Towards A Theology of Prayer, Pt. 3 – "Asking" in Prayer

In the previous two posts of this series (HERE and HERE), I began laying a base for a theology of prayer. I started by defining prayer as: Attending to the presence of God both around us and in us. I repeatedly emphasized that this definition of prayer, which is God-focused and God-centered, is markedly different from traditional definitions of prayer that are human-centered. It is imperative when constructing a theology of prayer that our definition be sound and healthy. Such a definition, I contend, located God at the center and makes prayer about Him, not about us.

After offering a definition, I argued that it is important to also have a healthy image of prayer. I listed a number of very flawed images that persons have (and hold to) that ultimately result in an unhealthy view/understanding of God and prayer. For me, a healthy image is one of two persons making vows (as at a wedding ceremony). At that moment, the two people are attempting to be in each other’s presence as “fully” as possible. That’s what prayer is (again, it comes full-circle to the definition): attending to God’s presence as fully as possible.

So, where do we go from here? In my estimation, the next place to go (after having a working, healthy definition and image) is to “questions”. The Gospel verse often cited or thought of when prayer is being discussed, says: “Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” I want to hone in on the first portion of that: asking. It is not uncommon for people to approach this part of the verse with the mentality of: It says all I have to do is ask for something and I’ll get it. (Some even mix it with other verses and conclude: If I ask plus have faith, I’ll get it.)

But here’s the thing, there’s another way to think about “asking” here. What if the passage never intended to suggest asking in order to get something? What if the passage never intended to suggest asking for oneself? What if the passage never intended to suggest asking on someone else’s behalf? But what if the passage did intend to suggest that when you ask God something, you’re asking about His desires and wants? In fact, when this thought flashed across my mind one day, my entire theology of prayer was transformed. I was forced to go back and discard some parts of my theology, modify others and adopt some new ideas.

In all reality, asking God questions to find out God’s desires and wants is what prayer should be about. And this goes right back to our definition about attending to God’s presence. Prayer is God-centered not human-centered. Some might say, “Well, if prayer is about finding out God’s wants or desires for us, then it is still human-centered.” Perhaps, but that is not what I’m suggesting. I would argue that God’s desires could focus on nature instead of humanity, that God could focus on Himself instead of humanity, that God could want silence, etc. The point is: It’s all about God and His desires and wants.

This means that when we “ask” in prayer, we’re not “asking” God for things for us. For example, we will not be asking “Will you…” or “Why…” or “Why not…” etc. Instead, we will be asking, “God, what do you desire?” “Where would you have me serve?” “How would you have me love others?” “How can I please you?” “When can I best glorify you?” “Who would you have me serve?” Do you see the difference between the human-centered and God-centered questions? There is a huge difference that makes all the difference between a fruitful and unfruitful prayer life.

When we realize that prayer isn’t about us but rather about attending to God’s presence, asking Him His wants and desires, we also realize that prayer isn’t a means to an end. By the same token, we realize why our prayers may not be getting answered, especially as we want them answered. And here’s the kicker, I think, this answers the age-old question: “Why pray if God already knows what you’re going to say?” First of all, I would contend that since God can do whatever He wants to, it is quite possible for Him to choose to forego knowing what you’re going to say ahead of time. Second of all, even if the axiom I just stated is one you disagree with, if my definition above is correct—prayer is about attending to God’s presence (and to find out His desires and wants)—then the question kind of becomes moot. How? Well, it would make sense to me that God already knows His own wants and desires. Therefore, to come to Him asking Him about those things poses no “foreknowledge” problems. As His child, He has given you the gift of prayer and expects that you will approach Him, asking Him these things.

Of course, there are other questions that could be raised but I’m going to stop there for now. I do want, however, to say a few words about praying for others (or intercessory prayer). As a minister, I’ve had scores of people ask me to pray for them. Generally, when people ask me this, they have the old definition or mentality of prayer. So, my response is generally something like: “Yes, I’ll pray but to be totally honest with you, when I pray, I will go seeking God’s wants and desires, not necessarily mine or yours.” It is best to be up-front with people about this. For one, it reveals to them a healthy theology of prayer and for two, it lets them know you will pray but only in a very specific way.

I suppose I could say a lot more about prayer but at this point, I’m not sure I need to. In my mind, the next logical place to go would be to either show how numerous other exegetical discoveries support my claims or how this theology of prayer influences other aspects of theology (e.g. foreknowledge, divine self-limitation, divine-human relationships, etc.). However, since this was supposed to be, from the start, a mini-series, unless you have some thoughts/requests, I will do one more post on it which will be an audio message/sermon. Anyway, I hope these posts in this series have helped. Blessings to you.

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