“If we had more prayer and less selfishness, our world would be much better.”
A person I have known and respected for many years wrote that simple sentence to me in an email the other day, and for some reason it really resonated with me: More prayer and less selfishness. Rather than viewing prayer and selfishness as isolated occurrences, my mind linked the two and I felt a need to investigate – does more prayer lead to less selfishness? While we often pray for our own personal needs, we can also pray for the needs of others. In this simple act of faith, we have a direct connection to the Creator of the universe. We can bring to Him the needs of those we are praying for, knowing that He cares and that He hears us.
Just close your eyes for a moment and visualize Revelation 8:3-4 in your mind,
“Another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.”
Can you envision the angel offering up your prayers intermingled with the sweet perfume of God’s mercy? God makes our prayers a fragrant offering that infiltrates and overcomes our sinful state, so that, as we are taught in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
In the English language we use one word to describe many different things. We can love our brothers and sisters, we can have a more intimate love for our spouses, we can even love hamburgers, but none of these describe the love that God has for us. When we go back to the original Greek, we see that all of these types of love have different words assigned to them. Family love, or love of an object, may fall under storge (στοργή). The brotherly love of friendship is expressed as philia (φιλία), and sexual love as eros (ἔρως). The love of God for man has its own word, too. It is called agape (ἀγάπη). God’s love for us is relentless, incomprehensible, sacrificial and unconditional.
Praying is an act of love toward God and toward others. If we develop a habit of prayer that includes telling God how much we love Him, we bless God by recognizing what He has done for us and we acknowledge His rightful place in our lives. By praying for other people in their times of need, as well as for ourselves in our times of need, we create an atmosphere of love that brings us closer to our Lord, while at the same time blessing others. In praying this way we have the opportunity to respond to the two greatest commandments that Jesus teaches us in Matthew 22:36-40:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The Greek word for the verb love in this passage is agapaō (ἀγαπάω) – from this we can see that it is agape love that God commands us to have, both for Him and for one another! When we pray for others, we are loving our neighbors with God’s unconditional love; we are crying out in the agape love of our Lord, where selfishness cannot exist.
As Christ-followers, we should unselfishly strive to reflect God’s agape love to those around us. One of the most powerful ways we can do that is by praying for others. Therefore, prayer and unselfishness are indeed linked in a profound way. Have you ever noticed that after you pray for someone else, your heart becomes more compassionate towards that person? You are concerned for their welfare, rather than your own? Not only is praying for someone else an unselfish act, it engenders unselfishness in us!
The evidence is in – as my friend David inferred in his email: Prayer and unselfishness is a powerful combination that can make our world a much better place! So let us pray!
Heavenly Father, we love you and come before you grateful for both who you are and for what you have done for us. We thank you that we can bring not only our own needs, but also the needs of others before you, confident in knowing that you hear our every prayer. Father, help us to be a people that love you and love others every day. Help us to love those around us without condition, the same way you love us. Help us to view them through the same lens of compassion that you do. We pray for our neighbors, Father, that you meet their every need. We ask that you make us a people of prayer, that selfishness is replaced with love, and that prayer becomes not only a way to love you and receive your love, but to love others through you.
Thank you for your gift of prayer and may it grow in us a love for others that drives out selfishness, so that our world can indeed be a better place. In your precious, holy and powerful Name, we pray. Amen.