Misunderstood verses #3
Have you heard this lately? It’s popular with purveyors of the prosperity doctrine who teach that God wants everyone to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. Benjamin Franklin is the author of the aphorism “Early to bed, early to rise…” and he may have been a deist, but he didn’t pretend to speak for the Creator. So, did Jesus actually say his followers could ask for anything in his name and he would do it?
Yes, but–context matters. Again. With most misapplied verses, the verse can only be understood in context.
This passage is part of the final Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples. At the beginning of the meal, Jesus washed their feet in an act of ultimate humility. Judas left midway through the meal to betray Jesus, and Peter proclaimed he would lay down his life for Jesus. The disciples were confused and dismayed by what Jesus was telling them: he was going away to prepare a place for them, but they had no reason to fear because Jesus is in the Father and they knew the way to the place where he was going. Jesus added, “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these….” Only then, in the context of the will of the Father, does Jesus say, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
The very next statement offers clarity: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” That statement is critical. Asking God for health and wealth without considering his will and his commandments is idolatry, not faith. James wrote, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Loving Jesus means acquiescing to the will of God in humble obedience. When we pray, we must be mindful of WHY we ask for whatever it is and how we will respond if God’s plan is not the one we think we want.
Jesus himself modeled the way to ask favor of the Father. Matthew recorded Jesus praying three times, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” In that same prayer, Jesus prayed for his disciples, the people who would believe based on the words of the disciples (that’s us), and that the Name of the Lord would be known and glorified (John 17). There is no selfish motive, no self righteousness, and no claim to be deserving of God’s mercy. If anyone who ever walked the earth deserved escape from judgement, it was Jesus.