Beyond Self-Serving Prayer

Jeremiah 29:13–14

If you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord.

Matthew 18:19

If two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.

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These words of Jeremiah are possibly not as well known as the preceeding words: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). Missing, also, but less known, is verse 12: “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.” But these words and promises of God make the promises of verses 13 & 14 all the more appealing. God has good plans for his people. He promises to hear us when we call. Certainly he is worthy of being sought, and a delight to find.

Then we read how Jesus promises that when we ally ourselves in prayer, God will answer. This is a more challenging thought to me – if for no other reason than our propensity toward self-serving prayers. If I get a good friend to agree with my prayer to win the lottery, with the promise to split the winnings, does that count?

Of course the whole counsel of God would direct us toward a different path. Rather than using human alliances for selfish pursuits, our thoughts and cares are to be for the good of others. We are called on to think of others as more important than ourselves. We are supposed to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Jesus, not the inclinations of our sinful desires.

That’s where the presence of God comes in, not only as a blessing for which we would do well to desire, but as a corrective for self-serving prayers. May God deliver us all from such dangerous desires that seek only for our happiness and benefit, and fail to see how God’s goodness extends to all people and that our prayers ought always begin in the spirit of Jesus’ teaching:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.

Amen.

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