What Am I Really Asking For When I Pray?

Winter prayer

I came across this quote from Oswald Chambers the other day:

“We ask amiss when we ask simply with the determination to outdo the patience of God until He gives us permission to do what we want to do. Such asking is mere sentimental unreality. And we ask amiss when we ask things from life and not from God; asking from the desire for self-realization is in direct opposition to Christ’s desire for us. The more we realize ourselves the less we will rely on God. Are we asking things of God or of life?”

The part that hit me between the eyes and seemed to daze me for a few minutes was that last line.

Am I asking things of God or of life?

Am I asking God for life to go my way? Or asking to meet life in the presence and power of God?

Today, life may not give me a full night’s sleep, or children with perfect attitudes, or smooth sailing through all the things that must be done.

But God can give me energy, patience, wisdom, and endurance.

Life may give me a headache, a difficult person, or a distressing situation.

But God can give me strength, mercy, and faith. 

Life may be wearying, disappointing, or stressful.

But God is rest, faithfulness, and peace. 

What am I really asking for? For life to favour me? Or for God to favour me? And what is God’s favour if not the gifts and graces that flow from His own life? What is His favour if not His abiding presence?

Should I not be asking most for the things that are His alone to give? The very lifeblood of the Vine, the mind of Christ, and the holy fruit of the Spirit? With these I can meet all circumstances.

To be sure, there are times we pray for God to change my circumstances. This, too, is biblical, when we believe such a change would bring about “Thy kingdom come and Thy will be done.”

But even then, the goal of prayer is not getting my way, but getting God Himself. And He is enough. 

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Prayer is living fully with Christ. With this kind of prayer I can walk through my day, regardless of how it turns out, because I am walking with Him.





Little One,

You are growing bigger by the day, reaching for the world and the fullness thereof. Your knees are dirty from crawling, your smile wide from discovery. 

And yet, my body is still your cradle and your contentment. When your tummy is full you tuck into the curves and the corners of your mouth turn up in a sleepy smile. We are warm together, breathing together, and your fingers reach for my face to pat their thanks. With a little squeak you settle into heavy limbed slumber. 

After all the motion and commotion of the morning, this is your resting place, and I wrap my limbs around you, inhaling your sweetness.

Who knows how long these cuddles will last? The kind that connect us so intimately and remind us of our shared beginning? This is my resting place too, where life slows and comes into focus, if only for a few moments.

I take your darling dimpled hand, and kiss my thanks.



Psalm 6: The Prayer of the Sleepless Night

Praying the Psalms

Have mercy upon me, O LORD; for I am weak.
(Psalm 6:2)

I am weary with a different sort of night waking. The tears are not mine, but my teething, stuffy-nosed daughter’s, who also needs consolation. She needs milk, she needs warmth, she needs soothing, she needs to know there is someone there in the dark. She needs me.

You, Lord, need no slumber or sleep, but oh I need mine! My enemies are not clad in bronze, breathing murderous threats. I could murder my morning coffee, but my fight is against a different set of powers. Yes, I am poor in spirit, weak in flesh.

Nevertheless, your mercies abound, not only for the warrior-king, but for the servant-mother. It can be tempting to see these little ones as the enemy, thieves of sleep and sanity. But you whisper, the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. This blessed beatitude is for the poor in spirit. So then, we together are perfectly poised to receive it. 

You, Lord, receive the prayer of the sleepless night. You hear our crying, and come padding down the darkened hallway to assure us of your presence. Your mercies are new, even before the morning. Yes, hour after midnight hour, we find our rest in you. 


S. D. G.

Psalm 1: The Prayer of the Wilted Tree

Praying the Psalms

Blessed is the man . . .
His delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither. 
Whatever he does prospers. 
(Psalm 1:1-3)

We are finally taking the Christmas tree down. It stopped drinking water days ago. It still does a good job of looking alive, propped up in its base and covered by sparkly things. But the growing pile of needles on the floor hints at the truth of the matter. An evergreen doesn’t exactly wither. It’s too rigid for that. As it dries out it become brittle. Hostile. The branches may be green, but they are no longer soft. They no longer smell of the forest. When I brush again them, the needles stick in my sweater, even my skin. No roots.



I wilt for want of your Word.

