13 March 2007

A Question on Prayer

Last night a friend wrote me and asked about verses like John 14:13-14 and John 16:23-24. He said: "I know what these appear to say, and I know how the Joel Osteen's of the world use them, and I understand the risk of wandering headlong into a theology of glory, but frankly if Joel Osteen walked up to me and threw one of these verses in my face, I'm not sure how I would respond. What are we supposed to do with verses like these?"

I am posting the conversation with my friend's permission because it is a question that I think frequently troubles people, and I so loved the answer that I learned from Dr. Nagel. Here's what I wrote:

Well, let me share with you how Dr. Nagel helped me understand those. First, understand that when I was a teenager and a new Christian, I read those. And tried it. And it didn't work. So you know what I did? I stopped praying. In the sense of asking for anything. I just figured it didn't work and so why bother. Now, I did thank the Lord for communion and things like that, but petitionary prayer I just sort of ignored. And I was that way through much of Sem too. I didn't believe Jesus had lied to me, but I knew that it didn't work the way I tried it. So I let it go.

One day, Dr. Nagel began talking to us about prayer. He told us that prayer is pulling things out of God's name. I'd never heard anything like this, so I was intrigued. He said picture the name of Jesus like the treasure chest that holds all of God's gifts for you. You can simply ask for anything that is "in that name" and He gives it to you. The key is to learn what is "in the name" and what not. This whole way of thinking revolutionized how I thought about praying. Instead of taking my (often!) silly will and slapping a "in the name of Jesus" onto the prayer, I learned to stop and ask: what does the Name of Jesus hold for me in this situation? What can I ask for from this treasure chest?

And then I saw the complete harmony between the promises of our Lord in John's Gospel and John's own words in the fifth chapter of his epistle - that if we ask anything according to His will, we know that he hears us and grants us whatever ask. I saw that the will of God is precisely that we have all the goodies God has loaded into the name of Jesus.

Okay, does that make ANY sense? The way I teach it to the kids is to take a box and label it with the word "Jesus" and then fold up all kinds of paper in side of it: peace, joy, health, daily bread, deliverance, strength, etc. I tell them to reach in and grab one. They do and then I ask them to read it to the class. Then I say: this is what it means to pray "in the name of Jesus." That everything that is IN that name is YOURS.



Dixie said...

Father John Fenton addressed this issue with great clarity in his 2005 Rogate sermon (ref. St. John 16:23-30). I have shared that sermon with a number of people in my life, Lutheran, non-denom, even my AoG sister-in-law, when their experience seems to conflict with the verses from Scripture.

I did not ask Father John's permission to post the whole sermon but here is a snippet that captures the essense.

So the “anything” in Our Lord’s “Ask anything” is not “anything you like” or “anything you want.” The “anything” we’re to ask for is anything and everything that helps us attain the Lord’s kingdom; and anything and everything that grows and matures and perfects our faith and life in God.

So we pray for those things which aid our salvation, which are indeed useful for our life in God, and which restore, rebuild, recover, re-energize, re-invigorate and retain our communion in God.

And ultimately, the “anything” that we ask for is not a thing, but a person. For in the end, all our prayers become a prayer for the Holy Spirit. For it is in Him that our life in God begins; it is through Him that our selfish desires our suppressed; it is in Him that our pride and our passions are swept away; it is by Him that our hearts are cleansed and purified; it is in Him that our communion in God grows and is made whole; it is through Him that we receive every grace and spiritual blessing; and it is in Him and through Him and with Him that we attain our goal—the kingdom of heaven.

God's anything is His everything...Himself. He gives us all we could ever, ever need. All that is good for us. That was the take away for me and it quenched those nagging questions about "ask anything".

William Weedon said...


I think that Fr. John and Dr. Nagel were tracking along quite similar lines there; least wise it comes out at the same place. Which is not at all surprising - knowing the two of them!