My son lives in New York City, and survived Hurricane Sandy unscathed. While millions of people lost power, thousands had their homes flood, scores had their homes burn, and at least 50 lost their lives, Ian remained comfortable and safe in his apartment. The wind howled and his lights flickered occasionally, but that’s about all he had to deal with. God answered my prayers and protected my son—and I’m incredibly grateful.
So, I was feeling selfish to ask God for more. But here’s the thing—Ian was supposed to come home to Colorado Friday to celebrate his birthday. He was supposed to fly from LaGuardia, which flooded. The whole region has been crippled since before Sandy hit, and the prospect for air travel from that part of the world is not encouraging.
But it’s been almost a year since Ian’s last visit. I’ve made a bunch of special plans, and I am going to be really disappointed and sad if he can’t come—that’s an understatement.
Sometimes prayer gurus discourage us from praying “little prayers,” prayers that only involve me and mine. They say we should focus on kingdom prayers, bringing God’s kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. So we should be praying for revival, an end to injustice, global evangelism, righteous government, and other big-ticket prayers.
And of course God is honored by those prayers. He wants to glorify Himself by doing those things, and encourages us to partner with Him by praying about them. However, I’m not so sure it’s an either/or. Why can’t it be a both/and?
I told Ian Monday night that I was praying that God would get him to Colorado somehow. “I know it’s a selfish prayer,” I said, apologetically, “But I really hope that in spite of all this, He will make a way for you to come.”
Ian’s answer surprised me. “If God answers your prayer, it will be for the greater good of many people in this city,” he said. It only took me a second to see that he was right. In order to get Ian out of New York City, God had a lot of work to do to get the city back on its feet. That would benefit far more people than just my son.
And that’s probably true for a lot of “selfish” requests we make of God. Prayers for employment, healing, provision, restored relationships, protection, favor for our children, deliverance from bad habits, affect more than just us. The effects of those prayers can ripple across space and time, bringing glory to God in ways we could never have anticipated when we asked for what we “selfishly” wanted or needed.
God urges us to worry about nothing and pray about everything (Phil 4:6). He wants us to cast our cares on Him because He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). He reminds us that unless we become like little children (who aren’t known for thinking much beyond their own concerns) we can’t enter the kingdom of God (Mat. 18:3). Maybe it’s in the act of talking to God about everything—as a little child would talk to his parent about anything that concerns him—that we learn to pray not just for the little things, but also for the big ones.
That’s seems to be what Dallas Willard suggests in The Divine Conspiracy: “Many people have found prayer impossible because they thought they should only pray for wonderful but remote needs they actually had little or no interest in or even knowledge of. Prayer simply dies from efforts to pray about ‘good things’ that honestly do not matter to us. The way to get to meaningful prayer for those good things is to start by praying for what we are truly interested in. The circle of our interests will inevitably grow in the largeness of God’s love.”
All that to say, I’m praying that God makes a way to bring my son home on Friday. And I am not feeling selfish about it anymore.