The following article was an article I wrote for the June 2016 issue of DevoBlast. I did have to remove a small portion because it made prayer to God look like a contract rather than humble service but other than that I think it turned out to be a good article.
Ask and Ye Shall Receive?
“And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
-Matthew 21:22 (ESV)
“Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
-John 16:24 (ESV)
The verses above are often used by those trying to manipulate God. These two verses are often used as the centerpiece of a message. People are essentially told teachings that claim God will give them anything they want if they have faith and ask in his name. Of course when a new believer or a visitor tries to ask something in the name of God that does not happen they have a tendency to leave the Church thinking it’s all fake.
Checking the Direct Context
“And whatever you ask in prayer you, will receive if you have faith. “ -Matthew 21:22 (ESV) Starting with the verse from Matthew, we find that in the surrounding context Jesus was explaining to the disciples the importance of their faith.
The context surrounding John 16:24 is Christ explaining how he was going to leave for awhile (Be buried after his death) and return again for a little while. (The resurrection and the 40 days following) The preceding verse reads, “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask in the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” –John 16:24 (ESV)
The Context in the Whole of Scripture
One of the problems with preaching that God will give you anything you ask is that there are verses that actually show there is certain criteria that should be met. I don’t want to try to box in the power of a person’s prayer but there are passages that do draw certain lines. Let the record show that the main verses used for this article are New Testament verses.
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend on your passions.”
-James 4:3 (ESV)
The most obvious reason prayers don’t get answered is that we ask for worldly, selfish things just to use them on our desires. I am not talking about praying that God provide us with food, clothing and shelter. I am referring to selfish prayers for things such as money and status. I’m challenged by this myself. I am a human being with common desires. It’s nothing to be ashamed of but it is quite the challenge to think about why you want what you want before asking God. We’ve all had selfish prayers there is no judgement here but I would like to challenge you to add this step to your prayer routine, ask yourself and even God why you want what you are praying for.
“Beloved if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”
-1 John 3:21-22 (ESV)
We might not get our prayers answered just because we aren’t following the Word of God. The commandment this passage is referring to is in the following verse. “And this is the commandment, that we love one another, just as he has commanded us.” –1 John 3:23 (ESV) If you aren’t loving your brothers and sisters in Christ as well as those who aren’t Christian, that can also be a reason why your prayers aren’t answered. A verse in Proverbs says, “If one turns his ear away from hearing the Law even his prayer is an abomination.” –Proverbs 28:9 (ESV) Proverbs 28:9 is one of the harshest verses I can think of off the top of my head but it is a vivid picture of how important following Christ and his Word really is.
“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”
-1 John 5:14 (ESV)
The last verse I want to reflect on within this topic is 1 John 5:14. The key phrase with this verse is “according to his will.” If you ask for something outside of the will of God it will not be answered. Earlier this year my grandpa was in the hospital. I found out he was going to be sent home on hospice and the family was over at their house cleaning everything up for his return home. Myself and doubtless many other members of my family were praying for a miraculous recovery. Unfortunately he never came home. The day after I found out he was on hospice he was starting to pass away and after a long two days of waiting he did. I was of course disappointed.
Although I was disappointed at the time I am thankful now. He accepted Christ as his savior and in whatever way he could he followed and served Christ. No matter how good things get on earth, it still doesn’t compare with being with Christ in Heaven. There are also two other factors to consider even if he had recovered he would most likely end up going through the same pain again and death has to happen for us to be with God. I’m sure most of us have stories like this, where we pray for something against God’s will and sure enough God’s plan is better but there are also plans where God’s will, from a human perspective, is not better. In which case I have to ask the question do you love the gift or the gift giver?
I wrote this article because I hear about and have even seen Christians leave the Church because of unanswered prayers. If any of you knows someone like that this article has the verses that you can use to show it’s not always going to be answered. If you’re a person who has been contemplating leaving the faith because of an unanswered prayer I ask that you study this article and most importantly the Scripture references I used and ask yourself why the prayer wasn’t answered.
The last thing I want to ask is, when did we start getting wrapped up in prayer requests rather than Jesus? Jesus died for our sins so we can spend eternity in Heaven with him. No matter how good it gets on Earth it isn’t as good as Heaven and no matter how bad it gets on Earth it isn’t worse than Hell. Although we shouldn’t serve Jesus as death insurance this visual makes the point that we should be content and serve Christ in whatever situation we’re in.