Thinking their young son might be unhappy, one couple delayed
as long as possible to tell their 3 year old son, Lance, that the
family would soon be having a new baby. Finally telling him, he
asked his mother, did you pray for a baby? His mother replied
truthfully, "No." He asked further, "Did Daddy ask for it?" Again,
the answer, "No." At this a big smile lit up Lance's face as he
clapped his hands and said, "Oh, goody! Now I now that God listens
Today's sermon title is "You do not know what you are asking."
The story is told of a man who ran into a bear in the woods.
The bear was roaring and about to attack him when the man prayed,
"Lord, make this heathen animal a Christian." Just then the bear
stopped roaring, fell to his knees and prayed. "Lord, for this
food I am about to receive, I give you thanks."
We sometimes ask God for things that, if we knew the totality
of the consequences of what we asked, we probably wouldn't ask.
Many people pray for things for themselves, but don't realize that
in order for it to be accomplished, there are a number of steps
that need to be accomplished first. Many folks then think God has
not answered their prayer because they don't see the results they
want right away.
But sometimes we ask God for things that are selfish. We can
certainly ask for things for ourselves, but when the things we ask
don't benefit someone else besides ourselves, or when what we ask
is unwarranted in that it would unfairly be to the detriment of
someone else, we don't know what we are asking for and God will
not answer our prayer in the way we think. Perhaps it will just be
a simple "no," that it wouldn't happen. But it might be answered
in a way we wouldn't expect.
For instance, you and several others might be applying for a
job. You pray that God would grant that you get the job. First,
let me say that the prayer would properly be, "Lord, let the
person who is the most competent and qualified, and who will most
benefit others in this job be hired for this position." Now, the
Lord very well might grant you the position, knowing you are not
the most qualified or competent, but feels that in the position
you will either sink or swim. That is, you have the potential to
be the best for the position, but it will not be easy and you have
a lot to learn. You might feel overwhelmed by all you have to
learn. You might give up, quit. That would be your choice, but God
knew you were capable, and, after all, you prayed to get the
position. But you can't blame God. It is your choice not to work
hard, work through, even though it feels like the job will always
be beyond you.
Then, of course, God might say "No" because you aren't the most
competent or qualified for the job. If you just pray to get the
job and you don't, again, you can't blame God. God sees the whole
picture. God won't give the job to you to the detriment of someone
else who is the right person for the job. So, it isn't that God
didn't answer your prayer; God actually saw that if you were in
that position, it would be to your detriment because of how you
would lose self-confidence, as well as be a detriment to the
person who actually should have gotten the job.
Then finally, God might just grant that you get the job, seeing
a great potential for you to learn your own limitations, giving
others who applied other opportunities. Or if you already work for
the company and two of you apply for a promotion and you pray to
get it but the other person gets it and is now your supervisor,
God granted your prayer for you to learn from that person and then
at some time later be able to be the most qualified for another
position you would be able to apply for.
The point is, we don't always know what we are asking. Just
like in the Gospel lesson today. James and John ask Jesus that
they might sit at his right and left hand when he comes into his
glory. Jesus says to them, "You do not know what you are asking."
He asks are they able to drink the cup that he will drink, and
they say they are able, and Jesus says that it is true they will
drink the same cup. That is, as his disciples, they will know what
it means to suffer for the Truth of the Gospel. But Jesus says
that it's not for him to grant where they sit.
Jesus knows that the kingdom of God is a kingdom that is a new
way of thinking, a spiritual way of thinking and understanding. It
is not hierarchical, but one in which service to one another in
love and compassion is what takes precedence. Jesus knows that he
will go and prepare a place for those who understand this and will
come again to take them to be where he is. James and John hadn't
yet grasped this.
