I had the pleasure of joining a virtual Bible study last night, hosted by my terrific parish priest. He was teaching on Matthew:20 – a chapter that we have heard so many times. As is almost always the case, however, upon rereading there is always something new to learn. What really struck me this time was that twice in this chapter, Jesus asks the people he comes across “What do you want?”, or “What do you want me to do?”.
Jesus obviously knows what they want- in one case the men he encounters are blind and unable to fend for themselves- so healing is clearly what they want. In the other instance the mother of the sons of Zebedee approaches Jesus to ask for special treatment in the kingdom of heaven for her sons. Again, it was well known to the Lord what she had come to ask of Him. But in both cases, He asks them to articulate what they want. Why?
What really struck me is that Jesus clearly wants us to ask for what we want. My experience is that I have heard so many sermons, and been in so many discussions where the message was “God is not your ATM”- with the implication being that we shouldn’t just ask for what we want all the time. While this is most certainly true, the result is that I had tended to overshoot and not ask God for anything- with my prayers being “Thy will be done.” What I learned is that God is way more gentle than my interpretation had allowed for. What I got from this scripture reading is that God DOES want us to ask for our wants and needs AND it is also still important to ask that His will be done. The two are not mutually exclusive.
I think it goes back to a relationship. The analogy of a parent to a child seems to hold here. As parents who love our children, we do want our kids to come to us with their wants and needs. And as a loving parent, we would say “no” if what our children asked for is detrimental to them. And there are things that we can ask for – such as the healing of someone ill, or the conversion of a non-believer- which are good things, but we have to trust in God’s timing and His providence, to make the right things happen in the right time. The two verses that come to mind are:
Luke 11:9-13 And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.d10For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.11What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish?12Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?13If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit* to those who ask him?”
Romans 8:26-28: ...we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. 27And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will. 28* We know that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose.u
In the past 12 hours I have not hesitated to bring my desires and prayers to the Lord- and what a blessing it is!