Ask Whatever You Wish
Ask Whatever You Wish
May 7, 2006
The British Press Association reported this strange incident:
A British submarine lay disabled on the ocean floor. After two days, hope of raising her was abandoned. The crew on orders of the commanding officer began singing:
"Abide with me!
Fast falls the eventide,
The darkness deepens—
Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers
Fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless,
Oh, abide with me!"
The officer explained to the men that they did not have long to live. There was no hope of outside aid, he said, because the surface searchers did not know the vessel's position.
Sedative pills were distributed to the men to quiet their nerves. One sailor was affected more quickly than the others, and he swooned. He fell against a piece of equipment and set in motion the submarine's jammed surfacing mechanism.
The submarine went to the surface and made port safely.
If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.
Our focus this morning is verse 7, "If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you." The verse has two halves, a condition and a result. The condition--the if clause--is "If you abide in me and my words abide in you . . ." The result--the then clause--"then ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you."
Last week we talked about the condition--especially the meaning of Jesus' words abiding in us. If we are to have consistent answers to prayer, the words of Jesus must abide in us. That is, as we saw from verses 4 and 5, Jesus himself must abide in us. We do not just stock ourselves once, but we receive and believe and remember and meditate on the truths that he spoke once and is speaking now as he abides in us. We must restock ourselves continually. Just as your food shelves at home need restocking periodically, so does our need for an infilling of God’s Word.
Today I want to focus on the result clause of verse 7--"ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." If the words of Jesus abide in us, then the result will be that you pray with power and effectiveness.
There are four truths about prayer that come from meditating on this verse from the writings of John.
First of all, prayer is for fruit-bearing.
God designed prayer to give his disciples the joy of bearing fruit while God himself gets the glory. We can see this in the connection between verses 7 and 8 and then in verse 16: (v.7) If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you. (v. 8) By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. Then in verse 16 He repeats “I appointed you to produce lasting fruit so that the Father will give you what you ask for …”
In John's way of writing the phrase "by this" at the beginning of verse 8 refers backward to verse 7 and forward to the rest of verse 8. "By this is my Father glorified"--that is, by your asking him for things and his giving them to you. He gets glory as the one who is rich and good enough to answer prayer. "By this is my Father glorified"--that is, that you bear much fruit and He is glorified. God gets glory when we bear much fruit. Therefore the primary point of prayer is to glorify God by fruit-bearing. Our fruit glorifies God.
This is confirmed explicitly in verse 16. Let’s look at it again. Jesus says to his disciples, "You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he may give to you."
The logical connection between the two parts of this verse are tremendously important. Jesus says that he chose and appointed his disciples that they should go and bear fruit that remains . . . "that (in order that) whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he may give it to you." Shortened down it says, "I have given you a fruit-bearing mission in order that your prayers might be answered!” This only makes sense if prayer is for fruit-bearing.
You would expect the verse to be just the reverse: God will give you what you ask in order that you might have a fruit-bearing mission. But Jesus says it the other way around: I give you a fruit bearing mission in order that the Father might answer your prayers. The point: prayer malfunctions when it is not used in fruit-bearing. Prayer is for fruit-bearing. Therefore Jesus said to His disciples and to us, since I want you to pray and to get answers to your prayers, I chose you and I appointed you to go and bear fruit. If you are not devoted to fruit-bearing you have no warrant for expecting answers to prayer. Prayer and fruit-bearing go hand-in-hand.
Secondly, as a result of prayer being for fruit-bearing, prayer is not for gratifying natural desires.
Now I know that Jesus taught us to pray, "Give us this day, our daily bread." And what could be more natural than the desire to eat? And I know that there are dozens of instances in the Bible of people praying for desires as natural as the desire for protection from enemies and escape from danger and success in vocation and fertility in marriage, recovery from sickness, etc.
My point is not that our natural desires are wrong. My point is that they should always be subordinate to spiritual desires, kingdom desires, fruit-bearing desires, gospel-spreading, God-centered desires, Christ-exalting, God-glorifying desires should come first. And when our natural desires are felt as a means to achieve these greater desires then they become the proper subject of prayer. We pray for our needs in order for God to be glorified thru our lives.
Jesus said to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," he also said, make it your heart's desire that God’s name would be hallowed – made holy in our lives and that His kingdom would come and that the will of God would be done on earth. When your heart is caught up with those great desires, then having something to eat is not merely a natural desire, but a means to some great God-centered end. And then it is the proper subject of prayer.
Prayer is for God's name and God's kingdom and God's will--it is for fruit-bearing in all those great things. If our protection, and our escape from danger, and our eating and having clothes and houses and lands and education and vocational success leads to those great God-centered ends (the name of God and kingdom of God and will of God) then we pray about them with confidence.
