Asking God for things is fine, but it’s only a part of the picture.
The verb “to pray” has taken on a narrow meaning. Today, it’s often become synonymous for “to ask.” That’s a pity for, with that, many are unaware of how their spiritual life could be enriched and deepened. How can we discover other facets of Christian prayer? And there are so many: adoration, praise, thanksgiving, contemplation, listening to the Word of God, the simple presence of God. What’s more, only “asking” things of God distorts our relationship with Him. It’s better than never thinking of Him at all, but it’s a shame. What would you think of someone who, each time he meets a friend, asks him, “Can you lend me a dollar?” The friendship wouldn’t last very long.
There’s no harm in asking
“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Mt 7:7). The parables evoke the father who gives his child what he needs, a friend who comes to the aid of his friend (Mt 7:11; Lk 11:5). And so, we can present our requests to the Lord, with simplicity and in great confidence.
On the other hand, we must not begin our prayer with supplications. It would be bad manners to ask God to take an interest in us without our first taking an interest in him. That’s what the structure of the Lord’s Prayer teaches us: “Your name, your kingdom, your will” come before “our bread, our forgiveness, our protection from temptation, and our deliverance from evil!” That’s why St. Paul insists that a prayer of petition be couched within a prayer of praise. He invites the faithful to “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving,” and “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6). What’s more, it was in this way that Jesus prayed for the resurrection of Lazarus: “Father, I thank you that you have heard me” (Jn 11:41).
Learn to ask with faith and in a just way
When we formulate a prayer of intention, it’s not to inform God: He knows better than we do what our needs and the needs of the world are. Nor is it to influence Him: there’s no need for us to defend our cause for our Father loves us. A prayer of supplication isn’t about changing God, but about changing us. It opens us up and opens up the world to the desire for God and his blessings. Then, little by little, the gap narrows between what we desire and what God desires, between His will and ours. We can then ask Him anything, and our prayer is always answered.
This purification and deepening of our intercessions isn’t done in a matter of minutes. It takes time for our pagan prayers to become Christian prayers. We find this echoed in the parables that invite our perseverance in supplication. If we’re kept waiting for the response, it’s not because the heavenly switchboard is overloaded, but because our earthly calls are not yet authentic, pure, humble, and strong enough.
Father Alain Bandelier