Text: Matthew 6:5-13, Matthew 6:19-24, Luke 18:1-8, Luke 18:15-17, James 4:2-3, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
I woke up this morning thinking of the prodigal son, the one who demanded an inheritance and got it, and the elder son who stayed home minding his father’s business but not partaking of the father’s blessings (Luke 15:11-32). There have been many times where I know I’ve taken all the good my heavenly Father has given me and squandered it, finding myself face-down in a pigpen. But today I am the elder son, staring at the fatted calf and not daring to ask for it.
Lest you think I have never asked for the fatted calves of God’s blessing, let me correct you because I have. I have asked for them a thousand times and a thousand times seen them paraded before me and given to others. It is difficult to resent when God gives to those you love, but it is not often difficult to resent the God who gives it to them.
James said, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). But I find more often that I do not ask because I do not have—nor do I have reason to believe I should have. I have swallowed the scant riches of the poverty gospel, certain I will never deserve nor get what I want, and so why even ask? I know others, though, who are prone to ask for wild things and then get them too—scarred and battle worn, but always, always, always winning. They ask because they have proof that the getting happens in the asking.
I cannot think it is wrong to ask boldly, but neither can I bring myself to ask boldly, so I am often caught in the tension of simply not asking at all.
How do we bring our petty petitions to the owner of everything and ask for a pittance of His favor? I reread the passage from James again and again, and each time I envision a God who withholds until my motives are right. But every time I think my motives are right, I trip myself up on the high ground of good motives. I come up short with my righteousness and I come up short in what I receive. How do I practice prayer when I fall short in the asking and in the receiving?
When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He said to pray like this:
“Give us today our daily bread . . .”
Today. Daily. Theologians espouse that a repetition of words is meant to convey, “Listen to this, really listen to this.” What was Jesus saying to His disciples? It would be more efficient and just as clear to say, “Give us our daily bread,” or “Give us today our bread.” But it would not convey something more important than efficiency and clarity—a posture of dependency.
Jesus taught His disciples to pray with the confidence of those who believe their God gives bread daily, and with dependance on the God who brings just enough for today.
Remember the Israelites and the manna? They were instructed: Gather only enough for one day, except for the day before the Sabbath, then gather for two days. Anything more will spoil (Exodus 16). Here, in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is saying, Take your empty hands to the God who fills them with exactly what you need exactly when you need it.
Ask for that fatted calf. Ask for your Father’s gifts. Ask for whatever you want in His name (John 14:13), and ask regularly, faithfully. But ask for it knowing this: He gives exactly what you need when you need it. Daily bread, not a lifetime’s worth. Today’s portion, not tomorrow’s. Thanks be to God.
Lore Wilbert is the Director of Community and Formation at Park Church, Denver, and writer at Sayable.net. Find her on twitter @lorewilbert.