October 24, 2014

Does Jesus Really Mean It?

Confession time: I pray a lot, but I don’t often believe that God will hear and answer my prayers. And for me, that creates quite a bit of tension.

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.”  “It has to be something God already wants to do.”  “You have to ask according to what is in the Bible.”  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 Father  (John 15:7-8, NLT).

You didn’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  (John 15:16, NLT).

You haven’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 to repeat the truth, is a lesson of deep import.  It proves that He knows our heart, how doubt and distrust toward God are natural to us, and how easily we are inclined to rest in prayer as a religious work without an answer.  He knows too how, even when we believe that God is the Hearer of prayer, believing prayer that lays hold of the promise, is something spiritual, too high and difficult for the half-hearted disciple.  He therefore at the very outset of His instruction to those who would learn to pray, seeks to lodge this truth deep into their hearts:  prayer does avail much; ask and ye shall receive; every one that asketh, receiveth.

It is one of the terrible marks of the diseased state of Christian life in these days, that there are so many who rest content without the distinct experience of answer to prayer.  They pray daily, they ask many things, and trust that some of them will be heard, but know little of direct definite answer to prayer as the rule of daily life. And it is this the Father wills:  He seeks daily intercourse with His children in listening to and granting their petitions.  He wills that I should come to Him day by day with distinct requests; He wills day by day to do for me what I ask.  It was in His answer to prayer that the saints of old learned to know God as the Living One, and were stirred to praise and love.  Our Teacher waits to imprint this upon our minds:  prayer and its answer, 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’ 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.


Comments

  1. I’ve always hated the glib response that “sometimes the answer is no” as human justification trying to ibasically explain away this passage. Another favorite traditional adder that I find equally difficult to accept is asking “in his will”. Didn’t get what you wanted? Must not have asked according to God’s will.

    That being said, there are plenty of specific prayers for which I receive nothing and an equally baffling array of blessings that I neither asked for nor expected.

    • When I was a kid my dad got a terrible disease. We prayed. He died. What did we do wrong? The last few years we have watched a dear friend slowly die from cancer. We prayed. She died. Her husband is trying to still believe in God. What did we do wrong?

      Does God even care? David seemed to think so. He messed up in a big way, and still believed God was his refuge. Today I am trying to trust, in spite of unanswered prayer, in spite of Christians who don’t look like Jesus, in spite of churches that don’t look like Jesus, in spite of friends and family dying of terrible diseases. I hope that I can still trust tomorrow. I hope that someday this will all make sense.

      • I hear you, Sam, and I don’t have the answers either. I am so sorry about your father and the more recent death of your friend. :-(

      • Sam,

        Sometimes faith is like AA, you got to take it “one day at a time”

        So for today, it’s not about tomorrow.

        Thank you for sharing your heart.

  2. I think this “ask and you shall receive” has caused more deconversions – or at the very least, devastatingly shaken foundations – than one might expect. Because let’s face it: so many of us ask, and so many of us don’t receive. That’s why all the conditions have been placed upon prayer: the “sometimes the answer is no,” the “in his will,” the “you must not even have the faith of a mustard seed.” Prayer seems to be the single-most testable aspect of religion, so that when it fails…

    • Another condition: “in God’s time”

      • And many other conditions! It seems to me that “Your will be done” pretty much ends up meaning: “I pray that whatever is going to happen, happens.”

        • Which you don’t really need to talk to God about. He already knows that whatever is going to happen will happen, and that it’s his will.

    • Sadly true. Recently I heard an atheist’s jingle intended for High School and College students that went like this: “Nothing fails like prayer! Nothing fails like prayer. Use your mind, just open your eyes and you’ll see, that, nothing fails like prayer!”
      Several young folks I know have given up on faith because of what they see as the futility of prayer.

  3. Rejoice when they said let’s go to the house of the Lord and I have. Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven, and I have. Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding, and I have (tried), BUT…when it comes to prayer, I have hardly any rejoicing or understanding. And though I have not gone so far as David flooding his bed every night soaking his couch with tears, I have prayed and I have prayed so much. DO I ASK AMISS…I don’t know. The Holy Spirit is making groaning which I cannot understand calling out to Abba, but if that is the case then why do I not have the same passions as HE. Are all my prayers so self-centered that everything then that I ask for is nothing more than LUST? There are some things which happen that can say that those could be a result of prayer…but for the MOST part, I see nothing or is it, that I perceive nothing?