This is what David meant when he said in Psalm 37:4, "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart." The desires of the heart cease to be merely natural desires when the heart delights above all else in the Lord. Delighting in the Lord--in the hallowing of his name and the seeking of his kingdom and the doing of his will--transforms all natural desires into God-related desires. They are transposed up into a higher key.
Prayer is not for gratifying natural desires. It is for the glory of God. Another way of saying it is this: if you want God to respond to your interests, you must be devoted to his interests. God is God. He does not run the world by hiring the consulting firm called Mankind. He lets mankind share in the running of the world through prayer to the degree that we consult with him and get our goals and desires in tune with his purposes. A good illustration of getting our goals in tune comes from Alice in Wonderland where, at one point Alice says to the Cheshire Cat, "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where," said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
Are you doing that? Is God number 1 in your life?
The evidence for your life lining up with God’s purpose is found in 1 John 5:14, "This is the confidence which we have before him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us." Prayer is not for gratifying our natural desires. It is for gratifying our desires when those desires have been so purified and so saturated with God that they coincide with his plans. "If we ask anything according to his will."
John puts it another way in 1 John 3:22, "Whatever we ask we receive from him because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight." In other words prayer is not for gratifying natural desires. Prayer is for satisfying the desires of people who are devoted to God's desires, people that do the things that are pleasing in God’s sight.
James put it yet another way in James 4:3, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures." Prayer is not for gratifying natural desires. Prayer is for fruit-bearing.
If we want to have power and effect in praying, we must devote ourselves to getting our desires into alignment with the fruit that God means to produce through us--and that fruit always has to do with the hallowing of his name and the coming of his kingdom and the doing of his will the way the angels do it in heaven.
And thirdly, the words of Jesus abiding in us prepare us for fruit-bearing prayer.
If prayer is not for gratifying natural desires but for bearing fruit for God, the major challenge of prayer is to become the kind of person who is not dominated by natural desires (to become what Paul calls a "spiritual person" as opposed to a merely "natural person" or "carnal person"). The key to praying with power is to become the kind of persons who do not use God for our ends but are utterly devoted to being used for his ends.
This is why Jesus says, "If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you." The words of Jesus abiding in us make us the kind of persons who are not dominated by natural desires, but are devoted to fruit-bearing for God's glory.
Let me give you a few examples that show this from John's writings.
3.1 In 1 John 1:10 he says, "If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." If the words of Jesus were abiding in us we would have known ourselves better--that we have sinned. The words of Jesus abiding in us are the key to a true and humble assessment of ourselves. They keep us in line with God's purposes.
3.2 In John 17:8 Jesus prays, "They have received [my words] and truly understood that I came forth from you." In other words receiving the words of Jesus is the key to a true and exalted assessment of who Jesus is--the Son of God sent from the Father. And no one can pray in accord with God's purposes without a true grasp of who Jesus is and what his purposes are in coming from the Father.
3.3 In 1 John 2:14b John says, "I have written to you, young men, because . . . the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one." So the words of Jesus abiding in us triumph over Satan and free us from the deceptions that would put us at odds with God and make natural desires dominate our lives.
In his book, “Why The World Waits”, K.P. Johannan (the founder of Gospel for Asia), relate this true story (it is a little long, but shows the power of God at work):
Before turning his life over to the Lord Jesus, Harath Bandula was a prominent member of a prosperous Buddhist business family. He, along with twelve other members of his immediate family, operated several successful firms based in the village of Teldeniya near Kandy. But their wealth provoked envy and jealousy from others in the community.
In 1974 spiteful neighbors and distant relatives hired a local "Kattadiya" witch doctor to cast a spell over the family. As a result two members of the family were plagued with visits from strange, evil powers. In order to free themselves from the black magic, the family retained their own Kattadiya medium. Like millions of other Sri Lankans do daily, they consulted astrologers to help search for a charm that would successfully break the curse.
But their efforts to fight witchcraft with witchcraft failed. After spending the family savings on the most famous astrologers and sorcerers in the nation, they were told that nothing could be done. In fact, a leading astrologer predicted that the strange series of misfortunes would eventually take the lives of all twelve family members!
Signs of demonic activity in the family homestead became more frequent. Their once comfortable and peaceful life-style turned into a nightmare. Strange sounds and voices could be heard when no one was present. Unidentifiable and vaporous figures would appear walking in the house and garden.
It was like a scene from a horror movie. Everybody's worst nightmares seemed to be coming true, and townfolk began to believe that their house was haunted.
Physical objects moved. Glass and pottery shattered. The garden would be littered immediately after being swept clean. Money disappeared from inside locked boxes. Family members were living on the verge of hysteria and madness.
Then the demonic attacks became violent and threatening. The demons would possess various members of the family in turn, causing them to attempt suicide. Terrible faces and forms would appear in windows and throughout the house — spirit manifestations with unkempt hair, bared teeth and tongues dripping blood.
