Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and study about different spiritual disciplines, or different practices that help us grow in relationship to God. I have found some practices that I really enjoy and that help me to draw closer to God but others are more difficult for me and less rewarding. But I ran across some advice the other day that has really been troubling me. It said “Start your prayer with a request for what you need from God today. Get yourself filled up first so that you can pour out for others.”
Theoretically I get it and partially agree. You cannot pour into others if you are not full of the peace and presence of God. Spending time every day (yes every day) to reconnect and find rest in our Creator is the faithful work of a follower of Christ. But should we really start our prayers with requests about what we need?
“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
~Matthew 6: 7-8
Is it really my top priority in my intentional time with God to ask Him for things? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pray for things we need I’m just questioning whether or not we have to pray for that first. Should our prayers start with the list of things we need? What does that say about how we feel about God? Is He just a supernatural Santa Clause there to give us what we ask for?
And while I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pray for the things we need but I definitely think we have some issues knowing what we need. A lot of the things we think we need are really just wants (see previous post). If we pray for things we think we need before we ever ask God what it is He thinks we need we are missing out on an essential part of our relationship with God, namely, trust. Trusting that God will provide what we actually need is foundational to our faith in and relationship with God.
Last weekend I got to spend an evening with sister and her family, including my one year old nephew, J. Little J loves to talk but he doesn’t actually speak English yet so when he needs stuff he just sort of shouts and mimes things. I have no idea what he needs although I try to guess. But his mom and dad always know what he needs and they make sure he gets it. Not only that sometimes when he asks for things in his baby language they know what he is asking for but they also know it’s not good for him…and they don’t let him have it. Because they love and know him so intimately they know what he needs without him having to form any fancy phrases (or even simple ones) to ask for it. And no matter how loud he gets, if something is bad for him they love him too much to give it to him. Because providing for needs and discerning needs from destructive wants is what good parents do. And our God is a great Father/Mother.
“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.”
~Matthew 6: 9-13
I think it’s critically important for us to start our prayers recognizing that God is holy and that as His children it is our desire for His will, not ours, to be done. We start with silence and let God tell us what we need and trust that He will give us what we need to survive and serve that day. Not necessarily a feast because sometimes what we need is a fast. Sometimes we need plenty and sometimes we need to abstain.
So today don’t assume you know what you need because you don’t know what you will face today. Don’t worry about fancy phrases or getting it just right. Be humble. Be sincere. Be open. Start your prayers the way Jesus taught us by asking for God’s will first and trusting Him to provide your daily bread.