John 16:23-24 – In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
Luke 18:9-14 – He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[a] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Sometimes we wonder how to understand Jesus’ words in John 16:23-24, “Ask and you will receive,” and we’re thinking, “Well, I asked, but I didn’t receive. What’s going on?”
What’s usually going on is that we are not asking for something that is accordance with God’s will. What is God’s will? Read your Bible. God wants you to grow, so pray that God will grow you. God wants you to pray for your enemies, so you pray for your enemies. God wants you to help the poor, so you pray for the poor.
Some of us pray against God’s will. God will not answer prayers that are against his will. If, for example, you are praying for a sinful romantic relationship to be blessed, or a sinful business decision to be blessed then you are not praying in God’s will.
Those are bad prayers. It’s like asking God to help you sin better. He’s not going to say yes to that. Those are not prayers uttered is in “Jesus’ name.” In prayer God changes our will to align with his so that he can bless our request that is in accordance with his desires.
What does it mean to pray to the Father in the name of Jesus? It means that we are not asking for things that run contrary to the honor of Jesus or that come from a place of disobedience to Jesus.
Sometimes we personally are not in accordance with God’s will. Jesus shares a fascinating parable in Luke 18 about two guys going up to the temple to pray. One guy is super religious and very determined to create performance art out of his prayer. He prays arrogantly and loudly in essence, “I thank you, God, that I’m not a disgusting loser like all these other guys.” And he refers to the other guy and says, “I especially thank you that I’m not like this guy.”
And that guy had to be thinking, “Hey, wait a minute.”
This guy’s whole prayer is about how awesome he thinks he is, and how much better he is than everybody else. Reading his prayer, it’s a lot of I, I, I, and me, me, me.
But the other guy’s prayer consists simply and succinctly and humbly of this: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” He is honest about his state before God. He’s not seeking people’s approval; he’s seeking God’s help.
Jesus said, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
That guy didn’t pray long and he didn’t pray like an expert. But he prayed respectfully and humbly, and God honored his prayer.
Some of us are sometimes praying for people in a very arrogant way. “Lord, help this person learn as much I have.” “Lord, make this person see things the way I do.” “Lord, show this person how great I am.”
Those are awful, arrogant prayers.
God honors a humble heart, so pray humbly, with the acknowledgment that you are a sinner saved by grace, that God is in control and you are not, and that no amount of self-righteousness or prayerful performance will merit you anything. God is good and we do not need to manipulate him to be good. God is impressive, but he’s not impressed by us.
- Before you spend time in prayer today, begin by asking God if your desires and requests are in line with his will for you. Then, only pray for those things that you are convinced are God’s will for you.
- Spend some time today in prayer focused on asking God to forgive any sin in your life. Also pray for the religious people who have caused you pain and harm, that God would forgive them too.
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