American culture is strange in the way that we have a hard time asking for what we need. We grow up being taught the American motto of “pick yourself up” and a healthy dose of self-reliance. In one way, this is an admirable quest to create self-reliant individuals capable of creating new, exciting ways of expression, technologies, and interactions. On the other hand, the concept of the ask has become almost taboo. We have this horrifying mental image of ourselves with hands outstretched weak, vulnerable, helpless as we wait for someone to meet our need.
But is it so wrong to be vulnerable, to wait on someone’s aid? Is it wrong for a commander to ask his soldiers to back him during a particularly harrowing fight? Is it wrong for the president to seek counsel or ask another foreign leader for support in an international conflict? Is it particularly weak to admit that, perhaps, we have a need that we are sorely lacking in ability or resources to meet?
A quick read of the first five books of the Bible shows leaders, strong men and women, who all cry out to God in their moments of vulnerability: Jacob’s fear at meeting his estranged brother, the Israelites in captivity, trapped between an army and a sea, or Moses or Aaron troubled and worn down by the trials of leadership. The first five books of the New Testament also show many people who cry out to Jesus, the early church crying out on behalf of Peter and the other apostles, Paul on behalf of the churches. Many of these people are individuals we would consider strong, grounded individuals, and yet they were willing to make themselves vulnerable to the King and Lord of all.
We may fear being overheard as well. Speaking things out loud, into the world is powerful. Genesis uses speaking to describe God’s creation, mirroring our ability to make things happen by speaking them. Now, I sure would love to speak food into existence, but our speaking doesn’t have that kind of power. It does have the ability to instill courage, joy, comfort, peace, to begin a movement, or to rebuke in love.We might, and rightly so, be afraid of what may happen when we speak our troubles, insecurities, weaknesses, or doubts out loud. We may fear our own reaction if we accept those things we hold at arms length. Or maybe we fear that the spiritual forces of evil may latch onto our weakness and begin attacking at the crack in our wall.
If the Enemy does hear our weakness? Well, consider that an enemy in wartime is often watching for movement and interaction. Many times, communications simply corroborate the information gained from observation. It’s almost like approaching the teacher when dealing with a bully. Sure, the bully hears the problem and vulnerability, but the bully also becomes aware that his target now has a powerful ally. Same with wartime, sure, the enemy knows of a breach in the wall, but the thought of facing down a powerful ally will give that enemy pause before attacking. Consider, too, in light of many of the Lament Psalms, we often don’t cry out and reveal our vulnerability until we are feeling attacked and weakened. Our concern at that moment should not be whether or not the Enemy hears, but rather anticipating the answer from God, our Father, who is always present.
Prayer is a conversation with a parent. Parents, from what I’ve gathered, can often know what their child needs and wants before the child asks.I know, personally, that my parents were amazingly accurate when it came to Christmas and birthdays, even without asking me. I’m sure I gave myself away, but they listened, even when I didn’t ask. But, sometimes they would wait until I asked, until I realized what I needed. I feel like God does the same. He does know us inside out and knows the hairs on our head, but he wants us to ask. We often don’t have because we don’t ask.
But what good is prayer? Prayer is a moment when God’s time and space overlap with our own. In those moments, God hears and speaks with his child. And, the mechanics of prayer differ slightly depending on your theological outlook. One of the primary views is that God knows, and has a plan, and that our prayer is what draws us into that plan as we grow to understand what God has laid out for us since the beginning of Creation. Another view is that our prayers do, like a child’s pleas, have the ability to affect God and have him act on our behalf.
CS Lewis describes humanity as an amphibious creature that lives both in a physical reality and in the spiritual reality. He goes on to point out that our spirit is affected by our body and vice versa. So, when we bow our knees in prayer in our physical bodies, our spiritual self submits itself to God by adopting that posture. When we extend our hands to receive blessing, our spirit positions itself in thankful receipt of that blessing. And, when we physically speak our needs, our prayers, our spirit is speaking as well, along with the Holy Spirit, who knows us so intimately that it can fill in the gaps between our words with deeper meaning, helping to plead our case.
Truly, Jesus said it best in the Sermon on the Mount. He teaches us how to pray, reminds us to keep our eye on God during our worship and service, reminds us not to worry, reminds us that realizing God’s forgiveness of us helps us to see others clearly, and finally reminds us to ask… to ask! Matthew 7.7-11 is all about asking, seeking, knocking all referring not only to God but to others. Others may meet our needs out of annoyance, or frustration at our asking, but God fulfills our needs out of love.
The thing about asking, which brings us full circle, is the vulnerability of waiting for the answer to our request. God, or another person, is free to say “no,” or “yes,” as the case may be. We fear the “no,” but we must bravely risk the ask. So, in a way, never asking at all shows us as insecure, as being afraid, unsure how we will react to a negative response.
May we be as bold as Hezekiah, asking for the sun to go backwards. May we be as bold as Jesus, asking for his people to be one and to model his love. May we be as bold as Moses, who debated with God in the wilderness. May we be as bold as Abraham, bargaining for the lives of Sodom and Gomorrah. May we be as bold as Jacob, who refused to let go of a heavenly messenger until he received a blessing. Let us be confident in our position as royalty in Christ, as God’s children, and understand that “no” shows as much love as “yes” sometimes. May we boldly ask, and boldly understand.
When do you pray together as a family? On what are your prayers focused? Do you praise? Do you ask? Do you focus on yourselves, on others, on the world? What are your children learning about prayer from your prayer time, and the way you interact with them? When they hear praying is like speaking with a parent, will that be a positive, or a negative story?