How I Learned What Faith Is, #1
God Wants To Answer Your Prayers, #2

God Wants To Answer Your Prayers, #1

(This is the first chapter of a book I'm working on, God Wants To Answer Your Prayers, to encourage faith in prayer. I'll try and post the following chapters when available.)

Prayer, a sure thing?

Most of us, and by “us” I mean those of us who believe in prayer, who believe in God, have very little real confidence in prayer. We might pray as a last resort, when we’ve run out of options, we’re scared, would grasp at even the slimmest of hopes, but it’s certainly not something we rely on, something we count on, anything we’d recommend to our friends. Prayer isn’t the first thing we turn to when we need a job, or finances, or help, or healing. It’s not the first thing we turn to because we don’t believe it does very much of anything.

But Jesus and the Bible talk about answered prayer like it’s a sure thing, a certainty, something that is extremely reliable. Here’s Jesus:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8 NIV)

“Ask and it will be given to you…” Not might be given to you, or even, probably given to you, but will be given to you. It’s a certainty, a sure thing. The words, ask, seek and knock are parallels, basically synonyms, repetitions of the same idea. How much more certain could Jesus make it? What language could he have used to make it more certain than, “will be given to you?” When you ask, it will be given to you.

And he means everyone.

Jesus follows up in the next verse, “For everyone who asks receives…” He doesn’t say every nice person, or every religious person, or even every person who serves God. No, “…everyone who asks receives.”  It doesn’t work quite how we would expect. Often the people we’d think would be the least qualified to get their prayers answered, are the ones getting their prayers answered. You can see this idea of God’s desire to bless everyone in a couple other of Jesus’s sayings:

45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45 NIV)

35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:35 NIV)

You see quite a few examples of this in the Bible, of God answering the prayers of just anyone. My favorite is the story of King Manasseh, who I like to call, the evilest man in the Bible.

“2 Chronicles 33:1-13 (NIV) Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty- five years. 2 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord… 3 … he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. 4 He built altars in the temple of the Lord, … 6 He sacrificed his children in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced divination and witchcraft, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger…9 But Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites. 10 The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. 11 So the Lord brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. 12 In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. 13 And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.”

King Manasseh repented, he turned back to following God, and God answered his prayer. I love the details the Rabbi’s add to the story of Manasseh. Here’s Joseph Frankovich, of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research, relating the story of Manasseh as set out in the Jerusalem Talmud.

The rabbinic retelling of the story relates how Manasseh, while incarcerated, prayed to all of his idols for deliverance, but to no avail. One day, however, he remembered a passage of Scripture that he had heard his father read in the synagogue. That passage came from Deuteronomy 4:25-31…

…Remembering these verses which he had heard in his youth, Manasseh reasoned that he might as well try calling out to God. If his fortune did not change after praying to God, Manasseh could assume safely that there is no difference between God and an idol. If, however, God answered his prayer, then he would repent and quit his idolatrous ways. So, Manasseh prayed, and as his prayer was ascending on high, the angels of the heavenly court quickly got to the windows and closed the shutters. They simply did not want Manasseh to have any chance of repenting and gaining future admittance through the heavenly gates.

One can imagine the angels walking around the heavenly palace and trying to act as if they were not up to something. But God discerned that something was afoot, and he realized that Manasseh was supplicating him in prayer. Discovering that Manasseh’s prayers were rising up to heaven, but bouncing off the shutters, God became very restless. As each prayer hit the bolted shutters, God became more agitated. Finally, out of desperation, he ripped a hole through the throne of glory, and poof! Up the prayers came through the hole that he had dug through his throne. Greatly relieved, God happily accepted Manasseh’s prayers, and as a result of Manasseh’s turning toward him, God returned him to Jerusalem and restored his royal throne.

This rabbinic story depicts God enduring the unbearable: not having access to the prayers of a penitent sinner. The situation so distressed God that he responded by ripping a hole through his throne!”

I love the idea of the angels shutting up the windows so that Manasseh’s prayer couldn’t reach God, ‘cause that’s what we’d’ve wanted to do too. But God’s take on prayer is so different from ours. God felt so compelled to answer the prayer He tore up the floor so the prayer could get to Him.

When Jesus says, “everyone who asks receives,” he means everyone. I like that because it means I qualify to have my prayers answered. I qualify because I’m an everyone. If God will answer Manasseh’s, prayers, if God will answer the prayers of the evilest man in the Bible, then he’ll certainly answer my prayers, and he’ll  certainly answer your prayers, it’s a sure thing.

Written above the entrance to the throne of God…

Here’s how I like to think about it. I imagine myself going before God to make a request, to submit my prayer. I’m in an antechamber outside the throne room, and there’s a tall, wide, entrance opening to God’s throne room. As I look  through the entrance, into a room filled with light, I can see the throne of God a ways off. Then I see that above the doorway to the throne room are written these words, “Ask and it shall be given you… for everyone that asketh receiveth.” Well that gives you an entirely different attitude as you approach the throne of God.

