Can I tell you a verse that haunts me? That wrecks me no matter how many times I read it? I mean no one wants to be haunted or wrecked alone, so here it is: “You do not have because you do not ask.” James 4:2. After all of the studies I have done on prayer, all the books I have read, all the scriptures I have memorized and meditated on concerning prayer, this is the one. Let me be completely transparent and vulnerable for a moment and tell you that I am sure there are some things that I do not have because I have not asked.
I think this gets worse over time, compounded by the years, and the doubt, and the growing up. My kids are awesome at asking for what they want. Every time we walk into a store- be it a gas station, a grocery store, or FAO Schwartz (JK, they’ve never been in a FAO Schwartz. It’s more like Target – but you know what I am saying) they find something they want and they will ask for it. Even if we have had the “don’t ask for anything in here,” conversation just seconds before. The younger two still have no problem asking for things they want from their friend’s houses, be it toys or snacks. They are all busy making Christmas lists right now, as catalogs and commercials entice them daily. My oldest has even qualified who she thinks should give her what based on their likes and personalities. For example: “Globe from Pop.” (FYI Dad!) (Side note: if this one said: “Unicorn and trip to Bali from Pop,” she would get it… I think the globe is aiming a little low but whatever.) This can be annoying. I am in constant fear that I am raising entitled, spoiled children. But let me tell you when it is awesome;
In their prayers. They will pray about anything, believe for anything, ask God for anything. Your sick dog, their friend’s skinned elbow, their sister’s cough, the rabbit’s hurt feelings? They are on it. I am learning so much from them in this. Jesus did say in Matthew 18:3, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” I can assure you that my “little children” will not fall into the “have not because they asked not” category… at least for now.But I have been convicted lately that I do fall into that category, which seems strange to me, after I have held so tightly to prayer, after I have seen so many victories, after I have developed such a passion for it. Maybe my mature theology and knowledge is not serving me well though.
Let me tell you another really wonky theology I have developed as I have lived a little life: I think I believe that there is some sort of cosmic sliding scale of blessing, and I have already had my share. Which means I have no right to ask for more. You see, I sort of hit the lottery when it comes to family. My parents are great! They loved us really well and they introduced us to Jesus. Not perfect, but pretty fantastic. My brothers are two of my favorite people on the planet. Like, I like to hang out with them. Like, our texts are my favorite. I have 4 sisters in law that are more like sisters and that is incredibly fun. My husband and I haven’t always had an easy road but I have loved him since I was a little girl and would choose him out of every man in the world forever. And he’s hot. He loves to go to work everyday at a job that provides well for our family and I don’t take that for granted for a moment. I get to raise my 4 healthy, beautiful children. My friendships are real and deep. Our school is a gift. Our church is a blessing. Our home is a refuge. See what I mean? I have had hard days, hard seasons, sad times, but I have not known real tragedy.
And as I type those words fear strikes my heart.
Because surely the shoe will drop at some point. Surely this is all the good a girl will get. Surely I am overdue for loss, devastation, unanswered prayers, the bottom to fall out. I think I believe that if I am granted one more blessing a starving child in Africa will die. Like there is a limited number of them and I have used all of mine up.
Here is a perfect example of this: You may have heard of a little storm that recently came through named Hurricane Matthew. As it neared Haiti, we got a text from a friend who had spent time there serving the poorest of the poor this summer. She loves these people and has such a burden for their dire situation. She reminded us to be in prayer for the Haitian people as Matthew slammed into their poverty stricken country. We prayed. I prayed. And though the village she loves so much was spared, the death toll rose in Haiti. The next day, Matthew headed toward my home state. As I sat on my couch in West Texas, glued to The Weather Channel, watching reporters being beaten and blown miles from the dearest place on earth to me, fielding endless texts from my family with tears running down my cheeks, I was paralyzed. How could I pray for a sea wall to hold, for a surge to subside, for the eye of the storm not to destroy a building, when the Haitian people were dying. See? It was right to ask for their lives to be spared, but it did not discount asking for my home to be spared as well. It is wrong theology to think that it has to be one or the other… That God is limited somehow and has to choose…. I would never say that your past misfortune disqualified you for future blessing, but in my wonky theology, I believed that my past fortune disqualified me.
