Is Petitionary Prayer Childish?

A very dear friend of mine – and one much older and wiser than myself – once told me that she had been praying to God to help her find a used car.  She had something very particular in mind, and she had found exactly the right thing, except that it cost about $500 too much.  “But that’s my fault,” she said.  “I forgot to tell God my budget.  In prayer, you have to be very specific.”  At the time, I thought she was being silly and simplistic.  But in truth, Maria was light years ahead of me in prayer.  Maria is what you might call a friend of God.  I should be sitting at her feet, saying as the disciples did to Jesus, “Teach me to pray.”

Many of us feel that it is naïve and unsophisticated to ask God for specific things.  He already knows what we want, so why waste the time and mental energy?  Isn’t our time better spent in adoration or contemplation?  And if we’re really being honest, aren’t we afraid that we will doubt or resent God if we ask for “specifics” and then don’t get them?  Petitionary prayer, it seems, can lead us into an intellectual quagmire of questions, objections and spiritual pitfalls.

That’s why Maria and those like her have so much to teach me.  As much as I may have wondered at Maria’s “brand” of faith, I deeply admired her.  The simplicity of her prayer was not born of simplicity of mind.  Maria was clever, uncommonly clever.  Rather, the simplicity of Maria’s prayer came from the simplicity of her heart, a heart that was focused like a laser on one thing:  God’s magnificent providence.  The way Maria saw things, God was both utterly transcendent and entirely involved in her life.  He was the One Seated on the Throne and the one who was right beside her.  He was the One in whom we live and move and have our being, and he was the one who would help her purchase just the right used car. 

Maria did not waste her time with intellectual questions about petitionary prayer.  Instead, she followed the command of Christ and asked God for every little thing (Mt. 7:7-11).  And how did God respond to Maria?  Not by answering each prayer with a miracle (though he did do amazing things for her!).  But he responded by being her lifelong companion, her constant friend.  He responded by giving her a peace that was the natural reward for her trust. 

When I looked into Maria’s eyes, I saw an ocean of calm and a confidence that took me aback.  It was prayer that did this.  Childlike?  Perhaps.  And to such as these belongs the Kingdom of God.