by Lorraine Espenhain
When I went to retrieve the mail from my mailbox, I saw a Costume Express catalog in the stack of mail waiting for me. I smiled when I saw the catalog because it brought back a memory to me many years ago, when we were teaching our children about prayer.
Our youngest daughter became excited when she saw a verse of Scripture which I had written on a yellow Post-It note hanging on the refrigerator. The verse was Psalm 37:4, which contains the following promise: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” My daughter “went to town” on that promise and started praying fervently each night before she went to bed.
One month later, she came to me, her face crestfallen, and said, “Jesus is mean! He isn’t answering my prayer even though the Bible says that if I delight in Him, He will give me the desires of my heart.” After further interrogation, I discovered that my daughter was petitioning the throne of Christ night and day for “all of the costumes in the Costume Express catalog.”
I remembered something that St. Teresa of Avila had written, and I explained her words to my daughter in simple language that she could understand.
St. Teresa found it comical and sad that many times, when people would visit her convent for the express purpose of commissioning the nuns to pray for them, their prayer requests had nothing to do with spiritual things. Instead of imploring God for grace and the power to overcome the trials of life, these individuals were asking the nuns to cry out to Heaven on their behalf for property and money! Teresa (whose heart and mind were ever set on things above) longed to see them pleading with God for the grace to give everything up, instead of seeking His face for more than they already had.
Her conviction was that Christ never even listened to the nuns whenever they made such requests on people’s behalf. The world was filled with men and women who were hastening to perdition, the “unhappy Lutheran sect” was destroying Christ’s Church and crucifying Him afresh, and in the midst of this, the nuns were being asked to waste their time on things which, if God granted, might even result in their finding one less soul in Heaven. She instructed her nuns that “this was not the time to meet with God about matters of little importance. Property and money were not the things that the nuns ought to ask of God with so much fervor.”
I explained to my daughter that when we are truly delighting ourselves in the Lord, the things that we seek from Him will reflect this. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If Jesus is our treasure, then the things we seek from Him will be things that are important to Him, not things that are important in the eyes of the world. But if the world is our treasure, then this, too, will be reflected in the things we petition God for.
If we are truly delighting in Christ, we will seek His spiritual treasures, not earthly ones. I said to my daughter, “Your Uncle Bob has cancer, so many people in the world are not obeying Jesus, Christians are being persecuted in other parts of the world for their faith, and you yourself are struggling with different areas in your life when it comes to obeying God. Is this the time to be asking Him to give you all of the costumes in the Costume Express catalog? Is this what matters most to God?” She got my point.
Are there times when we will have genuine physical or material needs that we need God to meet? Absolutely! But Jesus promised that if we would seek God and His Kingdom first, God would take care of the rest.
Many years ago, we desperately needed a new car. I was pregnant, my family was growing, and the car that we had was too small for us. The man who owned the dealership was trying to take advantage of us, so we decided not to buy the car. When I got home, I went before the Lord to pray, as was my usual custom.
“Father,” I began, “I can count the number of times on three fingers that I have ever come before You for a material thing. This feels so foreign to me. For many years I have cried out to You for grace, strength, and the salvation of souls. I have pleaded with You for wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and discernment. Now, I have to ask You for a car, and I feel ashamed because I know that so many people seek You for these things all of the time without caring about the weightier matters. We need this car, but the man who owns the dealership is trying to take advantage of us. What am I going to do?”
Three days later, the phone rang. It was the man who owned the dealership. He had a change of mind. Did we still want the car?
When teaching our children about the importance of prayer, it is important that we also teach them about the things that matter most to the heart of God. When we seek those things first, and a genuine physical or material need comes along, God will grant us those requests because we have made Him our treasure…
… and not this world.
Header Image CC yewenyi