answering prayer. When we pray, we are treating God as a personal being and not like some esoteric, emotionless "force" or cosmic computer. Prayer brings us closer to God and cements our relationship with Him as our heavenly Father. What child is there that does not make requests of its parents? It would be a repudiation of our relationship with God if we were to neglect prayer. It is quite true that His thoughts are infinitely higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9) and that He knows what we need better than we do (Matthew 6:8), but over and over again, He invites us to come to Him with our requests and wait upon in the firm expectation of His answer. (For a few of many examples, see Psalm 50:15; 86:5-7; 145:18-19; Matthew 7:7-11; 18:19-20; Luke 11:5-13; 18:1-8; John 14:13-14; 15:7, 16; 16:23-24; Hebrews 4:16; James 1:5-7; 1 John 3:22; 5:14-15).

I hasten to add that God does care about things that are "small" and personal to us. We do sometimes hesitate to pray about things that we think God would not consider important, however important they appear to us. This too is a mistake. Jesus said, "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows." (Matthew 10:19-31) I'm not sure if you are praying about how many hairs have lately fallen from your head but from what Jesus says, it does seem that even that might not be too "selfish" or "petty" for God to care about. No, God loves you very, very much and wants you to bring all things that worry you to Him in prayer. (Philippians 4:6-7)

But God does want our prayers to rise above a truly selfish or petty spirit. Of course, He would rather we prayed in a selfish way than not pray at all. That may seem a surprising thing to say but I think it is true. The problem is when our prayers remain selfish from start to finish, when we remain unresponsive to the Spirit's leading. That is when we fail to motivate God. The Apostle James said, "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members [meaning, in the soul dominated by the flesh]? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder [literally, or in your heart - Matthew 5:21-24; 1 John 3:15You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask [in prayer]. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures." In other words, we should ask for what we want rather than fight with others to obtain it and we should ask from a motive of love rather than as a means to gratify our selfish desires.

You may have seen a recent news item about a research project conducted by Brad Bushman, a professor of communications and psychology at Ohio State University. The press release said, "A series of studies showed that people who were provoked by insulting comments from a stranger showed less anger and aggression soon afterwards if they prayed for another person in the meantime." This was compared with those who were just asked to think about a person who needed help. The results were significant: "The effects we found in these experiments were quite large, which suggests that prayer may really be an effective way to calm anger and aggression," he said. The reference to aggression was to an experiment in which they provoked anger toward an unseen "partner" and then asked them either to pray for that person or think about them. Then they told the participants that they had "won" the competition against their "partner" and could therefore choose how long and loud to blast their ears through a headset. Those that had prayed for the "partner" were much less likely to inflict the painful dose of noise.

While these results can be explained from a purely psychological perspective, they do point to the truth that one of the reasons God wants us to pray is so that we do come into line with His loving perspective and purpose. Thus, He reward loving, benevolent, generous, open-hearted, humble prayer and discourages prayers that are "stuck" in a selfish motivation. To put it simply, God is motivated to answer prayers that come from the right motivation in us. So let us pray more than ever and cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He works to free us from our selfishness and release our hearts into the current of God's love.