Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Ask

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have taken heed of my adversities. - Psalm 31:7

Jesus said, "Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete." - John 16:24

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 18:30-36; 2 Chronicles 1,2; Acts 17:29-18:7

John's gospel records numerous times when Jesus encouraged his disciples to ask anything of God. Today's verse includes a promise that when we ask, we will receive.

To our common "consumer" mindset, this sounds like a great deal for us! How often can I ask for whatever I want, and be promised to get it? Maybe you've even tried this technique of asking God for some personal desire (I know I have). Yet filing a request with God like this clearly does not always result in the desire being fulfilled to our specifications. From childish requests for material things to heartfelt adult prayers for career guidance, we don't always get what we ask for.

One thing to keep in mind is that these encouragements to ask are always spoken to the whole group of disciples. In John 16:24 (and all the other similar verses), you is a plural word. When we ask together, we will receive together, so that the joy we have together may be complete. There's something about coming together as the church, the Christian community, to ask. As the body of Christ with different gifts and perspectives, maybe asking in this way tempers our selfish, small-thinking tendencies. Maybe the Spirit guides us collectively to asking as a whole in a more holy way.

Another possibility is to remember about asking in the name of Jesus. In the previous verse, John 16:23, he says, "Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you." I think he means more than adding the word that represents his name: "... and please give me this, because Jesus said I could have it." In John's gospel, name represents identity. We hear a lot about "believing in his name," Jesus glorifying the Father's name, the Spirit coming in Jesus' name, etc. It fits well with what Jesus says about "abiding" in him. Maybe our asking, in addition to being a community request, is meant to be rooted in our abiding together in Christ.

Still, Jesus seems very keen to keep encouraging us to ask. His point is not to explain the exact process by which our requests are formed, evaluated, and granted. His point is to have us rely together on God for whatever we need to get through the challenges that come from being his disciples. Ask, ask, ask.

The story of Solomon in 2 Chronicles 1 (also told in 1 Kings 3) is an interesting example. Raised up to the position of kingship over all Israel, God encourages Solomon to ask for something. This is a singular, not a plural, request. And Solomon decides to ask for the wisdom to be a good king. God is pleased that he requested wisdom and not selfish things like "possessions, wealth, honor, the life of those who hate you, or long life," and so God grants him wisdom and these other things.

I'm also reminded of the scripture that inspired the name of this blog. In Luke 9:23, Jesus says, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." Our life as disciples is about following this call. In denying ourselves, in taking up our cross daily, we find connection with Jesus, and a life beyond what we could have expected otherwise. In letting go of our selfish selves, we become better able to find and live our best selves in him.

So, when Jesus encourages us to ask, we should ask! What does your walk as a disciple require today? What will sustain you and enable you to keep following Jesus on the part of the path your feet are dealing with right now?

For myself (and for the church I serve, and the whole Christian community I'm a part of), today I ask God for wisdom. For compassion. For a heart after God's own heart. For the ability to focus on what's most important.

What about you? What will you ask?

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