I’ve long been confused about asking for material goods in prayer. On the one hand, I desire provision from God in tangible form for our outstanding bills, many from medical treatments. On the other hand, I’ve been taught “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s (you fill in the blank here).” If I had another hand, on it would hold the concept of casting all your cares upon God, and isn’t it some kind of worry (read: sin) to keep asking for the same thing over and over again? And if I’ve asked, and I haven’t received, shouldn’t I take that as a “no” and move on?
Quite a tangled morass of thinking, no?
I’ve recently come across a little gem of a sentence that is helping reframe the notion of unanswered prayer. It comes from James 3, the verse that starts off “you ask and do not receive…” and goes on to say, in the ESV “…because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
Come again? My memory gets stuck in the NIV, which says “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” Well, I’m a responsible person. I’m going to be responsible with money God provides and put it towards what I ask, not fritter it away on entertainment. It made me feel like God doesn’t trust me with good things.
What the ESV communicates to me is something a little different. Yes, I understood that I was the problem, I was the reason the prayer went unanswered. This translation helped me to pivot from “God hasn’t answered my prayer because I am sinning somehow in the asking” to “God hasn’t answered my prayer because to provide the way I am ask might cause me to sin.”
This is a bit of a stunner. What would happen if God suddenly wiped out all of our debt? I’m sure I’d thank him—I have thanked him when it’s happened in the past—but would it change me for the better? I’m not sure that it would. In fact, I might actually pray less, because worry often leads me to prayer.*
This verse is beginning to change the way I pray about our financial situation. Instead of praying just “Lord, provide,” I am also praying, “If there is something in me that would keep me from worshipping you with my whole self as a result of your having provided a miracle to us, please make it right so that I can receive miraculous gifts from you with utter joy.” The wording is clumsy; it’s a work in process. All I know is that I want a miracle, but I also want to be wholly and fully the woman God wants me to be—not ruled by my passions, uncompromised by an answer to prayer. He wants me to pray for both provision and the capability to love him more due to that provision.
Lord, help me to desire to be more your beloved child than provided for in this world. Thank you that care for both of those things. Let me continue to boldly ask and receive all the good gifts you have for me, physical, financial, spiritual, intangible, all. Amen.
* OK, hear me on this: Worry can be a something that we use to try and control our own circumstances. If, when you worry, you fantasize about being out of your circumstances and how much more handsome and loving your husband would be, and how your kitchen will always be clean and the dog will always be adorable and not smell, you’re treading on dangerous ground. But if instead, you let your worry turn you to God, and you pour it out with an open heart, and in exchange, you receive a measure of communion, peace or grace from him, that’s an appropriate use of worry. Worry is not a sin. It’s what we do with it that determines its sinfulness.