Saturday, February 5, 2011

Your Father Knows What You Need

"And when you pray," taught Jesus, "do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matthew 6:7-8). Jesus' main point here is that we don't need to instruct our all-knowing, all-good, and generous Father about our needs. We can come to him in trust that he already knows us. We don't have to teach him who we are or persuade him to adopt our point of view.

What then is prayer for? It jumped out to me that prayer is, at least in part, perhaps more to teach us about our needs in life. In prayer we draw near to the One Who Sees (Gen. 6:13), who formed us for his purposes, and who knows our every circumstance. If God "knows what you need before you ask him," we should be asking him to show us what our real needs are. He knows the world, his desires for us, our fears, and the Spirit within us far better than we ourselves. Shouldn't it follow that we should ask him what really matters, where our real needs and deficiencies are? God our Abba always welcomes his children when they cry out to him with their needs and will never turn a deaf ear to our petitions (Matt. 7:7-11). But maybe we need to consider times of prayer with no other agenda than to ask him to teach us what we really need, what is good and best for us, and reorient our values and requests around that.

Jesus continues: "Pray then like this . . ." and teaches his followers how they ought to pray (Matt. 6:9-15). Jesus sets priorities for our prayer--what our needs really are. We need to know God's love as our Father. We need to see God glorified, to live under his reign and to do his will. We need to acknowledge that our lives are in the hands of a trustworthy Provider and be content with what he gives. We need to forgive and to be forgiven--to be filled with and overflow with God's grace. We need awareness of the evil within and without, and to be rescued from it.

We could look at Jesus' other prayers and at other prayers of the saints throughout the Bible to learn our needs, that is, to learn God's view of ourselves and what he values for us. When we hear God's Spirit speaking through his Word what our needs are, what his will is for us, then we can lift those needs back to God with this assurance: "And this is the confidence we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him" (1 John 5:14-15).

"The man who serves you [God] best is the one who is less intent on hearing from you what he wills to hear than on shaping his will according to what he hears from you." (Augustine, Confessions 10:26)

No comments: