Do I have to ask for stuff in prayer?

November 6, 2007 | Prayer | 28 comments

…Or can I just give thanks to God and then sit in silence?

I’m still relatively new to the whole concept of praying — until a couple years ago I’d never said a prayer in my life. So my prayers are, well, awkward. They sound more like I’m reading a legal contract than like I’m communicating with the Creator of the universe. I generally follow the A.C.T.S. model (Adoration / Confession / Thanksgiving / Supplication), and it’s the whole “S” part of it where I tend to get hung up.

Last night, for example, after praising God, expressing regret for my sins and giving thanks for my blessings, I wanted to pray for a good outcome for our car that just went into the mechanic’s shop since we’ve already spent a lot of money on repairs. It went something like this:

Lord, I would like to ask for a miracle: that whatever caused the minivan to go completely dead be only a minor, inexpensive repair. (Oh, and how great was I at offering up that whole situation where I finally got all the fussy kids strapped into their carseats only to hear that click-click-click sound when I tried to start the car? I didn’t even curse!…Not out loud, anyway.)

But, as always, I am open to whatever your will is in this situation. So in the event that it is your will that this is an expensive repair, my prayer is that you will send us some extra money to help us pay for it. Or, in the event that it is your will that it is an expensive repair and we will not receive any extra money to pay for it, I ask that you give me the grace to handle the strain on our finances without getting too stressed and grouchy. Or, in the event that it is your will that the car is beyond repair and completely dead, I ask for three things: a) the grace not to freak out, b) guidance to find another car of a reasonable price, and c) patience to figure out how I’ll keep the household running if I’m without a car for an extended period of time. Or, in the event that it is your will that…

You get the idea. When I try to combine asking for things in prayer with being open to God’s will, it’s just a mess.

So lately I’ve been doing my own modified A.C.T.S. prayer, which is more like Adoration / Confession / Thanksgiving / Shut Up, where I sit in prayerful silence and trust that God knows what I want, including all the alternate requests if his will is not what I’d hoped it would be.

It seems sort of strange not to ask for anything in prayer, but is it wrong? Am I somehow missing out or not growing in holiness if I don’t articulate my desires for God? Again, I am not very good at this whole praying thing, so I’d be interested to hear what others think.

[NOTE: Since I’m sure someone is going to recommend it, I should note that I do have The Fire Within. I was actually reading it last month but put it down because I was having a hard time getting through it. For some reason I found it really hard to get into. I’m listening if anyone wants to tell me to give it another chance though.]

—————–

UPDATE: A lot of the great responses I’ve received so far remind me of some of the excellent insights on prayer that I got from the book Journey to Easter. I hadn’t thought to apply that advice to this situation, but I think it’s really perfect. Thanks!

28 Comments

  1. Anna

    “When I try to combine asking for things in prayer with being open to God’s will, it’s just a mess.”

    So stop trying to combine them. The entire purpose of asking God for things (of the supplication part of prayer) is to ask him for what we want. Being open to his will comes afterwards, when he doesn’t give it to us. πŸ˜€

    Seriously, though, just think about Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane. He isn’t afraid to ask for what he wants, even though he already knows that’s not God’s will, right? He prays, ” but your will be done not mine”, and I think that’s really all the subclause any of us need to add on (provided we mean it – so much easier to say than do).

    All those subclauses you want to put in – they’re all about guessing what God’s will is. But you don’t have to guess. He’ll let you know, if you listen. (And if you’re patient – so often he answers or reveals things in His time instead of ours, lol).

  2. :o)

    I don’t think it is necessarily wrong not to ask for anything. I think prayers of thanks and praise are important without any “I want” attached to them. God knows what you need and what you want. Jesus does tell us to pray unceasingly, though. I’ve had the same trouble you do. Now I just try to say, ‘help me to accept Your will’. And then struggle to accept.

  3. TwoSquareMeals

    You are definitely right to just sit in silence. I think many Christians are really good at the one-sided conversation prayer where we do all the asking. Intercession and supplication are good, but listening is so much more important. We don’t do it enough because it is so much harder. How cool if we sat still enough to hear God asking things of us instead of the other way around? I bet if we did more of that we would know the right things to ask for when it came our turn to speak.

  4. Red Neck Woman

    Actually I think asking for things can be both a postive and a negative in prayer. As a negative, it can keep us focused on ourselves (if we are asking for the wrong things)and that’s never good. However, if we turn to God and acknowledge Him as the source of all of our blessings then that’s good. Asking for His help assists us in recognizing our utter dependence on Him.

    I have found a great deal of help in the matter of prayer to be found in the written prayers of saints and other holy people. It helps me to learn what it is I should be asking for in the first place.

    He does tell us to bring our concerns to him in prayer, why not try asking Him what it is you should ask for? Which of course doesn’t answer your question but I’m too far away for you to be able to do anything about that. [grin]

    Here are two of my favorite prayer books:

    http://www.amazon.com/Catholic-Prayer-Book-Michael-Buckley/dp/0232523223/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/103-5848870-7150242?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1194399456&sr=1-1

    and

    http://www.amazon.com/Blessed-Be-God-Complete-Catholic/dp/B000GT8OL2/ref=pd_bbs_1/103-5848870-7150242?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1194399515&sr=1-1

  5. Jessica

    Well . . . I’m not you, so I don’t know what God specifically wants you to do about it, but here’s my take on petitionary prayer:

    It’s a parent-child relationship. I WANT my toddlers to ask me for stuff when they want things. I’d be upset if they just tried to go it on their own. And while I want them to be okay with me saying “no”, it’d be dishonest of them to pretend they didn’t want the cookie, or the toy, or whatever.

    So . . . I think you’re making it too complicated. I think it’s more: “Lord, I want a driveable minivan. Please help us get that. But may your will be done.” Translation: “I want X. But I will take, from your hand, whatever you want to give me (or not give me).”

    So, yeah. I think it makes sense to ask God for things, because He’s our heavenly Father, and parents LIKE to give good things to their children. As long as we keep in mind that He might say no for very good reasons (just like I’ll say no to my child’s request for a cookie right before dinner), and approach him with the attitude of a child ready to be obedient, I think asking for things is very good, just relationally. (After all, isn’t it bonding when your kids ask you nicely for things, and you give it to them, and they say “thank you” and you say “you’re welcome” and everybody just has a sort of warm, gushy moment? Why deprive your Father of that with you?)

    Again, I’m not you and I’m not in your situation, but that’s how I think of it. πŸ™‚

  6. will

    I agree with Anna–as Digory says to Polly, “I think he likes to be asked.” And Jesus taught us to ask, as in “Give us this day our daily bread.” Ask for what you want; and end by asking that His will be done; and by all means spend time in silence with Him if you can manage it.

  7. stef

    It’s okay to do both. Sometimes when I want something specific I say it, e.g., Please keep my dh safe as he travels from Point X to Point Y. I figure he’ll either be safe, or not safe. When the possibilities are too many, as in your example, I just leave it all to God. He knows exactly what I need, after all. Especially in cases when I’m so confused or stressed that I don’t know WHAT to ask for. And yes, shutting up helps too. That’s something I struggle with as well, you’re not alone:)

  8. Milehimama

    You are right that those are the four types of prayer. But you don’t have to do all of them at the same time!

    You can say “Bless you” to someone, without adoration. You can say “Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus” without supplication.

    BTW – that happened to our minivan. Three days later, we discovered that the gas gauge was broken – it was out of gas but was showing half a tank! So check that first.

  9. Kate

    Hi – God is found in the silence of our hearts! Don’t be afraid to be silent! Some of the greatest saints write about intimacy with God found in silent communion with Him. (Therese, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, scripture, etc)
    What I usually do (I usually follow A.C.T.S., too!) is ask for His abundant graces for my life as it is right now. Then I leave the rest up to Him, giving Him a chance to talk to me! Otherwise, how would I hear Him πŸ™‚ He knows I can talk, but can I listen???

    God Bless You, and thanks for your great blog!

  10. Patrick O'Hannigan

    Jennifer,

    Have you read Peter Kreeft’s “Letters to Jesus (answered)”? That’s pretty good. It’s not wrong to ask for things in prayer, i.e., to use a prayer of petition (cf, the Lord’s Prayer). God knows what we need, and most of the time we do need more silence, but I suspect that praying FOR something aloud helps us know our own mind, too.

    And, of course, you don’t have to ask for anything, either. Maybe one prayer model appeals to “Mary” and the other appeals to “Martha”?

  11. Christine

    Jen, I love Fr. Dubay, and I have never gotten through Fire Within. I suggest his Prayer Primer instead. It is so much easier to read, and goes through all the different types of prayer, and why we pray etc. It was awesome for my pray times.

  12. Melanie B

    So many good answers already, I almost hesitate to add anything. But well, here goes anyway….

    It seems to me all those secondary, eventuality petitions are too much worrying about the future. Like asking for tomorrow’s bread instead of just today’s. Ask for what you want today, with the clause “thy will be done”. And if he says no, which you know may happen, then that will be the time to ask for what you need to deal with that eventuality.

    Today ask for the cheap car repair. If that petition is denied, go on to number two. But why worry about all the eventualities when your petition might be granted?

  13. Barb

    Have you tried reading Fr. Dubay’s Prayer Primer? It may be a bit easier to get through…God bless…

  14. Laurel

    I’ve found that I’m often more successful when I am VERY specific about my prayer requests. Please let the truck be fixed for under a certain dollar figure, for instance. God already knows our every need, so in asking I am also trusting that He will answer as He deems best.

    On a retreat long ago, we were “taught” that if our “A/C/T” prayers are really sincere, so will our own requests.

    If I find my prayers are getting too longwinded, I usually follow your “shut up” and listen advice. Although we are to pray unceasingly, I think there’s a point where God says, “okay,you’ve asked seventeen different ways, it’s getting redundant”.

  15. Ragamuffin

    I think the model Jesus gave us is a good one. He asked for the cup of suffering to pass from Him, nevertheless “not My will but Yours be done.” In other words, ask for what you want without wearing yourself out trying to think of every possible eventuality of God’s will for your situation, but also submit your request to His will if what you’re asking for is not what He would want for that situation. And leave it at that.

    I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to ask for grace to handle whatever His will happens to be for your situation, but don’t spend so much time trying to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s. God knows.

  16. Jenny

    I just wanted to thank you for visiting Ben’s site and to let you know that it is a big comfort to know that you are praying for my family right now. We know that prayer is such a powerful part of our healing. May God bless you and your family.

    By the way, I’ve been Catholic my entire life and I still wonder how my prayers sound to God. I believe that God knows that I come to Him with a sincere desire to please Him and I hope that He will overlook my shortcomings in the prayer department.

  17. jrg

    Regarding prayer, we also do well to follow Mary’s lead in Chapter 2 of John’s gospel.

    When Mary interceded for the wedding couple, she merely presented the need to her Son. “They have no more wine.” That’s it.

    He challenged her, but in obedience revealed his divinity.

    Two things we can learn from this:
    1. With few words we present our needs to Christ.
    2. His mother is quite the intercessor.

  18. Sarahndipity

    That minivan prayer made me laugh because it sounds a lot like my prayers of supplication. πŸ™‚ I follow the ACTS model when I pray too. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking God for what you want as long as it’s with the caveat “but not my will but yours be done.” I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with not asking for anything – who knows, maybe that will help make you more open to God’s will. I honestly don’t know if one way is “better” than the other.

    Though I do think it’s important to remember that God knows what we need before we ask for it, so it’s probably not necessary to go on and on. Maybe just say “please help us with this minivan situation but let your will be done.” Ok, that’s more of a note to myself… πŸ™‚

  19. Mary Poppins NOT

    I am sorry I don’t have time to read all the previous comments, so I apologize if I am repeating others.

