Why Do You Ask?

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. – James 4:3

Last week my son and grandsons were visiting us at the family summer house near Lake Michigan. We really wanted to get all the cousins together, even if just for an afternoon, but our daughter Joanna and her family and friends were vacationing on the other side of the state, close to where two of the girls were at camp.

My resourceful husband found a “waterfall” in a location we could all get to in a few hours, and we made plans to meet up there for a day of fun and frolic in the falls and the natural pools.

The five of us got there shortly after the seven of them did, and we gathered for a picnic lunch. After everyone had eaten, Joanna and I lingered at the table, catching up on one another’s lives, while the kids ran off to play in the water.

It wasn’t long before our visit was interrupted by a very unhappy child. Joanna’s oldest was near hysteria, because she had given her “special bracelet” to her dad for safekeeping, and he had accidentally dropped it somewhere in the water. The inconsolable daughter was sobbing, “I wanna go home!” Of course, Joanna tried to explain that the seven of them were not going to turn around and take the long drive back after less than an hour there, even if “going home” could solve the problem, which of course it couldn’t.

This girl’s distress may seem a bit out of proportion, especially if I were to tell you her age, but this is the same child who as a toddler would be apoplectic if two different foods on her plate were touching one another. (Yes, she has “issues,” and yes, she’s being treated.)

Meanwhile, I hated to see her so unhappy, and I confess I also didn’t want her distress to ruin everyone else’s fun.

Looking out over the falls and multiple pools, I decided to exercise my faith and ask the Lord to help me find the bracelet. The very next thought was that it would increase my granddaughter’s faith if I told her I was praying and then found it! But another part of me wanted to wait until after I had found the treasure … just in case I didn’t.

But if I had faith and asked God for help, why wouldn’t I find it?

Many of you know that one of my books is entitled BARRIERS (So if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?) That book is the result of my spending two years going through the Bible, Genesis to Revelation, gleaning every verse I could find about why some of our prayers don’t get answered the way we want them to. (Truth is, every prayer gets answered, we just don’t like it when the answer is “No,” or “Wait.”) The results of my research were a list of fourteen “barriers” to effective prayer, which I have since used as a sort of checklist when I’m asking for something specific.

That day it didn’t take long for me to pinpoint what was likely to be the flaw in my prayer. The Still, Small Voice whispered, Why do you ask?

Motive.

Of course. One of my reasons for wanting the bracelet found was to make my granddaughter’s day happier – and everyone else’s. I did want her faith to grow, but not enough to risk telling her ahead of time that I was praying. Another motivation, I admit, was to spare her mother (and me) a lot of whining and putting a damper on our day.

But probably the most selfish motive of all that was lurking in the darker corners of my heart was the desire to be the Hero. Sure, I wanted the treasure found, but I mostly wanted it found by (drumroll…) ❀ “NANA!“<3

Bingo.

I sighed and reworded my prayer, while still looking into the water, which was clear, but only where it wasn’t being stirred up by multiple swimmers, especially children with their “floaties” and goggles.

->GOGGLES!<

Of course! There was a team of searchers already at our disposal, just waiting for something specific to look for to turn their random paddling into a treasure hunt!

A trio of boys with goggles were diving enthusiastically down to the rocks and back. They were about the age of my granddaughter and looked very approachable, probably because they were the age of kids I used to teach and love.

“Hey, guys,” I said in my teacher voice, and they respectfully gave me their attention. “There’s a red and white bracelet missing somewhere in the water, and someone is very upset that it’s missing! And oh,” I added, “if you find it, there’s a reward.”

Off they swam, and not five minutes later they approached us, holding up the bracelet in triumph.

I was thrilled. At the same time I couldn’t believe this beat-up string of plastic beads was what my granddaughter had been so hysterical about losing. Still, a promise was a promise. I hadn’t specified what the “reward” was, but I figured cash was the surest prize guaranteed to please, and a five was all I had. I gave it to the boys with high fives all around for their work. They seemed happy to get their reward, but even more, getting to be the heroes of the day.

Joanna was surprised and wondered how in the world it had been found. I was happy to give credit to three young men who took the challenge and came through in record time.

Prayer: Father, forgive us for the times we pray to You with wrong motives. We know You want us to be mature and complete more than you want us to have “stuff,” fame, or thanks. Keep molding us and purifying our prayers until we seek Your will and Your glory always, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

38 thoughts on “Why Do You Ask?

  1. Now that’s not only a great story but a great lesson I still keep needing to learn. God just lives it when we’re weak enough to ask for help and He takes delight in providing it from the most unexpected places! PS…5 bucks is an awesome reward!

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  2. What a great lesson, Annie. Not only about the power of prayer, but also about the need to examine the motives behind our prayers. I am so glad everything worked out and that the vacation’s joy was restored.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Oh, I like this! What a sweet tale. Not long ago I wrote about how the heart of generosity is actually about letting someone else be the giver, be the hero.