  4. The accumulated lack of answered prayers over a long period of time have made me wonder lately if anyone really is listening. There have been some positives, for which I am very thankful, but the last ten years have left me in a completely black void. Sorry for the negativity.

    • Bella,

      No need to apologize. Everyone’s been there. If they haven’t…..they’re lying.

      • I’m with you. After a job loss, a horrible job, followed by more joblessness, followed by an equally horrible job, and now only a part-time job, and several wonderful friends who have no job whatsoever, I cringe now when someone says to me that things work out the way they are supposed to or that everything happens for a reason. I now pretty much feel life’s a crap shoot, some win and some don’t, despite or in spite of how fervently or sincerely one prays. I still try to treat my fellow man with respect and try to do my best in all things, but a grand plan? No longer think so…

        • Suzanne – I have not been working since 2007. My husband, self-employed, has barely been working since last August. He interviewed for a good job 3 weeks ago. No word yet. They say they are still interested. But still no word yet.

          I know now, more than I knew before, that really I know nothing at all.

          In and through it all, and believe me there have been some seriously crappy days, God is faithful! I do not know why any of us have to endure any of the things we do, but as for me, if it wasn’t for all this b.s., I wouldn’t know as little as I do about Him. He pulls me towards Himself in the scariness of life. Do I like it? No, not at all! And sometimes even less than that. I try not to throw out cliches because, well, they don’t work. And it really irks me when someone tries to be all up in my face smiley when my life is falling apart.

        • That sort of theology (“things will work out for the best”) has always irked me. It reminds me of nothing so much as Joel Osteen. My faithful uncle was in the Gulag for 10 years. Did the grand plan “work out for the best”? To me, life is a crap shoot. The question is, how do we respond, and what is God doing to sustain us – NOT rescue us.

          • Radagast says:

            “The question is, how do we respond, and what is God doing to sustain us – NOT rescue us.”

            Yes – sometimes, with the little stuff we might need to look at something that only comes with crisis… sometimes we just need to sustain, to ask God to strengthen us in hope instead of deliver us from the crisis/pain/suffering.

            Otherwise nothing bad would ever happen to a Christian – we would all be protected (and that does not seem to be the track record over the years aka Church Fathers like Polycarp).

            The Gulag – I’d like to hear that story…

  5. After twenty years of walking with God and praying for what is closest to my heart, I am now convinced that God is good and knows how to give goods gifts to His children, but His children do not know what to ask for. So instead of asking for whatever I want, as if God is a prosperity slot machine, I simply pray for my daily bread and thank God for whatever comes my way, rain or shine. I would rather God give to me according to His goodness than trust that I know what to ask for.

    The only two real prayers are “Help me, Lord” and “Thank you, Lord.”

    • Also, I would say that Jesus’ words are better understood in their historical context. His intended audience was His disciples and no necessarily us today. I can see how His disciplines would need such a direct correlation of request and receive given what God was about to call them to do.

      • That’s a very good point.

      • If that is the case then how do we pick and chose what is for us as disciples and for the immediate 12?

        • I was given to understand that the words of the disciples and to the disciples – although the 12 were chosen specifically – were meant to mirror us. It’s why they were such idiots. The disciples were teaching tools in the Gospels, like a way for Jesus to answer the FAQs.

          • So, is that to say that when I have an immediate situation (by “immediate” I mean NOW, not 2000 years ago), rather than expect Jesus to respond to me NOW, I’m to go to the Bible, try to find something He spoke to the 12 and in some way try to apply that to my situation?

            Not trying to be unkind here. I’m just really getting sick and tired of having to go to ancient/past events and try to “discern” how that answers my prayers.

            If I’m surrounded by Assyrians, I’ll read about Hezekiah’s experience for some historical frame of reference and some guidelines. I’m not dealing with Assyrians, though — or, for that matter, Chaldeans, Edomites, prophets of Baal (Elijah), etc. I’m needing a response — a tangible response in REAL time to situations not even conceived in the Bible much less addressed by Jesus to 12 men in Judea.

          • L., not sure if you were responding to me directly. I was responding to the question before me whether the words said to the disciples were meant for people who weren’t one of the 12. I responded that the genre of the gospels suggests that the words for the 12 were meant for Christians. Not that the words to the disciples were answers to our prayers. I’ve already detailed my frustration with prayer.

