What do you ask God for when you pray?
Most of us routinely ask God for help in one way or another—a very biblical, natural, and helpful practice. However, we can easily get stuck on our physical and material needs, or on our ideas and desires for our life, when God wants something far more significant and lasting for us.
Instead of just asking God for what you want or think you need, seek the most important gifts he has for you that best fit with his will for your life.
When I was on a seven-day silent retreat a few weeks ago, we prayed several times each day, using methods developed by Ignatius of Loyola. Each time we went to prayer, we read Scripture and asked God for a “grace”. We weren’t asking for forgiveness, but for a particular experience of God. For example, we asked for the grace…
• to see and experience the enormity of God’s love,
• to see our sins and how they are affecting our life and relationship to God,
• to recognize the magnitude of God’s mercy,
• to be able to love God more fully, or
• to be able to follow and serve Christ better.
These are the experiences God most wants for us, because they are the ones that have the power to truly transform us and to move us more fully into the life God intends for us.
When I was 13 or 14 years old, I wanted to know if God truly loved me. I knelt by the side of my bed. My eyes were closed. I clasped my hands together. I prayed, “God if you care about me, show me. In some way, help me to believe that you truly love me.”
While waiting for an answer, I suddenly saw in my mind a huge hand extended through the clouds toward me. I knew at the time that I was probably creating an image that fit with what I wanted to believe. However, something else within me said that God was responding to the cry of my heart. I’m convinced God was revealing his love to me that day, because the joy I felt, and the comfort I received, fit with how the Holy Spirit has frequently ministered to me ever since.
Similarly, in the Psalms, David praises God and describes God’s help in his life like a hand descending from the sky. He wrote. “[The Lord] reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters” (Psalm 18:16).
Then, what David experienced through a personal experience, God has done for all of us in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Talk is cheap, and feelings are fleeting. The love that you most need will reveal itself in action. You can know you are deeply loved when someone intentionally does something for your well-being, especially if their gift comes at a personal sacrifice—as God’s incarnation and Jesus’ death dramatically illustrate.
God’s love you is already well established in the historical, concrete existence and life of Jesus. You never have to question it. And at the same time, it is not uncommon for God to reach out to us in various ways to convince us of his love and presence. Perhaps the revelation will come as a feeling, through a vision, in a dream, by a new understanding, or by setting you free in a new way. The Holy Spirit may speak a timely word to you, love you through someone else, or work through you to bless those around you in some way. Or, you may simply be given an inexplicable peace or joy.
You cannot know how God is going to reveal his love to you on from day to day, and you can’t manipulate or control God’s interaction with you. But you can ask. You can ask for a special grace to draw you closer to God and to experience more of what God has already revealed to you in Jesus.
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19, NIV)
The Point To move from knowing about God to experiencing God more personally in your life, let your prayers be guided by what God most wants for you. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the depth of Christ’s love for you. Ask to become increasingly convinced that God is present with you and truly does care about you. Ask that your heart’s desires will be increasingly purified until nothing is more important to you than your relationship with God and your ability to love and serve Christ. Ask, and it will be given.
A Prayer “Eternal God, you are beyond my ability to understand. I often cannot perceive your presence in the ways I would like, and I long for more of your touch. Please reach out to me in some way that I can grasp that I may be assured of your love and your care in my life. Help me to treasure my relationship with you above all others, and to accept your love on your terms.”
Suggestion: Start a journal expressly for the purpose of recording the ways that God reveals himself to you, loves you, and helps you to sense his presence and care for you.
*For more on knowing God and my experiences in seeking to know God through experience, see pp. 124-125, One Step at a Time.