    I think you have the right idea, because ultimately we are to align our will with God’s and trust that His will is always for our best good.

    I often sit in front of my prayer space, which is a small table with candles, incense, icons on the wall as well as random other items to help me place myself in the presence of God. I read over the list of people I want to hold up for God’s mercy and love, read some prayer or Psalm, or part of the Liturgy, and then just sit there, in God’s presence, allowing my soul rest.

    Your spiritual maturity is very inspirational to me, a cradle Catholic. I You articulate parts of my own spiritual journey that i have been unable to see as clearly.

    And, I hope your van situation works out. For me, I just try to remember past situations that God has cared for me in ways I couldn’t have known to ask for, and then practice trustful surrender. And then have a little chocolate, just to calm the old nerves.

    Blessings!

  20. Mary Poppins NOT

    Oops, I meant to preview that last comment and accidentally published it without proof reading it. Sorry if it is a mess ~

  21. Abigail

    Awkward as it might feel to you, I think that your prayer life is actually in a good place- a place of transition.

    I have trouble with the whole praying for necessary material things also. If I’m stumbling, I ask for help from St. Joseph. He handled the material needs of the Holy Family. The family minivan is just the modern day “donkey” needed for a trip to Holy Land.

  22. Milehimama

    So after I commented this morning, I got around to doing my Bible study for tonight (Book of Matthew, by Catholic Scripture Study International).
    Matthew Chap. 6 – all about prayer and the Our Father! LOL

    The catechism tells us that yes, Our Father knows what we need, but he is waiting for us to ask. (CCC 2736)

    I think of it like, I *could* do everything for my toddler, but I *let* him assert his independence by asking for what he needs and make him “use his words” to tell me what he wants. Simply pointing and grunting won’t work anymore.

    God made us independent creatures with free will, and that is why even though He knows, we need to ask. But you don’t HAVE to ask for something every time you pray!

  23. Melanie B

    Jen,

    I just read a Catholic mom blogger who perfectly addressed the question asking in prayer: “Because I Asked.

    Reading her thoughts made me realize that if we ask for grace in a difficult situation we are, by the mere act of our asking, making ourselves more disposed to be receptive to that grace. God is always pouring his graces upon us, but we are not always receptive to them. When we ask for them, however, we open ourselves to receive them. After all, Jesus said “Ask and you shall receive.” I think the asking is more for our own benefit, though, than for God’s.

  24. WSG

    My daily supplication is that God help me discern his will for me and, when I discern it, that he help me want to fulfill it instead of chasing after my own personal desires.

    I think that’s enough.

  25. Marc

    Jen,

    It’s taken me a long time myself to learn to “come boldly before the Throne”.

    Basically, we ask for something, but want to give God an “out” in case He doesn’t come through.

    As we get closer and closer to God and learn to hear His voice through all the ways He talks to us (through the scripture, through the Holy Spirit, through others who speak under His will, etc.) we’ll gain the confidence to know more and more what His will is for each of us. We’ll get much better about asking boldly for exactly what we need and trust Him that He will answer.

    But heck, it is a journey. (grin)

  26. Kiwi Nomad 2006

    Jen, Fr Greg had a few things to say on his blog recently about prayer that I found interesting.
    http://standrewparish.blogspot.com/
    One thing he said that struck me was:
    “If prayer becomes a way of life and a habit in our lives, then we begin to see things differently. The Holy Spirit helps us to see things as God sees them. So, then, when specific things arise for which we would like to pray, we begin to see them as God sees them. Since God is love, we can say that we begin to see these things through the lens of love. One definition of love is to want what’s best for the other. So, when we begin to take certain things to prayer and consider what we should ask for specifically, we are trying to see what’s best for whoever is involved.”

  27. Jennifer F.

    Kiwi Nomad – I LOVE that excerpt. I’m definitely going to check out that link. Thank you!

    (Thanks to everyone else, as well.)

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