Prayer That Pleases God
By Frank M. Hasel
Many prayers, even though disguised in a pious cloak, are in the final analysis based on wrong motives.
I might pray for another person, but the real reason for my prayer is that I am afraid of losing a precious friendship. I might pray for success in the cause of God, but I am also playing an important role in it, and my influence will be strengthened if what I pray for succeeds. I might ask to be spared a defeat because I am afraid of the malicious comments of others. I might pray for health because I am afraid of pain and do not want to live a restricted or disabled life. I might pray that someone’s life be spared because I do not like living alone. I might pray for the conversion of a person because my life will then be easier. I might pray to find a boyfriend or a girlfriend because I yearn for love and seek recognition. I might ask God for specific things because I have become used to a certain standard of living and am not content with less. I might ask for success because I desire money and property and also like the admiration of others that goes along with it.
Actually, my prayers often center on myself. They speak about what I wish to have, what I want to receive from God—sometimes even in His name.
Prayer that is pleasing to God has a refreshingly different focus. No longer is my “want-to-have” the center of my prayer. Instead, God becomes the central focus. This is the important point.
Prayer that is pleasing to God first and foremost recognizes God as a faithful friend whose companionship I seek because He is important to me, not because I want something from Him. God’s presence is much more important than the things He gives to me. More important than anything I can ask for is the desire to be with Him. Without Him, my life would lack its most important element. But in His presence I feel sheltered. Without Him, I don’t want to live. This is the reason that I want to get to know Him better. I want to learn from Him. The time I spend with Him is precious because He is precious to me. I can confide everything to Him. He understands me. He loves me tenderly. This is why I long to be with Him. This is the center of any true prayer.1
Prayer that is pleasing to God is focused on God. It begins with a personal communion with Him, not with my wishes and requests. It is not about following specific religious formulas or adhering to specific prayer techniques. They do not guarantee the fulfillment of my wishes. Prayer that pleases God has Him at the center and relates to Him. When my requests, even my intercessory prayers, are not anchored in this living relationship with Him, they relate more to my wishes and my own well being than to God and His will. Without this living friendship with God, my prayer resembles more the operation of a divine prayer machine, in which I feed in my prayer requests at one end and take out my granted wishes at the other.
However, prayer that pleases God first of all expresses my admiration and love for Him. Once I understand that my relationship with God is the center of my prayer, my prayer gains a totally new focus. I begin to think from God’s perspective. I start to view my requests, my wishes, my yearnings, my whole life through His eyes. I tell Him what is really on my heart, what makes me insecure, what makes me anxious, what I really desire deep inside, what I would rather avoid, what embarrasses me, what gives me pleasure, what makes me shout with joy, and what drives me to despair. In short, I share my life with God. And I am willing to view every aspect of my life through His eyes. This perspective ennobles prayer. Remove the relationship aspect from prayer, and prayer becomes one-sided—selfish and wrong.
Prayer that pleases God focuses on God. He is deeply interested in me. He longs to be part of me, in all aspects of my life: my worries, my fears, my wishes, my hopes, my wants, my abilities, my yearnings, my success, my honor, my recognition, my joy, my children, my money, my possessions, my friendship, my marriage, my needs, my health, my talents, my plans, my love, my anger, my creativity, my energy, my thoughts, my admiration, my music, my songs, my praise, my gratitude, my appearance—in short, my entire life. I talk about these things with Him as with a good friend. And I look at all of it through His eyes.
Prayer that pleases God frees my thinking from revolving around the “big ME.” It allows me to become honest with myself and with God. In the light of His love and His holiness, I begin to see myself differently. Gently I move toward the true purpose of prayer, not the fulfillment of my wishes but my relationship with the life-changing God. To pray in this way fills my life with the knowledge that He is the center of my life. My thoughts and wishes are in accordance with Him. To pray in this way is a real challenge.
It is so easy to pray as I am used to. In more than a thousand ways I am told that God will give me that which I ask Him, and my natural, sinful heart insists that all my wishes be fulfilled. It is so easy to ask God for something before I have enjoyed His companionship in prayer. The fulfillment of my wishes often is more important than my relationship with Him.
However, prayer that pleases God has God at its center. It opens up new perspectives for me. When I consciously think about His character, His abilities, and express my adoration for them in my own words, my prayers are filled with spiritual life and even have an element of reverence and admiration that goes along with them. My problems and needs are not the center of my prayers, but God is the center.
Prayer that pleases God means to step into His presence. It is an expression of my relationship with Him. Prayer does not bring God down to me. It lifts me up into His presence. Prayer does not change God; it changes me. Begin to pray like that. Try it out. It will change your life!2
Frank M. Hasel, Ph.D., serves as Associate Director for the Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference headquarters in Maryland. This article was originally published in Perspective Digest: A Publication of the Adventist Theological Society in 2014. It is being reprinted with permission.
FOOTNOTES AND REFERENCES
1. Some of these insights into prayer come from a book by Larry Crabb that is well worth reading: The Papa Prayer: The Prayer You’ve Never Prayed (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2006). It provides many additional worthwhile thoughts.
2. This article is adapted from the book Longing for God: A Prayer and Bible Study Journal, by Frank M. Hasel, pp. 43-45. To learn how you can get this book, click here.