by Emily Conrad
“He wants us to come to Him like children, and you know how children are. They’ll ask for anything.”
I snickered at the statement about prayer in Bible study and looked to the friend sitting next to me.
She has three young children, and I laughed because I know one of the requests her daughter made of her earlier this year.
My friend found her precious daughter in her room. The girl had taken a picture of her parents from the frame beside her bed to admire it more closely. Her attachment to her daddy had grown strong as of late. Though my friend knew that, imagine her shock when her sweet little girl asked, “Can you cut this so it’s only Daddy?”
The girl literally requested my friend–her mother!–cut herself out of the picture.
Talk about a bold ask.
Is that how we should pray? Um, no.
Is that how we do pray? Well…
We’re invited to come to God with our cares, and so we should! Just like a parent likes to hear from their children about their needs and wants, God opens the door for us to cast all our cares on Him.
What an amazing invitation! What’s more, the passage we were studying that morning in Bible study contained this wonderful promise:
And whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing to him. 1 John 3:22, NET
But we can twist the invitation and the promises so we end up sounding a lot like my friend’s daughter, asking for things even as we subtly try to cut God out of the picture.
The verse we studied that morning closely links living to please God is integral to the promise.
As believers, we’re to love God with everything we are and to follow His commandments.
That’s a life-long journey, and none of us will reach perfection this side of Heaven, so it’s worthwhile to keep a close eye on the motives behind our prayers:
Why do we want what we’ve asked God for? Is it so we can love and serve God and others?
Or is it possible we’re asking for something because we prize that thing more than God, essentially cutting him out of the picture?
If you’re like me, the answers to these questions can be mixed. Good motives, like concern for God’s will or the physical or eternal well-being of a loved one, swirl with my human tendencies.
I sometimes pray for things, at least in part, because I find it easier to feel secure when I have the job I want, a bank account I can add to and monitor, a publishing contract I can touch, a family member I can call.
Do you sense the misplaced trust there?
Like the Israelites who tried to collect more than a day’s worth of manna despite commands not to, I sure like to stockpile a reserve of blessings, rather than find myself in a position where I must trust God for my daily bread.
Jobs and savings and relationships aren’t bad, of course. But even good things become a problem when I prize and trust them more than God.
You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, so you can spend it on your passions. Adulterers, do you not know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So whoever decides to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy. James 4:3-4, NET
Talk about cutting God out of the picture.
If our lives are a photograph, God should be the main focal point. Everything else in the picture is only there as it relates to Him.
But sometimes, our focus is drawn to the background of the photo—to ourselves and our own desires.
What an insult to take a scissors and try to cut God out of the middle of the picture so we can better admire the blurry, less important objects in the periphery.
So, let’s keep a pulse on our motives.
One way to discern whether we’re keeping God in first place or if we might be hoping to cut Him out of the picture is to watch our attitude when He answers us with a no or a wait.
Anger and frustration should be our clue that we’ve started to focus on the wrong part of the picture.
Instead, let’s strive to have hearts that echo what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:12b-13:
In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me. (NET)
As for my friend, instead of taking her daughter’s request personally, she laughs about it. She didn’t allow her child to cut her out of the picture.
Nor will our Father allow us to cut Him out. No matter how many answered prayers we receive, we’ll always need Him.
So, with every request we bring and with every yes, no, or wait we hear in response, let’s be sure to love God first and most.
He belongs in the center of the picture.
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