That scenario isn’t too hard for me to imagine because we operate under a similar principle at our house. We have a rule in our house that we say, “Yes,” to any kid, teenager, whatever, who comes to our door with a school fundraiser. Sometimes I have to go searching for quarters so I can buy the candy bar, but we always say “Yes,” everyone who asks receives. Anyone who knows us could tell their friends who are fundraising for school, “Go to pastor Greg’s house, he always says yes, everyone who asks receives.” That’s what Jesus is telling us about God. That’s what Jesus is telling us it’s like when we come to God’s house, asking, seeking and knocking.

That’s how the Bible always talks about prayer.

That’s how the Bible always talks about prayer, like it’s is a sure thing. In fact, as you’ll see in a while, if the Bible didn’t talk about prayer like it was a sure thing, if Jesus talked about prayer the way we talk about prayer, like the outcome was doubtful, it’d be impossibly difficult for us to receive what we ask for when we pray.  Here’s some examples from the Bible.  Now there’s a lot I could say about each of these scriptures, but for right now I just want to focus on what they tell us about the likelihood of our receiving what we ask God for when we pray.

  • Matthew 18:19-20 (NIV) “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them

If two are in agreement about anything they ask for it will be done for them. It’s a certainty a sure thing, it will happen.

  • Matthew 21:22 (NIV)If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer

You will receive. Not those things you really need, or those things God knows are good for you, or your basic necessities, but whatever you ask for in prayer, you will receive.

  • Mark 11:24 (NIV) Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Mark’s take on the previous verse. Again, whatever you ask for… it will be yours. There’s a certainty there.

  • John 16:23-24 (NIV) In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

This is Jesus talking, so let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that he knows what he’s talking about. Jesus says, ‘Whatever you ask the father in my name he will give it to you.’ It’s a certainty, a sure thing, a done deal, a guarantee. He follows up with, “…ask and you will receive,” that’s not how most Christians talk about prayer.

But look at what he says next, “…and your joy will be complete.”Now most of us would’ve been happier if Jesus had said something like, ‘Ask and you will receive, that your basic needs will be complete,’ or, ‘…so that you’re able to eek out an existence,’ or, ‘…and your joy may be complete when you get to heaven.’ Surely God isn’t answering our prayers just so our joy can be complete, just so we can be full of joy, as the King James Bible puts it. Most of us Christians are  pretty certain about one thing and that’s, that God’s not in the joy business, he’s in the fear business, “sinners in the hands of an angry God,” and all that. Jesus’s idea of how prayer works is way different than the average Christian’s idea of prayer. What Jesus says about prayer bears almost no relationship to what most Christian preachers, preach about prayer, or most Christian teachers, teach about prayer, or what most Christian scholars theorize about prayer.

  • 1 John 3:21-22 (NIV) Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.

And receive from him anything we ask. Almost makes you believe that when you pray you’re supposed to receive anything you ask.

  • 1 John 5:14-15 (NIV) This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

There we go with the confidence again. Doesn’t he know we’re not supposed to have confidence in prayer? Doesn’t the Apostle John know that answers to prayer are supposed to be unpredictable, uncertain, unsure, unreliable? John’s about to tell us why we can have confidence, boldness, I’d say chutzpah,  when we pray. So one thing is certain, if, after reading what John tells us about prayer, it hasn’t inspired confidence in prayer, then we’re reading it wrong. If this scripture doesn’t increase our confidence, our boldness, in approaching God then we’re not understanding it.

“Hears us,” means, “answers us.”

Look at this part. “if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” When we read “hears us” we think, listens to us, or, the sound of our prayers reaches his ears. But in Hebrew, (Remember the Apostle John is jewish, Jesus taught in Hebrew.) the word for hear, normally transliterated ‘shema’ but pronounced “shmaahh” also means, to do what is asked. Here’s a little bit on that from, 5 Hebrew Words that Every Christian Should Know, by Lois Tverberg:

“The word shema can refer to hearing or to any of the actions that result: listening, understanding, responding, doing what is asked. If you think about it, this is logical. Have you ever yelled at your kids to do something and then, when nothing happens, followed up with, “Are you deaf?” You’re making the same assumption—that their ears should be connected to their feet. If nothing happens, there’s something wrong.”

Here’s a good example where the Hebrew word “shema,” normally translated “hear,” means God answers our prayers:

24 Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will (shema) hear.
(Isaiah 65:24 NIV)

I will hear means God will answer. Here’s that verse from the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh:

24 Before they pray, I will answer;
While they are still speaking, I will respond.
(Isaiah 65:24 JPSTanakh)

God so wants to answer our prayers that He answers them before we even finish speaking.

Here’s another good example of the Hebrew “hear” meaning “answer” and after it a passage from the Gospel of John that makes the same point also using “hear” to mean “answer.”

16 Come and hear, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
17 I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
18 If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened (shema/answered me);

That is, The Lord would not have “shema’ed” me, He wouldn’t have answered my prayer.

