Dear Fr. Joe: Why do we ask God for things? Doesn’t he just do what he wants and what is best for us?
What a great question! The answer to this can help us understand God and his workings a bit better, as well as ourselves. Let’s dive right in. The first thing we’ve got to establish is that God wants to hear our petitions. That means asking God to do something. Look at 1Timothy 2:1:
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people …”
There are many other passages where we are commanded to offer our petitions: Mark 13:33, Luke 18:1, Ephesians 6:18 and Romans 12:12 – clearly, God wants us to offer him our needs and wants.
Yet, at the same time, we understand we don’t always get what we ask for – we know sometimes, when we ask God, we don’t feel like we receive. So why ask for what we want?
I hope the first part of this gives you at least some of the answer: We should do so because God said to. If nothing else, we offer our needs and petitions to God because he said we should. There is however within that idea an even deeper truth for us to explore.
As with everything else, it starts with God’s love. Like any lover, God wants to hear our voice. He desires that we pour out our hearts to him, not because he doesn’t already know our hearts, but because each time we reveal them we are offering ourselves freely to God, which is a gift he craves.
This brings us to the ever-present wild card of God’s incredible and indulgent love for us. He is simply consumed with love and affection for us. Jesus proved this by his life, death and resurrection. God can, it seems, be swayed by our hunger, our woundedness, our frailty and our cries for help. Like the Father with the “no candy before dinner” rule, God seems more than willing and able to slip us a Double-Stuf Oreo when his heart is moved to do so.
At the same time, God’s love for us is, in the words of Scripture, “as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like a blazing fire, like a might flame.” (Song of Songs 8:6) This love is so deep and rich that it is pointed toward one thing and one thing only: Our eternal union with him in heaven. Because of this, he will never allow anything that will lessen the possibility of our union with him. He even will, in his pure all-consuming love, allow us to experience temporary pain in anticipation of eternal joy. Check this out:
“The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed...But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good? The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
That same love that fills us with joy also presents to us the gift and possibility of faith: Do I believe that God is all good and all-powerful? If so, then whatever petition I am offering to God with tears in my eyes also is a statement of surrender: “God, you love me and you see my pain. Help me to believe you are in charge and saving me.”
This really is the root of it: Beyond the obedience is a call to surrender and trust. We pray because God said to. We pray because God can, at times, be swayed. But most of all, we pray because this puts us and our needs in the presence of Love in a remarkable and mystical way. In this, we allow him to use those circumstances to bring us closer to him and save us.
Because of the way God exists, he can be individually present to us at every moment. Each prayer, each petition, each heart rendering cry to God is heard individually by a God who experiences us as the only thing in creation at every moment of our existence.
What better thing could we ever do than place our needs with him?
Enjoy another day in God’s presence.
- Fr. Joe