    I know a couple of those “I just wanna go home” kids who aren’t even really “kids” anymore. I pray that the Lord ministers to them, because I surely can’t figure it out! Kind of interesting, recently they all took a trip together and subjected one another to their own same behavior (which they all found appalling.) I wasn’t laughing about it until just now when I read your post, but it was kind of a Divinely inspired comedy.

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    1. That would be her dad, and she was, but all’s well that ends well. I found out later he did do an extensive search, although he didn’t have goggles… I think everything that happened that day was for a reason. Anyway, this story seems to have blessed some people. πŸ˜‰

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  4. I love this: “Every prayer gets answered, we just don’t like it when the answer is β€œNo,” or β€œWait.” I also love that verse in James about motives; Proverbs 16:2 and 21:2 are very similar. Finally, I love the fact that your granddaughter’s bracelet was found!

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    1. So do I, Keith. And for all the accusations disappointed people throw at the Lord every day, I believe He WANTS to give us way more than we’re asking for. We’re just slow to learn the lessons about getting to that “sweet spot” in being one with Him as we pray.

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    1. As I said, when writing the book, I found fourteen “barriers,” and it seems every time I get past one, I get tripped up because I forgot a lesson learned regarding another one. (I’m usually the problem, it’s never God’s fault.)
      Thanks for stopping by, Manu.

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  5. A very important point about prayer! Why is this not taught more clearly at our earliest introduction to prayer ? Thinking about it as I type . I think it’s because humans in general suffer greatly in the self awareness department. But also the communication department. So we don’t know our own motivations and we don’t know how to talk to God . We can be so dense . 😁 How did the rest of the day go ?

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    1. The rest of the day was wonderful, Paula.
      As for your question … I don’t think we’re ready for all the “what-ifs” when we first learn to pray. It’s basically “talking to God.” When I was a kid, my friends and I were playing Leap-Frog – πŸ˜‰ – and my girlfriend Emily lost a contact lens. She was very upset, and we were all looking for it – in a field of grass! Just as I was saying a prayer, I saw it! What are the chances …?! I got to be the “hero.” (At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what that big hug from Emily meant. πŸ˜‰ ) I’m sure my motives weren’t 100% pure, but I suspect the Lord was just teaching me ONE lesson that day – that He hears and answers prayers. All the finer points came later, but for then I just needed to know that prayer was something worth pursuing.

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  6. Annie, I was right there with you all the way. I only wish I could hear your teacher voice! (I love the immediate respect from the boys.) This is a beautiful reminder of the power of prayer, and how God is waiting for us to ask. And we know He searches our hearts, so we better be searching them too! (Barriers is a beautiful book that I keep on my bed stand!) ❀️

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  7. What a wonderful story, Annie! With you I often have to fight wrong motives AND the concern that if I announce ahead of time what I’m praying, and it doesn’t happen, that it might hinder the faith of those who heard the announcement. One time years ago, I was ready to show a video to a group of church children, and the VCR wouldn’t work. With trepidation I led them in a prayer, asking God to help us, though our petition seemed terribly paltry. (Not exactly a prayer on caliber with missionary requests, healings, or necessary provision for those in dire straits.) But God answered our prayer affirmatively! I’ve often wondered since then if some of those children remember that morning when God started the VCR–an example of His gracious generosity. I’ll bet your granddaughter will remember the day God returned her bracelet to her! (And praise God for the clever idea He planted in your mind, to put those boys-in-goggles to work!!)

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    1. I am very familiar with those prayers, Nancy. Who knows what kids do and don’t remember? I just trust that they will remember the right things at the right times, as the Lord has brought memories to my mind just when I needed them.

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  8. You have faith still do not believe in the faith?
    Is it still faith?
    If you had faith you would find it by the help of God, you supposed to tell her. Or are you trying to be a Philosopher?πŸ˜‚

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    1. Faith in faith is not what we’re supposed to have. I have learned that faith only works if it is faith in the right thing – or Person. The God I trust knows more than I do, so if His answer is “no,” I know He has good reason. In this case, my faith in God was not weak, just my faith in my own judgment, which, as it turned out, was indeed faulty.

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    1. Maybe one of the boys was praying for some money, just to see if prayer “works.” There would be a good lesson there – that sometimes you have to work for it, but God will bless your efforts and make them more effective than what you could have done on your own…

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  9. Annie, that is good. Yes, we all need to check our motives and our attitudes on a regular basis. I frequently ask the Lord to show me where my heart is in the wrong place or if I am going about something the wrong way or if my words were mine and not his or if I had something wrong that I thought I had right, etc. It is critical to me that I don’t just talk the walk but that I live what I am sharing with others and so self-examination is a regular part of what I practice and so is admitting when I am wrong to those I wronged. I want my conscience to always be clear.

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