Perhaps one reason I have arrived here is my distaste for entitled, spoiled people, both out in our culture and within my own home. See, I DO have the “don’t you dare ask for a thing” conversation all of the time. My kids know that as soon as they tell me they are bored or have nothing to do, I will go on a 30 minute rant about all the hundreds of dollars worth of toys and books they have. Not to mention pets and land. Same goes when they complain about their clothes, or what’s for dinner. “Don’t you know that there are starving children in Africa who would love to eat your ______?!” True. All true. You know that verse in Matthew 7 that says, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” (Matt. 7:9-10). Can I say honestly, me. Sometimes I want to give them the stone to teach them a lesson. What lesson? The “stop asking for things” lesson. So here I am, thinking my Heavenly Father is like me. That He will parent like I do. That He will view my asking for one more thing as spoiled entitlement.
Here is another reason I think I ask not, and one I had not recognized until Shauna Niequist highlighted it for me in her book Present over Perfect: I believe I can’t ask God for help with situations I have gotten myself into. She says in the chapter entitled “Yellow Sky,”…
“One confession. More often than not, I found myself praying some version of: You got yourself into this; you get yourself out. Something inside me tells me that I can’t pray for things that I’ve selected into and now need help with. If I’m honest, my theology of prayer seems to be: You made your bed; now lie in it.”
I never knew I felt this way until she penned those life-changing words. For me it feels like this: “Well of course you’re overwhelmed! Why the heck did you choose to do school this way? You could always send them off everyday like smart moms do. And whose fault is it that you have 4 kids anyway? And you’re stressed about $$$? Well, maybe if you hadn’t (bought that, gone there, done that) things would be a little better. Oh, you’re frustrated that your hubby is working long hours- at the job he loves and provides for you- how dare you, spoiled brat! And your days are too full to get it all done? Too full of friends and healthy children and activities YOU committed to? Seriously?” I hear those as Jesus’ words, but they are not. Those are lies. And the more I listen to them, the further the distance is from my need to my asking, from my heart to my prayers. I have sort of adopted a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps and deal with it” theology that is in complete opposition to dependency on God.
Let me tell you where I desperately desire to dwell these days, in God’s storehouse. Don’t you love this imagery? God’s storehouse of blessing? Unlike me, God’s parenting never ceases with good things. Matthew 7:11 goes on to say, “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?”
Here are a few more verses that are paving the path for me into the storehouse:
“The Lord will open for you His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hand.” Deuteronomy 28:12
“How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you have wrought for those who take refuge in You, before the sons of men!” Psalm 31:19
“How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink form your river of delights.” Matthew 36:7-8
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Ephesians 1:3.
This does not sound like a limited God. This does not sound like a God who measures out blessing and when you reach your limit, it’s a stone for you, or a snake, or a tragedy. It is not about deserving it, after all we know from Lamentations 3:22, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.” And it is not about the stuff of physical blessings. It is about having a right view of my limitless, loving Father. It is about tearing down the walls that keep my heart far from His storehouse.
So, there are a couple of things I am hoping will work out for my family right now. They are not needs. They would be good for us, but not necessary. They would be cherry-on-top blessings, if you will. In my wonky theology I wouldn’t dare ask for such things. I would be afraid that one more good thing would tip the scales completely and all of my blessings would fall and shatter. But not anymore, because as I sit here in the storehouse of my Father, I realize His blessings are limitless. And He loves me. And He will do what is best and I can trust Him with my wants. I might mess up often in many ways but I hope to learn from those (sometimes spoiled) children of mine. I want to be like them and never have it said of me that I have not because I asked not.
I will dwell in the storehouse. Will you join me? After all, there is plenty to go around.