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Every single one of us has some sort of personal needs. And God expects us to bring our needs to Him and to tell Him about them. In Matt. 7:7-11, Jesus tells us, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" And James 4:2 tells us, "You do not have, because you do not ask God."
Scripture makes it clear that God expects us to take our needs to Him and to ask Him for help with them. God commands us to ask, and He also encourages us to do so. In fact, the model seems to be that we need to ask in faith and then God responds to our needs. 1 John 5:15 puts it this way, "And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him."
Prayer Regarding Our Own Needs
The term "personal prayer" describes when we present our needs and concerns to God. Personal prayer is supposed to be a part of our regular prayer life. This includes asking God to help you with a problem or need, such as if finances are tight or a problem at work or if you need some sort of physical healing or emotional strength. Or it can be seeking Him for wisdom or guidance. Or when something really troubles you, you might discuss it with God and work through it with Him. Or perhaps you might seek Him to give you a specific spiritual gift or anointing. These are all examples of personal prayers, where we talk to God about our needs and desires, and ask Him to meet us in them. And God loves to meet us in our place of need to make our faith and confidence in Him grow.
Phil. 4:19 says, "And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." That means that God is predisposed to give us what we need when we ask Him for it. He may not always do it in the way we expect or in the time frame we expect, but He will always take good care of us. This goes for the big things and the little things. Let me share examples of both.
I live in a big city and parking is always a problem. It seems that there are more cars than places to park them. I commute in on public transportation to San Francisco. But even the parking spaces at the BART (rapid transit system) station are limited. Usually you have to get there pretty early to get a space. Yesterday, God asked me to work on a teaching before I left for work. I was hesitant to do that because I knew there wouldn't be any parking spaces if I didn't get there early. I felt like He said He knew I would need a spot and He would take care of it. I went ahead and did what God requested, and it took several hours. When I got to the station, many cars were driving around looking for spaces and even the "late lot," where people aren't allowed to park until after 10 a.m. was full. I prayed, "God, where is that spot you promised me? Please give it to me." I drove right up to the section of the lot nearest the entrance, which is usually the first section to fill up. I turned down an aisle and prayed, "OK God, you know I need a parking spot, please give me one." Half way up that aisle was an empty spot. I was amazed because it was one of the best (most convenient) spaces in the parking lot. I got out of my car praising God and thanking Him. Some of the other drivers looking for spots looked at me in utter amazement, as if to ask, "How on earth did you find a parking spot?"
Some of you may say that's neat, but it's not really a very important thing. That's true, it was a small thing. God wants to meet our needs even in the small things. He loves us and He wants to take care of us. And He knows that when He meets us in the small things, it builds our faith for trusting Him in bigger things.
God also wants to meet our needs in the "really big things." Let me share a friend's story with you. Her name is Elvi and she is on staff with me at the GodSpeak ministry. Elvi's story illustrates how sometimes God will meet our needs in a totally different way than we expect Him to.
Elvi was recently married. God spoke to her that He had a call on her life and wanted her to train for the ministry and become licensed as a minister. She shared what she heard with her husband. After praying about it, he agreed that she had heard from God. So, they acted on it. She applied to and got accepted in a two-year school of ministry and they relocated across country to the city where the school was. They put their house up for sale (the one where they used to live), planning to use the money from the sale of their home for tuition (it was an expensive program). A few months went by and the house didn't sell and they couldn't find a renter for it either. They were unable to make the payments for the unoccupied house, and the bank repossessed it. That meant Elvi didn't have the money for tuition. The school of ministry told Elvi they couldn't grant her a loan or extension, and since she didn't have the tuition, she wouldn't be allowed to attend. From a human perspective, it looked like God hadn't come through for Elvi. She lost her property and moved across country (away from home and friends) to obey God, and then it seemed like He wasn't taking care of her needs.
