I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that 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 ask of Him.
Earlier this evening, I wrote a brief theology of prayer based on James. Now, I must contemplate the following question: “What do you fear to ask God for? Why do you not have confidence in that request? How can you find confidence in that request?”
I feel tricked. Two pull questions in one night about prayer? But I also know how dense I am—usually God has to repeat a point over and over until I get it. My assumption, then, is that there’s something God wants me to learn about prayer tonight. Tonight, as I can’t escape that I’m-about-to-cry feeling; as I’ve spent a day fighting the when-I-think-about-everything-I-have-to-do-I-feel-nauseated feeling; as I listen to Christmas music not to reflect on the miracle of God with us, but merely to stay sane. Tonight, I have something to learn about prayer.
Since I haven’t a clue what it is, this blog post is going to be a lá Virginia Woolf or James Joyce—that’s right, stream-of-consciousness.
So here goes.
“What do you fear to ask God for?” (Resist the urge to edit the sentence’s preposition error!) I can trace my most common requests over the years:
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t ask for wisdom; it’s both the oldest and most persistent of my requests. I don’t think I’m wise, so I keep asking. I don’t know if that means God hasn’t given me wisdom, or if I just don’t see it.
Every time we’ve moved, I’ve begged God for friends. Sometimes He’s given them; sometimes He hasn’t.
In middle school, I asked for courage and comfort, but mostly for answers. A friend died, and I didn’t understand how God could let that happen. I can’t say that I ever got what I asked for, but I did make it through.
In high school, I asked for perseverance, confidence, patience, strength, and joy. I know God gave me the first four. But joy?
I still ask for joy, alongside other things: peace, love, energy, and more wisdom. Now that I’m a quasi-adult, I ask for physical things, too: a job, a car, a place to live, a roommate, a mentor, a church, a top-50 grad school, a solid resume.
But what do I fear to ask God for? Well…I fear to ask God for things that hurt to think about. Things that, when they came to mind years ago, I could forget by doing homework. Now, when those things come to mind, I feel so sick that not even homework distracts me.
Sometimes, I do ask. But often I don’t. It hurts too much. And I suspect I don’t entirely believe that God is listening. If He isn’t, then by thinking about those things, I suffer for nothing. Even if He is listening, I don’t entirely believe that He’s disposed to give me what I ask. Which John says is absurd: “And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us” (1 John 5:14).
In my last blog post, I came up with two reasons why God might not give me what I want: (1) Either it’s inappropriate for me, or (2) I just don’t ask.
I know this. And yet I rarely ask.
It’s nonsensical. I value rationality. I can argue myself into or out of most things. But I can’t convince myself to ask for those things. I know my motivation is entirely emotional and irrational. And I hate it.
“Why do you not have confidence in that request?” I know the answer to that, too. But I don’t particularly want to share that on the Internet. Because it’s my heart’s little secret from my head. Typing it out would hut like nothing I’ve ever known.
“How can you find confidence in that request?” Ironically, it seems the only way I can find confidence in my request is if that request is answered.
I’m sorry I’m being so cryptic. But when Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked; who can know it?” he meant two things: First, it’s almost impossible to accurately understand what’s in a person’s heart. Only God can really do that. Second, even if someone has come to a sketchy understanding of her heart, it’s not something for other people to know. Aslan only tells you your story—no one else’s.
And so I’ll stop here.
**Note to Dr. Vincent, if she reads this: I did my best.