          • Exactly. I was just agreeing with you.

    • I just had another thought, one that makes me question my own assumption. What about asking for forgiveness for commited sins? Is there a direct ask / receive relationship for that most important of requests?

      • flatrocker says:

        MWPeak,
        With your earlier post “Help me, Lord” and “Thank you, Lord” along with your further thought of “Forgive me, Lord” you are have found three of the five classic prayer forms.

        The three you indentified are Petition, Gratitude and Repentance. The other two are adoration and intercession. It can be argued that all prayer is at its core one of these five types.

        Blessings on your journey.

    • It sounds as if your 20 years have brought you wisdom.

  6. Thank you for addressing such a challenging topic, one I struggle with repeatedly. I do think that we have a tendency to expect things to work according to our understanding and then we qualify or abandon our beliefs to make them fit our experiences. There are obviously some qualifications to our asking (i.e. James 4:13), but typically, my struggle is having enough faith to believe that Jesus means what he says. It seems to simple, so I complicate it and, in the process, frustrate my faith. I struggle with accepting that God will answer my prayers, but the alternative is not praying which guarantees no answer, and I am not comfortable with that.

    Thanks again.

  7. Paul Timo says:

    Hard question.

    It seems that Jesus didn’t always receive what He prayed for either. He prayed for the “cup” of crucifixion and death to pass Him by but He still died on a cross. He prayed for Christians to be united but it is easy to look at Christians and see division.

    Maybe the best we can do is to start our prayers with “thy will be done”. Maybe prayer is more about making us like Jesus than anything else.

  8. I think the context of each of these passages is important. Most are referring to salvation.

    – John 14 is about the disciples desire to see the Father.
    – John 15 refers to bearing fruit
    – John 16 is referring to the crucifixion, and the receiving of the Spirit
    – Matthew 7 is following up on chapter 6, which referred to entrance into the kingdom
    – Mark 11 is in the context of the withered fig tree (symbolic of Israel). Here asking appears related to the coming of the kingdom

    Again, “joy” is not the same as “happiness”. You can have joy while living in a dark pit. You can also lack joy while out of your mind in pleasure.

    Jesus said in this life we would suffer persecution. The early church suffered much death. We are lucky (and usually ungrateful) not to have the same.

  9. isn’t the obvious qualifier “in My Name”???

    doesn’t that represent the character & integrity & purpose & intent of the One we are wanting to beseech???

    isn’t this more like WWJA??? what would Jesus ask???

    not that Jesus implied that He was a religious killjoy or some stingy deity that did not mean He came to give “life and that to the full!”

    but our actual experience with prayer, even the most passionate & heart-felt type leaves us with unfulfilled requests that challenge our trust:

    Proverbs 13:12: Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

  10. If Jesus is my Teacher and Lord in all of life, what does his prayers teach me about what he means about prayer in these other verses? And if it is “no longer I who live but Christ living in me”, what does “Christ in me” ask for? I think there is a lot of prayers that would be answered in my life if I was praying according to the will of the Father which was how Jesus prayed. But I don’t think this is a blank check.

    • Right before I read your comment, I was thinking a very similar thing. If it’s ‘no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’, maybe it’s a process of us learning to let him pray whatever he wants through us.

  11. Thanks, Jeff, for — again and always — challenging us.

    As one who watched my husband die after people all around the world prayed for him, I have no easy answers. But I’ll toss in more food for thought.

    First, isn’t praying in someone’s name a bit like speaking for someone else? Coming in that person’s name? Representing someone? I certainly think that in praying in Jesus’ name it’s understood that we pray according to His will to the best of our ability.

    And Jesus does help explain himself in the context of his promises. “…I will do it, SO THAT the Son can bring glory to the Father…” (caps mine) He wants us to pray the kinds of things that will glorify the Father when answered.

    “…IF you remain in me and my words remain in you…” If He is the vine and we are the branches, as long as we abide in Him we’ll know better what and how to pray.

    “…go and produce lasting fruit, SO THAT the Father will give you whatever you ask for…” Two of these four passages mention fruit. We abide in the Vine so we will bear fruit for Him and the more we draw close to Him the better we’ll know how to pray and the more fruit we bear the more of our prayers He answers and…Suffice it to say these concepts seem to be very closely related!

