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Anything?!

anything

This past Sunday we briefly considered Jesus’ remarkable statement in John 14:12-14

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. 

In particular, we observed that to approach God in the name of Christ means we do so (1) through Christ (14:6), rather than any supposed religious or moral advantages we possess, (2) in Christ, that is to say, as those who see and know God in the face of Christ (14:7-9), and (3) according to Christ – specifically, his will.  As John will write in his epistle:

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1Jn. 5:14).

This third aspect of conformity to Christ’s will is made plain by the context (see 14:15, 20-24), in which obedience to “my commandments” is part and parcel of our relationship to Christ – our life “in his name,” (cf. 17:10-12).  A few verses later, Jesus will reassert this connection (see 15:14-16).

But the obvious question we have is this: why have my prayers “in Christ’s name” remain unanswered?  There are three possibilities, each calling for faith:

First, all our prayers are heard and answered by God – always.  This sounds pedantic, but it’s an important point.  Sometimes the answer is “yes,” sometimes the answer is “no,” and sometimes the answer is “not now.”   Perhaps the present “no” is simply a “not now.” Isn’t this what we saw Jesus do with regard to Mary and Martha’s pleas for Lazarus in John 11:5-6?

But I thought Jesus said that He would do whatever we ask in His name, right?

Well, secondly, perhaps we are not asking in submission to Christ.  Scripture is clear that when we approach God with disregard for His commandments – whether it’s unbelief or a selfish attitude (e.g., James 4:2-3) – our prayers will be “hindered” (see 1Peter 3:7).  The question we should ask ourselves is: Will answering this prayer glorify the Father in the Son (John 14:13)?

Thirdly, our prayers may be genuine expressions of faith in Christ, and in general accordance with the will of God (e.g., prayers for a spouse, a child, a job, physical, emotional, or relational health, etc.).  Yet God has nevertheless seen fit to answer them with either a “no,” or at least a “not yet.”  What gives?

In 2Corinthians 12:7-12, Paul recounts his “thorn in the flesh,” and the multiple pleas he made to Christ to have it removed.  Surely, the removal of this complication – whether it was of a physical, psychological, or spiritual nature – was in full accord with the general will of Jesus, right?  After all, in His earthly ministry, Jesus appears to have healed everyone who approached Him in faith.

Yet Paul was simply told: “My grace is sufficient for you.”  Sometimes Jesus answers our prayers with a gentle but firm, “no.”  He lovingly tells us, instead, “trust me, and know that my grace is enough for you.”  This grace shaped Paul, in humility and through pain, so that “the power of Christ may rest upon me,” (12:7, 9).   That is a greater good.

If Christ says, “no” to what appears, by all accounts, to be a God-glorifying longing and prayer, will we trust that it is because He has in mind for us “greater things”?

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.  …You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.