There’s an old joke about a guy who’s running late for an important meeting. When he pulls into the busy parking lot, there are no spots available. “Lord,” the man prays, “if you can find me a place to park, I’ll do anything you ask!” Miraculously, a car pulls out of a spot just ahead. “Never mind, Lord,” the man exclaims, “I found one myself!”
When it comes to the theological principles behind this joke, Christians may fall into one of two camps. It would never occur to some of us to pray for a parking spot. Imagine walking into God’s throne room and asking Him for help with our first world problems! You should be thankful that you have a car at all! We would prefer to leave prayer for the important things. For others of us, we pray for the parking spot without thinking, because prayer comes as naturally as breathing. Doesn’t I Thessalonians 5:17 teach us to “pray without ceasing,” after all?
We can admire the reverence for God that those in the first camp are trying to respect. We should never approach God glibly. It is only through the precious blood of Jesus, shed on the cross for sins, that we can talk to God in prayer at all. But if you’re a Christian, Jesus did die for your sins, and you have been brought into a new relationship to God, as a daughter or a son. What kinds of things can you now ask him for?
When Jesus’ disciples asked him how to pray, he gave them some insights into the nature of God’s fatherly love. First, he told them to pray “give us each day our daily bread,” (Luke 11:3). Whether we are on welfare, or get a nice paycheck, or bake the bread ourselves, it is God who provides it. Praying the Lord’s prayer regularly can help us remember this. Unfortunately, Christians get into the habit of speaking as if everything just happens naturally, instead of supernaturally. Does God care that it’s raining today? Psalm 135 teaches that “He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.” Don’t let the monotony of life delude you into thinking God’s not intimately involved.
In this same passage on prayer Jesus asks “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (Luke 11:11-12). Now, if one of my children were to ask me for a fish, it would sound something like this: “can I have a fish, can I have a fish, can I have a fish, can I have a fish?” Then he or she might ask me for an egg, then a banana, then to read a book to him or her, then to play legos, and then, and then…. you get the idea. Young children never tire of asking, and they are unashamedly in need of help. We are to approach our heavenly father in the same way. Jesus continues: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).
Jesus teaches us to pray for everything from our food to the presence of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is asking: we are to ask reverently, dependently, expectantly. Parking spots shouldn’t be the only thing we pray for, but a in a life characterized by dependent prayer, we need not hesitate to ask our heavenly Father for anything.