Ask and You Will Receive
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Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”1 Is this a blanket promise with no conditions? … In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that whoever asks receives, whoever seeks finds, and whoever knocks will find an open door.2 But with this and all other verses we must examine the context.
Jesus goes on to say that God will not fail to give His children good things.3 So, this is one condition to the promise of “ask and receive”: what we ask for must be good in God’s estimation. God will give advantageous gifts to His children; He will not give us bad or injurious things, no matter how much we clamor for them. The best example of a good gift is the Holy Spirit, according to Luke 11:13. We begin to see a two-fold purpose of prayer—to increase our understanding of what God calls “good” and to cultivate a desire in us for what is good…
Our prayers are based in a relationship, as Jesus points out in Matthew 7:8. If a child asks his father for something the father knows to be hurtful, the request is denied. The child may be frustrated and unhappy when he doesn’t get what he asked for, but he should trust his father. Conversely, when the child asks for something that the father knows is beneficial, the father will provide it eagerly because he loves his child.
We have another condition to the promise of “ask and receive” in John 14:14, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” Here, Jesus does not promise His disciples anything and everything they want; rather, He instructs them to ask “in my name.” To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray on the basis of Jesus’ authority, but it also involves praying according to the will of God, for the will of God is what Jesus always did.4 This truth is stated explicitly in 1 John 5:14, “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” Our requests must be congruent with the will of God.
The promise of “ask and receive,” even with its conditions, can never disappoint... He promises to supply what we need when we “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.”5 Of course, what we want is not always what we need. If what we want is not in God’s will, then we really don’t want to receive it. God knows what is good for us and He is faithful and loving to say “no” to selfish and foolish prayers, no matter how much we want what we’re asking for.
God will always give us good things. Our job is to understand what is good, so that we know what to ask for. The natural mind cannot understand this. But, when we offer ourselves as “a living sacrifice” and are transformed by the renewing of our minds, then we “will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”6 Then, asking for what we need in faith, we will have all we need for life, godliness, and fullness of joy.7 …
Jesus emphasizes faith: “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Those who truly believe God will witness the amazing, infinite power of God. However, comparing Scripture with Scripture, we know that the asking must be done within the will of God. Part of having faith is acceding to God’s plan as best. If we ask for healing, and that is the best thing for us, we should not doubt that God will heal us. If He does not heal, then not being healed is a necessary part of a larger plan—one that is ultimately for our good.
Consider Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” … [This] means that, when we delight ourselves in God, then we will find everything we want and need in Him. The key here is that the heart of the seeker is changed—when we delight in the Lord, God’s desires begin to become our own. When our desires match God’s, then our prayers are automatically aligned with His will.
Among the most important prayers in the life of a Christian are “Teach me to love you above all else” and “Cause me to want what you want.” When we truly desire God, when we are passionate to see His will accomplished in this world, and when we ask for what brings Him glory, He is eager to give us anything we ask. Sometimes the things that glorify God are pleasant—a marriage or a child. Sometimes they are difficult for us—a failure that humbles us or a physical weakness that makes us more dependent upon God.8 But, when we pray within His will, in the authority of Jesus, persistently, unselfishly, and in faith, we will receive what we need.—From gotquestions.org9
The Bible certainly encourages us to pray fervently and to have faith that God not only hears our prayers but also will answer them. Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”10
But this doesn’t mean God will give us anything we want, if we just pray hard enough. If you have children, do you give them anything they ask for, if they just keep asking and asking? No, of course not. You are wiser and more experienced than they are, and you know they don’t need everything they want. In fact, you know that some of the things they’re demanding could actually hurt them. You love them, and because you love them, you sometimes have to say “No.”
In a far greater way, God knows what is best for us and, because he loves us, he sometimes tells us “No” or “Wait.” More than once I’ve asked God to do something I was convinced must be right and was disappointed when it didn’t happen. But later I realized it hadn’t been God’s will, and I was thankful he had said “No.” The Bible says, “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”11—Billy Graham12
Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he that cometh to God”—and that’s what we’re doing when we pray—“must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”
Many people have struggled with this question: How can I pray in faith if I’m not absolutely certain that what I’m asking for is in accordance with the will of God? The reason we struggle is that our faith is misplaced. We think that we somehow have to work our faith up to the place where God will answer a particular prayer. But that is not the case. The object of our faith is the person of God Himself, not our faith.
When I do not have faith, I’m saying one of two things: either God cannot answer this prayer or God will not answer this prayer. If I say He cannot, I’m questioning His sovereignty and His power. If I say He will not, I’m questioning His goodness. To pray in faith means that I believe God can and I believe God will insofar as it’s consistent with His glory, because God is good…
We must believe that He exists, that He is … Almighty God. That He is not limited by anything that we can think of. And then we must believe that He rewards those who diligently seek Him and believe that He is good.—Jerry Bridges13
Prayer is not meant to be a “pious reverie” that has only a subconscious effect on us. Prayer is an intensely practical thing, as real as using the telephone. And the party at the other end of the line—God Himself—says to us, “Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”14 After we ask in prayer, then is the time to believe, to wait in faith, and to receive, according to God’s will. “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, 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 the petitions that we have asked of Him.”15
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.”16 Faith is believing that God is going to answer, even if you can’t see the answer yet, or even if the answer isn’t exactly what we expected. It is not what we think about it, but what God says about it that counts. It is not what we feel, but what God wills.—Virginia Brandt Berg
Published on Anchor February 2021. Read by John Laurence.
Music by John Listen.
1 John 16:24 NIV. Similar statements are found in Matthew 7:7; 21:22; Mark 11:24; Luke 11:9; and John 15:7.
2 Matthew 7:7–8.
3 Matthew 7:11.
4 John 6:38.
5 Matthew 6:33.
6 Romans 12:1–2.
7 John 16:24.
8 See 2 Corinthians 12:7.
10 Matthew 21:22.
11 1 John 5:14.
14 Mark 11:24.
15 1 John 5:14–15.
16 Hebrews 11:1.