Jesus said, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24). Again He said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13,14). There are no conditions explicitly stated except faith and asking in Jesus’ name. Why, then, have you asked before in Jesus’ name with full expectation that God would grant your request, only to be disappointed? Was your faith lacking? Perhaps. But it is just as likely that the ultimate condition for answered prayer was not fulfilled – the planned purpose of God to answer that request.
John the apostle said, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). John recognized that if it was not God’s eternal purpose to bring about what we requested, then we had no assurance that God would answer our request. If fact, when the answer did not come, when the situation did not change, we would be forced to conclude that God’s only answer was “No.”
Paul experienced this very thing and related it in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9:
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
In other words, God said, “No, Paul, I will not remove your bodily ailment. I have a purpose for it.” Paul’s faith was not lacking. He had met God’s moral conditions for answered prayer, but God’s sovereign plan would not be altered.
Why do we struggle with this so and want to insist that we can get what we want in prayer every time? Because we feel we need a God whom we can control. But God’s will is the ultimate will. We have no control over Him. His purposes are often larger than we can comprehend, and more painful than we desire. Paul could not anticipate that conceit would have become an issue for him needing such radical attention, but God could.
The question we must begin pondering as we pray is, “Are my requests in line with the sovereign will of God?” How do we know this? How can we pray in faith that God will answer if we don’t know God’s will? Do we end every prayer with “If it be your will?” We’ll look at this more in the next article.