    I wouldn’t worry about praying amiss. If you pray for something God doesn’t wish to bring about, He’ll do something else instead.

    And still He often whispers, “No” or “not that way” or “later.” Perhaps it’s mostly in those answers that He teaches us to cling to Him even tighter.

  12. To me, prayer means asking God to act, and I trust that He will act according to His will. Thus, holy fear, as what He may choose is often not what I would choose. What God chooses tends to bring me closer to Him, while what I might choose would involve more of a life of ease, which might lead me further away from Him. Sometimes, I have conversations with Him about this. In the end, the journey with Him is the easier, but in the short run it often involves giving up my control and my stuff….Hence, “Lord, I don’t want to ask you about this, because I know you will act, and I would really rather you’d do this for me…”
    Crazy?

    • I think it’s fair to say that we can come up with a lot crazier things. This question is nothing less than a human arrow of inquiry, shot at the very heart of God. It approaches the deepest questions we ever have. Who are you? What is your intention? If He answers us in a discernable manner then we learn something about who He is and what He values in a very personal way. I think God answers prayer but there is no question it is a very, very tough business when people die in front of you or you go unemployed for two years, etc. I often do what you do kmom; I find peace in sitting still, wordless and present before Him. It sort of reminds me of a child who has asked his busy mother for a cookie. She says ‘in a minute’ and he tags along quietly (maybe) for about ten minutes. His mere presence is a reminder to her. She knows what he wants. In the interim they may both temporarily forget and just relish each other’s company and then sure enough he’ll say ‘mooooommm’. Anyway if I say “I don’t want to ask about this” it translates to sitting still and that will often morph into relishing one another’s company. It may not get my request answered but it deepens my relationship and answers His prayer.

  13. I personally believe that our prayers are answered…we just don’t know know where to look, or perhaps worse, we refuse to look–because He’s answering His way, not ours–because it’s not about us, it’s about Him! Just like Jesus in the garden….don’t get it my way, I get it His way; and honestly, I have to admit, would I really want it to be any other way?! Nope, not me, not my wisdom, not my finite limits–I’ll take God’s goodness and sovereignty any day of the week.

  14. I want to learn how to pray , simply believing that the Father will grant my prayers. My constant cry these days is, “I believe, help my unbelief!”

  15. I am not sure if I understand praying for God’s will. As revealed, His will was for me to pray and ask Him anything in Jesus Name.

  16. God always answers our prayers. Just not in the way we want them answered.

    Truth be known, even though I pray THY WILL be done, most of the time I really mean MY WILL be done.

  17. One more Mike says:

    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).

    This quote is at the center of this discussion. It’s simple and direct and many of the responses are lousy with the same worn out qualifiers; it has to be God’s will, I get what I ask for IF it’s Gods will, or that I’m not reading the words in the right “context”, I don’t believe enough, have enough faith, that my prayer was answered just “not the way I expected”, you have blessings you don’t even realize, yada, yada, all trying earnestly to explain why “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father” isn’t REALLY saying that, and that it’s my fault that it’s not working or I don’t see it.

    I’m raising the BS flag here. It does say exactly that, and no where in that sentence is the qualifier that I have to have enough faith, take a suitable substitution for what I asked for, etc. Why are you people making excuses? Why are so many trying to explain this away like children rationalizing the actions of a lying parent who can’t, or won’t, keep their promises? I don’t want the great vending machine in the sky (but then what does “anything” mean?) but why is prayer a cosmic crapshoot and I always roll snake eyes? Why am I getting stony silence? Why isn’t this promise being fulfilled for me? Why don’t I get what I ask for in his name? Nada. Nothing. Zip. That’s been the answer to this promise for me.

    Does Jesus really mean it? Maybe for you. I’m just sooooo tired of being disappointed that the struggle isn’t letting up and there’s no help coming from the one who promised it.

    • Quite a bit of mystery surrounding prayer, answers to prayer, this verse in particular…

      I think there are factors beyond ourselves that come into play. I think the state of faith of the whole “tree”, so to speak, has something to do with the degree to which the heavens are opened. I’m being so darn metaphorical here.

      The following verse brings to mind the tree metaphor (as referring in part to God’s people):

      “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large[c] tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.” Luke 13

      So, the Kingdom of God involves human beings who believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11). So, when I say “the tree” in the context of this discussion on prayer, I am thinking of all who are praying to God.

