WHY PEOPLE ASK FOR SOMETHING is at least as important as what they ask for.
This is true in many domains of life. I know an executive in a midsize corporation who successfully talked his bosses into setting up a new committee. The reason he gave was that it was needed to oversee some new development. What he did not tell his bosses was his real reason: he could in time use this committee to sidestep another established committee that was questioning some of his projects and holding them up. He saw the new committee as a managerial trick to avoid being controlled, and thus to shin up the ladder a little faster. What might have been construed as a shrewd device for peacefully circumventing an unnecessary roadblock in the company’s structure (had he explained what he was doing to the bosses) was in fact presented in quite different terms, because he could not honestly tell them what he was doing—he knew they thought the established committee was doing a good job. Hence the deceit.
We need not look so far. How many of our own requests—in the home, in church, at work, in our prayers—mask motives that are decidedly self-serving?
That was the problem with Israel’s request for a king (1 Sam. 8). The problem was not the request itself. After all, God would eventually give them the Davidic dynasty. Moses had anticipated the time when there would be a king (Deut. 17). The problem was the motive. They looked at their recent ups and downs with the local Canaanites and perceived few of their own faults, their own infidelities. They did not want to rely on the word of God mediated through prophets and judges and truly learn to obey that word. They figured that there would be political stability if only they could have a king. They wanted to be like the other nations (!), with a king to lead them in their military skirmishes (1 Sam. 8:19–20).
God not only understands their requests, but he perceives and evaluates their motives. In this instance he knows that the people are not simply loosening their ties to a prophet like Samuel, they are turning away from God himself (1 Sam. 8:7–8). The result is horrific: they get what they want, along with a desperate range of new evils they had not foreseen.
That is the fatal flaw in Machiavellian schemes, of course. They may win short-term advantages. But God is on his throne. Not only will the truth eventually come out, whether in this life or the next, but we may pay a horrible price, within our families and in our culture, in unforeseen correlatives, administered by a God who loves integrity of motive.