This is part 3 of a 5 part series. (Read Part 1, Part 2).
Before, we stated that Jesus left himself no qualifier or conditional statement in this verse in order to allow an excuse for any unanswered prayers or answers that don’t fit our original criteria. That isn’t entirely true. There is a qualifier, a conditional statement in this verse, but it isn’t for the purpose of excusing God’s answers or redefining what answers are even acceptable. The condition is for the purpose of defining what constitutes a prayer that is asking for something. It is for the intent of distinguishing a prayer from a wish, a supplication from superstition.
Jesus does not say or do anything that is apart from the Father. He is in perfect unity with the Father and constantly identifies himself with the Father. His name includes all of who he is in character, essence, and being. The connotation of the word “name”, in Greek means so much more than someone’s proper title. It includes the integrity of the person, all that they stand for, and everything that they do. Jesus’ name is in perfect unity with the Father. We should be coming into a very firm understanding of what it means to pray for whatever and for anything in the name of Jesus Christ now. The two widely general terms of whatever and anything are ultimately qualified by the one phrase of asking these things in the name of Jesus. More appropriately we could restate this phrase as in accordance with the person and character of Jesus Christ as he is the fulfiller of the will of God the Father. If you ended your prayer with a phrase like that, I think it would cause you to reevaluate what it is you were praying for.
When we are left with nothing to write down in the response column of our prayer journal, the first thing we should do is not to grapple with excuses for God’s silence, but to look seriously at our prayers and reevaluate their congruency with the person and character of Jesus Christ.
Some very difficult truths enter the foreground as we wade into this arena of prayer. If we think of some of our most desperate prayers, in those cases where people we care about were sick, injured, or dying, there are instances where our prayers for healing and longevity were not met with our loved ones recovering. Our loved ones still die sooner than we are ready to let them go. So looking at these realities within our new framework of understanding Jesus’ standard for our prayers, we are left with really only one viable answer. Our prayers were not truly in the name of Jesus Christ. Our prayers were not in accordance with the person and character of Jesus Christ as he is the fulfiller of the will of God the Father. In other words, our requests were decidedly not in God’s will. This is the only explanation offered by these verses. And let’s assume that we’ve heeded every other verse that speaks on prayer. We have sought, knocked, and asked as Matthew 7 instructs (Matthew 7:7-8). We were persistent as the poor widow was with the judge in Luke 18:1-8. We were singular in mind and unified in faith as James tells us to be (James 1:6-8). We are worshipping in spirit and in truth and lay before God an honest, genuine petition that a friend’s ailments might be healed (John 4:24). No one can accuse your prayer of being self-centered, ungodly, unbiblical, or irrelevant. Your heart is Christ-centered and you are desiring to be closer to God. And yet we submit requests that aren’t answered as we have asked them to be. Whether or not we ended those prayers with the invocation of the name of Jesus Christ, these prayers were not prayed in accordance with the will of God. And this is by no means sinful for the one praying, but it is simply a request that was decidedly not to be answered as they wished.
I often start thinking on this idea of unintentionally praying for something that is not God’s will. I wonder whether this is really okay or if eventually, as I become more aligned with the Spirit, I will reach a point where all of my prayers are perfectly within God’s will. I find it so comforting to look to Jesus as the prime example of what our prayers should be like. There could not ever be someone more aligned with the will of God than God himself in the flesh. Jesus knew exactly what his Father wanted. As we have already seen in John 14 that all Jesus said and did was in perfect alignment with what the Father told him to say and do. And yet we see in the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus explicitly prays for something that he knows is against what God has planned. Look at Matthew 26:39 where Jesus prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me…” Jesus knows that he has to go to the cross. He has been talking about it for the last year at least! He has told his disciples that he is to die (Mark 8:31). He told Nicodemus that he will be lifted up just as the serpent in the desert on the end of Moses’ staff (John 3:14-15). He dared the Pharisees to tear him down and watch him rise again in three days (John 2:19). He knows this is what must happen and that it must happen now. Yet he looks to heaven and says, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me…” But it is what follows that shows us how we must ultimately concede to the will of God as Jesus says, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” This is paramount to our understanding of our prayers to God and what is acceptable. Genuine, authentic prayers are acceptable with reverent, worshipful hearts; even when we know that we may be asking for something that is blatantly against God’s will. Our expression of our desires toward God is not sinful. But we must always ask God that our hearts might be ready and willing to accept his will as our own. And it is in these scenarios that we struggle the most. When we pray for healing and those closest to us pass on, we wonder how we can accept that this is God’s will.
What is God’s will?
There is no easy reconciliation for this truth; that sometimes it is God’s will for someone to die, to pass on. These events in our lives can be understood in a couple of ways. One simple way is that of being God’s direct intervention that caused something to happen. Otherwise, it can be understood as being the effect of our sins on the fallen world that we live in. God has chosen to give us such liberties to act freely, even in situations that end fatally, or as victims to diseases caused by the death brought on by our sins.
This is not to say that what is within God’s will is what God wills to be done. God is sovereign and all-powerful. All that happens must happen with his knowledge and with his allowance; that is to say that he allows things that are not always his preference. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Anything that is opposed to these attributes is opposed to God. Yet we know that lies and death exist by the very nature of being human. We are not perfectly honest people and eventually we will all die. So these things are obviously not God’s preference as they are opposed to the person of Jesus, hence his sacrificial death on the cross to put an eternal end to the effects of sin and sin itself. But since God is sovereign, these things must be allowed by him or else they would not exist. So there are very many things that are within God’s will that are a part of the effects of a fallen creation, but these things are not directly and personally willed by God. God does not will people to commit murder (Ezekiel 18:32), but by the existence of the act itself being a reality, it must be within God’s will for such things to be allowed to happen. And here we rest on this point that it is within God’s will for us to act freely and by such liberty, that we are inclined to use wrongly because of the influence of our sinful nature, we brought and continue to bring sin and suffering into the world. As we see in Scripture, it is the will of God to alleviate the effects of our sin in some cases and to permit these effects in others. The reason for this, however, is where we must resign ourselves to trusting the wisdom, compassion, love, and faithfulness of God the Father.
So if God is going to act in accordance with his will with or without our participation, this seems to undercut the fundamental of praying. So then, what worth are our prayers if they are not taken into consideration? But this staunch disposition that we ascribe to God may not necessarily be exactly how he has chosen to interact with people. While God infinitely knows every action, reaction, petition, expression, and meditation of every person in all of history throughout the entire world, he also implicitly in the Old Testament and explicitly in the New invites us to interact with him. We often use the expression “give and take” to describe relationships. We say that relationships are “give and take”. But how can we assign this expression to our relationship with God? God is almighty. As we have said before, his being is unchanging. He cannot waver by degree and is constant by type. We cannot add anything to him, nor can we take anything away. Yet, as we are limited and sinful, God has everything that he can give to us and can take everything away from us. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away (Job 1:21). Our relationship with God cannot be described by this expression, because all the giving and the taking is entirely one sided. A relationship must be based on interaction. Our relationship with God can better be described by the expression “call and response”. In this way, we are interacting with God the Father. As he calls us out, we respond in obedience and as we pray to him he answers our petitions. As we emphasize our relationship not by give and take, but by call and response it appropriately realigns the focus back onto communication and communion with the Father as opposed to action and reaction in the chronological sense of cause and effect. We cannot effectual cause God to do anything. He is independent of our incidence. However, he does respond to our calls and this is expressly evident. This is what prayer is fundamentally about. It’s about a personal relational interaction with God the Father.