      To explain further, I tend to think that the ability of this group (as a whole) to dare to believe that God truly does want to answer our prayers… the degree to which this group really believes this can affect the answers that this group as a whole gets to their prayers.

      The “body of Christ” (more religious language I don’t enjoy using) is a living, breathing organism. If the larger part of this organism has the perspective of prayer as the last resort, or that prayer is kind of like wishing, or the perspective of “well, who knows if He will or He won’t, and who knows if He’s even listening anyway — I doubt anything will really come of this but I’ll just go through the routine anyway”….. I think this can’t be healthy for the body as a whole. And furthermore I think it can have a limiting affect on the response to prayer in general for the living organism of the Body of Christ.

      Or, let me state it this way: if the state of faith of the Body of Christ in a locale (a household, a family, a church, a denomination, the collective group of a nation [?}) leans toward even a slim majority viewpoint of “there’s a chance God might heal, but we sincerely doubt it and we’re really not expecting it at all”….. i think this drags down the vitality and health of the entire locale of the organism of the Body of Christ in its ability to receive answers for the big prayers.

  18. Your response is too close to home for comfort. Don’t you wish the Holy Spirit would have inserted a few asterisks here and there: “Now, this was meant for these people, at this time, and for this reason. This is not intended to be taken beyond its immediate situation.”? Sure would have relieved a lot of heartache and disappointment. In Yancey’s book: “Reaching for the Invisible God,” he quotes from a letter received from a man in Iowa: “I know there is a God: I believe He exists, I just don’t know what to believe of Him. What do I expect from this God? Does He intervene upon request (often/seldom), or am I to accept His Son’s sacrifice for my sins, count myself lucky and let the relationship go at that? I accept that I’m an immature believer: that my expectations of God are obviously not realistic. I GUESS I’VE BEEN DISAPPOINTED ENOUGH TIMES THAT I SIMPLY PRAY FOR LESS AND LESS IN ORDER NOT TO BE DISAPPOINTED OVER AND OVER.” (emphasis added).
    After decades of pastoral ministry, that pretty well sums up prayer for me. I agree with you and some of the previous posts concerning what I call “cop-outs” to explain unanswered prayer. For instance: “…let him ask in faith, NOTHING DOUBTING.” Yeah, right. How easy is that one to toss out there (“Well, you just don’t have enough faith, or you are doubting…”)? Or, “you ask amiss…” yada, yada. Hey, SURELY not everything we ask is AMISS, is it? No! I want to pray for my member who loves God, loves His word, remains faithful and believing while suffering chronic pain and the gradual loss of eyesight — I want to pray for her and see an answer to prayer that can’t be explained by human reasoning. If doctors (whom I deeply appreciate), medicine, surgery, etc., is always going to be, in the final analysis, “God’s way of answering our prayers,” why not cut to the chase, quit laboring in prayer, and get a good insurance policy and competent doctor?

    • I might also add that, on top of this, week after week I’m called upon to lead group prayer meetings at church. I must admit there are times when I’d rather do anything else. After a while, “God must have answered our prayers in a different way,” wears a little thin.

    • “I GUESS I’VE BEEN DISAPPOINTED ENOUGH TIMES THAT I SIMPLY PRAY FOR LESS AND LESS IN ORDER NOT TO BE DISAPPOINTED OVER AND OVER.”

      That is exactly the same thing I have experienced….

  19. I read Andrew Murray’s book eighteen years ago. I decided to try the faith that he recommends when we were in need of some money. I confess this was a test of God, and I was terrified as to what I might find. I wrote down the exact amount of money needed — not a round amount — and the last day that I needed it by, about two weeks from then. I told my husband and no one else.

    The first few days after that I ran with excitement to get the mail or answer the phone. Nothing happened. Eventually I more or less forgot about my experiment. The day before my deadline, I went to the mail with no thought of what I had prayed for. There was a greeting card in the mail, no return address and my name misspelled, and inside an anonymous money order for the exact amount I had asked for.

    I have never asked for anything that specific again but rather “They will be done.” God, in his humility, answered my prayer to develop my faith. Now I feel as if he wants me to pray for my daily bread and trust him to provide it as he will.

    I have to say, though, that some years earlier I had prayed desperately, with all my heart, for my father to be saved from alcoholism. He never was; he eventually died of it. For many years I didn’t talk to God, go to church, or pray as a result. Reading the Andrew Murray book and experimenting with prayer was part of a slow move back to trusting God. And I do trust God now, but I don’t understand him. In my experience as a flawed, struggling Christian, the book of Job is as helpful as the gospels.

