Ask What I Want; Get What God Desires (Google Images)
Prayer is tricky. No, the actual action of praying is not difficult, but praying correctly is. I don’t mean the form of prayer we use when I say, “correctly” but rather the content of those prayers.

When Jesus gave us His model prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4, He gave us the basic elements that should be included in our prayers. Most of them are very straightforward. But when it comes to the “Give us each day our daily bread” we often run into the problem of “correctness.” We know that this statement is a general one, and can include every need that a human being can have. But it is what to ask for that will guarantee a positive response from God that troubles us.

“How do I know that what I am asking God is according to His will?” is the question that many ask.

I remember the prayers that our missionary team prayed many years ago on behalf of a woman in our small congregation in Caracas. She was one of the first converts to Christ. Betty was diagnosed with cancer and underwent all the treatments possible. But eventually there was nothing more that could be done. We prayed, and prayed, and prayed, for a miracle. After all, wouldn’t God want someone like Betty, just starting out on her journey with the Lord, to survive to tell her story to the world? Would God take from us the “first fruits” of our intense labour? Surely not! But He did.

Many of us can relate to that story. We’ve prayed for loved ones to be healed. And they aren’t. We’ve prayed for loved ones to be saved. And they aren’t. We’ve prayed for children to walk a good path. But they don’t.

At the same time, we hear of people who pray and get exactly what they have prayed for. And we wonder what is wrong with our prayers.

Over the last few days there have been particular requests in my mind. I was missing a two-page spread for the magazine. All the other articles had come, gone through my hands (and my red pencil) and been sent on their way to the proofreader. But one article just wouldn’t arrive. My request for information passed through five or six hands. The last “hand” failed to respond to my request. I sent another request. This morning was the deadline. I prayed that God would send a story. This morning the email with the story arrived.

I’ve also been praying for discernment about a decision I had to make sooner rather than later. As the weekend progressed I just felt a peace with putting off a mission trip I have been planning to take. No handwriting on the wall, nothing spectacular, just peace.

As I was reading this morning Luke’s account of the Lord’s teaching on prayer, I read carefully what followed the actual prayer. Jesus tells a story about what would happen if any of the disciples went to a friend in the middle of the night to ask for some bread to feed an unexpected guest. Most of us would grumble and mutter under our breaths but we’d give our friend the bread. Oddly enough Jesus doesn’t count on friendship being enough to produce the desired result. He says: “I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs” (Luke 11:8).

So persistence is a key.

But we were persistent in prayer for Betty!

Then comes another statement, often abused, but nevertheless wonderfully vital to our faith. “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (11:9, 10).

Since this follows on the statement about persistence in prayer, and is connected to it by the “so,” then why doesn’t persistence result in what we ask for? The promise seems unbreakable.

Then comes verses 11-13. “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

I’m going to go out on a limb here. Asking for Betty to be healed seemed like asking for a good thing—like a child asking for a fish or an egg. But what if God knew that the fish or the egg would turn out to be a snake or a scorpion in the end? As a good Father He would deny the request, wouldn’t He? God determined that it was better for Betty to be with Him than with us. The truth is that God knows everything and we know very little. We are told to bring our requests to Him—all of them (Philippians 4:6, 7). We may not be sure that what we are asking for is what God will give us. But we can be sure that what He does give us will be the best result possible because He is a good Father.

We ask, and He gives. What He gives will be a good gift. We seek and He will led us to discover what He considers best. We knock, and He’ll open all the right doors even if we are trying to kick down all the wrong ones. He’s a good Father.

When I look at the last statement in these verses I have often done a “Huh?” What does giving us the Holy Spirit have to do with this?

Well, that is what we are to ask for. He’s the best gift. He comes to us when we ask, as repentant seekers of Christ, for forgiveness. The Scriptures tell us that the Holy Spirit is our counselor and guide when we need direction and wisdom, our comforter in difficult times, our teacher who tells us what Christ wants us to know. He will rebuke our sin and lead us into truth (John 14-16).

Sometimes there are things wrong with our prayers. James 4:3 mentions one of these “incorrect” kinds of prayers: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” But in the end, our prayers may be as pure and unselfish as it is humanly possible for them be, and still be denied—because God is a good Father and will not give us a snake when we think we are asking for a fish. Earlier in James we are told to ask in faith, believing. But perhaps that, “believing” is not so much believing that we will get what we want, but that God will deliver what we need.

Because He is a good Father.


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