what we ask

On Sunday, my small group talked through 1 John, chapters 4 & 5. We particularly spent time poking at The Elder’s instructions on prayer:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of God’s Son so that you can know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence that we have in our relationship with God: If we ask for anything in agreement with his will, he listens to us. If we know that he listens to whatever we ask, we know that we have received what we asked from him.
1 John 5:13-15 (CEB)

Ask in agreement with God’s will. God listens to us. We know we have received what we asked.

I mentioned to my friends that, as I have practiced praying over the years, I have found that much of my work in prayer is settling down and wrapping words around what I want to speak with God about. In the quiet of focusing my mind and pinning my thoughts, I cause myself to move out of inchoate swirl and emotion and into something more directed and, often, directive. God and I figure out what’s set in front of me, God both listening and guiding (there’s that ‘agreement with God’s will’!). When I look up and outward again, I frequently see what God and I discussed right there—and in the days following, as I keep living into what I prayed about.

Looking through Your Brain At Work by David Rock (amazing book!) for something else, I found:

A third way to facilitate wide-scale self-directed neuroplasticity involves establishing goals. When you set a goal, you set up the possibility of a positive (or negative) spiral. Looking out for your goal, you are more likely to perceive information relating to it, which makes you feel positive, because you feel that the goal is going to happen,which makes you look out for it more, and perceive more information, and so on. (232)

Today I’m inclined to debate the “self-directed” aspect of this, since I’m connecting it to my experience of life in faith. (When we converse with God in our free will, who can say who’s directing what?) But I’m fascinated that yet again we have biological wiring underpinning our ancestral faith practices. When I pray, I articulate things that were vague and cloudy—like setting goals articulates vague intentions. Once my prayer is defined, I better see how God is working along those lines as I move through my days. God’s will unfolds through me by virtue of my discerning what to ask.

Mine isn’t a radical realization—I’m well aware this is super common among long-time devout Christians, and is a highly orthodox understanding. As much as I delight in originality, though, sometimes it’s worth revisiting unoriginal truth.

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