I have been a Christian for a long time, but this question has haunted me, even though it is basic to Christian belief: In John 14:13-14 Jesus is comforting His disciples and tells them that if they ask anything in His name, He will do it. On the surface, it appears to be a blanket statement. I know about the Holy Spirit helping us with our prayers, and we don’t receive because we don’t ask correctly or for selfish reasons. I’m not sure, though, I can honestly explain such a broad statement made by Christ. To an unbeliever, it would seem that Christ is some type of cosmic Santa Clause. Anyone have any suggestions?
That’s a good question, and many prosperity gospel teachers abuse it to show that if you’re sick, poor, or just in a bad spot, it’s because you didn’t pray enough or have faith, which isn’t the case at all. We live in a broken world filled with those things. God allows them for a reason.
But back to your question:
So there’s this book I really like called “Finding God’s life for my Will.” The gist of the book is that we should be asking for God to change our desires and feelings and make them align more with what he wants for us.
Keep that in mind when you check out this verse:
“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
Clearly God won’t give us everything we want, because that would satisfy our greedful lusts, and sometimes, even hurt us.
So why would Jesus tell us that anything prayed for in his name will happen? Because we need to have a heart aligned unto God’s own, first.
That’s how Elijah prayed and not a single raindrop touched the parched land. That’s how, after a day of the false prophets clamoring unto their gods, Elijah prayed for fire, and fire came down and not just consumed the water-soaked offering, but the rock it was on as well.
I hope this helps!
Thanks, Daniel @TempusFugit . I apologize for not getting back to you sooner. I got back from vacation Saturday and have been busy getting caught up at home.
I hear and agree with everything you have said. Even though we are like Elijah, I’m not sure I would have the ability to call down rain or stop it today (Interesting proposition, though )
But, I agree with being in proper alignment with God. And that is where it is hard. There are different gifts; healing, for instance. I have read of people who have that gift and people have been healed. But is it out of God’s will when those of us not gifted pray for a sick relative or friend? (referring again to James 5:16) Or is it out of God’s will to pray for the salvation of another? Yet, many times that sick person dies; or the one we are praying for dies w/o professing Christ. It’s easier to accept the death of one who has been sick, acknowledging God’s sovereignty. But much harder to accept the loss of the unsaved individual when Scripture says that God is not willing that any should perish. So, where does God’s giving us what we are praying for (assuming proper alignment and such requests being universal in His will) and God’s not violating “choice” of the individual come into play?
Another application might be in praying for guidance in making a decision. We think we have God’s leading when we make that decision, only to find out it was wrong. How do we square John 14:13-14 with such events?
Any further insight?
People not being healed, plans failing, many things of that sort, that is something I have spent much of my life thinking about.
It’s funny, I live in an area where the threat of hurricanes is never very far away, and when they do form, all the churches start praying “God send it [insert basically anywhere they don’t live]” and the people who do live in that particular spot pray for God to send it elsewhere.
Sometimes our requests conflict without us even realizing it. Sometimes we ask God to let us feel him, but we also ask him to take a trial or pain from us. Ravi Zacharias once said that it’s a sad reality that the time we feel God closest is often in these trials, not to say that we can’t feel him when the world is all sunshine and roses.
What if we pray for a revival to come but also for this natural disaster to avoid us? What if through the destruction left in the hurricane’s wake, this is how God awakens the people’s hearts and a revival occurs?
We could take this one verse and make up our minds about this topic, but I think it’s important to see what else the Bible had to say about this in other verses and a few examples from those throughout history. In 1 John 5:14 it tells us that:
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”
Then we come to Charles Spurgeon: a great man used by God, but a man plagued by deep, continual pain and sorrow. Perhaps that is why I can relate to him so much.
I’m sure that at least one point in his life he asked God to take his burden from him, but God didn’t. But I’m also sure that in those prayers, he also asked God to grant him wisdom, and for God to use him.
Eventually, Spurgeon did say that he was grateful for the depression he suffered from. It gave him knowledge, wisdom and was used by God through that pain.
So I think in a way, God did give him what he wanted. Just not in the way he expected.
With that story and verse in mind, I’ve learned to always add something to the end of every prayer request:
“But let your will be done”
Scriptures tell us that when we plan things, we always say “If God allows.” I don’t remember the exact wording, but that’s basically the gist of it. We should be praying for God’s will to be done at the end of everything, perhaps moreso than getting our way.
