When you isolate a verse, such as Mark 11:22-24, from other Scripture, it’s easy to misunderstand it. It’s easy to make the Mark passage a “name it and claim it in faith” verse when you do not take into account the rest of Scripture. And this then causes me to focus more on my faith’s ability to make things happen and less on drawing near to God and immersing myself in Him and His Word. After all, if my faith is enough to get it done, how much do I need Him?
Yes, Jesus says “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” And I still haven’t fully grasped what He meant by that. But I think that it is best understood when we take a look at all of Scripture. Verses cannot be taken separately. The Word is not like trail mix, where we can pick and choose the raisins and chocolate, leaving the icky nuts behind. It’s like a cake, where all the ingredients work together to form the end product. All the ingredients work together to make the final product just right. And so we cannot pick and choose the verses we want and leave the others out. We need to take it and study it as a whole. They all work together.
Therefore, in order to best understand Mark 11:22-24, it would be wise to do a quick review on other “prayer verses” (ones we’ve already looked at) and see what it adds to our understanding of how and when God answers. And doing this helps me see some of the pitfalls in the “name it and claim it” interpretation of the Mark verses and the dangers of isolating them.
1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him.”
James 4:2-3: “. . . You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
John 14:13-14: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
Yes, this last one sounds like the Mark 11 passage: Ask for anything and Jesus will do it. Wow, that sounds great! What an awesome power - to be able to get anything we ask for. But! I don’t think that’s what Jesus really meant. And we have to look at all the verses together to know what He really means. (And there are even more verses that I am not looking at here. It would be a great study if you want to explore it for yourself.)
I cannot just ask for what I want and believe that my faith will make it happen. Because it also says that it has to be in line with His Will. Sure, we can ask for whatever, but He “hears” the things that are in line with His Will. And when He hears the prayers that are in line with His Will, we can be confident that He will do them. And those verses also say that we won’t get what we ask for if we have selfish motives, and that we have to ask in Jesus’ name, for the glory of God. But this is not a blank check. We can’t just add “in Jesus’ name, Amen” to the ends of our prayers and expect God to give us what we ask for.
So what does it mean to pray in Jesus’ name? I like to think of it this way. Let’s say that I work for a company, and I go to an office supply store to get some supplies that my boss wants. Now, I am going there in his place - in his name - to get the things that he wants. As long as it’s on his list and in line with his needs and what he wants for his office, then it’s in his name. But if I don’t ask for it, I won’t get it. And as soon as I ask for something off of the list - something that I want, that I think he wants, or that’s out of line with what the office needs - I am asking in my own name. And I can’t put it on his tab or claim that it’s his will.
When we consider all of these verses together, it weeds out a lot of the requests that we make. How many of our requests are in our own names, for our own desires and purposes? Even prayers for healing or blessings can come from our own desires and our own thoughts of what we need. God doesn’t promise to give us whatever we want, but He will give us what He wants for us. And God often has important things to teach us during the wait and during our struggles with unanswered prayers - if only we will take our eyes off of our requests and put them on Him.
[Now, I know that I have just spent time talking about how you can’t just “believe and then you will get whatever you ask for.” And I use this mostly for when we try to convince ourselves that God will give us whatever we want. But I have read other people’s stories about their prayers being answered, and I do have to wonder if there really is something more to the “you will get it if you believe” verse. While we can’t claim whatever we want, if God has given you a deep assurance that He has indeed answered a prayer in a certain way – even if you have no outward proof – then believe Him with all you’ve got in you.
I wonder if “belief and faith” are so important in getting what we asked for because it’s like God is giving us a choice to accept His answer or to reject it. And we accept it by choosing to believe in it. Once again, we need to be sensitive to how God might alter our requests, and we need to give Him the right to answer as He will. But if He has given you an answer in the very depths of your spirit, then believe Him and wait for it. Because giving into despair and doubt and fear might just prevent His answer from becoming a reality in your life – because it gives the devil greater ground in your thoughts, your heart, and your life. And if you don’t believe, you will not take the necessary steps to reach the answer that God has laid out for you.
I don’t really know what to the think about all of this; I am still learning about prayer. But if God says that our belief and faith matter in getting our prayers – the ones that are in line with His Will - answered, then we need to take Him seriously. Just something to think about.]
Posts in this "Understanding God's Will" series:
9c: Verses 9d: Idolatry 9e: Unanswered 9f: Not Listening 9g: More Verses 9h: Effective Prayer 9i: Still Waiting 10: Bad Things Happen 11a: Happens For A Reason? 11b: Marriage Trouble 11c: Deliberate Ignorance 11d: Bad Things Beyond Us 12: God Works Good 13: Limiting God? 14/15: God Forcing Things? 16: Change God's Mind? 17: But God Can't Change? 18: Our Responsibilities