Oh, I am good at dressing the part, disguising my thirst in the latest shiny distraction. But underneath it all I am brittle, bitter, and hostile. Just a spark, and I am liable to go up in flames.

I want to blame it on others, on my circumstances, on my inadequacies, but I know the root cause. I have become unmoored from your Word.

Your Word is my life. It is the rain and snow and that come down from the heights, watering the earth and making the desert sing. It is my creation, my sustenance, and my renewal.

You speak, therefore I am.

If I wither, it is because I have removed myself from you, thinking I have enough in my own leaky cisternIt is not enough. 

And so I pray,

Plant me in your Word, day and night, till it becomes my delight.

Let living water rise from the depths of your being, till I am one and abiding with the Vine.

Root and ground me in your bottomless love, till the sap of your Spirit flows strong in my limbs, and I breathe out the scent of water.

Then your fruit will be my blessing, according to your Word.




Praying the Psalms: Mary’s Treasure

Praying the Psalms

I begin this journey through the Psalms in a rather odd place. Not in the Old Testament, but in the New. Not with “Blessed is the man” (Psalm 1:1) but “Blessed is she who believed” (Luke 1:45).

It was here, in Mary’s story, in Mary’s song, the great Magnificat, that I recently caught fresh wind of the Psalms.

The gospel writer Luke does not give us much information about Mary. Even Elizabeth gets a grander introduction. She is noted as being righteous and blameless, of the daughters of Aaron the priest. She has merit, and God rewards that merit with the giving of a son in her barrenness.

But Mary – nothing is made of her at all, not until Gabriel shows up and calls her “favoured.” Was she favoured because of who she was? Some “ideal woman?” Or was she favoured because of who God made her in that moment? Her list of accomplishments, her pedigree, is conspicuously absent.

And yet, the Lord must have looked upon her heart. In the end, she was willing. She was willing to be utterly defined by His Word.

What a blessing, and what a burden.

After the angel left, she was silent until she had hurried to the hill country. She was silent, until she saw the evidence of the angel’s testimony in the shapeliness of an old woman. She was silent, until the Spirit spoke through her cousin Elizabeth and sang blessing in her ears.

Blessed are you among women!
Blessed is the fruit of your womb!
Blessed is she who believed!

A trifold blessing, to wrap her completely. An affirmation of the unseen. The Word of the Lord, the shout of the Holy Spirit.

And then, she speaks. Out of the overflow of her heart, her mouth speaks.
What pours out is praise. What pours out is humble wonder. What pours out is an understanding of the swelling reach of this blessing. And what pours out is Scripture.

This we do know – Mary knew the Psalms. Hidden in her heart, the songs of the man with a heart after God’s heart. It’s right there. Psalm 103. Psalm 107. Hidden in her heart, the prayer-psalm of exalted Hannah – I Samuel 2:1-11, themes taken up by David in Psalm 18.

Out of her mouth, the echoes of her ancestors. Out of her mouth, the Spirit-breathed song continues.

It is not that Luke attributes Mary’s knowledge of Scripture as the reason for such divine favour. It is all grace, for no daughter of Eve could ever be blameless enough to deserve the miracle of miracles. But it is, I think, a clue to Mary’s character.

God chose to send His son to the womb of a woman rich in His Word.

The first time we are told Jesus heard the audible voice of His Father is at his baptism – then, a man of thirty years. “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” But he must have recognized the Father’s voice, and as more than a thundering from heaven. I am almost certain his own mother whispered holy writ to him all through his growing years.

To her were given the years of the lullaby, the years of training, the years of the Shema spoken over and over, the years of sitting in the house and walking by the way and laying down and rising up. Hers were the doorposts he passed each day.

The Father prepared a place where the mother would know and speak His words. Mary’s heart was a treasure chest filled with good things – seed for sower, bread for the eater, golden drippings of the honeycomb, and a great reward indeed.



O Lord,

Let me be like your servant-mother Mary,

who hid your word in her heart,
who treasured and pondered the divine revelation,
whose greatest qualification for raising her son was to know his Father’s voice.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,
And may the songs that spill over my lips be music that magnifies your Name.

Fill this hungry mother’s heart with good things,
that I would have bread for the children’s asking.

And let your mercy roll from Mary’s generation to mine,
as I pray with her,

Behold the handmaid of the Lord;
be it unto me according to Thy Word.