What should we ask for in life? Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:24). But what should we ask for? It’s no use asking for what we desire, because all our desires are corrupt. When it comes to what we want and desire, we’re a bit like schoolchildren. But I must admit to a moment of pure joy reading a sermon from my colleague, The Rev. Fr. J. Matthew Tucker, the rector of Christ Church in Bordentown, NJ.
The sermon included a story from NBC's the Today Show. They were talking about the grade school system in Mississippi and their latest totalitarian gesture to ban certain foods from the school property and force the children into gastronomic correctness.
The reporter stated some children were doing a wonderful black market trade selling to others contraband—officially disapproved candies-- Snickers, Lemonheads, Reeses--mmmmmm, snacks and pop. Just when I thought every last trace of initiative had been bludgeoned out of our children and all of them brainwashed into politically correct fads, I hear of this marvelous entrepreneurial spirit.
My friend Becky Greene posted this today, as her daily reflection: "Is what we want good for us?... And even if its good for me, how might my little drop of a life cause a ripple effecting all the other people in the pond?... Do we even know what we really want?"
We tend to like and want what’s bad for us psychologically and spiritually don’t we? Our prayers go wrong when we ask for health and happiness. Not that there’s anything wrong with health and happiness.
So is it safe to ask for anything? Have you ever been to one of those weird churches where the intercessions are like a sort of global tour? Prayers are said for parts of the United States and a few countries who we view as tragic? These intercessors trail after the TV news like rodents following a healthy aroma of leftovers—searching for the latest local disaster or famine.
What can we ask for ourselves? We can and should ask for the forgiveness of our sins. This involves accepting that we have sins and that we are responsible for what we do. I thought of this when I read an advice column that was passed along to me. A young woman wrote to say she was fed up of going out three or four times a week, getting drunk and waking up full of self-disgust.
The expert gave her about 800 words of psycho-babble about getting in touch with her inner self and learning self-acceptance. She saw her as a victim of social determinism and irresistible psychological forces. What should the expert have said? You don’t like it? Don’t do it!
The Christian faith is majestically realistic. God bids us see ourselves as we are: as sinners in need of forgiveness. So we should ask God for the forgiveness of our sins. We should ask for help in spiritual warfare. We should ask God to help us overcome our vicious selfishness. We should ask God to help us mend our character—which is another way of saying save our souls.
We are perverse: all the good things we do by the grace of God, we take credit for; and all the things we do by our own wickedness we blame on circumstances and irresistible forces. We must ask God to give us the courage to help us face ourselves. If we want the best for ourselves—that is, if we want what can really do us good, we should ask God to give us Godself.