To a large extent, the way we petition God depends on our concept of who he is. Advocates of the so-called “prosperity gospel” approach God like a benevolent benefactor: the Great Provider in the sky. They ask for wealth, position, success, and all the other things they think will make for a long and happy life. At the other end of the spectrum are those who feel too sinful or unworthy of God’s favour. If they ask for anything at all, it is for forgiveness, usually over and over again.
Obviously, both approaches miss the mark. God doesn’t want us to be selfish in our petitions, nor does he want us to avoid asking because we feel undeserving. He does, however, want us to ask. And his answer may surprise us, and it may not always be what we expect, but we can be sure that he will give us the best possible response to our requests.
King Solomon is a good example. God told him: “Whatever you ask I shall give you” (1 Kings 3:5). Now Solomon could have asked for anything: a long life, riches, or the death of his enemies. Instead, Solomon asked for “a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil.” This request was so pleasing to God that he not only gave Solomon what he asked for, but riches, glory, and a long life as well.
Our Lord told his disciples: “Until now you have not asked anything in my name; ask and you will receive” (John 16:24). Our Lord grants our requests because he wants us to have a joyful, abundant life. When he tells us to ask, he doesn’t impose any limits, so long as our asking is in line with the nature of his love. We can ask for as much wisdom as Solomon had. We can ask for a life as productive as Saint Paul’s. We can ask to love as fully as Our Lady did. If we keep on knocking on heaven’s door, our prayers will be answered with the wisdom and generosity that come from a loving, gracious God.