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Introduction

One of the rather astounding – and potentially confusing – passages in Scripture is contained in John chapter 14. The context of this passage is that Jesus is speaking with the 11 faithful disciples, after the last supper. Basically, Jesus is giving the disciples information about the things that he will do, after he is crucified and resurrected. Then, Jesus makes these statements:

John 14:13-14 (ESV):

13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

Notice the wording of the above verses – “whatever you ask … this I will do”; and “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it”.

Jesus made some relatively similar statements, near the end of the sermon on the mount:

Matthew 7:7-11 (ESV):

“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 the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are 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!

Again, notice the wording in the above passage. For example: “everyone who asks receives”.

Finally, consider this passage, which Jesus told to his followers:

John 10:9-10 (ESV):

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

In the above passage, Jesus states that not only will his followers have life, but they will have it “abundantly” – i.e., more than just the “minimum requirements” for life.

So, can any conclusions be drawn, from the three passages listed above?

From my experience, some Christian groups believe that all of the above passages (and some similar ones) tell us the following:

“God will always grant requests from Christians – as long as the Christian prays for the request, in Jesus’ name.”

In fact, some Christian groups have an official doctrine regarding this overall belief – they call it the “Name it and Claim it” doctrine. Basically, this doctrine holds that due to passages like the ones above, God will automatically grant all requests from Christians. In other words, all we need to do is to ask God for whatever we want; and believe that God will give it to us. As long as we do that, we are guaranteed to receive exactly what we requested.

Of course, it is always necessary to determine if any given doctrine is supported by the entire body of Scripture. So, let’s examine Scripture, to discover if there are any cases in which believers’ requests will not be granted.

 

Asking for the wrong reasons

First, Scripture warns us about making requests for the wrong reasons. For example, consider the following passage from James:

James 4:1-3 (ESV):

1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

Notice verse 3 – “You ask and do not receive”. This is the exact opposite of Matthew 7:8, in which Jesus says “everyone who asks receives“.

So, we are certainly not guaranteed to have our prayers answered, if we make a selfish – or sinful – request. For example, let’s say that a man prays that he will win the lottery – and the sole reason why he wants to win the lottery is so that he can spend the money on an immoral lifestyle (similar to the “prodigal son” parable).

In this example, the man should not expect to have his request granted – because he made his request to  “spend it on his passions”.

 

Asking with an unrighteous heart

Scripture also indicates that the prayers of unrighteous people will not be heard by God. Consider the following passages:

Proverbs 21:2,13 (ESV):

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
but the Lord weighs the heart.

13 Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor
will himself call out and not be answered.

Psalm 66:18-19 (ESV):

18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
19 But truly God has listened;
he has attended to the voice of my prayer.

In the above passages, Solomon and David state that if we purposely harbor unrighteousness in our hearts, then God will not listen to our prayers. That is, if a person is not righteous, then his prayers will not be effective.

The apostle James tells us that the inverse is also true:

James 5:16 (NIV):

16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

In other words, if a person is righteous, then his prayers will be effective.

In any case, the bottom line is that if a person is not even attempting to follow God – i.e., if he is rejoicing in sin – then he should not expect his prayers to be answered by God. This is true even if his requests, themselves, are not selfish or sinful. In other words, a person with an unrighteous heart might not even have his good requests granted (let alone his sinful requests).

 

Facing authorized trials

The above two sections discussed sinful requests; and requests that are made by unrighteous people. So, the next item to consider is: what about good requests, that are made by righteous people? In other words, if a sincere follower of Christ makes a valid request, then is that request guaranteed to be granted?

One example of this type of scenario is contained in the passage below, from the apostle Paul:

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV):

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

In the above passage, Paul tells us that he was given a “thorn in his flesh” – i.e., something that caused difficulties for him. We are not told exactly what this “thorn” is; but it may have been a person who caused problems for him; or it may have been some sort of physical ailment, perhaps with his eyes.

In any case, Paul then tells us that he prayed – three times – for this thorn to be taken away from him. In other words, he explicitly requested to be healed from this “thorn in his flesh”.

This request certainly appears to be a valid one – he was simply requesting healing; rather than requesting money or power. Also, Paul was certainly a righteous person – he was an extraordinarily dedicated follower of Christ.

As a result, one might certainly expect that Paul’s request would be granted. However, it was not granted – the thorn still remained with Paul.

