Do you want to have your prayers answered? How often we come to God with unjustified expectations.
We come anticipating that He will bless what we claim we did for Him. But James' warning should cause us to question ourselves. Conditions are laid down for us:
Let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord (James 1:6-8).
We can summarize the conditions to answered prayer under three heads:
- Ask God
- Ask faithfully
- Receive from God
Let's consider these in that order.
We begin with "Ask God." This seems like it would be a simple thing, a no-brainer. We have to ask. But what does it mean to ask? What about someone like the demon-possessed man who wanted to be helped by Jesus but was only able helplessly to speak the words of the fallen angel possessing him?
The incident is at Mark 1:21-28. Consider particularly verses 24 and 25. The man wants to be delivered, but he cannot even ask Jesus for help, he is in such servitude to the stronger being. And yet, there he is, this enslaved person, in the synagogue, "in church" so to speak. But he is not free. He is demon-possessed. Listen:
The mind of this wretched sufferer had been darkened by Satan, but in the Saviour's presence a ray of light had pierced the gloom. He was roused to long for freedom from Satan's control; but the demon resisted the power of Christ. When the man tried to appeal to Jesus for help, the evil spirit put words into his mouth, and he cried out in agony of fear. The demoniac partially comprehended that he was in the presence of One who could set him free; but when he tried to come within reach of that mighty hand, another's will held him, another's words found utterance through him (The Desire of Ages 255).
The demoniac, in place of prayer, could utter only the words of Satan; yet the heart's unspoken appeal was heard. No cry from a soul in need, though it fail of utterance in words, will be unheeded (The Desire of Ages 258).
We need to ask. We should not presume not to ask because of this case. But if we would better understand the mercy of God and the significance of our attitude, we will take a lesson here. This man had placed himself where he could not even utter his own words; he could not even comprehend in full what was going on. But deep inside of himself he longed for deliverance and in that longing Jesus interposed and released him from captivity. God was listening! Nor is this occasion an anomaly. We see something very similar when Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee and releases the demoniacs (Matthew 8:28-34).
Still, let us speak to God our requests plainly. At John 16:24 Jesus urges His disciples to verbally ask. And I urge us to actually, verbally ask. But it is well to remind ourselves we must ask from our heart. And exactly that is what asking in Jesus' way is.
Asking is not uttering a form of words when we do not want what we are asking for; that is mouthing. Mouthing words is not a condition but asking for deliverance from our heart is crucial.
Let's consider now several passages which fall out when we search under "ask" and "receive."
The Condition of Believing
First, let us consider the condition of believing. Our Bible passage for this is found at Mark 11:12-14 and 20-24. (A parallel is at Matthew 21:18-22).
We all know the story. Jesus curses the fig tree one morning, and when the disciples pass by the next morning they are astonished how in one day it has become twisted, gnarled and shriveled up. There is much in this story and our purpose is not to delve into every detail. I want to point to Jesus' counsel. "Have faith in God," He says. That is, "believe." The underlying Greek word is the same.
Believing and not-doubting go together. How can we ask without doubting? We can be prayerful, studious, Bible-reading, outreach-living people. Then we will be continually receiving insights from His Word and have a living compassion for the lost. Then we will know what we are asking is in harmony with the Spirit of Christ. Then we will know we are seeking to ask according to the conditions He has set forth. Then we will know our spirit is His Spirit. Then we will ask with confidence, without doubting, and ask believingly.
The Condition of Asking in Jesus' Name
Many of us habitually conclude our petitions asking "in Jesus' name." But does asking in Jesus' name mean remembering to speak a phrase?
Jesus speaks of praying in His name. We hear this three times in John 16 (vv. 23, 24, 26). Jesus speaks in each case of the believer petitioning the Father in Jesus' name. Jesus affirms in 17:26 that He has in His ministry declared His Father's name. As usual in the Bible, "name" stands for more than a mere title or designation. "Name" stands for character. Jesus' life described/played back/presented the character of the Father. Jesus did exactly what the Father would have done had He had taken a damaged human body and lived a holy life in it.
Here are two sentences from Ellen White that put this together well:
To pray in the name of Jesus is something more than a mere mention of that name at the beginning and the ending of a prayer. It is to pray in the mind and spirit of Jesus, while we believe His promises, rely upon His grace, and work His works (A Call to Stand Apart 27).
Jesus was not idle. His every word and action were faithful representations of the character of the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Himself. While each one is a distinct person, all three are perfect and their actions are exactly the actions a loving and unselfish, giving, righteous character would enact. Jesus was continually working His Father's will and works. When you and I speak, request, pray, and act in Jesus' name, we also must be working His works in His world.
The Condition of Refusing to Ask for Self-pleasing Motives
Another crucial condition is seen James chapter four. James identifies where friction among believers so often arises--from failure to ask and from failure to ask with proper motive. Verse 4:3 in particular warns, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures."
In other words, the professed believer wants A but the God he actually says he worships wants B. Conflicts arise between what God finds pleasurable and we find pleasurable. Then we pray at cross purposes with God. Please do this, we plead, when that would not be consonent with His unselfish life lived out in that situation.
We cannot ask for something from God from self-pleasing motives and anticipate His "Yes" response. We must pray and seek that He will give us His mind, His spirit, about a matter, so that we can ask aright. Listen:
There are conditions to the fulfillment of God's promises, and prayer can never take the place of duty. 'If ye love Me,' Christ says, 'keep My commandments.' 'He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me; and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him.' John 14:15, 21. Those who bring their petitions to God, claiming His promise while they do not comply with the conditions, insult Jehovah. They bring the name of Christ as their authority for the fulfillment of the promise, but they do not those things that would show faith in Christ and love for Him.
