In the same way as you can talk with your friends and family about all sorts of things, a conversation with God can cover different topics, too. However, sometimes I find myself caught between the generosity (and infinite resources) of God, and the feeling that I shouldn’t be asking for so much from Him. That’s probably just me, since Jesus invites us to ask (see Matthew 7:7-8 and Matthew 18:19, in context), but it can be a challenge to overcome my preconceptions.
However, when I feel this way, I like to remember James 1, where the Bible makes it clear that we can ask for wisdom at any time, and without being judged. Here are a few verses from that chapter:
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
James 1:5-8 NASB
While my wish for a pony (actually the four that go on the hubcaps of a Ford Mustang convertible) may not be in God’s will, my request for wisdom – of which I need all that I can get – is definitely something that God will provide.
There aren’t many things in this world that are truly free (we know about the elusiveness of the “free lunch”), but the Bible reminds us that the best kind of wisdom – direct from the Creator of the universe – is a rare exception. Why not ask today for enough wisdom to get you through the day? Then, read all of James 1:2-12 (which includes the section above), to charge up on God’s promises and instructions.
Back to the original question, though, “What can we ask for in prayer?” Once we are living with God’s wisdom, I believe that He will guide us towards requests that honor him. Asking God for things that we don’t need – those that are based solely on our own selfishness – will, like all other prayers, result in an answer. However, that answer may be “no”. See this verse from later in the book of James.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
James 4:3 NASB
This doesn’t preclude us from asking for things that will benefit ourselves (after all, Paul prayed for relief and healing, as he related in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10). The reminder from James, though, does suggest that we shouldn’t expect the results we seek if we are looking out only for our own interests.
So, ask God freely for what is on your heart, even as you ask Him for help with wisdom to guide your heart towards what is on His heart.
A version of this devotion originally appeared at http://fcccanton.com/what-can-we-ask-for/ as a Study Guide. Reprinted here by permission.