On Praying for What You Really Want

On Praying for What You Really Want November 25, 2014

Should I ask God for what I want? Is it arrogant to ask the Lord of Creation to listen to my requests, or to think that they might affect the way things are? Ought I instead to assume that God knows what I need and pray simply for His will to be done?

I see these questions come up time and again. I’ve asked them myself, and I often see others asking them. My basic response has always been that we should ask God for what we really want, when we want it, and then trust in Him to give us what we need.

I’ve thought this for a long time. I suppose my initial support for this belief comes from this passage in C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew:

“Well, I do think someone might have arranged about our meals,” said Digory.

“I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,” said Fledge.

“Wouldn’t he know without being asked?” said Polly.

“I’ve no doubt he would,” said the Horse (still with his mouth full). “But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.”

More recently I’d point to the Lord’s Prayer, where Jesus directs us to pray not only that our Father’s will be done, but also for our “daily bread”, interpreting “daily bread” as “that which we need to live”. But I’ve never been quite comfortable with that; what I need to live is quite a bit less than what I want from God, when you include all of the things I want (many of which are not for me at all). Also, it’s common in Catholic circles to interpret “daily bread” as the Eucharist. I think the Lord’s Prayer bears both interpretations, but the latter doesn’t support my position especially.

And then, some weeks ago, I came across the passage Philippians 4:6-9 in the Divine Office:

Brothers and sisters:
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
Keep on doing what you have learned and received
and heard and seen in me.
Then the God of peace will be with you.

At that time I looked at the second half; but today let’s focus on the first half: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.”

In “everything”, “make your requests known to God.” That seems pretty clear cut. I am to bring everything to God. And the result? “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

So not only do I bring all of my requests to God, the result of doing so (with thanksgiving) is the peace that passes all understanding. So there you go; ’nuff said.

But I’ll say a little more anyway. Love, in the final analysis, is a movement of the Will: it is the choosing of this rather than that. Every request in prayer, then, is an act of Love; and in that act of Love we are engaged with God. We open to Him, and in that opening He can reach us and teach us to love better.

Now suppose that instead of bringing every request to God, I simply and quietly ask that His will be done. It seems to me that in so doing I would be less engaged with God, giving Him less of an opening, even though it might seem more pious to pray in this way.

And then, bringing every request, large or small, to God, strikes me as part of how we follow Christ’s instruction to be like little children, who ask for everything under the sun.

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