Another sympathetic Kattadiya made an attempt to "cut" the knot of the curse, and his wife immediately died. Disillusioned, and overcome by the evil powers he could no longer manipulate, he gave up witchcraft. Now the family was left completely on its own to fight the spiritual attacks in any way it could.
They pilgrimaged to nearby temples, appealing to Buddha. But it was to no avail. They wrote for advice to a leading astrological newspaper and received a confirmation that the spell was irrevocable. The newspaper's advice column said the omens and signs were very negative. The entire family was "doomed for destruction" on July 10, the medium asserted.
Finally, the eldest son determined to offer his body to a benevolent spirit for possession, hoping that the malevolent forces would flee. This plan failed as well. Then he remembered a correspondence course he had taken from a Bible school in the capital. In desperation he wrote and asked for help from the Christian God since everything else had failed.
Touched by the plea, a student from the Bible school and a local pastor came to visit the family on July 7, three days before the deadline predicted by the fortune-tellers. No sooner had they knocked on the door than a demon in one of the women of the family screamed out in recognition and horror at the presence of Jesus in the missionaries.
The woman fled to a nearby cemetery where she was found later, hiding among the tombs like the Gadarene demoniac in Luke 8:26-39. She was so violent it took several men to restrain her and bring her back to the house.
But the native missionaries prayed and took the authority that was theirs in Jesus Christ. The powers of darkness were overcome by a power greater then they and were cast out in the name of Jesus Christ. The grip of fear and death over the family was broken through the prayers of two of God's faithful servants. Not only was the woman delivered from the demons, but the rest of the clan members were set free as well.
Eventually every member of the family became a born-again Christian, and many in that area have come to believe in Christ. There have been no more demonic manifestations in the house. When the haunting began, there were no Christians in the village. Today there are forty Buddhist converts in Teldeniya. Weekly worship services are now held in what was once a haunted house, and the Christian witness as a result of this deliverance is known for miles around.
Young Harath was converted and answered the call for full-time Christian service. He went to Bible school and is now a powerful preacher and witness throughout the large Buddhist community in Sri Lanka
3.4 In John 14:24 Jesus says, "He who does not love me does not keep my words." So if we keep the words of Jesus--if they abide in us--they will define for us the path of love. And that is precisely the path where prayer was designed to bear fruit. We love Jesus therefore we talk to Him and do things to please Him.
3.5 In John 8:47 Jesus says, "He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God." In other words if the words of God abide in you, you know that you are chosen of God (cf. John 8:31). The abiding of Jesus' words in you is evidence of your election and grounds for your assurance. And that assurance is indispensable in praying with faith and hope.
3.6 In John 15:3 Jesus says, "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you," and in John 17:17 he prays, "Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth." When the word of God abides in us we are sanctified – set apart for God and we are made clean and holy. And that means: in line with the fruit-bearing purposes of God.
Other examples could be given, but these are enough to show that the words of Jesus abiding in us prepare us for fruit-bearing prayer. It's the word that gives us
a humble view of ourselves, and
an exalted view of Jesus, and
triumph over the devil, and
a knowledge of the path of love, and
the assurance of our election, and
the power of holiness.
In other words it's the abiding word of Jesus that puts us in tune with the fruit-bearing purposes of God to glorify himself.
So the fourth and final truth about prayer is this: The more we are saturated by the words of Jesus the more our prayers will be answered. When something is saturated it is soaked thoroughly. When something is supersaturated, it is saturated to excess – it is expanded through the application of heat thus enabling it to absorb even more. If we are saturated spiritually, we will be thoroughly soaked in God’s Word. If we are spiritually super-saturated we are over-flowing with God’s Word – so full of it that there is no room for anything else. Jesus will do this in the lives of His people; He will heat us up by applying pressure to our lives so that we are unable to cope with our situation; when we turn to Him for relief, He then will use that opportunity to fill us to overflowing with His Word.
Or to put it in a rhyme:
More saturated by the word
More surely will our prayers be heard
The challenge of prayer in 2006 is the challenge to become the kind of people who do not live at the level of mere natural desire, but who live to bear fruit for God--to hallow his name and seek his kingdom and do his will. And the key to becoming that kind of person is letting the words of Jesus--the words of God into our lives (John 3:34: “For he is sent by God. He speaks God's words, for God's Spirit is upon him without measure or limit.” 14:10: “Don't you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I say are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me.” 17:8: “for I have passed on to them the words you gave me; and they accepted them and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.” ) – He says, abide in us. Being filled and saturated by the words of Scripture brings us so close to the mind of God that we pray in tune with his purposes and receive whatever we ask.
I think this is a progressive experience, not a once for all experience. That's why the final point is: the more we are saturated by the words of Jesus the more our prayers will be answered.
If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will and it shall be done for you.
More saturated by the word
More surely will our prayers be heard