“Just ask.” That sounds simple, doesn’t it? Recently, a couple of incidents—an email exchange and a remarkable statistic—prompted me to reflect on this common phrase and some spiritual applications from God’s Word.
As a building contractor, I periodically am involved in dealing with local bureaucracies to secure permits for construction projects. Awhile back, after submitting materials for a preliminary hearing before a planning board, I received an email stating that the meeting would be postponed due to a lack of quorum. It had been made clear that the process I was undertaking had timeframe benchmarks to keep it from expiring, so I emailed back mentioning my assumption that an extension would be granted since the delay was beyond my control. The response was that I needed to formally request an extension to my application due to the meeting cancellation. Just ask! Since my intentions were clear, I engaged in a little involuntary eye rolling, but of course I complied. After all, how hard is it to ask?
In the spiritual realm, God certainly is aware of our needs (sometimes before we are) and easily can anticipate our desires. However, He still instructs us to ask. Great benefits are promised, but it seems God is looking for some careful consideration on our part regarding asking.
When we pray unselfishly, out of hearts that are motivated by love for God and a desire for His kingdom to be advanced, He not only answers our prayers but may choose to bless us in other ways as well.
When Solomon became king over Israel, God recognized his humility and, in 1 Kings 3:5, instructed him to “ask what I shall give thee.” Imagine—a blank check from the Creator of everything! God knew the young king could be trusted to ask unselfishly, and he did: he requested wisdom to rightly judge the people of Israel. In response, God promised not only to grant Solomon wisdom in unequaled measure, but also the riches and honor he had not asked for.
James 4:3 cautions us not to “ask amiss.” That would surely include prayers motivated by selfishness. However, when we pray unselfishly, out of hearts that are motivated by love for God and a desire for His kingdom to be advanced, He not only answers our prayers but may choose to bless us in other ways as well.
An infant’s only way to express his or her needs is to fret and cry, and as parents, we learn to interpret that method of communication and respond accordingly. As our children develop verbal skills though, we want them to learn that crying for what they want (or saying “gimme”!) is not the appropriate way to voice requests. Then we begin the process of reminding our children, “How do you ask?” as a means of teaching them to ask properly.
Our heavenly Father is no less patient with His children. Yes, there may be times as Christians when we feel deep needs we cannot express in words, and Romans 8:26 tells us that the Holy Spirit will intercede for us with “groanings which cannot be uttered.” However, when we can enunciate our requests, there are Scriptural criteria for how to ask properly.
Matthew 21:22 instructs us to ask believing; similarly, James 1:6 says to ask in faith. Summoning faith at times may require reflection on past answers to prayer we or others have experienced, or searching the Scriptures for encouragement to believe. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus used the example of a son making request of an earthly father, and said how much more our heavenly Father would give good things to them that ask Him (Matthew 7:9-11).
Jesus paid the price for our redemption and He is our advocate to God the Father, but our prayers must align with His heart and purpose in order for us to truly pray in His name.
John 14:13 mentions asking in Jesus’ name. Jesus paid the price for our redemption and He is our advocate to God the Father, but our prayers must align with His heart and purpose in order for us to truly pray in His name.
In 1 John 5:14 we find we should ask according to God’s will. This obviously requires us to acknowledge that God knows what is best for us, and to subordinate our own desires and preferred outcomes to His perfect will.
Other aspects of asking properly are asking in harmony with God (John 15:7), and in agreement with fellow believers (Matthew 18:19). Yes, God does expect more than a “gimme,” but He will certainly reward us graciously when we learn to ask properly.
When Jesus walked this earth, He was asked many things, but frequently the questions posed to Him came from those trying to entrap Him or undermine His teachings. On more than one occasion, the religious rulers challenged Jesus to show them a sign even though the miracles He had done in the area were numerous. Jesus, recognizing their wrong motives, responded that no sign would be given. Wrong motives clearly are a “deal breaker.”
God will respond to an honest query even when it is posed in a moment of confusion or weakness. When John the Baptist sent disciples from his prison cell to inquire of Jesus if He truly was the Messiah, they were told to share with John what they had seen and heard: “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached” (Luke 7:22). All these were signs of the coming Messiah foretold long before by the Prophet Isaiah, thus providing proof beyond doubt in answer to John’s honest query.
The Lord does not want us to be fearful or reluctant to bring an honest request to Him. Scripture relates occasions when the disciples did not understand some of Jesus’ teachings but were fearful to ask Him (see Mark 9:32 and Luke 9:45). Certainly Jesus was aware of His followers’ internal questions, but because they failed to ask, they missed out on clarification that He gladly would have given. Hebrews 4:16 challenges us to “come boldly unto the throne of grace,” and we are assured of a positive response if we do.
In Mark 10:37, two of Jesus’ disciples requested a position of status in His coming kingdom. Jesus’ response was, “Ye know not what ye ask.” They did not really understand the implications of their request. We sometimes hear the expression, “Be careful what you ask for!” God will not give us a harmful result if we make an ignorant request, but He does expect us to learn and be thoughtful in the petitions we bring before Him.
Jesus’ simple statement in Matthew 7:7 was, “Ask, and it shall be given you.” In fact, when we read the entire verse and the one following, we see that Jesus repeated the message six times: “Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” Six times! What do you think Jesus was trying to teach? Surely, the lesson was that God answers prayer. If we ask, God will answer.
The other incident that brought the topic of asking to my attention was a remarkable statistic shared by a financial adviser on a radio program. He stated that 80% of credit card holders who asked the issuer to lower the interest rate on their card had their request granted. The card issuers know that everyone would like to have a lower interest rate—that goes without saying! However, that rate reduction is not granted unless one asks.
As we strive to ask in accordance with the instructions in God’s Word, we can expect results—for indeed, that is His promise!