But if He already knows . . .
This past Thursday night, Carol and I attended a prayer meeting at YFC HQ. It is an annual meeting that comes at the beginning of the school year. Staff, management, directors, and spouses are invited. During the evening, we took turns praying for each of those groups. To set the stage, Andy, the exec, read Matthew 6: 5 - 14. This is the passage that includes the Lord's Prayer, and is a familiar one. But what struck me this time was the dependent clause in verse 8. The entire verse reads: "Do not be like them [that is, those who, when they pray, babble like pagans], for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." My mind lept to this question: "Why should I pray, if my Father knows what I need before I ask him?"
I brought the question up the next morning at our breakfast. (Austin was out of town, so we deferred our Job study and considered the passage in Matthew 6.) Right away, Karl said, "God wants a relationship with us." Of course that's right, but I asked whether there is anything more to the question of why we should be praying, if God knows our needs. Beyond the idea of "relationship" for relationship's sake, why should we have to do so, especially if God is the Father.
We focused on the point that the text makes that "my Father knows what I need". We tend to go to the Father with our wants and not our needs. We often believe that our wants are our needs, but God knows our needs as we do not. We may tend to be confused, then, as we go to prayer, and maybe that is why the pagans babble: they are confused. So the prayer process becomes a sorting out event for us, as we meet the Father and begin to understand what God already understands, that is, as we begin to see our real needs as distinguised from whatever want may have driven us to seek him in prayer.
If you look back in the passage, you see the admonition Jesus makes about the optimum physical situation for prayer. "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." In discussing this sorting out process of wants versus needs, we agreed that we are to go into our room and shut the door because we need to focus on this issue and to be undistracted. If Jesus got up early in the morning to pray alone, maybe that is a clue as to what we need to do. We agreed that it is very difficult to sort wants from needs, especially in this culture where disguising wants as needs is a vital engine of our economy. In fact, it is very difficult to think about much of anything very deeply. As Van noted in his sermon this morning, we tend keep connected continuously to the culture's voices, usually with earphones. There is no silence, no space to think. This is not easy, separating wants from needs. I cannot do it well on the fly. I need to go into my room and shut the door.
So I have wants and God knows I have needs. So prayer is a sorting out wants from needs. But for what purpose?
One answer was that we might not get our needs met if we do not pray that they would be. That's a pretty good answer. "You don't get because you don't ask", to paraphrase James. We need to be sure to ask for needs, and maybe, between wants and needs, you might want to ask that, while God attends to your wants, it would be really nice if he took care of the needs as well.
A Calvinist in the group chimed right up and said, "We sort out wants from needs as we pray, so that we can conform our wills to God's will." In other words, we maybe we should just ask for our real needs, our God-known needs, to be met. That answer takes up a lot of space. Maybe that is the end of the discussion, really. So with the Spirit's help, we do the sorting in our closed door room as we meet the Father in prayer, and then we ask God for help in submitting our wills to his will. Please meet our needs, Lord, amen. That's finally arid, I think. Is there not somethnig more? Here's an answer for the sake of further discussion.
Let's say that I am earning $60,000 per year. That's clearly not enough for what I need. I go to God in prayer about the $60,000 problem. After diligent prayer, deep in my closed door room, untroubled by interruptions and distractions, I learn that I need only $30,000. I embrace that. I know that is God's will for me, that I should make do with $30,000 for what we have identified as my needs. But I leave the closed door session with a question: "What do I do with the other $30,000". I have not the slightest idea, because I went to prayer thinking I needed more than $60,000. God and I, obviously, have more to talk about. Maybe it will be about the needs of the Church for additional economic support. Well, what part of the Church? I still have more to pray about, and now the sun is coming up and need to go to work. Did I say need to go to work? Maybe I just want to go to that work. I have even more to pray about. I better get up tomorrow morning, get in the closed door room again, and start praying further.
But maybe that "excess" I have is where I come in, where the Christian life become less arid and starts to be abundant. Now that my needs are met, and I am reasonably satisfied with that, perhaps I am finally ready to partner with God in building his Kingdom with the blessings that go well beyond my needs, a junior partner of course, but one with some discretion. Partnering with God sounds good.