My two boys are experts when it comes to grasping and executing a basic principle of life—if you need something, ask mommy or daddy. And they ask for everything. For more water (after you’ve sat down), to wipe them, to change their diaper (if they can ask for a change why can’t they ask to use the potty?), to tuck them in, to read to them, to have more food (again, after you’ve sat down), and on and on. The people who wrote If You Give A Mouse a Cookie knew what they were talking about.
If I had to put this principle into more technical, philosophical language, it would go like this: if you need something, ask someone who can get it for you.
I think my four-year-old lives to prove this assertion. I tried to count how many questions and requests he submitted on one of my days off and lost track after 400,000. It was only 11 am, and I was lying in the corner having a psychotic episode, twitching and mumbling to myself in a cold sweat, “Scarecrow! Scarecrow!” You think I’m kidding, but it’s worse than Chinese water torture.
The point is, in all seriousness, that we’re called as Christians to heed this same simple advice—”Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray” (James 5:13). That’s right, it doesn’t take a biblical scholar or the original Greek translation or a $45 commentary on the book of James to figure this one out. Sense a need in yourself, ask God for help. As God’s children, he expects us to ask; he even tells us to ask: “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matthew 21:22).
This applies particularly to suffering and trial, which James has spent his letter addressing. Since Davin’s death I’ve spent a lot of thought trying to make sense of everything, trying to wade through the deep tide pool of suffering, trying to find answers along the dark and rigid landscape of loss. How do I learn contentment in distress? Joy in affliction? How do I learn how to suffer well? “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God” (James 1:5). Sometimes we make it more complex than it really is; it’s hard enough without needing to be complicated.
So ask your Father in heaven to show you contentment, peace, joy, and comfort (with the obvious caveat that he doesn’t always give them right away). If you need help, just ask. I don’t know why I try to make it so much harder than it really is. And when you spend your time asking, stick to God’s word and promises—the things he says he will do for you and wants you to ask him for. Just a few pointers:
1) Wisdom to rejoice in all of our trials as God calls us to do (James 1:2, 5). God was delighted to answer Solomon’s prayer for wisdom, and he is with us as well when we ask him for wisdom to view our sufferings aright. Joy often comes with tears and heartache, but as a gift of the Spirit nonetheless. We need wisdom to navigate the reefs of sorrow safely into the harbor; God will grant what we seek.
2) Contentment in the midst of hellacious trials, experiencing the sufficiency of God’s grace (2 Corinthians 12:10). We’ll wrestle with our thorns as Paul did, and when they don’t go the way we want and we don’t get the answers we want, God will still grant us the ability to find strength in our weakness. We’ll sometimes be pushed to the precipice of despair (2 Cor 1:9), but God will deliver and stand by us even then.