If God knows all things, if he knows our needs even before we ask them—why is there a need for us to pray? Why do we have to ask him for things, if he already knows what we are going to ask for?
A story is told of Alexander the Great wanting to meet the great philosopher, Diogenes. He finally had the chance one day, as he learned Diogenes was sitting alone on the beach. Alexander, with his retinue of soldiers went to the beach and saw Diogenes sunbathing.
They walked towards the old man and Alexander stood right in front of him. Diogenes looks up and sees the young Alexander who then says: “Great Diogenes, I have heard your renown and the great things you have taught many. I have come to pay you homage. Ask me for anything and I will grant it”.
Without even thinking, the old philosopher says to the young man: “There is but one thing I ask of you, great king. Do move aside. I am sunbathing, and you are blocking the sun”.
What we ask for in prayer shows who and what we are as persons, what we value and cherish most, what we find meaningful and important in life.
For Bartimaeus, it was sight. “Lord, I want to see”. What is it for us? What do we pray for? Whom do we pray for? What do we ask?
What do we ask God when we pray? Do we pray for ourselves? For those connected to us? Do we pray for wealth? For health? For success? Do we pray for that thing which will give us what we are really looking for in life, like Bartimaeus?
God hears our prayers, we know that. “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened to you”, the Bible tells us. We may not get exactly what we ask for, but God does hear our prayers.
The question is, do we—hear our own prayers? Do we listen to ourselves praying? Does our prayer make us realize important things about ourselves? Does our prayer make us realize what kind of person, what kind of man or woman, father or mother, brother or sister, friend or co-worker we are?
What we pray for is a reflection of who we are: of our deepest values and longings, of what we believe to be most important in life. Sometimes, the things we ask for are daily needs, sometimes, they’re urgent needs; but they are always a reflection of who and what we are.
Bartimaeus’ prayer was answered because he came to Jesus in complete and total honesty. He knew what he wanted; he wanted to see—because he knew he was blind. He knew himself completely and presented himself to Jesus with no masks and no pretensions.
When I began this reflection I asked the question: If God knows all things, if he knows our needs even before we ask them—why is there a need for us to pray? Why do we have to ask him for things, if he already knows what we are going to ask for?
The answer is simple. God knows us, even before we ask him for anything. He knows us through and through. He knows our needs, our wants, and our desires. It is we, who often do not know ourselves. When we pray and ask God for things, it is not so much to tell him about us, but to tell us about ourselves. By letting God know what we want and what we desire—we come face to face with who and what we really are.
And because God knows us more than we know ourselves, he often answers our prayers, not in the way we want them to be answered, but in the way they should be answered. Let me share with you a poem that speaks of how God answers our prayers, and the need for us to recognize who and what we are when we pray.
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for wealth, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need for God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for—but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all people, most richly blessed.