It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Why do we often pray for those things which lead us further into bondage, entreating the Lord for better versions of the things we are not, even now, contented with? As Marcus Aurelius notes:
One man prays to be able to sleep with a certain woman; rather should he pray to be freed of desire for her. Another prays to be rid of his enemy; he should pray against wanting to be rid of him. Instead of praying that you may not lose your little one, pray for release from fear. Turn your prayers this way, and see what comes.
The apostle James says the same:
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
Are we so different from they whom James describes? Are not the bulk of all our prayers centered on advancing our own aims? Should we not rather pray for those things which transform us into better men and women? Shall we not entreat the Lord to enliven our spirits and help us live according to His Spirit? Yet we are often as the ancient poet describes:
Someone says “I can’t help feeding my family.
I have to work so hard to earn a living.”
He can do without God, but not without food.
He can do without religion, but not without idols.
Where is the one who’ll say,
“If I eat bread without awareness of God, I will choke.”
He can do without religion, but not without idols. What a sad state of affairs. Yet Paul says the same:
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
Greed is nothing more than idolatry, and many in the world are doing without God, yet not without idols, our prayers effectively asking Him to strengthen our idols. This is why Jesus said:
Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!
God will not give us a snake, though we may ask for it. He longs to give us good gifts instead, though ignorance of what these things are keeps us from asking. What we need to learn is to ask God for those things which are real gifts. And what are these things? Selflessness, courage, freedom, strength, self-control, to name a few. In essence, those things which enable us to love. Those are the gifts we ought to be asking God for.