Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. John 16:24
Does prayer work? Well, isn’t there a Bible verse that says something like that?” you may think, in response to this question. After all, didn’t Jesus say, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it?” (John 14:14)
Many people are convinced that prayer is as simple as ordering a burger at a fast food restaurant. Get in your order, for exactly what you’d like, and stand over at the pick-up counter until you get it.
Some prayer requests are definitely not going to be answered, if we’re thinking of an answer in terms of the fast-food example. Like the woman who prayed for her husband to find a “permanent mistress” so he would not be attracted to prostitutes and contract a sexually transmitted disease. Or the prayer request of the man asking for prayer that his girlfriend, who is married to another man and has a family, would divorce her husband so he could marry her.
Worse than that, though was the owner of a flower business who requested prayer that more people would die so she could sell more floral wreaths to the funeral home.
Believe it or not, these are actual things people have prayed for! We may smile at the ridiculousness of them, but the fact is, that there would be nothing funny about the absolute chaos that would result from God’s giving us everything we ask for.
There is absolutely no questioning the fact that prayer is powerful and that God does answer the earnest prayer of a man who has been justified in His sight. Two generations ago, John Rice gave us an excellent book on prayer called, Asking and Receiving, demonstrating that we as His children knock on heaven’s door with our petitions and because we are His children, He generously showers His grace and goodness upon us.
When you pray, however, there are three questions that you need to ask yourself. First, ask, “Is what I’m asking God to do consistent with what God has revealed in His Word?” God cannot contradict Himself. The second question is the flipside of the first one. It is this: “Am I praying for God’s will in this whole matter?” Of course, we are to ask in faith, believing that God will honor His Word, yet the highest form of faith is praying as did Jesus, “Not my will but yours be done.” When you pray for God’s will and what you are praying for appears to be consistent with what God tells you in His Word, you can pray with greater confidence.
Does God ever give you what you have asked for, when it is less than His best for you? Psalm 106, a passage that reviews the 40 years God’s people walked in the desert, contains a sobering reference to this. It says, “So he [God] gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease upon them” (Psalm 106:15).
There is a second best, and altogether too often we are willing to settle for what we think will be best, instead of His very best.
Then you should ask, “Will God be glorified in what I’m asking Him to do?” Praying that your kid wins the game means someone else’s child loses. Praying that your golf game is better than your opponent’s is suspect and asking God to keep you from getting caught cheating on your taxes is definitely out of the question.
Take heart in what John wrote, “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). That’s enough.
Resource reading: 1 John 5:1-15.