At the 2pm service on Thursday, the readings were Malachi 3:13-4.2a, Psalm 1, Luke 11:5-13. The Gospel passage contains the famous statement of Jesus that we are to ask and we will receive. I asked those present: If we are told to ask and we will be given, does that make God into some kind of cosmic slot machine, coin in at the top, goods out at the bottom; prayer in, request out?
The answers given made it plain that it’s not as simple as that. God is not Santa and doesn’t give us what we ask for. We’re told that when we ask we will be given but not what we will be given. God loves us enough to want to give us what we need, not what we might want as hedonistic, selfish people. God gives as a father does, in a way that enriches his children. He also expects us to make some effort on our own behalf. One example given was that of asking for the gift of patience and finding that trials came along to help patience to develop. This shows that God’s gifts may come in a way that we might not understand at first. God may even take things away from us in order to accomplish giving us what we need. Rather than giving us what we have asked for he may give us the gift of being content with what we already have.
On the other hand, God can be amazingly generous and creative in the way he provides for us. One member had his dream of being a farmer fulfilled by working within a Christian community which had land with sheep and dairy cows. What he couldn’t have done alone he was able to do in community. This same person has been given a car when his own was beyond repair and money at a time when he needed it to start life in a new place.
God will also do things for us out of love which we would not think to ask for. The example of Jesus dying on the cross was given. God’s gifts are more precious that the greatest things we may or may not think that we want. He sees the big picture of life and so can give the good things that are best for us.
One member recalls having problems with this passage as a child because her upbringing was such that asking for things from your father would be considered rude and it would not be given. This caused confusion – why would God want us to be bad mannered? Also, rationing was still in force and so eggs and fish were not freely available and certainly not something that could be asked for.
Although it’s disappointing to not to get something we really long for, getting everything we want could also be bad. It might make us ungrateful for what we have, rather like a spoilt child. It might also have unforeseen consequences, such as happened when Midas was given the gift of having all that he touched turn to gold. We don’t always think through the possible consequences of our requests.
If humans are thought of as sheep, following their stomachs, we know that if they eat too much they die. Jesus is our shepherd and we are his sheep. Sheep need to be willing to be led as Jesus doesn’t round us up using dogs. Sheep follow a lot more closely in times of drought than when the food is plentiful. We are very much like that with God.
Some of us don’t ask God for anything because we think we are not worthy. It’s good to remember that we are loved by God. Some don’t like to ask for themselves although there is nothing wrong with asking for something if it is not a selfish request, a vain desire. We are told to ask for our needs. Others take to heart what Paul said about it being more blessed to give than to receive.
Perhaps the greatest gift God gives us is grace, undeserved favour. I’d like to let this summary be brought to a close by a wonderful direct quote from the discussion: “I think that it’s safe to say, that God knows that we take advantage of him many times… but he allows us to come back to him, praise his name and beg forgiveness. This is the difference between man and God. He gives us Infinite Grace… and though we do not understand it, we receive it all the same.”
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor