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Can I Pray For Anything?

The article The Power of Prayer showed that we can pray about everything, but does that mean we can ask for anything? This important question will be examined here.

The Gospel of John records three important instances where Jesus discussed asking: John 14:12-14, 15:7, and 16:23-24. We’ll examine these individually, and then, collectively.

A. “Most assuredly, 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 My
Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may
be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”
(John 14:12-14)

The background on is passage is Jesus comforting the disciples concerning His departure. Since He is leaving, Jesus tells the disciples if they believe on Him, they will carry on His ministry doing the same amazing works that Jesus did. This was possible because Jesus was going to send the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17) who would live in His followers. He would empower the followers to do great things in Jesus name, as they shared the Gospel in Acts 1:8.

Then, Jesus says that whatever is asked in His name will be done so that God the Father will be glorified in the Son. He repeats this showing how important the concept is (v. 13-14). What can we ask in Jesus name? Does it mean ask simply for anything or is it anything that will bring God glory? In context, this should refer to the same types of works that Jesus did (from verse 12). Matthew Henry gives a nice explanation of asking, and so, answers these questions for us:

... "1. In what way [were the disciples] to keep up communion with [Jesus], and derive power from him, when he was gone to the Father—by prayer. ... Here is, (1.) Humility prescribed: You shall ask… (2.) Liberty allowed: "Ask any thing, that is good and proper for you; any thing, provided you know what you ask, you may ask; you may ask for assistance in your work, for a mouth and wisdom, for preservation out of the hands of your enemies, for power to work miracles when there is occasion, for the success of the ministry in the conversion of souls; ask to be informed, directed, vindicated."

... "2. In what name they were to present their petitions: Ask in my name. To ask in Christ's name is, (1.) To plead his merit and intercession, and to depend upon that plea... (2.) It is to aim at his glory and to seek this as our highest end in all our prayers."

... "3." skipped

... "4. For what reason their prayers should speed so well: That the Father may be glorified in the Son. That is...all our desires and prayers should meet as in their centre; to this they must all be directed, that God in Christ may be honoured by our services, and in our salvation. ‘Hallowed be thy name’ is an answered prayer, and is put first, because, if the heart be sincere in this, it does in a manner consecrate all the other petitions."1

The sum then is, to ask whatever will allow us to do the works of Christ and so bring Him glory. God will certainly give us all that is required to do good works as stated in 2 Corinthians 9:8.

B. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him,
bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not
abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather
them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in
Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall
be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much
fruit; so you will be My disciples.”
(John 15:5-8)

Here we see that if we abide in Jesus and His words abide in us, we can ask what we want, and it will be done (v.7). How can we know what this means? Look at the text around it for context. This verse is part of a section discussing abiding in or living in Jesus (v.5-6). It provides the example of a branch, which cannot live and be fruitful unless it is attached to a tree. The tree provides support and life giving water to the branch. Just like a branch, we are to be attached to Jesus and draw life and nourishment from Him so we can produce fruit for God. Our purpose and job is to be fruitful as described in Romans 7:4, Philippians 1:11, and Colossians 1:10. Galatians 5:22 tells us the kinds of spiritual fruit we are to produce including love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. Yet, we are powerless to produce without Jesus. Be sure to also notice the connection between your desires and living in Jesus (v.7). Surely if you are properly connected to Jesus, your desires will be pleasing to God and in line with His wishes. Thus, asking in the above section from John is in connection with producing fruit for God so that He is glorified (v.8).

Summarizing, the way to bring God glory is to bear fruit. The way to bear fruit is to abide in Jesus and ask for it. So, John 15:7 helps us understand our ability to ask found in John 14:13-14. We can and should ask for anything in Jesus name that will allow or help us do those works or produce spiritual fruit that will glorify God!

C. “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you,
whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have
asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
(John 16:23-24)

In this third passage on asking, Jesus says whatever we ask for will be given so that our joy may be full. The context (John 16:19-28) is a conversation about Jesus not being seen by the disciples for a little while and them having sorrow because of His death on the cross. However, He comforts them saying they will see Him again. In the middle of this discussion, Jesus says, whatever you ask God in My name will be given so that you will be joyful. Prior to this, the disciples had not asked anything in the name of Jesus because He was there in person, but when He left, they were to pray to God in His name.

At first this may seem a bit different from the other two passages where we are to ask for the purpose of doing God’s work. Here it seems to say, ask for what you want. However, the context is, ask so that you will have joy or comfort in your sorrow because you miss Jesus. In this instance, you are to ask because of your deep love for Jesus. (Consider this, how deeply do you love Jesus? Are you anxiously waiting for His return or do you need to have a little earthly satisfaction before you see Him?) What would bring you joy while you waited to see someone that you loved? Perhaps, doing something for that person or getting ready to see the individual?

From the passages in John, we see that we are to ask for whatever will help us do God’s Work. James also lets us know that we can ask for things that we need:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally
and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But 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 1:5-7)

James says if you have a need, go to God (v.5). He tells us to ask for wisdom in faith, expecting to receive (v.6). Why do we need to expect to get our answer? Doubt will trump your request. James warns us against doubting, because the one who doubts will not receive (v.6-7). Why should you doubt when it is clear that God is generous (v.5)? Remember King Solomon, who asked God for wisdom to serve God’s people and was rewarded beyond his dreams? Solomon’s request was in keeping with the principles of Jesus’ ask instructions. This example deals with wisdom, but the principle should apply to other needs, as well.

Yet, James also warns us about what not to ask for, or why not to ask. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures,” (James 4:3). This verse tells us that if we ask with wrong motives, just for selfish pleasures, you will not receive anything. This fits logically with the “asks” that are found in the Gospel of John. Jesus instructed us to ask that we might do good. James tells us do not ask that we may do evil.

In one of his letters, John gives a good summary to answer the question, “Can I ask God for anything?”

“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.”
(1 John 5:14-15)

The context, seen in 1 John 5:12-13, is a discussion about knowing that you are God’s child because you believe in Jesus. Since you are God’s child, you can have confidence in asking for things because you know your Heavenly Father hears you. Here we are told to ask for what is in God’s will, that is, what will please God. How do you know what will please God? We will easily find that answer if we READ THE BIBLE because that is the one place God has explicitly told us about Himself. If reading the Bible seems too intimidating, get some motivation by reading the articles in About the Bible.

Just in case...

... This article talks about prayer, but what if you're not sure who to pray to? Read the articles on Jesus to research that important topic at About Jesus.

Notes: 1 Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Vol. 5 “The Gospel According To Saint John” p.898-899, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., Peabody, Massachusetts 1991.

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