“Things Ye Have Need of Before Ye Ask Him”

Brant Gardner

Jesus concludes his negative instructions on prayer by making a positive statement: The Father knows what we need. In contrast, the heathen’s prayer was designed to elicit a boon from his god, even against the god’s will. As long as the prayer was done correctly, it was binding on the god. Thus, the human being decided what he needed and extracted it from his god by coercive prayer.

Jesus reverses this relationship. Prayer is not a way to bind God; it is simply our petition to have God, who already knows what we need, effect his work. While Christian prayer clearly makes requests of God, the essential difference is the relationship of the request to the dispenser of the benefit. In pagan prayers, the formula is intended to be coercive. In Christian prayer, the attitude should always be “thy will be done.”

Social Context: Jesus’s listeners needed to understand that God could be acting in their interests even when he did not fulfill their wants. As a nation, Israel wanted to throw off the Roman domination. As a segment of society, the poor wanted to throw off the domination of their overlords and those to whom they were in debt. They wanted many things that were not forthcoming. They had unanswered prayers. Where was God in this process? It was important for them to realize that God heard their prayers but answered them according to their spiritual, not material, needs. God understood what they truly needed for spiritual growth and provided for those needs, even while prayers for earthly deliverance went unanswered as they phrased them. God gives us what we need, not what we want.

Comparison: There are no changes from the Matthean text.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 5