Perhaps I was naïve. Perhaps I lacked doctrinal understanding. As a new Christian, I got it into my head that God invites us to ask him to work. And he promises he will answer.
There it was, in plain English:
“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 ESV)
I understood that there was a qualification. God was not giving me a blank check, but he was promising that he did his work and fulfilled his purposes in the world as his people pray.
From what I could tell in the rest of the Gospels, Jesus often encouraged prayer. He did so because God is good and hears and responds.
In the simplicity of new faith, I prayed. I prayed for what I knew was according to Jesus’ name.
What did I pray for?
I prayed for a friend, who was a Christian in name, but had stepped back from following Christ. I prayed that God would get his attention and bring him to repentance.
God did. For a period of weeks, God brought affliction to this friend. The affliction got his attention and he turned back to God.
I prayed for God to give me an A on a final. He did not. Maybe that was not according to Jesus’ name?
I made a list of prayer targets for my family and for my brothers and sisters in Christ. The more specific the better. And I asked God to work. In several situations, God responded to my prayers.
Being convinced by God’s word that God invites his adopted sons and daughters to pray, I began to talk up the importance of prayer. Few were responding.
Then I read a book about Hudson Taylor. Influenced by George Müller, Taylor sought to build a missions movement to China by praying. He was convinced that God can move the hearts of men in answer to prayer alone.
So, I prayed to God alone to move people to pray without my nagging them. Based on Zechariah 12, I asked God to pour out a spirit of prayer upon his people.
God did. Friends began to share that they were feeling convicted to pray!
God sometimes says “No” to my requests. Many times, he says “Wait.”
I do not always pray first. Sometimes it is a last resort. But my Father is kind and hears me.
I have learned to argue God’s promises with him. “Father, you said this. I am asking you to keep your promises.”
I have learned to pray specifics. When we pray, God is asking, “What is it you want me to do?” Name it. One time, deeply discouraged, I asked God to send me an encouraging email. He did.
God invites us to pray, to ask, to pour out our hearts to him. He promises to respond.