There are a number of verses in the New Testament which have long fascinated and frustrated me. Let me quote a couple of them for you. John 14:13 “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” Matthew 21:21 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
These are what I call “blank check promises”. Jesus says, essentially, “Here’s the check. I’ve already signed at the bottom. Just fill in the amount yourself and cash it.” It’s like having Bill Gates, the multi-billionaire, as your generous father, only God makes Bill Gates look like small fry when it comes to resources. God built the whole universe by simply by speaking it into existence. His bank account is literally limitless.
These are fascinating promises for those of us who constantly battle our human limitations, whether financial, practical, spiritual or otherwise. They make us into dreamers. As the Apostle Paul would later say about God, in Ephesians 3:21, “ Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. . . “ When we became believers in Jesus, we also became heirs in the richest family in the universe.
The possibilities are limitless. We’ve won the spiritual lottery. Yet I’ve also found these blank check promises frustrating. Why? Because my checks often seem to bounce. To be blunt, I’ve asked God for a lot of things I’ve never received. Some believers do better than I. They’ve got great stories to tell at conferences of miraculous interventions by the Almighty. That’s why they’re on the platform and I’m not. But, forgive my cynicism, I suspect that even they are cherry-picking when they select their stories; that they too have unanswered prayers in their lives, which they are not mentioning. This raises two questions. Here’s the first one:
Why does God not answer some blank check prayers?
1. God doesn’t answer some blank check prayers because the offers were never really blank check offers to begin with
Jesus sometimes made absolute statements without adding the exception clauses which clearly existed. Some of these He assumed and others He implied. In John 14:14, for instance, He says, “. . . so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” Obviously, this qualifier limits the field considerably. If I make a request which dishonors the Father, Jesus is not about to grant it. And John 5:14,15 says: In 1 John 5:14, 15, John notes: “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.” Our request also has to line up with God’s will.
2. God doesn’t answer some blank check prayers because of our poor motives for asking
Would you let a two-year-old play with a hot iron? Of course not. Nor does God give us what will only injure us. James 4:3 notes: “ When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” In the next verse James’ refers to them as “adulterous people”, committing adultery with the sinful world. Unfortunately, a lot of petitions fall into this category – selfish and sinful. God lovingly says “No” to what would only spoil or injure us. He wants his gifts to move us toward godliness and not away from it.
3. God doesn’t answer some blank check prayers because He’s got a better plan
Remember that John 5:14,15 said: “According to his will”. Our lives are part of a bigger plan – God’s master plan. What He gives us needs to synchronize with His overall goals and purposes. His plan is the best one – for His glory, for the universe, and, if we belong to Him, for our benefit as well. I added that last clause, “if we belong to Him,” because, in the end, it makes all the difference. If we’re not in God’s family, as saved followers of Christ, then God, though He still blesses us, draws some limits on his generosity. For example, although He sends rain “on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (John 5:45b), He still withholds Heaven from the unsaved. Only Christ-followers spend eternity at His side.
When God says “No” to our blank check prayers, it’s because He wants to give us something even better. It might be an even better job or marriage partner. More often, though, the “better” includes something that’s spiritually better. He’d rather we learn patience than that we escape a tough job, or that we grow in compassion through suffering. These are precious gifts.
So what’s the point of asking God for anything if there are always some preconditions which may prevent a “Yes” answer?
Why ask God for stuff if there’s no guarantee that we’ll get it?
1. We ask because He’s told us to ask
Don’t you enjoy giving a gift to a dear friend? So does God. Jesus said, in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you.” We’re often told in Scripture to ask God. He loves to give generously and He wants us to ask for whatever we need.
2. We ask because sometimes God withholds a potential gift if we won’t ask for it.
James 4:2 says: “You do not have because you do not ask God.” There seem be gifts which God will only give if we ask Him for them.
3. We ask because it humbles us
Asking is a reminder of our dependence on God. It’s humbling to realize that without Him we wouldn’t even exist, much less enjoy the many blessings we enjoy.
4. We ask because answering our prayers brings glory to God
This is tied in with the last point. When the beggar receives a coin, it’s the the giver who receives the honor. We’re all beggars. When we ask and receive, it’s God who gets the glory; not us.
5. We ask because God has put a desire or dream in our hearts
The Spirit gives us God-sized dreams and it’s a thrill to ask God for them. Perhaps we want to win someone to Christ or touch a whole neighborhood with God’s love in some practical way.
In conclusion, I believe that there’s a balance to be struck here. On the one hand, don’t get cynical and stop asking God because He doesn’t always answer in the way you want. We’re told to ask. On the other hand, keep the holy twinkle in your eyes and pray for God-sized visions; pray to become like Jesus, to reach the neighborhood for Christ, pray for ministry resources that would be impossible without God’s miraculous hand involved. Keep dreaming.