I’m halfway through the six-month prayer challenge and my touchstone has been: “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ASK whatever you wish and it will be given to you. This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” [John 15:7,8]
The center of these verses, and the prayer challenge, is the simple command “ask”. But what a big word that is. “Ask whatever you wish” brings to mind winning a contest where you get to run around a store with a shopping cart and pile up everything you can into it. Or being a kid in a candy store who is told ‘take whatever you want’. Or going to ask Santa [in a Thai department store].
Did Jesus really mean ‘whatever I want’? I go back and forth on this. My mind fills with things I’d love to have. And then I think it can’t be all about getting what I want.
Last fall, we hosted a seminar based on “The Praying Life” by Paul Miller which is one of the all-time best books on prayer. [I’m sure that my embarking on the six-month prayer challenge was partly inspired by reading this book.] One of the first chapters talks about learning to pray like a child and points out that when children talk with their parents, they are focused on themselves, talking about their feelings, their problems, their life. And when they ask their parents for something, they are persistent, they whine, and they use every angle to get what they want. [If it has been awhile since you’ve been around a three-year old, or can’t remember your own childhood, trust me. This is exactly how a kid asks.]
As Miller puts it, children ask for “everything and anything. If they hear about Disneyland, they want to go there tomorrow. How often do little children ask? Repeatedly. Over and over again. They wear us out. Sometimes we give in just to shut them up. How do little children ask? Without guile. They just say what is on their minds. They have no awareness of what is appropriate or inappropriate.”
Case in point: I was in the car with Sam as we drove past a car showroom with a miniature dune buggy on display, just about the perfect size for a tall almost-three year old. And what did Sam do when he saw that wonderful little vehicle? “Hey Dad, can I have that?” And how did John answer? Something like ‘no’. But you can’t fault Sam. He knows his father is the giver of good gifts. He knows his father loves him. He knows he certainly can’t get the dune buggy on his own. The only way is to ask his father.
As we grow up, we learn to dial down our requests. But Jesus says we need to become like children to enter to the kingdom of heaven. And children ask for things because although they have desires and needs and wants, they don’t have a lot of power or resources or independence. And that does pretty much sum up my general state of life as much as I’d like to believe otherwise.
During the seminar, we stopped and jotted down a list of things we wanted. I felt a little shy about doing it. It felt a little selfish. But it was a helpful exercise. How can I ask if I don’t know what I want? Then we went over a list of things we tend not to talk to God about:
“Mundane things: too unimportant
Personal things: too selfish
Change in others : too controlling
Change in me: means admitting a problem
Things we are good at: too easy, we don’t need help
Material things: too selfish
Overwhelming impossible needs: too impossible.”
My six-month prayer challenge is focusing on that last category: impossible things. Sometimes asking feels great, like filling up that shopping cart. And sometimes it feels humbling and scary, admitting once more that I need something, and I haven’t gotten it yet.
The rest is in God’s hands.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7