My children all remember me doing my Mick Jagger imitation when they were young. In response to their complaints when things didn't go the way they wanted, I would sing, "You can't always get what you want . . . you get what you need."
I'm sure they were thoroughly sick of that song by the time it faded out of my repertoire, but I'm not sure that they got the whole point of what I wanted them to learn.
My point wasn't just that life doesn't always give us what we want, or that they weren't always going to have their way on things. Of equal importance was that they were going to get what they needed. The song doesn't do a very good job of teaching that truth; the Gospel this Sunday expresses it much better.
Jesus, teaching the disciples how to pray, moved on to a lesson on persistence in prayer. He described a man, who had late night company, urging his friend to get up and lend him some food. The man received what he needed because he persevered.
Jesus says, "Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."
You don't have to have lived very long to know that lots of people, lots of the time, ask God for things that they don't get. Sometimes they ask perseveringly, still to no avail.
So if what God says is true, then clearly something else must be understood about this. These sayings of Jesus are set between the story of the man who had company and the assurance that our Father in heaven will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. The promise is that we will receive what we need, what is good for us, when we ask our Father in prayer.
My husband had an experience of God answering this kind of prayer. He desired to have a hunger for Scripture and over the course of several months continued to ask God to give him that gift.
One day, sitting on the couch with one Bible opened on his lap, another beside him to compare translations and a Bible commentary on the other side to increase his understanding, he suddenly became aware that his prayer had been answered; he was living the thing he had asked for.
I've asked God for many things; often those prayers were answered, but some were not. I have come to believe that the times the answer was "no" were times that I had asked either for something that wasn't best for me or that I did not recognize the answer that I did receive because of the picture I had in mind of what it would look like.
We can't always see, in the moment, what is best for us (or best for the people we are praying for); nor can we always see how God is at work for our good in answer to those prayers.
But we can trust that God's intention for us is not to supply merely the bare minimum. Rather, it is a rich provision, in God's wisdom, to bless us with all that will best help us to live according to his will and to grow in a life of holiness.
(Kathleen Giffin email@example.com)