I've been struggling (perhaps not the best word) lately regarding my prayer life. I wonder if you could share some insights on my thoughts. I don't know that I have an answer, just questions.
It occurs to me that I see a pattern in several locations in Scripture from which my questions stem. For example, I read in Ecclesiastes that the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep His commandments. I then read in Matthew from Jesus' teaching from the Sermon on the Mount that we are to not worry over things, but to trust God -- to seek first His Kingdom and righteousness. Then I read in James that we have not because we ask "amiss" or for the wrong reasons. However, I also read in James that the prayers of a righteous man are considered by God. A great example of this is Cornelius in Acts where God recognized him as a devout man. His prayer was answered but not what he was likely expecting.
Here's my delima. It seems that on one hand I have no right to ask God for anything other than with the intent that He be glorified and that He be served. For example, I hear many prayers of people asking for rain, to heal the sick, to remove things in life that generally make us uncomfortable. I hear this from non-Christians as well as bretheren. And although I understand that we should approach the Lord it seems that our motivations are wrong; hence, perhaps, a reason why prayers are often not answered as we wish. Would it not be more pleasing to God, more accurate in His eyes, to pray that in addition to His will being done that sister so-in-so or brother whoever be healed so that they may continue to serve God and to bring others to Him? Or that the rain come to show God's glory? Or, as Paul prayed, that we have strength to deal with the trial and to turn it to God's glory?
If indeed I am truly a slave to our Lord then I have no right to ask anything for myself, only to please the Master. Because of these thoughts I have changed my prayer life to focus in this direction.
As I said, I have questions and would appreciate your insights.
"You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:1).
James points out that one reason prayers fail is because those prayer are doing so from wrong motives. Their prayers are solely for their own personal pleasures.
But I think you missed a point when you assert that perhaps only prayers that give glory to God will be answered. Our prayers should be with the aim that God's will be furthered in the world. "And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it" (John 14:13-14). "In my name" is a way of saying in accordance with Jesus' will or by his authority. But a part of God's will is concern for our fellow man. "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 4:16). It is that concern for each other that demonstrates we are Christians. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).
Now if you are saying that someone is praying for another solely to remove his own personal discomfort in dealing with that person, then I would agree. But I would hope that most pray because they genuinely love the person and are concerned about them.
But prayers also include personal requests. "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (I Timothy 2:1-4). There is nothing wrong with praying for a peaceful life because teaching can be more productive in times of peace. Or praying, "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11). By asking for food we are also acknowledging the source of our substance. These are not wrong because it is the Bible which states, "For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat" (II Thessalonians 3:10). Such prayer are not demands for fulfilling personal gratification, but requests for aid in dealing with life.
When we pray for things that are in accordance with what God teaches, then God hears our prayers. The answers might not always be what we expect, but we trust our Father that the answers we get ultimately do us and others best in the long run. "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" (Matthew 7:8-11). What James is telling us is to not be like the spoiled brat hanging on Mom's coat demanding that he gets whatever he sees. Just as a parent will ignore such ungrateful demands, God will not answer prayers of such a nature.