  20. Well, last night I got an answer to prayer, an unexpected answer to prayer.

    But because of the change of circumstances this brings about, I was immediately reminded of the old saying: “Be careful what you pray for, because you just might get it.”

    Now I have to pray for a fix for this potential new mess the answer has engendered. But I guess because that prayer got answered, I maybe have a little more faith now to pray and believe that there will be a fix for the new situation, too.

    :)

  21. This is a challenge…did Jesus really mean it? I think he did…I’ve read George Muller’s autobiography of how God met the needs of his ministry for many years. But I note that they often had to sell things, one of his children died, he suffered ill health especially early on. Did he pray about these things? I suspect so. But then I was reading about this again on a post by Shaun Groves and prayed again about a very troublesome area in the lives of me and my husband that seemed to be flaring up again and before I got home from work a neighbor had intervened to calm the situation down. 4 ongoing years and and answer appears! Yes, it’s an answer to the prayer. So why sometimes and not others…I don’t know. I pray that my will be conformed to HIs, practicing giving thanks to Him in all things, and trusting that he will meet my needs and asking for them.

  22. Charles Fines says:

    Jeff, thank you for bringing this up. It obviously needs deeper understanding than what we usually bring to it, which is something like the child in the grocery cart being wheeled down the cookie aisle. I think we can use the various prosperity gospels to help explain what it doesn’t mean, altho it would be dishonest to say that they do not sometimes “work”.

    Let’s also throw into the balance Paul’s thorn in the flesh not to mention his laundry list of continuous life afflictions not to mention the hard life and violent end of most of the apostles not to mention the life of Jesus himself. Apparently the words of Jesus don’t mean a lifetime supply of Oreo cookies.

    Even our idea of praying “constantly” needs better understanding. Does praying only mean asking for something? I suspect our dog lying at our feet or our cat purring in our lap might be trying to teach us something about praying. But they also like their treats.

    A subset of your question is one that I give much thought to and may be the key. What does it mean to pray in Jesus’ name? This is one of those things that it seems like everyone knows the answer to because it is obvious, but when you start to explore it you see that there is no common understanding.

    Is it a magic catch phrase that you tack on to a prayer to make it work, sort of like abracadabra? A password like “Joe sent me”? A legal requirement that if not spelled exactly right voids the whole contract? A mystical state of union that is necessary in order to put the spiritual powers in motion? A different way of indicating the mind of Christ replacing our own?

    What does “name” indicate here? Especially in view of the many names given to the person we call Jesus in the various languages of the world. Does it affect things if we pray in the name of Haysuss or Yaysoo or Immanuel? Or Fred? In the olden days the cops would pound on your door demanding that you open it “in the name of the law”. Or in some other countries, “in the name of the king”. That may be pertinent.

    I don’t think there are easy answers to your question but I think it is extremely important to ask it and to go on thinking about it. Somehow I don’t think God minds if we try things out to see what happens.

  23. Lisa Hayward says:

    This verse destroyed my relationship with God for over 25 years. As a small child, I was abused daily. I completely trusted God as a small child does. I begged Him every night to take me away from the pain my small body and mind was enduring. Nothing. I did everything right, and nothing. This made me understand that in this world, evil is stronger than God. If it were not, then there would be no evil. Children are still raped, abused and murdered. And there is no God to stop this evil. Perhaps God and evil are the same? Perhaps He created evil as a part of Himself? Perhaps He is weak and I should feel sorry for Him? I don’t know.

    • Oh, Lisa, that is so sad! The fact that you made it to your adult years is practically a miracle. I just don’t know how people survive some of the things they survive. I don’t know why God answers some prayers and not others. Surely you did need rescuing.

    • sad now. i know your pain is not the exception in a world gone berserk. when crying out to a God that does not intervene in the most abusive of situations, does His plan that people have a will to exercise over another the best/right thing?

      anyway…

      i will be pondering your story as well as those unspoken ones during my Friday nite considerations…

      blessings on your recovery…

  24. I too have trouble with expecting my prayers get answered because they usually don’t. I have prayed all night and fasted over huge concerns only to find God simply ignores me. But then at times he curiously answers my prayer, often to heal someone, and my faith is built and so I pray on. Still, the process is frustrating.

