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Ask and you will receive...

"... you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives..." James 4.3

In his book, Richard Foster presents prayer in three dimensions: inward, upward and outward. Inward prayer is all about cultivating an attitude of prayerfulness, upward prayer is where we consciously absorb ourselves in God, while outward prayer addresses the needs which surround us. All prayer is focused upon God.

Perhaps surprisingly, Foster begins his teaching about outward prayer by looking at petitionary praying, that is praying for our own needs, which he distinguishes from intercessory praying, which is about praying for the needs of others. He takes his cue from the Our Father prayer, which Jesus taught his disciples in answer to their request "Lord, teach us to pray..." This Prayer of Prayers features three petitions: give, forgive, deliver.

We are to ask God to satisfy our basic needs, expressed when we ask for "our daily bread". Being sinners, prone to errors of omission and commission, we need forgiveness. But in praying "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us", we are reminded that we cannot expect to be forgiven if we are not, ourselves, prepared to forgive. From our post-modern, secular, materialistic perspective, the third petition - "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil" - may be the hardest to grasp. Why would God tempt us in the first place and what or who is the evil we seek deliverance from?

Running through the Bible, and in the life of the Church ever since, is the awareness of a source of evil, personified by the devil - or Satan, to give him his biblical name. To resist his wiles we need to call him out! As with Job and Jesus, God sometimes allows us to be tested by the devil but only to refine our desires and stiffen our resolve, never to destroy us.

Even these few thoughts are enough to reveal the challenging nature of petitionary prayer, which moves quickly from our basic necessities (for daily bread) to the mysteries of spiritual warfare. We may not grasp the intricacies all at once but we can trust in the goodness of God and look forward to the growth in grace, which shall surely accrue from our willingness to trust him and engage in the conversation which is petitionary prayer...



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