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Is It Okay to Pray for Material Things?

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If you want to make quick work of this article, the answer is yes. You don't have to read anymore. Done.

But why ask such a question and why even get a little wigged out over admitting to the answer? Doesn't the Lord's Prayer say, "Give us this day our daily bread?" And don't we live in a universe of things? We are all in a material world. Can't get away from it.

Of course, I aspire to a higher prayer life of asking God for a cure to cancer and AIDS, help in the cause of world peace and greater love for mankind, but I would be pretty dishonest if I didn't include material things in my prayers. Prayer is conversation. It's opening yourself up to a higher spirit. It's expressing gratitude, giving praise, asking for solace, forgiveness, understanding. But it also means saying what's on my mind.

Because I'm a highly flawed individual, material things are often on my mind and truth to tell, I usually need to dump them before I can get to the deeper things that bother me. Do I pray about money? All the time. I worry about the ballooning home equity loan and the college tuitions and how are we ever going to manage retirement. I can close my eyes and in a minute start working some numbers ("Geez, did the market really have to tank like that?") And if I were any sort of my best friend -- got this, Jesus? -- I would want to hear that stuff from me over a stiff drink.

If I talk long enough and ask for help, I'll recognize this for what it is. Fear. Fear of the future. Fear of change. Fear of ending up in the poorhouse. But fear gets expressed in tangible things. If I said I was afraid, wouldn't you ask, "Afraid of what?"

I know there are wise theological minds who have put this quandary a little clearer. "God is not a cosmic bellboy for whom we can press a button to get things done," said the great preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick. I get exactly what he's saying. Don't go to God with a list like you take to Home Depot, expecting some employee to run around and fill up your cart. (And whoever filled up your cart anyway?) We're all in this together, co-laborers with God.

"Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you," said the great dirty-laundry confessor St. Augustine. I know many of my prayers about material things won't be answered. Many of them shouldn't be answered, at least not in the way that I express them. I've seen enough people who were miserable with all things they ever wished for. That phrase "answered prayers" (c.f. Truman Capote) can be about the dark side of getting what you want.

But still, still, I need to unload.

So I pray about material things and trust that God understands in his world of limitless supply how to take my unlimited demands. No need to limit ourselves on the subject of prayer. And there's a wide variety prayers can take. When I get done praying about things I usually understand how outrageously fortunate I am and then I move on to gratitude which is rich spiritual ground.

As my friend Jim puts it, "Not praying about material things presumes we have to clean up our souls before we can even talk to God. Sort of like washing your clothes before you take them to the cleaners." Why hide our real selves from God? He sees our flaws and loves us as we are anyway. That's the point.

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