19 but God has surely listened
and has heard (shema/answered)
20 Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me
(Psalms 66:16-20 NIV)

Here’s the scripture from the Gospel of John where “hear” means “answer” and which echoes the point made in Psalm 66:18, that God doesn’t hear/answer sinners:

31 We know that God does not listen to (answer) sinners. He listens to (answers) the godly person who does his will. (John 9:31 NIV)

Back to what the Apostle John is saying, ’…if we ask anything (Notice the “anything” again.) according to his will he hears us.” John doesn’t mean the sound of our prayer reaches God’s ears, he means God ‘answers’ us. We have a wrong picture of God. We see Him as inviting us forward to be heard, ‘You may approach…,’ or we picture our prayer making it to God’s ears so he can decide if He will answer it. But the Biblical picture of prayer is, before we finish speaking God has said “Yes,” to our prayer.


So as far as Jesus and the Bible are concerned answered prayer, receiving what you ask God for when you pray, is a sure thing, a certainty, it will be done, you will receive. But…

Once I was meditating on “Ask and it will be given to you… For everyone who asks receives…” Just going over it again, and again, repeating it to myself, thinking about it, trying to figure it out. I kept repeating, “Ask and it will be given to you… for everyone who asks receives”, over and over again. As I was doing this I had the thought that it was obviously not true. What Jesus was saying here wasn’t true. I spoke to him about it, “Jesus, what you’re saying here is obviously not true. Lots of people ask and as far as they can tell it’s not given to them. Most people ask and they don’t receive. What you’re saying here is obviously not true. I don’t understand.”

It was pretty upsetting. I don’t want to say devastating, but definitely unsettling. It seemed to me to be some sort of Bible failure, something that proved that these weren’t the words of Jesus, or something that demonstrated that the Bible wasn’t true. I’m not saying I couldn’t dream up rationalizations which explained it all away, I could, I’m a lawyer, I’m professionally trained to dream up rationalizations. But if I was honest with myself I realized that what Jesus was saying was obviously not true.


Once when I was just learning to walk in these things a friend asked me to go pray for F. who used to come to church, who was in the hospital, seriously ill with internal bleeding that the doctors didn’t seem able to stop. I went to the hospital, talked with him for a little bit, then prayed in the spirit for a little. I had come to understand (I’ll get to that part in more detail a little later.) that in order to speak to the mountain and have it move, in order to decree something in Jesus name, I had to believe in my heart, i.e. I had to know in my heart, I had to see with the eyes of my heart, I had to perceive with my spiritual eyes, that what I said was going to come to pass. So I’m praying in the spirit to find out what my spirit says about the man’s situation…

(You could think about it this way, I’m getting the mind of God on the matter. You see, my spirit is connected to God who is a spirit. Paul puts it this ways: 1 Corinthians 6:17 But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.”and 1 Corinthians 2:16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” Paul says we have the "mind of Christ, but where is it? Where do we go to consult it? The mind of Christ is in our spirit, i.e. we are connected to the mind of Christ through our spirit. Christ’s mind is in me, in the sense that I am networked into the mind of Christ, in a way that is analogous to how my computer is in the internet and the internet is in my computer, I am in Christ and he is in me. I access the internet through my computer, I access the mind of Christ, i.e. I discern what God thinks about a thing, I am privy to God's thoughts about a matter, through my spirit.)

So… I’m praying in the spirit trying to discover what I have faith for, what I can believe will happen, what the mind of God is about the matter, and after just a couple minutes, in my heart, my spirit, I sense this: They’ll release you and send you home in the morning. So I added a little of my own prayer to that just so the person would realize that I was actually praying, and after jabbering on for a bit I got to the real prayer and said, “They’re going to release you and send you home in the morning.”  That was it, that was the prayer.

Elisha said, ‘This time next year you’ll have a baby.’ I said, ‘They’ll release you and send you home in the morning.’ I think sometimes we read things like that and knowing that Elisha is a prophet we just assume he’s predicting the future. I think it’s more accurate to say he’s causing the future, and I was causing the future for that man in the hospital. I didn’t have to yell and scream, and cry and pray for hours trying to get God to relent and help the man, all I had to do was check with the home office and speak the message I was given. That’s what it means to be in Christ, that’s what it means to decree in Jesus name.

Well, when I left the room I didn’t feel particularly spiritual, my only clear thought was ‘You moron, you’re going to look pretty stupid in the morning if he’s still here.’ But I just did my best to ignore that and said to myself, “They’re going to release him and send him home in the morning.” My point is there wasn’t anything particularly emotional going on here. I wasn’t on some kind of emotional high. To the extent I had any perceivable emotion it was fear that I was going to look like a fool. I’m saying this because I’ve heard people say that when we talk about faith we’re just talking about some kind of emotional experience. As far as I can tell that’s not so. My emotions usually run counter to my faith, so it takes some willpower on my part to act on what I believe and ignore what I think, what my emotions are telling me.

Several months later, maybe a year or so later, we ran into F. at Costco and he was very effusive with his thanks telling us several times that after I prayed the internal bleeding stopped, and they released him the next morning.

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