A time for asking

Published 9:43 am Saturday, February 28, 2015

by Andrew Book

Last week, I began a series of columns on the different times in life. We recognized that all of life is not simply “happy,” and every point in our lives should not call us to act or respond in the same way. We talked last week about the importance of finding those things in life to celebrate and looking for those things which are praiseworthy in life. We identified how important praising God is in order to have an attitude of thankfulness and appreciation.

This week we are going to direct our focus in a different direction: those times in life when we need to be people who are asking, even pleading, for help. I have often heard a commonly misattributed quote about seeking God’s help, which goes like this: “God helps those who help themselves.” I have heard more than one person claim this is from the Bible, when, in fact, it comes from ancient Greek paganism. Not only is this line absent from the Bible, it is opposite of the sense of scripture, which regularly invites us to call on God to care for us rather than saying, “God is going to help us if we help ourselves.”

Consider this verse from the Psalms, “Cry out to me whenever you are in trouble; I will deliver you” (Psalm 50:15). Or this, more famously, from Jesus: “Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door is opened…11 If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.” (Matthew 7:7-8,11)

In fact, when Jesus taught us to pray, his prayer included quite a few requests, teaching us to ask for everything from God’s Kingdom coming “on earth as it is in heaven” to asking for our daily bread. Being willing to ask for something from God (or another person for that matter) requires a level of humility that says, “I am not able to help myself.”

The willingness to make this statement goes against the individualism, which guides many people in this country, but saying we need help is deeply Christian!

We were never intended to live this life alone. The first few chapters of the Bible make clear that being alone is not good. God created people in community, and God created us to rely on God and one another. Life is richer when we live it together, and faith is fuller when we live out of that faith and rely on God. Many people of faith live as “functional atheists,” meaning that we live our day-to-day lives as if God does not exist. We rarely expect God to be involved in our lives, and in that respect we are no different than atheists who do not believe God exists!

The challenge for this week is to grow as people who bring our requests to God and expect God to be at work. Jesus has invited us to ask in prayer, and the Psalms teach us how to ask from God, so my hope is that we will practice coming to God with our requests. In many ways, praising God (which recognizes that God does work in our world) leads naturally to making requests from God. In turn, as God responds to our prayers, we return to thanksgiving and praise to celebrate God’s presence in our lives. Asking leads to answered prayer and praise!

In the coming week, the people of Courtland United Methodist Church are going to be reading many of the Psalms which focus on asking God to be at work. You are invited to join us by praying through the Psalms yourself that are included in The Psalms Challenge (see below). We are going to focus our worship time at 11 a.m. on Sunday on how these Psalms can shape our lives of faith as we grow as people who ask and truly expect God to be working in our lives and in our world. We would love to have you join us, but wherever you spend your Sunday, may you go knowing that there is a God who invites you to bring your requests to God in prayer!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org.