Promises from Jesus
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10).
“Very truly I tell you, all who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:12-14).
Does Jesus intend to offer a kind of spiritual blank check to get what we want from God? How should we apply these promises? Are there limits? If so, how do we know the boundaries?
I invite you to go with me on an epic journey to discover rich truths about prayer.
“An epic story always covers a huge canvas. Usually referring to a large-scale novel, poem, or film, an epic tells a tale of harrowing adventures that includes a big cast of char- acters, unfolds over a long period of time, and often traverses a large landscape. Central to the plot of an epic is a journey, undertaken by an individual, family or community, that involves some mission or quest. The main characters must locate a buried treasure, restore a king to his throne, solve a puzzling mystery, or make their way home after years of wandering.”
“However happy the ending, an epic often has a great deal of darkness in it—tragedy, suffering, betrayal, and terrible sacrifice. There are strange twists and turns that leave us breathless as we wonder whether the characters will complete their quest. If anything, struggle is necessary to the nature of the story itself. The success of the quest becomes all the more meaningful because of the disappointments the characters experience along the way. The resolution comes as a joyful relief in the face of what once appeared to be unconquerable.”
“I believe that prayer is an epic story. In the end we receive answers, for Jesus himself promised it would be so. He commanded us to pray, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ Would he make such a promise, only to refuse to deliver on it? But along the way there are significant setbacks. The ending is triumphant, though it might not always seem certain. The kingdom comes, God’s will is done, though not right away. God does and will answer our prayers, though it may take a while, sometimes a long while.”
“But the problem is, all of us pass through stretches of time— sometimes long stretches of time—when God does not seem willing or capable of answering our prayers.” “Why doesn’t he answer our prayers? Not the silly and trivial prayers we sometimes say when we’re in a pinch, but the sincere prayers we say when we’re in desperate need. For me and for most people, this is no abstract question, the kind that students in a philosophy class might explore. It’s a real question, as gritty and gutsy as the painful experiences that force us to ask it.”
“My guess is that you’re reading this book because unanswered prayer isn’t an abstract question to you either. Perhaps you have been rocked by the disappointment of unanswered prayer yourself, or you know someone who has. Struggle and suffering are bad enough in themselves, as we all know. They are worse when we cry out to God for help, believing with every bit of faith we can muster that God will hear our prayers—yet still feel unheard. Such experiences can test our faith to the breaking point” (When God Doesn’t Answer Your Prayer, by Gerald Lawson Sittser).
On this epic journey, the breaking point of faith becomes a turning point to move you (not away from) but more deeply into prayer. But we must take on risky terrain and challenge some well-entrenched assumptions. We might even hit a few raw nerves.
Three big concerns
In a larger sense, my concern for us focuses on three main areas:
- How we talk to God (prayer)
- How we believe God speaks to us (revelation)
- How we talk about God (testimonies, God-sightings)
All three are shaped by (and reveal) our understanding of who God is and how He relates to us and to the world we inhabit.
Questions that bother me
Why don’t we guide new believers in these three areas? Do we leave them to trial and error? Shouldn’t those who have been on the journey much longer show the new ones the way? Shouldn’t we teach them: How to pray? How to hear God’s voice? How to testify to His work?
Shouldn’t we correct misguided prayers, testimonies and claims to hear from God? I think we should. What should we say to children who pray for sunshine for an outing? A son who prays to do well on an exam without studying for it? A parent who prays for his son to hit a home run in little league? Or, (God forbid) a pastor who prays for a nice drive as he tees up.
- Are there prayers that should not be prayed? (James 4:13-18 “If”)
- Are all prayers answered with “yes,” “no,” or “wait”?
- What about Job’s experience?
- How should we persevere in prayer? (Luke 18)
- Does God ever get blamed for things He does not do? James 1:13-18 Temptation? Crusades? Slavery?
- Is God ever praised for things He does not do? TV preachers?
- Do we understand why someone struggles with the place of prayer after losing a loved one for whom he prayed for healing? Or, struggles with testimonies about God’s interventions in seemingly insignificant areas?
- We know God is personal and cares about the details of our lives (Psalm 139), but do some people approach God as a divine bellhop or a traveling psychiatrist?
- Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Why do make wrong applications from this verse?
Words of caution for the journey
- Testify openly of God’s grace and goodness with gratitude and humility.
- Don’t be spiritually jealous or bitter against those who testify.
- Be open to correction and guidance.
Seasoned words about prayer
“As young Christians, enthusiastic about our new found faith, we burble before the Lord about our lives in the way in which young children burble to their parents about all the things they see going on around them. But later we become less certain that such burbling alone is the essence of prayer. As children growing in their relationship with their parents cannot happily revert to babbling ways of communication, so we reach out for a more mature and reverent prayer style, and we become less and less happy about the way we actually pray. We feel we are trudging along in a marsh, getting muddy and messed up while going nowhere. We make requests to God and then we wonder whether they made any difference. We ask ourselves, Is God answering my prayers? If not, why not? If he is, how is he doing it, because what’s happening isn’t quite what I asked for? Did I ask wrongly then? The winter of our discontent at our experience of prayer seems to go on forever.” (from: “Praying: Finding Our Way Through Duty to Delight,” J. I. Packer)
For further study: Prayer