Our cultural reluctance to ask for things is certainly a hurdle for our spiritual life. So we need to spend a little time thinking about how we can carve out a different path than the one our culture encourages when approaching God with requests.
First, we need to remember to whom we are directing our requests. God, our heavenly Father, is eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, everywhere present, and perfectly good. He willed into existence everything in the cosmos from angels to souls, from quarks to quasars. He is not a single mom working her second job of the day, dead tired and with barely two nickels to rub together. God does not run out of energy or resources for his children.
Second, God is love. He loves us and will always, always want what’s best for us. He wants us to run from sin and run to him. Even more so than the most loving gracious human fathers, God delights in giving us what we request. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:11, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Third, asking God through prayer to help us requires our having a relationship with God—something God delights in and for which he rewards us. “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” (Matthew 6:6). Clearly we can go much further in our relationship with God through prayer than simply making requests. But it is a powerful place to start and a feature of prayer that will always be with us no matter how spiritually mature we get.
Fourth, being in a relationship in which asking is a central and desirable element makes dependence on God a daily feature, if not a moment by moment feature. The Lord wants us to be people of increasing faith—consulting him and trusting him for everything as we “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Because of his goal for us, he welcomes our requests.
Fifth, God likes our requests so much that he invites us to make them again and again—even to the point of (our) annoyance. Persistence in asking is an unmistakable feature of Jesus’s teaching on prayer. We are not talking about incessant repetition of magical phrases, and not the kind of “pagan babbling” rejected by Jesus in Matthew 6:7-8. No, we are talking about bringing God our requests day by day until they are resolved. He wants us to keep our most important prayer issues on the front burner. He wants us to know that he cares about them and that we trust he will address them in his perfect timing.
To emphasize persistence in prayer Jesus follows up with this: “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10). In a strange turnabout, Jesus is persistently asking us to be persistent in asking. Anything that Jesus emphasized to this degree, we need to embed deeply within our souls. We are to be persistent in asking through prayer.
Sixth, asking daily is a gateway to other important spiritual disciplines that not only enhance our Christian life, but also circle back and enhance our life of prayer, our personal communion with God. Regular prayer is inevitably accompanied by other spiritual practices that are vital to maturity in Christ. Some of these are the study of God’s Word, Christian meditation, worship, thanksgiving, confession of sin, solitude, and fasting. Daily petitionary prayer is the start. But once these all come together, it will turn a low-voltage spiritual life into something beyond measure—a way of “co-laboring with God to accomplish good things and advance his Kingdom purposes.”
Including worship, thanksgiving, and confession of sin into times of prayer is a wonderful thing to do—and should be done. I’ve noticed, though, that some lessons and studies on prayer emphasize these to the exclusion or dilution of asking—as if asking is a less than worthy aspect of prayer. They seem to see asking as more self-centered or not truly spiritual. According to James, asking certainly can go awry, and we need to guard against that (see James 4:3). But once our safeguards are in place, we need to ask. We need to ask regularly, boldly, and with expectation. And we need to remember that asking, or petitionary prayer, is not a lesser form of prayer. Rather it is what the Lord himself taught us to do.