I’m not much of an asker. My reasons for this have varied over time. I began life not wanting to ask for help. Then, as it can go with God’s risky generosity, I believed (for awhile) that I didn’t need help. And when I finally realized that I did need help, I asked, begged and bargained; yet in that time even my most basic and noble requests were denied, or seemed to fall on deaf ears. So I became even more certain that I hated asking for things.
While people might not give because they can’t, God doesn’t give because He won’t. This fact exacerbated me as I grew to discover my neediness. I spent several years wondering why I ought to ask God for anything at all. God’s will was going to happen no matter what, right? Why want anything of God if it meant I had to depend on someone I couldn’t understand, or want things that seemed to have no practical value? Requests were asked almost tongue-in-cheek, until I eventually stopped asking for anything from God.
Fast forward nearly a decade. Through the greatest gift (God’s revelation of Himself), and the greatest miracle (the change of a human heart), I still wasn’t much of an asker; though now, for entirely different reasons. I was in the process of becoming content in all things—so content that I didn’t see the need to ask for much beyond the necessary forgiveness, and helpful insights and enablings. I had been learning how to live by accepting, not by asking. Whatever I got was good enough for me (if I had the right mindset), and I could never quite own the idea that we ought to be spending much time petitioning an omnipotent God for a version of perfection as determined from within a flesh-bound universe. Too much focus on the needs of that entity begat more focus on the needs of that entity, and that granted me nothing but the feelings of despair and anxiety that was my flesh-bound universe. In fact, hindsight had made me grateful that God didn’t grant many of my previous requests. So here again, I wasn’t an asker. I didn’t ask. Instead, I trusted.
I had thought that this was the end-all destination of my spiritual calling—to live in trust, surrender, gratitude and submission. I was enjoying the freedom of not needing to ask for anything, knowing that God was in all things, working for the good in all things for me—which is why the prompting stood out so much when it came, out of the blue, early one winter morning:
It was a thought or a prompting which came sometime around four a.m. Ask? I tried to go back to sleep.
“OK, God, I ask that you would please help me go back to sleep”.
I got up to contemplate the idea of asking, and came up with an impressive response: “God, teach me what to ask for”. I figured I aced the quiz, and hopped back into bed.
(Is it true? Do I really still think the point of Christianity is to say the right thing, and then turn over and go back to sleep? Perhaps one of my problems is that I still ask without wanting the answer at any expense to me…)
Well, fortunately for me, over the next few months, I didn’t completely give up on the idea of asking.
I contemplated. Ask for the right thing? Maybe. For things of the world? Maybe. For everything? Nothing? For spiritual gifts?
The period of denial and God-silence years ago had enabled me to realized that my old prayers were essentially requests to be successful (or at least to survive) independent of God: “Grant that I might take care of my own self according to my own understanding!” And I learned that the less I painted my agenda in prayer (by talking about it incessantly), the better I could see past the boundary of my understanding, and into something more infinite. So why spend time asking? Heck, why even talk at all?
I knew I didn’t need to worry about what to eat or drink or wear, and as it says in Matt 6:32-33 “even the pagans ask for these things, but instead seek the Kingdom of God…” This verse seemed to affirm my focus on seeking rather than asking.
Yet still, there was that encouragement… “Ask!”
There seems to be no convincing answer as to why we should ask things of a God who already knows our needs, except that God tells us to ask Him for things. Perhaps it’s something about His design being a relational one; or something to do with us being lifted to a status of working in cooperation with God (see John 15:15).
Maybe I’m to ask so that I can hear the desires of my heart.
Or maybe I ought to ask so that I know to take the gift when is given to me. Many times a gift is not seen as a gift unless it has been asked for. And the asking buttresses the wanting.
Perhaps it is in the asking that one body connects to another, just as I had experienced that asking initiates the knitting process within a community.
How about this: Ask because I need. By asking, I begin to understand that I am by nature, need; and apart from God I can do nothing—least of all discern His voice, and find His kingdom or offer anything of eternal value to it.
What if I considered the alternative scenario? What would it mean for us, or say of God, if we served a God whom we could not ask?
Still, even the plainest answers to “why must we ask” are too high for me. But should I wait until I understand the mind of God to do what He asks? No, that would be stubborn and self-righteous. That would be putting me above God. He doesn’t answer to me. My role is to obey.
So ask already.
I asked God to tell me what my needs are. And in response, a thought emerged: “I need to know that I need God”. The word “know” was intended to mean “realize, accept, live like, believe, be certain”, and even “love”. For example, I need to love that I need God, and believe that I need God…
Then, I prayed a prayer of nothing but “asks”. The prayer gave me a daily portion of gratitude and the fleeting gift of humility. From outside of my vanity, my kingdom, my name, I prayed, feeling fully allowed (and encouraged!) to bring even my most mundane needs to God. The prayer went something like this:
“God, please address my need for food and a home, and comfort, hope, security, peace, fun, and to feel valued. Please hear my desire for a known direction, and for our efforts to yield something actual and purposeful. Please give us certainty, money, health, joy and rest.
Help me see you in the things I ask for and in the things I get.
I pray for sensitivity to your subtle, quiet promptings. I pray for the willingness to obey them, and for the desire or discipline to ask for these same things again tomorrow.
Correct my hopes. Align my goals with your purpose. Teach me your desires and enable me to live them.
I pray for the desire to “mind the one thing”; and for an earnest community which has these same desires.
Show me the work you have for me, and let me be satisfied with that alone.
I need forgiveness.
I want to see my temptations the way you see them. Give me your perspective on sin. Let me see it for the death that it is.
Give me your love for others so that I can love them, too.
Give me discernment. Give me wisdom. Reveal the lies I still entertain.
Keep me awake to the eternal reality.
Strengthen my faith—that you are enough, you are all I need, and that you do provide completely.
Help me know your name so that I might ask of the things within it.
Give me the humility to know that I need you, to know that you are God, and the courage to make space for you by sacrificing myself.
Help me know your voice, and the voice of my enemy.
Give me awe for your infiniteness, and help me be mindful of your presence within each finite moment. Give me remorse for the time I’ve spent being unmindful of you.
Remind me that you prize my stillness, waiting, brokenness, surrender…
Help me not just ask for all these things, but also move toward them, and learn to live as if they are already within me.
Wish you guys lived closer. Good stuff, Nat.
This is the prompting that I needed to continue to “ask.” It’s never easy to ask–always humbling, yet always fulfilling. Thanks again for sharing your wisdom. I love you my friend.