Promises and Problems in Asking God :: By Gene Lawley

The problem in prayer—asking God—is not an attempt to overcome His reluctance; it is believing in, and connecting with His willingness to answer the request. It is my understanding from the Scriptures that a life relationship with God is not a “catch me if you can” situation. The wording of Psalm 139 says, in every circumstance of our lives, He is “right there!”

That passage in Psalm 139 says this:

“O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up. You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (vv 1-6).

Many years ago I heard the testimony of a sailor who had submarine duty in the Pacific area during World War II. He told of how the enemy ships were on the surface above, dropping depth charges—containers filled with explosives that would detonate on contact. Their submarine dropped to the bottom and shut down all activity to avoid the sonar searches and sat quietly in the darkness, waiting until it was safe to move out. He said this following portion of Psalm 139 (verses 9-10) was never more meaningful than during those moments:

“If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.”

Another reference even says this:

“It shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer, and while they are still speaking, I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).

Do you see what I am talking about?

God isn’t reluctant at all to give a positive answer to our prayers—we just have to “get our ducks in a row” first, and that verse just quoted may imply that we could be miles ahead if we are walking in preparedness, as we should be. James writes, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16b). J.B. Phillips paraphrases it this way: “Tremendous power is made available through a good man’s earnest prayer.”

Some people have looked at Matthew 6:7-8 and decided that if God knows our needs already, why ask Him for them.  Here is what it says:

“And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

“Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.”

No such implication is in the verse but only that you do not need to be “wordy and long-winded” in making your requests. In Philippians 4:19, Paul assures us that “my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

But we must ask. James, again, writes, “Yet you do not have because you do not ask.” For anything? No, of course not. He goes on to say, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3). It does not say, “Don’t ask at all because you might have the wrong motive for the request.”  Also, it does not imply that God will punish you for asking wrongly, He just says “no” to the request. And God is not against our enjoying pleasures—those with righteous qualities. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.”

And this brings us to the issue of the will of God that should be our concern and our desire, for a request that is not in the will of God is a failure even before it leaves our lips. The passage that gives consideration to that in our prayers is 1 John 5:14-15, but in the context that includes verses 11-13 is the foundation for the confidence claimed in the two later verses:

“And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

Now, this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”

Yes, I know that the last part of verse 13 is not in many of the versions. The truth, though, is that when our faith is fixed with a “know so” certainty of our eternal salvation in Christ and not a “hope so” uncertainty, our faith reaches a level of confidence that connects with the will of God in our prayers. Much of our difficulties in prayer, in my opinion, stems from the basic problem that we are still trying to maintain our salvation by our good works and not resting in the many, many promises of His unfailing and unchanging integrity to keep that which He paid the full price for on that cross at Calvary. We are not our own for we have been bought with the price of His blood, so says 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

For some, however, there seems to be a problem of asking at all. One man in Isaiah’s time found out what the Lord thought about that:

“Moreover the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, ‘Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.’

But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!’

Then he said, ‘Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel’” (Isaiah 7:10-14).

So Ahaz wearied the Lord with his disobedience when he could have been directly told of the coming of the Messiah.

When the Lord says, “Ask of Me,” He means for us to ask. And, let Him sort out the proper answer.

Jesus said, “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24), and likewise in other places.

But Matthew 7:7-11 makes a simple comparison that makes sense:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!

Note that the acronym for this format is ASK—Ask, Seek, Knock. The point being made here is that our Father in heaven is better able and even more willing than any human father to respond to our asking. It also implies expectation and stepping out to seek and look for open doors.

On the one hand we have Psalm 65:2, “O You who hear prayer, to You all flesh will come,” ‘and on the other, Romans 8:32,  “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

And why does He do it? Jesus tells us that in John 14:13: “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” In all cases it is for His glory that our prayers are answered, whether Yes, No, or Not yet.


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