“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”- John 14:13–14
We have been discussing various aspects of prayer for the past few days, looking at the proper attitude of absolute dependence on God’s mercy in Christ and our need to trust His promises when we pray (Isa. 66:1–2; Heb. 4:14–16; James 1:5–6). Before we move on from question and answer 117 of the Heidelberg Catechism, however, more should be said about the faith we are to exercise in prayer.
Dr. R.C. Sproul has often said that the hard part of faith is not believing in God; rather, what is difficult is believing God. It is easy to see the truth of his words. After all, there are very few people on the planet who do not believe that God exists. “Even the demons believe [in God]—and shudder!” (James 2:19b). But not everyone believes the Lord, that is, not everyone confesses that the one true God is the triune Creator revealed in Scripture, the covenant Lord of Israel. Christians, on a basic level, believe God—we believe that He is who He says He is in His Word, and we rest in the one way of salvation He has provided in Jesus the Messiah (John 14:6).
Yet while we find ourselves believing God for our eternal salvation, we often doubt whether He will keep all His other promises. We pray for years, and because nothing seems to happen, we think our prayers have gone unanswered. We do not trust that the Father will do whatever we ask in Jesus’ name because, let’s face it, we do not get everything we ask for when we close with: “in Jesus’ name, amen.”
The very fact that we doubt God’s promise to answer us simply because He sometimes says “no” does not reflect negatively on the trustworthiness of the Lord but rather on our understanding of what it means to have faith in Him. Jesus promises that the Father will give us everything we ask for in His name, but asking for things in His name is more than saying “Jesus” at the end of a prayer. Ultimately, praying in Jesus’ name means praying for what pleases Him and what is in line with His will (1 John 5:14). When we do pray in this way, God will say “yes” to us.
In many cases, we do not know God’s will for the situation we are praying about. When we find ourselves in this place, the faith we are to exercise in prayer says the Father can do what we ask, not that He will do what we ask. What God can do and what He has willed to do are not always the same thing.
There is no such thing as unanswered prayer for the Christian. God’s answer may be “no,” and we may not like that, but that does not mean the Lord has not answered our prayer. What we do know is that when God does say “no,” it is because the prayer we have offered is not a prayer that matches with His eternal will. But we also know that when the Lord answers “no,” it is ultimately because an answer of “yes” would not be good for us or His glory.
Passages for Further Study