I wasn't aware of all of Elvi's story. But God had begun speaking to me to train Elvi and help her get credentials through the same organization where I was credentialed. When God first started speaking to me about this, I was sure I "heard wrong" because I knew she was enrolled in the school of ministry. But God was very persistent. So I talked to the GodSpeak board and they all agreed God wanted us to train Elvi for ministry. God helped us come up with a fairly comprehensive training program as well as having her intern with the ministry to get practical ministry experience. We had the entire plan in place before we called Elvi to see if she was interested. It's true that God didn't come in at the 11th hour to keep Elvi from losing her property. But He did come through another way, by putting something in place (with no tuition fee) that was similar to the training she was going to use the house sale money for. God took care of Elvi, though not in the way she originally expected.
We have different types of needs at different times. And there are different ways of praying about them. The most obvious is when we need a specific thing. So we tell God about the situation and we tell Him what we would like Him to do for us in it. We present our requests and our desires to God. This is called "petition prayer." The neat thing about petition prayer is that when we pray "rightly," we can have confidence that God will answer our prayers. 1 John 5:15 says, "And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him."
That leads us to the question, what is praying rightly? We know it is important to pray with right motives, because James 4:2-3 says, "You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures." We need to be praying from a kingdom perspective, aware of God's will and desires in the situation. We need to be praying out of a place of deep intimate relationship with Him.
We also need to understand the difference between wants and needs. God does promise to supply all of our needs (Phil. 4:19). But He doesn't promise to give us all of our "wants." There are times when He says no. Those of you who are parents can understand the principle. When your children watch television, they want everything that each commercial advertises. They sincerely want it and feel they need it, even though they don't. And God, as a loving parent, won't always give us everything we want. In fact, some of what we want may be bad for us (like a child wanting to eat only candy and no nutritious food).
Some people misinterpret Psalm 37:4 to believe God will give them anything they want. The verse says, "Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart." They think that verse promises them that if they delight in God, they can have anything they want and God is obligated to give it to them. Someone wants to be married, so they believe this verse promised them a spouse. Someone wants a new car, so they believe God is obligated to give them one. Someone wants a trip to Europe even though they have no money, so they think God is going to cause them to win a contest or win the lottery. But that isn't what Psalm 37:4 promises.
The verse talks about delighting ourselves in God, of looking to Him as our source of joy and pleasure, of wanting Him more than we want anything else. God responds to that type of hunger for Him by revealing Himself to us. That verse says that if we earnestly desire a closer, deeper and more intimate relationship with God, then He will give Himself to us and bring us into that type of relationship with Him.
God isn't Santa Claus. He hasn't obligated Himself to grant our every whim and desire. But He does happen to be a God who delights to give good gifts to His children. Jesus says so in Matt. 7:7-11. He happens to love doing nice things for His children, and He has a tendency to say "yes" when we ask Him for things. The difference is that we need to put our desire and focus on God, not on the thing. If we ask Him for something that we want because we think it will make us feel satisfied or happy, and we look to that thing to be what supplies our joy and happiness, God will probably say "no." He wants us to look to Him as our source of joy and fulfillment. So if we try to substitute something in God's place of giving happiness and meaning to our life, that is a form of idolatry. And God won't encourage us in that.
But if we look to God as our source and are in a solid and meaningful relationship with Him, then He likes to do nice things for us. He likes to give us things that we desire, things that cause us joy. I can't tell you how many times I've asked God for something and He has done it for me. I saw a commercial for a play on TV once and wanted to go to it, but it was already sold out. So I prayed, and someone (totally out of the blue) offered me very good seats to this play as a gift. It seems that something came up and they couldn't go, and they "felt impressed" I should have them. I have been given "free" tickets to professional football games, movies, theaters and even airplane tickets because I asked God and He said yes. (There are also times I've asked God for something and He said, "No.")
God does like to give us good gifts when we look to Him as our Friend, Lord, Master and Loving Father and we delight ourselves in Him. But He doesn't enjoy it when we look to Him only as a source of getting the things we want. And if we come to Him in that manner, we're just trying to "use" Him. In that case, He'll frequently say "No" to our request for things we want but don't really need. His hope and desire is that we will want Him more than we want the things He can give us.