Can We Manipulate God Into Answering Prayer?

“God of our salvation, help us—for the glory of Your name. Deliver us and atone for our sins, because of Your name” (Psalm 79:9).

No doubt the psalmist felt a sense of desperation here. Leading up to this prayer, he recounted the great destruction he witnessed in God’s city of Jerusalem. The nations desecrated the temple. They gave the dead bodies of God’s people to the birds. Blood was poured out like water. He, and his people, need some help in the worst way, and help is what he asks for.

But there’s something about this prayer recorded in verse 9 that feels manipulative, doesn’t it? It’s as if he’s saying, “God we need some help, but you’ve got some skin in this game. Your name and reputation are at stake here. So don’t do it for us, do it for yourself.”

The basis of his appeal to God isn’t the desperateness of the situation but the glory of God. Wouldn’t it be more genuine to just ask? Wouldn’t it be more real to just make the appeal?

But we want to level this charge at the psalmist, let’s not stop there. Let’s fast forward to Jesus, the Son of God, and see the basis of the model prayer He gave to us as His followers to teach us the ins and outs of what prayer really is:

“Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10).

Sure, after that there are the asks for daily bread and forgiveness and protection, but the groundwork is laid in the glory and honor of God’s name. Jesus, like the psalmist, rooted His appeals to God in God’s glory.

This feels manipulative for us because we know our own buttons. What’s more, we know the buttons of those around us. We’ve been around long enough to know the right way to ask someone for something. Whether it’s your boss, your spouse, your parents, or even your children, we know the pathway to success. We know better than to come right out and ask for something; instead, for each person in our lives there is proven pathway for positive response. And we know how to tread that pathway well.

When we tread that pathway, we might phrase the question or the request in flowery terms, but in the end it’s all about our own self-interest. We know what we want, and we’re willing to manipulate our way to get there. Is this what the psalmist is doing? And is it what Jesus taught us to do? Are they simply giving us the right divine buttons to press to ensure success in our prayers?

The answer is no. They are not.

God is not like us. His glory is not like ours. When we make a claim for our own glory, we are, in truth, lying. We are seeking the credit for something that ultimately does not lie with us. But God is different. His claim on the glory of the universe is entirely truthful and accurate. His glory is good – no, it’s the best thing. When we acknowledge and seek after His glory it’s not manipulative, it’s simply a matter of telling the truth and seeking the most noble and good and right thing in the cosmos.

Which leads us to another reason this praying is not manipulative. Praying like this is not only praying for a result, it’s actually praying for our character and desires to be shaped. These prayers are as much for the alignment of our hearts as they are prayers for deliverance. When we pray that God would deliver us or provide for us or demonstrate His power for the sake of His own glory, we are also praying that we would feel the same zeal for God’s honor in the world that Jesus felt.

Pray for God’s glory, Christian, and as you are, remember that you are praying for zeal for His glory as much as you are praying for His name to be lifted high.

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