Recently my church encouraged the entire congregation to read the New Testament through in eight weeks. A group of friends and I did it. It was like the New Testament on steroids. Ordinarily I like to chew and savor God’s Word.
But this approach almost required speed reading. Details were entirely lost on me. However, what I did come away with was the Big Picture. I noticed themes and ideas I’d never seen before as I water skied over page after page each day.
Like John’s emphasis on answered prayer. No fewer than six times, John repeated that we can ask God for whatever we wish and He will answer. I will quote them here, in their contexts, in case you need to see for yourself:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do.” (John 14:12-13)
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” (John 15:7-8)
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last–and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” (John 15:16)
“In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:23-24)
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15)
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 the things that are pleasing in His sight (1 John 3:21-22)
Although I was aware of these verses, I didn’t know there were so many of them! Maybe that’s because I’ve never really known what to do with promises like those. My experience tells me that God does not always give me “whatever I ask” for in prayer. I’ve prayed many prayers that have seemingly gone unanswered. I know there are theological answers for this apparent contradiction, so I haven’t bothered myself too much about it. However, the sheer repetition of these promises (I read them all in the space of two days!) prompted me to look more closely.
What I noticed was the context. Whatever we ask is in the context of God’s Kingdom. It’s in the context of doing the kinds of works that Jesus did. It’s about bearing long-lasting spiritual fruit. It involves keeping God’s commandments, pleasing Him and doing His will. It means asking in Jesus’ name—that is, asking for the same kinds of things Jesus asks for.
This wasn’t really news to me. But it hadn’t profoundly affected the way I prayed, either. I don’t like to admit it, but my prayers for personal comfort for myself and those I love usually outweigh by far my prayers for the things that build and grow God’s kingdom.
I decided to take inventory. Which of my prayers has God answered recently? Well, He has powerfully answered prayers for the ministry I get to be part of. He has creatively responded to prayers I’ve prayed for friends who are doing His work overseas. He has brought healing to broken relationships I’ve interceded for. He thwarted a specific enemy attack I prayed against. He has given me plenty of answers to the kingdom-oriented prayers I’ve prayed. That encourages me!
Does it mean I should stop praying for temporal relief, and comfort for myself and those I care about? No! God says that because He cares about me, I can pray about whatever concerns me (1 Peter 5:7). But what it does mean for me is that I want to be praying more of those fruit-that-lasts prayers. I want my “whatever you ask” prayers to be about the things He wants, the things that glorify Him and bring both Him and me joy forever.