Excerpt from Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home

Do you know why the mighty God of the universe chooses to answer prayer? It is because his children ask. God delights in our asking. He is pleased at our asking. His heart is warmed by our asking. 

Our Staple Diet 

When our asking is for ourselves it is called petition; when it is on behalf of others it is called intercession. Asking is at the heart of both experiences. 

We must never negate or demean this aspect of our prayer experience. Some have suggested, for example, that while the less discerning will continue to appeal to God for aid, the real masters of the spiritual life go beyond petition to adoring God’s essence with no needs or requests whatever. In this view our asking represents a more crude and naive form of prayer, while adoration and contemplation are a more enlightened and high-minded approach, since they are free from any egocentric demands. 

This, I submit to you, is a false spirituality. Petitionary Prayer remains primary throughout our lives because we are forever dependent upon God. It is something that we never really get beyond,” nor should we even want to. In fact, the Hebrew and Greek words that are generally used for prayer mean to request” or to make a petition.”1 The Bible itself is full of Petitionary Prayer and unabashedly recommends it to us. 

When the disciples requested instruction about prayer, Jesus gave them the greatest prayer ever uttered— what we today call the Lord’s Prayer— and it is mainly petitionary. He urged his disciples to ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matt. 7: 7 – 8). 

I know that many of our petitions seem immature and self-absorbed. In one sense it would be less problematic to stay with worship and adoration and contemplation. These things feel elevated, stately, noble. And Christianity would be, intellectually, a far easier religion if it kept us on this lofty” plane. Then we would not have to be dealing constantly with the frustration of unanswered prayer and the embarrassment of those who seek to engineer God for their own ends. Yes, we might like the less crude realms of adoration and contemplation, but, as P. T. Forsyth observes, Petitions that are less than pure can only be purified by petition.”2

Besides, Jesus keeps drawing us into the most basic relationship of child and parent, to asking and receiving. Hans Urs von Balthasar writes, It is quite wrong to subordinate oratio to contemplatio, as if vocal prayer were more for beginners and contemplative prayer more for the advanced, for each pole determines and presupposes the other; the one leads directly to the other.”3 Petition, then, is not a lower form of prayer. It is our staple diet. In a childlike expression of faith we bring our daily needs and desires to our heavenly Father. None of us would give our children a stone if they asked for bread, says Jesus. None of us would give them a snake if they requested fish. No, even we who are filled with our own self-centered agendas respect the most fundamental codes of parent-child relationships. All the more, then, God who lovingly respects us and joyfully gives to us when we ask (Matt. 7: 9 – 11).

Foster, Richard J. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. Chapter 16: Petitionary Prayer. HarperCollins.

[1] C. W. F. Smith, Prayer,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 3 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1962), p. 858.

[2] Forsyth, Soul of Prayer, p. 38.

[3] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1986), p. 251.

Text First Published July 1992

📚 The 2022 – 23 Renovaré Book Club

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