Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ask Not, Have Not

‘Tis the season for asking. It’s the time of year when children of all ages compile their Christmas wish lists. Youngsters sidle up to Santa eager to inform him of what they expect to find under the tree on Christmas morning. Some ask nicely, others are more demanding.

I remember in the “olden days” (before the Internet and even Toys ‘R Us) lustfully browsing through the thick Sears Christmas catalog, enraptured by the vast array of toys presented just in time for the holiday season. I’d make my selections and then advise my parents of what I wanted, in essence asking them to fulfill my heart’s desire for Christmas.

Each year around this time,
Santa Claus gets "asked" a lot.
Every year many thousands of letters are written and sent to Santa Claus at the North Pole, some in pen, some in pencil, and some even scrawled in crayon. Sensitive, mature-beyond-their-years youngsters ask for sensible things, like clothes, something nice for Mommy or Daddy, or even for Mommy and Daddy to get along. But most of the time the requests are for stuff ranging from dolls and Legos to the newest high-tech gizmos. “All I want for Christmas is my…iPad”?

So is it wrong to ask? Not hardly. Even Jesus encouraged us to do so: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). Asking isn’t a bad thing. In fact, if we don’t ask, people often won’t have a clue about what we want.

I’ve often found this as a consumer. I’m not prone to complaining, but on rare instances when I receive poor service I sometimes offer my comments to the appropriate retail establishment. Not only to vent my displeasure, but also to alert the company of unacceptable practices that might be affecting other customers as well. Usually I receive appreciative responses.

Recently, after reviewing a bank statement for our modest savings account, I noticed the monthly interest rate had dropped substantially. I went to the institution and asked about the change. The bank officer kindly informed me that at my request it could be increased, but I would have to ask again in three months since the rate is not permanent. No problem. I’ll just give myself a reminder and in about three months I’ll return to the bank and ask them to renew the higher interest rate. It’s not a difficult thing to do – and I make a few extra bucks in the process.

It amazes me that since we’re so good at asking for things during the Christmas season, why we aren’t more proactive in asking at other times of the year. We’d rather grumble and complain, feeling victimized and mistreated. Maybe if we learned to ask more often, things would go better for us.

This principle holds true spiritually as well. Philippians 4:6 suggests instead of fretting, we should learn to humbly ask God about our needs and concerns. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” In essence, God is saying, “It’s okay, you can ask Me. I always like hearing from you.”

The apostle James affirmed much the same thing when he observed,You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Or, as another translation states it, "You have not because you ask not." We wrestle with many issues – health, finances, family strife, work, tough decisions – yet we rarely bother to trustingly turn to God for the solutions. So, the Scriptures tell us, since we don’t ask we don’t have what we desire.

There is one prerequisite to our asking, however, as James proceeded to explain. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3). When we ask, the Lord wants us to do so with the right motives, not out of selfish intentions, greed, jealousy or pride. Are we seeking our own gratification, or are our requests in line with God’s purposes and plans not only for us, but also for those we encounter every day?

So it’s good to pause and consider why we’re asking for what we have in mind. If we’re confident our motives are right, then as the adage reminds us, “it never hurts to ask.” 

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