Prayer is integral to our lives as Christians. The intent behind praying in good times as well as bad is to keep us connected to God and allow us to have regular conversations with Him. However, the effectiveness of our prayers depends on what’s going on in our hearts. Praying with the right motivation allows us to receive from God; praying with the wrong motivation blocks our prayers.
A lack of biblical understanding can lead us to pray for the wrong things for the wrong reasons. We may have seen people who prayed for things like winning the lottery or getting a new car and were disappointed when God didn’t deliver like some genie in a bottle. “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3, NIV). Our motive for prayer shouldn’t be to get God to give us something, but simply to pursue the essence of who He is.
Doubt and unbelief hinder the effectiveness of our prayers. When Jesus’ disciples couldn’t cast the demon out of the boy who repeatedly threw himself into the fire and the water, Jesus Himself rebuked it and cured the boy. “Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Matthew 17:19, 20). The disciples witnessed what was going on with the boy on the physical level, and as a result, didn’t fully believe they had the same authority as Jesus. Conversely, faith is a powerful motivation behind prayer that gets the job done. “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Matthew 21:22).
Pure motives like thankfulness and gratitude allow God to work in our lives. Even in the midst of something, when we only see negativity in the situation, giving thanks is an effective spiritual weapon. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6, NKJV). We don’t give thanks for the problem, but because Jesus has promised that it won’t overcome us. Refusing to let anxiety get the best of us is a deliberate act of faith.
Why we pray must also be examined. Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee who went to God in prayer with a self-righteous attitude, compared with the tax collector who prayed in humility, asking God to be merciful. What’s important is not the act of praying, but our mindset behind it; the proper motives are pleasing to God. “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14, NKJV).
There’s nothing wrong with asking God for things, as long as we keep our priorities straight. Intercessory prayer for others, instead of prayer for our own selfish needs, gets heaven’s attention. “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men…For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour” (1 Timothy 2:1, 3). As believers, our motives matter to God. Making sure they match up with His Word empowers our prayers.