Ask, but Shall You Receive?
Over the centuries we have grappled with "Ask and you shall receive; knock and the door shall be opened." When we beg and plead with God and seemingly get no answer, we wonder whether we are asking in the "right" way, or perhaps our faith is deficient. We heap guilt upon ourselves, because certainly it is our fault and not God’s. It is especially difficult when someone else’s prayers seem to be answered while ours go unheeded. What are we doing wrong? How can we please this capricious God who doles out favors so sparingly?
One distinction to note: What is it that Jesus promises God will give? He says, "…how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?" Ah, that changes things. We are not promised that if we ask for a new job, we will receive a new job, or if we ask for physical healing, we will receive physical healing. Instead, Jesus promises that if we ask for anything, we will receive the Holy Spirit. We will receive what we need, not necessarily what we want.
This doesn’t imply that we have to "filter" our requests to make sure they are in line with God’s will. God wants us to be honest and ask for those things we desire. That’s part of being in a deep relationship with someone. In fact, God knows what is in my heart even without my words. Verbalizing my needs is an exercise for my own sake, not for God’s. I need to be able to scream at God in anger (sometimes slamming my way through the door rather than politely knocking), cry in God’s arms, dance and rejoice, or just sit in silence. Then I trust the Source of all love to winnow out the things of the Spirit and pour out to me what I truly need underneath it all.
God’s most cherished gifts-wisdom, patience, strength, peace, hope, forgiveness, love, and more -are limited only by my ability and willingness to receive them. As C. S. Lewis says, even Divine Omnipotence cannot give to a person who refuses or is in incapable of receiving. At times, I’ve been there, too. God is still giving, but I’m so frantically knocking that I don’t see the already-opened door or feel the extended hand.
When my dad was dying, we did not receive physical healing or more years of life. Instead, we received reconciliation of deep divisions within our family that Dad was able to witness before he died. We received the blessing of having most of the family gathered with him praying and singing as he went to God. We received the witness of spirituality and faith so strongly that even non-practicing family members were touched. Dad’s death was truly sacred. God doesn’t often give physical healing, but God always heals. God doesn’t always answer in the ways we want, but God always answers prayers. Ask and knock, always and with constant faithfulness.
Jesus’ challenge, then, is to continually be in relationship with God – asking for what I need, laying bare the depths of my heart and sharing my life. And then comes the hard part – simultaneously opening myself and learning to listen to God’s answers, so I can be an ever more receptive vessel to what God knows I need to receive. My life will not be free from sadness, tragedy, and loss. But my soul will be filled with everything I need to handle it with grace, courage, and peace. What greater request could anyone make?
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.