Many folks don't grasp this. They look forward to some special
spot in God's kingdom based on their good actions, their good
service to others, and their good intent on keeping the Ten
Commandments. Too often we count our blessings in relation to what
we have and others don't. That is we are grateful that we don't
have the hardships others have. We see that as a blessing. But do
we REALLY think that God has blessed us OVER blessing someone
else, or INSTEAD of blessing someone else? One would hope not, but
that's the way we seem to be thinking. We don't understand. Some
people, when they are offering a table grace, ask God to help them
remember those who are less fortunate than they are. Do they think
that God has made them more fortunate than others? Blessed them
more than others? The fact that is so often overlooked is that GOD
does not withhold blessings from anyone. It is either that people
block their own blessings by their action or inaction, or that
people withhold from people. People don't share with people.
People oppress people.
We don't know what we are asking. We pray for world peace, but
aren't willing to bring peace into our own lives by cleansing our
thoughts of hate or revenge; or make peace with family members. If
you pray for world peace and there isn't peace in your life, you
can expect that the turmoil in your life will only increase. This
is when we so often hear people wonder why God is laying so much
on them. We ask God for things, but aren't willing to do what God
asks us to do in order to achieve what we ask for.
We ask for good health and don't pay attention to the food we
eat or the habits in our lives that are detrimental to good
health. Or we may take good care of ourselves, but treat the
environment poorly and that has a detrimental effect on everyone,
including us. We don't know what we are asking for.
I remember when one of my cousins, a wonderful, compassionate
woman in her early 60's had breast cancer surgery. Everything
seemed to be going well in her recovery at the hospital, but
suddenly she had a heart attack. We prayed for her recovery, of
course. But she died and we were all in shock. For me, I knew
somehow that God was present; God heard our prayers, but what kind
of answer was this? How were we to make sense of this? My cousins,
of course, looked to me, as a pastor, to supply some sort of
answer that would be of comfort, help them understand.
The only thing I could offer was that somehow we had to trust
God and God's promises, and trust in the love that Jesus has for
us. I prayed that somehow the peace of Christ would come to the
hearts of her grieving family members and friends and all those
whom she had helped as a public health nurse, and school nurse for
over 40 years.
Because the doctors didn't expect the heart attack they ordered
an autopsy. The autopsy showed what God knew all along-her body
was riddled with cancer. She would not have lived more than a
month and those days would have been filled with pain. How much
more would have been our own pain to see her suffer for those
We just can't know what God knows. God just asks us to trust,
to believe in the promises and to love one another and serve one
another. When we ask anything of God, we must always be open to
God answering our request in whatever is the most beneficial for
us and for everyone. If we would trust that, life would not then
be a bed of roses, but it would have meaning because we trusted in
a God of love.
Let us pray that when we pray, in the Lord's Prayer, "your
kingdom come," that we ourselves may not be the obstacles to its
In closing I want to share a piece of writing, not a poem but a
thoughtful meditative piece titled "I asked God." It will be
available as a last page to this sermon when it is printed, but it
is also available today as a separate sheet on the table in the
May God's wisdom help us understand what we are asking for, and
may we, like Jesus' disciples, ask, "Lord, teach us to pray."
I Asked God
I asked God for all things that I might enjoy life...
God said, "No, rather, I will give you life so that you may
enjoy all things."
I asked God to take away my bad habits…
God said, "No, it is not for me to take away, but for you to
I asked God to give me wisdom…
God said, "I will give you guidance to solve your problems so
you may become wise."
I asked God to give me strength…
God said, "I will give you spiritual support to face your
difficulties; they will make you strong."
I asked God to give me courage…
God said, "I will give you stamina that you may overcome
I asked God to give me prosperity…
God said, "Rather, I will reward you with the fruits of your
I asked God to take away my pain…
God said, "Rather, It is not for me to take it away, but for
you to give it up."
I asked God to spare me pain...
God said, "I will walk with you through your suffering as it
draws you apart from worldly cares and draws you closer to me."
I asked God to make my handicapped child whole…
God said, "The child's spirit is whole, and its body is only
I asked God to grant me patience…
God said, "Patience isn't granted; it's learned through
I asked God to give me happiness...
God said, "I give you blessings. Happiness is up to you."
I asked God to grant me favors…
God said, "I will give you choices."
I asked God to give me love…
God said, "I will send to you those in need so that you can
give your love to them."
I asked God to help me love others, as much as Jesus loves
God said, "Ahhhh, finally you have the idea!"