On the one hand, I believe that I should pray and pray frequently. We are told to pray unceasingly. We are to pray for those in authority over us and even pray for our enemies. And so I do—but when a prayer is answered, I’m shocked and surprised. In other words, I’m just not used to God actually answering my prayers.
So when I spent time reading Jesus’ last discourse with his disciples in John’s Gospel (chapters 14 through 16) on a recent retreat and saw that four times in that teaching he says for me to ask anything and it will be done for me, it really stood out to me. Does Jesus really mean anything? And does he really mean that all I have to do is ask? There has to be a catch to this.
Or at least I have always thought so. I’ve heard these words before, but they always come with some disclaimer. “You have to ask according to his will.” Â “It has to be something God already wants to do.” Â “You have to ask according to what is in the Bible.” Â You get the idea. Yes, you can ask for “anything,” as long as that anything meets certain requirements.
But what if Jesus really means what he says? What if “anything” really does mean anything.
You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father (John 14:13, NLT).
But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my FatherÂ Â (John 15:7-8, NLT).
You didnâ€™t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name Â (John 15:16, NLT).
You havenâ€™t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy (John 16:24, NLT).
Yes, Jesus says we must ask in his name. But he doesn’t seem to make that the focus of what he’s talking about. His focus is our asking, not on meeting a list of qualifications. His emphasis is on us taking the step forward to make a request of our Father. What we request doesn’t seem to be important. It’s the fact that we ask the Father for something, anything, just so he can answer us. Why? So that:
- the Son can bring glory to the Father
- we can bear much fruit
- we can be filled with joy
Does this sound too good to be true? It does to me, and that’s why I have so much trouble with this.
Andrew Murray addresses me and my trouble believing God will really answer prayer in this way. (I updated his Bible verse to the New Living Translation.)
Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7: 7-8, NLT).
That the Lord should have thought it needful in so many forms toÂ repeat the truth, is a lesson of deep import.Â It proves that He knowsÂ our heart, how doubt and distrust toward God are natural to us, andÂ how easily we are inclined to rest in prayer as a religious workÂ without an answer.Â He knows too how, even when we believe that God isÂ the Hearer of prayer, believing prayer that lays hold of the promise,Â is something spiritual, too high and difficult for the half-heartedÂ disciple.Â He therefore at the very outset of His instruction to thoseÂ who would learn to pray, seeks to lodge this truth deep into theirÂ hearts:Â prayer does avail much; ask and ye shall receive; every oneÂ that asketh, receiveth.
It is one of the terrible marks of the diseased state of ChristianÂ life in these days, that there are so many who rest content withoutÂ the distinct experience of answer to prayer.Â They pray daily, theyÂ ask many things, and trust that some of them will be heard, but knowÂ little of direct definite answer to prayer as the rule of daily life.Â And it is this the Father wills:Â He seeks daily intercourse with HisÂ children in listening to and granting their petitions. Â He wills thatÂ I should come to Him day by day with distinct requests; He wills dayÂ by day to do for me what I ask.Â It was in His answer to prayer thatÂ the saints of old learned to know God as the Living One, and wereÂ stirred to praise and love.Â OurÂ Teacher waits to imprint this upon our minds:Â prayer and itsÂ answer,Â the child asking and the father giving, belong to each other.
I have read of the lives of men like George Mueller and Rees Howells, marveling at how they simply asked God for what was on their hearts and Bam! it was answered. Are men like these exceptions, or does God really want all of us, including me, to ask anything and he will give it? Is Jesus pleased just by the fact that I ask him for what is on my heart without judging it right or wrong?
What if I ask him amiss, as we read in James’Â epistle? I spend so much time trying to figure out if what I want to ask is right or not that I sometimes never get around to asking. And when I ask, I already have a ready list of reasons why God is not going to answer me. I didn’t ask in the right way. I didn’t ask for the right thing. I didn’t do this, or I did do that, and so that’s why God isn’t answering me. With all the excuses I add to my feeble prayers, why should I even bother to pray in the first place?
Lewis addresses Jesus’ call to ask for anything in Letters To Malcolm: Chiefly On Prayer.
The New Testament contains embarrassing promises that what we pray for with faith we shall receive. Mark 11:24 is the most staggering. Whatever we ask for, believing that we’ll get it, we’ll get. No question, it seems, of confining it to spiritual gifts; whatever we ask for. No question of a merely general faith in God, but a belief that you will get the particular thing you ask. No question of getting either it or else something that is really far better for you; you’ll get precisely it. And to heap paradox on paradox, the Greek doesn’t even say “believing that you will get it.” It uses the aorist, which one is tempted to translate, “believing that you got it.”
So here I am, faced with very simple words from Jesus: “Ask, and you will receive.” Simple, yet so incredibly challenging. It seems I have to force my way through a jungle of “what ifs” just to get to the point where I can ask. “What if I ask for the wrong thing?” “What if I ask and it isn’t answered?” And “What if I ask and it is answered? Will I have faith to ask for something even more impossible?”
It really would be easier if there really were a list of requirements to be met before God would answer an “anything prayer.” That way when the answer didn’t come, I would have an excuse. Yet Jesus doesn’t give me that option. He says, Ask. Ask me anything. Come and ask and believe and it’s yours. I want you to be fruitful and joyful.
So, where does that leave me? I must come and ask. It is exciting, but it somehow is the most frightening excitement I have ever experienced. I feel I am entering into a world where I am really, truly going to know God as he knows himself to be. I’m not sure what all that means. But I see the door in front of me, and the only way to enter in is simply to ask. I have a feeling nothing will ever be the same once I do.
Here I go.