So I will do my best to recap everything here (and maybe add a few final thoughts):
On occasion, our requests are at odds with each other when we don’t realize it, so God chooses one.
Sometimes, it would appear that we haven’t been granted something, but later we are. Just not in the way we expected it to be.
We should always be praying for God’s will to be done above all us, just as the example Jesus gave us (thy kingdom come, thy will be done). So at the end of it all, what needs to happen, does.
This is my perspective on the matter from what I’ve learned, and I hope this helps you
Anyone else reading this with other thoughts to add, please feel free to do so
Thank you so much, Daniel. You’re examples and summary were very helpful. I think the Scripture you were referring to about saying, “If it is the Lord’s will”, is in James 4:15. I once heard how some of our ancestors used to end their letters with “D.V.” It means “Deo Volente” (sp??) Or, “If God wills.” I liked that story and now have it as part of my signature for my emails. Thank you for that reminder.
As I have been pondering my own question, it occurred to me that we can be praying in God’s will, as for another’s salvation, and yet, have a different outcome in the case of that person dying without Christ. The important part is that we were praying according to God’s will (as in praying for those who spitefully use you…Matt. 5:44) As you said, the outcome may have already been determined, regardless of what we have been asking. So, then, it becomes a matter of our obedience to God rather than the outcome. God holds us accountable for how we obeyed Him, not the outcomes.
Perhaps, I can lay this question to rest. Thank you for helping me think through it.
I’m sorry you have had suffering and sorrow in your life. Obviously, God has imparted wisdom to you through it.
Hi, @sgewehr! This is a question I have had in the back of my mind recently, as I just finished reading through John and was struck by how many times Jesus tells his disciples to ASK the Father for things in His name.
Off the top of my head, I do wonder whether or not this promise can be directly extrapolated to our circumstances. That is, I wonder if that statement was meant to only apply to the disciples themselves, as they had been called for a particular purpose: to proclaim the implications of the resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah. It makes a lot of sense for Jesus to give them this sort of direction given what he had been telling them and what they were now going to be asked to do. I do not know if that is a theologically correct statement (and I’m happy to be challenged on it!), but I do believe it is worth wrestling with.
Becuause, do we know that God said ‘yes’ to every prayer one of the disciples prayed? No, we do not…maybe He did. But I think of Paul, who asked (probably in Jesus’ name) that his ‘thorn’ be removed, but each time God said no.
At any rate, what I am confident of is that God wants us to ask, seek, knock…to participate in relationship with him. He is a subject to be known, not an object to be used. Like you said, ‘the important part is that we are praying’. I don’t think CS Lewis ever said this exactly, but his character in Shadowlands contends that,
[Prayer] doesn’t change God. It changes me.
I agree with that. It is in the action of relating to God, not treating him like a wish-granting genie, where we find answers. Not that praying for someone to know Christ is treating God like cosmic Santa Claus, but we do know Him better when we intercede for others, when we bring them ‘before the throne’…esp. our enemies. I’ll be interested to find out at the re-creation of all things how God has honoured the prayers of the saints.
Thanks, Katherine, @KMac. Perhaps one of those questions we’ll know and understand when face to face. I do agree that prayer changes us, not God. I thought of Paul’s situation, too. But, then we are told God’s answer and why. I also realize that we tend to think in the present when God’s Time is not ours. The answer might lie in the translation??? Excellent point about God wanting to be known and not used.
I am going to keep Asking, Seeking,and Knocking on this one, though.
@sgewehr, thats a great question! My initial thoughts were about first interpreting John 14:13-14 in its context (14:10 -23) where Jesus is speaking to the disciples, if we are to explain this to unbelievers. However, I do think it also applies to us as John 14:12-13 says, “Whoever” believes in His name. Also, in Acts we read that the promise of the Holy Spirit that Jesus was referring to in John 14 after going to the Father, is for all the Lord will call (Acts 2:39).