Evidently, this “thorn” was authorized by Jesus (and God). In that passage, Jesus stated that he will not take away the thorn, because “his power is made perfect in weakness”. This presumably means that people who are facing difficult trials are more likely to turn to God – and that, in turn, will allow God’s Holy Spirit to lead people more effectively.

In any case, the overall point is that a righteous person (Paul) made a valid request (for healing) – but God did not grant that request. The reason why is that Paul was facing a trial that was authorized by God – and therefore, God did not grant Paul’s request to be freed from that trial.

So, even if a righteous person makes a valid request, it is not guaranteed that that request will be granted.

 

Human free will

So far, we have seen examples of the following:

– Requests that are sinful not being granted;

– Requests from unrighteous people not being granted;

– Requests to be freed from authorized trials not being granted.

So, here is yet another item to consider: Suppose that a righteous person makes a valid request – and that the request does not involve an authorized trial. So, what will happen in that case? Will God automatically grant that type of request?

For example, let’s say the following situation occurs: A sincere follower of Jesus – named “Tom Smith” – ends up needing to walk through a very dangerous area of a city, in the middle of the night. So, Tom prays that God will allow him to get through that area safely. Also, God is not putting Tom through any sort of “authorized trial”.

So, in the above scenario, is there a 100% guarantee that Tom Smith will make it through the dangerous area safely? In other words, will God automatically ensure that no harm comes to Tom, as he walks through the dangerous area?

Just for the sake of the argument, let’s assume that God will automatically grant Tom’s request – i.e., that God will ensure that Tom will make it through the dangerous area safely. If that is the case, there are some ramifications to consider.

First, God would have to ensure that no “natural disasters” harm Tom – i.e., that no tornadoes, earthquakes, etc. will arise in that area. In addition, God would need to ensure that no “accidents” occur there – i.e., that no buildings collapse near Tom; that no car accidents occur nearby, etc.

However, the most important item to note is that in order for God to ensure that Tom makes it through the area safely, He would need to prevent any other humans from harming Tom. In other words, God would need to explicitly prevent other people from accosting Tom, as he walks through the area.

The reason why this is important is because God has given people free will. In other words, God allows people to choose their own actions – so that people can decide to do good or evil. (There are many passages in Scripture that demonstrate this “free will” concept; some of the most famous examples are contained in Deuteronomy 30, Jeremiah 18, Matthew 25 and 2 Peter 1.)

So, in order for God to ensure that Tom Smith will make it through the dangerous area safely, He would need to override people’s free will – i.e., He would need to prevent people from attacking Tom, even if that is what people wanted to do.

Of course, in numerous places, Scripture shows us that sincere followers of God were severely persecuted – and even murdered. For example, in the Old Testament, many of the prophets of God were mistreated and killed – and Jesus referred to those actions as grievous sins against God. Similarly, in the New Testament, many of the apostles were imprisoned, beaten, and martyred. In fact, historical accounts tell us that all of the original apostles – except John – were executed.

As a result, it is clear from Scripture that God generally does not override people’s free will – even when people decide to murder His chosen representatives. (There are a minority of cases in which God has intervened – e.g., Daniel in the lion’s den – but those cases are evidently the exceptions, rather than the rule.)

So, from all of the above information, it appears that God usually will not “override” people’s free will decisions to do evil. Therefore, in the example above, Tom Smith is not guaranteed to make it through the dangerous area safely – even though he explicitly asked God for that – because other people might choose to attack him, while he is in that area.

 

Unintended consequences

There is one final item to consider, about God granting our requests. Basically, in some cases, a believer can make a request which – by itself – is a positive item; but if God grants that request, then some other – very negative – items will end up occurring.

In other words, a person might ask for something good – but if God grants that request, then something else very bad will end up occurring. I call this the “unintended consequences” scenario.

The easiest way to explain this scenario is with an example. So, let’s go back to the believer from the last section – the man called “Tom Smith”. Let’s say that Tom is getting married; and the ceremony is being held in an outdoor venue – in a park. So, naturally Tom prays for good weather to occur on his wedding day – so that the ceremony will go smoothly.

However, halfway through the wedding ceremony, a severe thunderstorm suddenly occurs. This causes the entire wedding party – and all of the guests – to have to (hastily) move to an indoor venue several miles away.

