I've been thinking a lot about what Jesus said in John 14-17; I spent a couple of days just reading and re-reading those chapters, and really searching my heart to know if I really believe all that He says. I'm embarrassed to admit that there are times when I really don't seem to, and so I find myself crying out with the man in Mark 9:24, "Lord, I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief." It isn't that I don't believe it - mentally, I do - it's in God's Word, it's true, therefore... but to put my faith behind it, and act on it? That's where I stumble over my own lack of faith.
Consider these verses:
John 14: 12-14 - I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 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.
John 15: 7-16 - (v. 7, 8,16:) If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples....You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
John 16: 22-27 -(v. 23, 24, 26,27:) In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.... In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.
Eugene Peterson paraphrases some of it this way in The Message:
From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I'll do it. That's how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I'll do. (John 14:7-8) This is what I want you to do: Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I've revealed to you. Ask in my name, according to my will, and he'll most certainly give it to you. Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks!....I won't continue making requests of the Father on your behalf. I won't need to. Because you've gone out on a limb, committed yourselves to love and trust in me, believing I came directly from the Father, the Father loves you directly. (John 16:23-24, 26-27)
So if I'm understanding all of this correctly, the idea here is that because Jesus chose us to be his disciples, to be the people who model and teach the way of life that He lived, we're to do the things He did. (I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.) Have you read about those things?! Lame people walking, sick people healed, blind people given sight, the deaf hearing, dead men rising... Oh. my. That's incredible.... but... do we believe it? Do we believe that when we pray, God hears us, and His answer will be yes?
I know, there's immediately a zillion complicated questions - what about "unanswered" prayer? what about when God says no? what about when people you've prayed for to be well do not get well? what about...
Those are all valid questions. Questions I've asked myself. Questions I have used to justify my unbelief... But what if I did believe it? What if I were actually walking close enough with God that I knew His heart in specific situations? What if I prayed, not just things I want or think would be good ideas, but what if I prayed, as Peterson phrases it, things that along the lines of who (God is) and what (He is) doing, things that in keeping with the things (He's) revealed to (me)? It seems to me that (because He said it, and because it just makes sense) if we pray for the things that God wants, His answer will be yes...
And no, the "yes" won't always come right away. There are times when, as author Joanna Weaver puts it, "God's love tarries." When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick (John 11:1-44), He could have just said the word, and his friend would have been well - He'd done that before for someone else. But He didn't. He waited two days, and then He went to His friends. Their sorrow touched Him deeply; tarrying was not something He did lightly. But oh, the miracle we would all have missed if He hadn't! And who am I to say that because God's "yes" is not yet apparent to me that I have either failed in my praying or that He is not going to say "yes"? (If I am praying in His will - I'm not talking about times when I'm not - and those do exist, because I'm human, and I get it wrong a lot.)
I think this is all kicking around in my head so much because over the past couple of weeks I have been praying for something I really want for someone I love. And I believe with all my heart that it's something God would really like to say "yes" to. It's in keeping with who He is, and what He does. It would bring Him so much glory. It would be an absolute, honest-to-goodness miracle. And as I've been praying for this one thing, God has led me to pray for any number of other related things - and I've seen them happen. And I have been amazed at the accuracy of my prayers for things I was "guessing" at, and the speed with which God has said "yes" to them... and then I read these verses, and felt challenged to question myself: "Do I really believe that God will say yes to what I'm asking him for?" I've gone into it trying to be realistic about the fact that God might continue to say "not yet." Trying not to get my hopes up, trying not to set myself up for disappointment. Trying not to expect too much... but is anything too much for God?
No. No, it isn't.
And the truth is, I felt led to this season of prayer. I felt led to ask for this one thing. I read the parable of the persistent widow awhile ago, and felt the Lord inviting me to take Him up on it, to come and pound down His door for this. "How badly do you want this, Hap? Show me."
I believe He has already said yes, and I have reason to believe it. It is "not yet" at the moment, but I don't know... I don't understand how it all works, but I believe that for whatever reason God has given me the privilege of participating in this part of His plan, and that somehow what I pray, and the persistence with which I pray, is moving something on a level where I cannot yet see it. "You don't have because you don't ask." (James 4:2) So I am asking, and trying to put my faith behind my prayers. I will believe that He is able to do more than all I ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21). And I will wait on the Lord (Psalm 27:14) for the day He says yes. And praying that it will be soon.
Amen. (which means, "let it be so.")