Monday, April 15, 2013

Don't Pray for Yourself?

Today is the first day of week fifteen, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our sciptures this week are:

  • Judges 7-8; Luke 22
  • Judges 9-11; Luke 23; Psalm 17
  • Judges 12-16; Luke 24; Psalm 146
  • Judges 17-18; Acts 1; Psalm 21
  • Judges 19-21; Acts 2
I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say, "My mama always told me that it's wrong to pray for yourself."  I can only assume that this misconception comes from misunderstanding Mama who actually said, "Don't pray selfishly."  But there's a difference between praying for yourself and praying selfishly.  Let's take a look at the two, as shown in Luke 22:

"His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground."
39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed,42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.[g] 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

47 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant[h] of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.

Praying selfishly means seeking what you want, above what God wants.  On the Mount of Olives, Jesus began praying selfishly.  Because He was human as well as God, He had his mind on both physical and divine matters.  Physically, he was afraid of dying.  He wasn't afraid of death--He knew that He would have victory over that, and rise again.  But dying was a whole different matter.  He was afraid of the pain of scourging and crucifixion.  Who wouldn't be?  He was so stressed that he literally sweated drops of blood.  This is a medical condition known as Hematidrosis, where a person under severe stress such as facing their own death experiences the bursting of tiny capillaries beneath the surface of the skin.  This blood then mixes and comes out with the sweat.  So, Jesus prayed selfishly, "Father, if you ware willing, remove this cup from me."  But then His divine nature took control as He realized the absolute necessity of the cross.  "Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done."  Jesus momentarily prayed selfishly, but then amended His prayer.  Realizing that God's will is greater than our human will, He submitted Himself to the will of the Father.  Giving up selfishness, He took up the cross to selflessly die in our place.

In this same passage, we hear Jesus telling His disciples to pray for themselves.  "Pray that you may not enter into temptation," He said.  They didn't follow His instructions, though, but fell asleep while they kept watch.  They didn't pray that God would keep them from temptation, and the immediate result of that was that when the crowd came to arrest Jesus, the disciples did fall into temptation.  Peter ended up attacking with the sword and cutting off one man's ear.  The disciples scattered.  Peter denied knowing his Lord.  How would it have turned out differently, if the disciples had prayed for themselves, as Jesus told them to?

When Mama tells you not to pray selfishly, she's saying that you shouldn't put your needs in front of other people's needs.  She's saying you shouldn't order God around like He's your lackey instead of your Lord.  

When Jesus tells you to pray for yourself, He's saying that the subject of your prayers should be your relationship with God.  Rather than praying about the things that you want, tell God instead about how you're thinking and feeling right now, in the situations you're going through.  Just spend time getting to know God better.  When you get to know God better through prayer, you'll understand His will for you better, too.  As prayer teacher Daniel Henderson says, "Seek God's face, not His hand."  

So Mama was right when she said not to pray selfishly.  It's okay to pray for fact, you should pray for yourself everyday.  Pray that you'll know God more and follow Him better.  But then, once you've prayed for your own relationship with God, don't forget to pray for Mama, too.

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