When speaking to an unbeliever, we could first explain the context of John 14 and then its fulfillment through examples in the book of Acts. We can emphasize how Jesus keeps His words. In the context of John 14:10-23, the first assertion Jesus makes is that the works He does are the works of the Father in Him. Similarly, the disciples who live out their faith and love Jesus by walking in obedience to His commands can have the works of the Father manifest in them through the promised Holy Spirit in them so that the Father is glorified. The Holy Spirit was to be sent only after Jesus’s ascension to the Father. When disciples asked in Jesus name, they were exerting faith in the power and authority of Jesus which is impossible if they didn’t ask in His will. We see several examples in Acts of this promise being fulfilled in the lives of the disciples. Here’s one that parallels the context of John 14 in Acts 4: 7-11.
7 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead - by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”…14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,
So here we see that the disciples had more disciples added to their ministry than ever before (greater works) by the means of the name of Jesus (faith in the authority and power of Jesus) through the Holy Spirit. So what the disciples asked in Jesus name was all for Gods glory not for their own. If they did it for selfish reasons, there were serious consequences ex. Ananias and Saphhira. Someone with sin could not stand with that kind of outpouring of the Holy Spirit. So the idea that we can ask God whatever we want in Jesus name as a child’s wishes for Santa conflicts with John 14:13-14.
Now coming to us, how does the verse apply to us? That’s a tough one to answer and Daniel made some great points to answer this question. Although I believe in the continuation of spiritual gifts having experienced true prophecy myself, I do think the magnitude of the Spirit’s presence is not the same as the apostolic times even in circles that believe in continuation of the gifts of the Spirit. Just because we dont see mighty public moves of the Spirit, it doesn’t however mean there are no private moves of the Spirit. This can be one way to respond to an unbeliever. The lack of greater works through the Holy Spirit could also be God’s timing and higher purposes. Even in the history of Israel there were times when the word from the Lord was rare, 1 Samuel 3:1. Personally, I think the lack we are seeing may have to do with the difficulty in today’s cultural pace, to just wait on the Lord to know His will. Anytime I read the works of prayer warriors like George Mueller, Leonard Ravenhill, Andrew Murray and others, I see that they spent time…a lot of time - hours travailing in prayer. Most of the time we dont know if we have prayed in God’s specific will but we can take all our cares to Jesus. Concerning sick, James 5:14 does say, if anyone is sick we must call the elders to pray for the sick person. Also, even if you believe in predestination, since we dont know who will be saved, we are to pray for all and spread the gospel to all. The more we are faithful in following through with what we know in obeying God, the more God will work in our lives, just as Jesus promised the disciples in John 14. That must apply to our prayers as well which is in line with what James 5 says, prayers of a righteous man avail much. One final example I want to add is from John 21…how Peter on following Jesus’s specific command catches a lot of fish but not when he did according to his understanding. Even things that are not sin could still be not in God’s will and delay His purposes.
Having said all this, I dont claim to hear God’s specific will always. However, it does seem like something to seek and obey in our prayer lives consistently. God may reveal to us perhaps through circumstances, Bible, people etc His specific will. Hope this helps.
Thank you, Lakshmi @Lakshmismehta. Such a well-thought-out response. I’ve been blessed by those who have delved into my question to help with an answer.
I agree that Jesus is addressing the apostles in this section. And, I can see how it applies, especially to Peter, because Jesus told Peter that he would be used to build His church. And, of course, it was Peter who stood up at Pentecost and later before the Sanhedrin whose testimony added the thousands to the church. In Ephesians 2: 19-20, Paul talks about the “church” being laid by the foundations of the Apostles and the Prophets, with Christ as the cornerstone.
Jesus also spelled out what signs would follow believers in Mark 16, and again in Luke 10: 19. So, I think these are some of the things that are greater works. Through the ages, great preachers have had tremendous revivals that have brought scores to Christ in times of great national and international revivals.
I think your point is well taken that the culture today has also limited God’s manifest power because of such great disbelief. Jesus did tell the apostles several times that intense prayer was the key to moving God. And He also pointed out that without obedience to His commands we would not see answered prayer. So, I think the answer to my question lies within these two factors, intense prayer and obedience.
Thank you so much for your prayerful response.
@sgewehr, thank you for your comment and the additional scripture references. I agree the revivals were indeed a reflection of the greater works possible only by the Holy Spirit considering the magnitude of convictions to draw nearer to God. It all seems to come down to knowing Jesus in prayer. So simple but so difficult at the same time! Appreciate your question.