Many are forfeiting the condition of acceptance with the Father. We need to examine closely the deed of trust wherewith we approach God. If we are disobedient, we bring to the Lord a note to be cashed when we have not fulfilled the conditions that would make it payable to us. We present to God His promises, and ask Him to fulfill them, when by so doing He would dishonor His own name (Christ's Object Lessons 143, 144).
If we claim His promise but we refuse to comply with the conditions, His promise is "not payable" to us, and His giving us the answer would even harm us.
Receiving from God
And receiving is itself actually a condition. If someone does all kinds of extraordinary things for you in your behalf but you reject those things, you receive nothing. We have to be willing to truly be on God's team. After all, He knows what is right. We do not know what is right. He knows what is best for our heart and for His wayward world. We do not know our own heart.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9).
No, we are not guaranteed that once we decide to follow Jesus we will always perceive things aright. We must be converted anew every morning. Rather, many times during each and every day! We have old follies, old habit patterns of self-indulgence. How relentlessly ready these are to rise up, message us, and seduce us to disregard God's prohibitions and His initiatives toward humanity when we could help others. So often when we could and should intelligently help someone, instead we default to serving ourselves.
What spirit are we of? Here this insight from John at 1 John 3:22:
Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.
Christianity is not a legal religion with minimum requirements. For example, it's not just refusing to engage in secular labor on the sabbath day, but, as Isaiah says, it is loosing the bonds of wickedness, undoing the heavy burdens, letting the oppressed go free, breaking every unjust yoke, sharing our food with the hungry, covering the naked, and visiting the sick and those in prison. It is taking away any yoke of evil in your midst and helping the afflicted. It is pointing other desperate hearts like your own to Jesus.
All His gifts are promised on condition of obedience. God has a heaven full of blessings for those who will co-operate with Him (Christ's Object Lessons 145).
How many of God's gifts are promised on condition of obedience? All of them. You heard that correctly. The soft, squishy popular view of God all around us doesn't agree with this but it is still true. Obedience figures very prominently in the New Testament. God has so many gifts He would give, but the devils know how to block them. They encourage us forward with subtle arguments against obedience. Why? because then God's blessings are blocked. And then they laugh at our foolish actions.
We have a whole congregation, younger, middle, and older. But we are very skinny in some places. We all know, I hope, that this congregation has limited representation in certain age brackets. It is an emergency. It actually threatens the future viability of the congregation. We are not yet arrived at that winter, but it is certainly autumn. We have space to fix it, but we would have the wrong spirit if we expected God to bless us while we are busy doing what is convenient and not doing what is hard. Supporting our children's divisions with gifted, spiritual teachers and supporting those teachers with the help they need, is a basic duty of any congregation. You don't have to be young to teach but you have to be willing. And you have to have support.
When I think of our evangelistic meeting close at hand, I tremble to wonder if God will do anything for us if we only fall into the convenient tracks so long cut. Yes we have a beautiful building because of long years of faithful giving and faithful work. Yes, it is more difficult as we grow older. We can fail together, that would be easy. Without God we will fail. But we can succeed together too. We can plead with Him to guide us so that this congregation ministers to all ages, and so that we do not wear out those few who have borne the heaviest load. There are possibilities and solutions. But we must ask in faith. And how can we ask His blessing in faith if we neglect these urgent pieces?
We doubt when we know we are not doing something that God wants us to do. That can be the whole battle right there. That is where we can be so easily defeated. Are we as a church doing what we know we ought? If we plan to receive, we have another duty:
Speak and act in harmony with your prayers. It will make an infinite difference with you whether trial shall prove your faith to be genuine, or show that your prayers are only a form (Christ's Object Lessons 146).
Are we speaking and acting in harmony with our prayers? Are we doing the things God would have us to do? It is easy to lose our way on the way:
By idle talk, evilspeaking, or neglect of prayer, we may in one day lose the Saviour's presence, and it may take many days of sorrowful search to find Him, and regain the peace that we have lost (The Desire of Ages 83).
For damaged spsiritual beings like ourselves it is easy, in even one day, to lose what it took long spiritual activity to gain. But while everything we do is fragile to fail, as great also are our possibilities:
The life of Christ has shown what humanity can do by being partaker of the divine nature. All that Christ received from God we too may have (Christ's Object Lessons 149).
That is strong food: "All that Christ received from God we too may have." Not some; not even merely most, but "all." Are we willing to receive all? God has exactly what you and I need. But will we poke it suspiciously with a stick, sniff at it, and doubt? Or, will we redouble our efforts and engage in the spiritual life of prayer and become soul-winners for Jesus?
I can't do it for you and you can't do it for me.
But Jesus can do it for us.
We can summarize the conditions to answered prayer under three heads:
- Ask God
- Ask faithfully
- Receive from God
Are we really asking God with heart longing? Are we asking while living faithfully by what he has shown us is His will for us? And then, are we ready to receive from God or are we trapped in some cycle of doubting, refusing to believe Him, refusing to take Him by His word, refusing to receive the fulfillment of His promises? Are we afraid of Him rather than trusting Him? Shall we doubt or shall we believe?
Fremont MI SDA 2019-09-14
Muskegon MI SDA 2019-09-14