Asking God for Stuff

            When I started realizing how strange God is—that he is no thing, that he is to me as an author is to a character—I then realized I’d have to reconsider prayer. So I asked an Aquinas scholar about this. Aquinas famously draws out the strangeness of God, that we can know that God exists, but not what God is, and so forth. What then, I asked, does Aquinas say prayer is?

            “He says prayer is asking God for stuff.”

            The plainness of the answer surprised me, but in fact Aquinas often is very plain. And behind all the complexities of theological thought, this truth remains: prayer is simply telling God what’s on our heart, asking for what we want.

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            An awful song from my childhood is stuck in my brain. “Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz? My friends all drive Porsches; I must make amends.”

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            One cannot overstate the importance of honesty in prayer. If what you really want is a new car, that’s what you should be telling God in your prayer. Don’t worry if your wants strike you as rather pathetic, self-centered, or “unspiritual.” Your wants are your wants, and it is you yourself, and only you, that can say your prayers. Pretending you want peace in the world will not become a real prayer when what you really want is your neighbor to stop pestering you. (Jesus told a story about prayer in which a man granted someone’s request just so he’d stop pestering him! That’s not a story about God, but about us.)

            And whatever you pray for, don’t worry: God will give you what is good for you. In fact, just by going honestly into prayer, our wants get changed, as do our hearts and minds.

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            Out & About. On Sunday, October 30, I’ll be preaching at St. Augustine’s Oak Cliff, at the 8 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. services, as well as teaching a class at 9:15 a.m.: 1302 W. Kiest, Dallas.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."