John 16:23-24 “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”
Here Jesus is really doubling down on what he said earlier in 15:7. If it seemed extreme then, it’s much more extreme now! (In a side note, the Japanese clarifies something that is confusing in English. The first “ask” is actually “inquire,” as in “ask a question.” After that, “ask” goes to “make a request.”) The problem is, our experience doesn’t seem to match the promise. James had an answer for that. “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3) Asking in Jesus’ name is far more than tacking “In Jesus’ name, Amen” on the end of your wish list. That said, in a way this is just a reiteration of what Jesus said way back in the Sermon on the mount: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8) Jesus pointed out the element of faith in all this when the disciples were so shocked at the incident of the withering fig tree. “Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig-tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:21-22) When He taught about the imperative to forgive, the apostles recognized their inability in that area too, and we have another powerful exchange. “The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6) Jesus doesn’t accept excuses! However, He does accept humility and repentance, and His mercy and grace are sufficient. Paul famously went back and forth with the Lord on this over a physical problem he had. “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.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9) Sometimes God’s answer to a request is that He has something better for us, even though it might not look that way at the time. So we are left with the necessity to trust and obey, just as the hymn says, knowing that God’s plan is best whatever it feels like to our flesh.
This is very personal to me in a number of ways. In the first place, I have prayed for the salvation of the Japanese for a long time, but have seen very little fruit. In the second place, my wife has a list of physical problems that sometimes cause even doctors to just shake their heads. I have certainly prayed for her healing, and those prayers have not gone unheard. One time she was instantaneously healed of pneumonia, and another time she died, went to heaven, and came back. We are left with Paul’s question about her Parkinson’s Disease and other problems, and I think we get much the same response. We have seen God move miraculously many times, and at the same time we have had times of laboring in prayer and seeing nothing. We have to choose to be at peace with not knowing, trusting Daddy to do what is right. As the old Southern Gospel song says, “We will understand it better bye and bye.”
Father, thank You for this reminder. I would rather be the one in pain than Cathy, but that’s not how it is right now. Help us not stop asking, but at the same time never stop trusting Your love and grace, which are indeed sufficient for us. Thank You. Praise God!