So, Tom is quite disappointed that his prayer was not answered. Certainly, having nice weather at his wedding is a good thing – so Tom is confused as to why God did not grant his request, and allowed the thunderstorm to occur. (After all, everyone was looking forward to having the wedding ceremony at that specific park.)

As it turns out, a terrorist group had planted bombs in that park – because they wanted to murder the guests at Tom’s wedding. However, the sudden thunderstorm caused the wedding to be moved to a different location – and as a result, when the bombs exploded, no one was present in the park. In other words, the occurrence of the thunderstorm prevented anyone from being killed by the terrorist attack.

Needless to say, the above example is rather “severe”; but it demonstrates the concept of a person asking for something good – but if God grants the request, then something quite bad will end up occurring. (The country song called “Unanswered Prayers” also deals with this exact issue of unintended consequences.)

I have no way of verifying this, of course, but I suspect that this type of  “unintended consequences” scenario has arisen many, many times throughout human history…

 

Conclusion

Scripture is abundantly clear that prayer is extremely important. For example, the apostle Paul told us that we should pray to God, about anything that is troubling us:

Phillipians 4:6-7 (NIV):

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

So, it is definitely to our benefit to pray – and certainly, in at least some cases, our prayers will be answered. They may not be answered immediately, or in exactly the way that we requested; but our prayers evidently can “make a difference” – given the fact that Scripture explicitly tells us to pray.

The main item to be aware of is the fact that some Christian groups have a rather “extreme” belief about prayer. Essentially, some groups believe that we have a “100% guarantee” of having all of our requests granted – as long as we pray for those requests, and believe that God will give them to us. From all of the information above, it appears to me that that belief is not supported by the entire body of Scripture.

 

6 Responses to “Does God Always Grant our Requests?”

  1. on 16 Oct 2012 at 9:20 pmDoubting Thomas

    Good article Brian!!!
    It helps to remind me that I need to pray more often than I do. There are even some days that I don’t pray at all. Thanks for reminding us that prayer is important… 🙂

  2. on 18 Oct 2012 at 12:19 pmFiona

    Thanks Brian
    You have managed to see this question from many angles, and I think that you are right, God is intervening (daily) to answer our prayers in ways that we don’t suspect. Certainly the possibility that we are being tried, doesn’t always come to mind, even when in retrospect it seems obvious that’s what it was. Only by persevering in prayer, even when our instincts tell us to pull away and isolate ourselves, can we be faithful, for if we don’t get close to God in ordinary times, how will we have the faith to pray when we are hurt or in danger?

  3. on 18 Oct 2012 at 4:59 pmDoubting Thomas

    Hi Fiona,
    It’s nice to hear from you again. How is life down there in South Africa???

  4. on 04 Nov 2012 at 1:41 pmtimothy

    To ALL my KR fellowshipers,

    We now have the opportunity to obey the words of GOD given to Paul by revelation of Jesus Christ.

    The results of the Tuesday election will effect the whole world. So join me is following these words:

    1 Timothy 2: (NASB)
    2 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,

    2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

    3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,

    4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

    5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

    6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.

    7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

    8 Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNtJZynRHpY

  5. on 06 Nov 2012 at 7:59 amtimothy

    Continue to pray today.

    Jesus said “if you have faith”

    ….Well you believed GOD raised Jesus from the dead….you have faith/believed that GOD is. We have a great cloud of witnesses whole also had faith.

    Faith builders:

    trumpet “the walls came tumbling down”

    Joshua 6:1-20 Faith and obedience go together; the walls came down. When we obey God’s Word, we can have confidence the walls will come down.

    jawbone of ass “with GOD all things are possible”

    Judges 15:9-20 No matter how monumental the circumstances, with God all things are possible. God can use the least significant thing in His creation to confound the mighty and wise.

    broken pitchers “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon”

    Judges 7:1-22 – Have no confidence in your own ability; rather, allow God to fight the battle for you. The sword of the Lord is with you.

    sling “I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel” “who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living GOD”

    1Samuel 17:26, 41-50 – The battle is the Lord’s. View life from a spiritual perspective, not a flesh and blood viewpoint. Faith soars when the mind is stayed on Yahweh and diminishes when focused on self.

    Jesus Said:

    John 14:13
    And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

    🙂

  6. on 07 Nov 2012 at 1:45 amtimothy

    To All….

    2 Corinthians 4:18
    While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

    Timothy 🙂

  

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