  25. Brave questions and comments everyone. And yes, I’ve struggled with some of the same.

    I don’t think anyone has mentioned the paraphrase of the famous Augustine quote yet: “Love God and do what you like.” I wonder if this offers some insight?

    • The context of that statement by St. Augustine needs to be read. Google for it.

      • Fair comment, EricW. I realise I have probably taken it out of context, but I still think the essence of it probably applies. I was thinking along the lines of, “Love God and ask what you like.”

    • Here it is:

      Homily 7 on the First Epistle of John

      1 John 4:4-12

      7. “In this was manifested the love of God in us.” 1 John 4:9 Behold, in order that we may love God, we have exhortation. Could we love Him, unless He first loved us? If we were slow to love, let us not be slow to love in return. He first loved us; not even so do we love. He loved the unrighteous, but He did away the unrighteousness: He loved the unrighteous, but not unto unrighteousness did He gather them together: He loved the sick, but He visited them to make them whole. “Love,” then, “is God.” “In this was manifested the love of God in us, because that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we may live through Him.” As the Lord Himself says: “Greater love than this can no man have, that a man lay down his life for his friends:” John 15:13 and there was proved the love of Christ towards us, in that He died for us: how is the love of the Father towards us proved? In that He “sent His only Son” to die for us: so also the apostle Paul says: “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how has He not with Him also freely given us all things?” Romans 8:32 Behold the Father delivered up Christ; Judas delivered Him up; does it not seem as if the thing done were of the same sort? Judas is “traditor,” one that delivered up, [or, a traitor]: is God the Father that? God forbid! Do you say. I do not say it, but the apostle says, He that spared not His own Son, but “tradidit Eum” delivered Him up for us all. Both the Father delivered Him up, and He delivered up Himself. The same apostle says: “Who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.” Galatians 2:20 If the Father delivered up the Son; and the Son delivered up Himself, what has Judas done? There was a “traditio” (delivering up) by the Father; there was a “traditio” by the Son; there was a “traditio” by Judas: the thing done is the same, but what is it that distinguishes the Father delivering up the Son, the Son delivering up Himself, and Judas the disciple delivering up his Master? This: that the Father and the Son did it in love, but Judas did this in treacherous betrayal. You see that not what the man does is the thing to be considered; but with what mind and will he does it. We find God the Father in the same deed in which we find Judas; the Father we bless, Judas we detest. Why do we bless the Father, and detest Judas? We bless charity, detest iniquity. How great a good was conferred upon mankind by the delivering up of Christ! Had Judas this in his thoughts, that therefore he delivered Him up? God had in His thoughts our salvation by which we were redeemed; Judas had in his thoughts the price for which he sold the Lord. The Son Himself had in His thoughts the price He gave for us, Judas in his the price he received to sell Him. The diverse intention therefore makes the things done diverse. Though the thing be one, yet if we measure it by the diverse intentions, we find the one a thing to be loved, the other to be condemned; the one we find a thing to be glorified, the other to be detested. Such is the force of charity. See that it alone discriminates, it alone distinguishes the doings of men.

      8. This we have said in the case where the things done are similar. In the case where they are diverse, we find a man by charity made fierce; and by iniquity made winningly gentle. A father beats a boy, and a boy-stealer caresses. If you name the two things, blows and caresses, who would not choose the caresses, and decline the blows? If you mark the persons, it is charity that beats, iniquity that caresses. See what we are insisting upon; that the deeds of men are only discerned by the root of charity. For many things may be done that have a good appearance, and yet proceed not from the root of charity. For thorns also have flowers: some actions truly seem rough, seem savage; howbeit they are done for discipline at the bidding of charity. Once for all, then, a short precept is given you: Love, and do what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.

      • “let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.”

        I like that. Thanks for the homily, EricW.

      • Yes: thanks, Eric. I haven’t read that before (I have started Augustine’s Confessions), but it’s very good.

        I notice he quotes Romans 8:32: “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how has He not with Him also freely given us all things?” (Italics mine.) This may be relevant to what we’re talking about.

        I think it’s important, when looking at passages like the ones in John that Jeff has brought up, to consider them in the light of the whole of Scripture. And my impression is, from the rest of Scripture, that there are, what others have called, ‘qualifications’. Just maybe not as many as we make out.