Jesus Teaches About Prayer, Part 4
Should we ask God for everything we want? I’ll always remember how excited I was when my mom would bring home the Sears Wish Book. When it arrived, I knew that Christmas was just around the corner. I would immediately begin pouring over the pages of its toy section…always in the back half of the catalog. I would search out each toy, noticing every detail, right down to the capital letter beside each picture that directed me to the written information about why that toy was so grand. The price was listed at the end of the description for each toy. But I really didn’t pay that much attention to the price. After all, Santa could get anything. Price was of no consequence. Without fail, I would find that one item, my “Red Rider,” and I would begin the process of making my request known.
Do we ever treat prayer like the Sears Wish Book? It is certainly easy to do. But should we? The Bible says, “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). So ask anything? Well, it would seem the import of this verse is the will of God. That which we ask, as long as it is in accordance with God’s will, he hears us. God does not always give us that for which we ask. And we ought to be humble enough to submit to his will; as Jesus said, “Not my will, but yours be done.” What would we do to our children if we gave them everything they asked for?
Jesus, teaching his disciples to pray, prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). This is the only part of this prayer that mentions personal requests for material blessings. That reality makes it important to search out the implications of the verse. There is another passage to consider: Proverbs 30:7-9 says, “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” This passage says don’t ask for poverty. This passage says don’t ask for riches. This passage says ask for your daily bread. I think we must let this Proverbs passage set the parameters and meaning of this verse in Matthew 6.
It is not difficult to see there are perils of prosperity. Moses warned the Israelites about possessing the Promised Land. “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you – with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant – and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12). It is at the moment of blessing that we become spiritually vulnerable. Comfortable people tend to become self-reliant and self-absorbed resulting in a loss of memory regarding from where their blessings came. In the late sixteenth century, John Wesley (1703-1791) wrote, “I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.” It’s so easy to forget that it is God who gives us all things. We begin to rest in our own strength, in our own accomplishments. And if we are not careful, we will begin to trust in our prosperity.
The Bible speaks about sufficiency, being satisfied with enough. Paul says, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). And again, Paul says, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5). God promises sufficiency. God promises what we need. Being satisfied with enough is called contentment. Paul says to the young minister, Timothy, “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:8). And to the church in Philippi Paul says, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). I’m not suggesting that material blessing is inherently bad. I am suggesting that we need to say with Paul that no matter where we find ourselves materially in this world, we can learn to be content. It is so easy to begin putting our hope and trust in our prosperity. But God desires for his people to hope and trust in him alone.
There are a couple points about prayer that deserve to be mentioned here. Prayer has fallen victim to the “American Dream.” Cultural beliefs will get interwoven with religious beliefs in every culture. The “American Dream” makes it good to aspire to riches and affluence. It’s easy for that which is “American” to then become “Spiritual”. Thus, we paved the way for the “Prosperity Gospel” to which many today have yielded. It then becomes acceptable and good to pray for luxuries, and then to expect that we should get them. God is interested in our daily provisions. God doesn’t relegate daily provisions of the “non-spiritual” category, and therefore is unconcerned with what we need. We often miss the importance of Matthew 6:11 because we buy groceries by the week. Maybe it’s not that simple. Or maybe it is. Most of the world will work tomorrow for tomorrow’s food. Some three billion people across the world work for less than $2 a day. Many have no idea where their next meal will come from. Because of globalization, we are able to see more and more of the struggles that many people have.
What a blessing to know that God is concerned about me and how I am doing today! Not a sparrow falls to the ground without his notice (which is not to say that God causes the fall of the sparrow, just that God’s knowledge is that encompassing). The very hairs of our head are numbered (which is not to say that God chooses when each one falls out, just that he knows every detail about us). We are of much greater value than sparrows. This is all to say how important we are to God! David said in his old age, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging bread” (Psalm 37:25). “Give us this day our daily bread.” Speaking these words acknowledges our dependence on God. Speaking these words acknowledges that it is God who sustains us. Speaking these words acknowledges our trust in God. Do you trust in God? Do you depend on Him?