Prayer: Asking and Receiving

asking-and-receiving

Evangelicals believe the words printed in red in the New Testament were uttered by Jesus himself. Thus, in John 14:13, Jesus says to his followers: whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. Jesus’ unambiguous statement makes it clear that whatsoever Christians prayerfully ask in his name, he will do. Awesome, right? Mark 11:24 records Jesus saying: Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. Jesus’ statement in Mark 11:24 is even more extreme. Whatsoever Christians desire and pray for, if they will really, really, really believe that God will give it to them, Jesus will affirmatively and fully answer their prayers. If only this were true, why I might become a Christian again. I have a lot of things that need fixing in my life. I am more than happy to let Jesus take the wheel! But, alas, the Jews buried the steering wheel with Jesus in an undisclosed location, so I am on my own.

Decades ago, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) evangelist John R. Rice wrote a book titled, Prayer: Asking and Receiving. Rice, the long-time editor of the Sword of the Lord newspaper, believed that “getting” what you wanted from God was as simple as praying and asking God to deliver. Granted, Rice, and others who followed in his footsteps, had all sorts of explanations for “why” God failed to come through, but these Fundamentalist men of God sincerely believed that getting what they needed in their ministries and personal lives was but a prayer away. Rice believed that the primary hindrance to answered prayer was “sin.” He advocated praying for forgiveness as soon as you became aware that a behavior or action was sin. “Keep your sin lists short,” Rice said.  The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: Pray without ceasing. Rice believed that Christians should always be in a spirit of prayer, ever-ready to shoot a prayer up to God. In Asking and Receiving, Rice wrote:

The normal Christian life is a life of regular, daily answer to prayer. In the model prayer, Jesus taught His disciples to pray daily for bread, and expect to get it, and to ask daily for forgiveness, for deliverance from the evil one, and for other needs, and daily to get the answers they sought.

For many years, IFB churches, parachurch ministries, and education institutions grew numerically and financially. In the minds of many IFB Christians, this proved Rice’s contention that prayer was believers asking and God delivering. Today, the vast majority of these churches, ministries, and schools are shells of what they once were. Many of them have closed their doors. What are we to make of their precipitous decline? Did Rice’s prayer formula no longer work? Or, perhaps, it never did work, and answered prayers came from and through human instrumentality, not God.

In the 1980s, I pastored a rapidly growing IFB congregation. Starting with 16 people, in four years the church grew to 200. I thought, at the time, that God had answered my prayers. I pleaded with God to save the lost, stir the saints, and cause Somerset Baptist Church to be a lighthouse in the community. And for five or six years, it seemed God was coming through every time I asked him to do so. Not that I was ever satisfied. I remember Rice saying, “It is not wrong to have a small church — for a while.” I attended numerous IFB preacher’s conferences and Sword of the Lord conferences in the 1970s and 1980s. The theme was always the same: building large churches for the glory of God. I was never, ever happy with the numbers. I took it personally when people skipped church. How dare they miss out on what Bruce — uh, I mean God — was doing at Somerset Baptist. I would learn, over time, that it wasn’t God that “blessed” my ministry, it was me and a handful of dedicated volunteers. One day, I looked behind the vending machine IFB preachers called God, and I noticed it was unplugged. Prayer wasn’t asking and receiving. At best, it was asking, asking, and asking, and then acting accordingly. I found that it was humans, not God, who answered prayers; that I was asking “self” for this or that, and “self” gave me what I asked for.

Rice went to his grave believing: “According to the Bible, a genuine answer to prayer is getting what you ask for.” If he had any doubts, he never uttered them in public. While John 14:13 and Mark 11:24 are clear – that if Christians ask, they will receive – evidence on the ground is clear: God doesn’t answer prayer. Either God can’t answer prayer because he doesn’t exist, or Christians live such sinful lives that their God has turned a deaf ear to their petitions. My money is on the former.

The next time an Evangelical says to you, THE BIBLE SAYS __________, ask him about John 14:13 and Mark 11:24. Do your own version of THE BIBLE SAYS __________. Ask him if Jesus meant what he said in these verses. The answer that comes next will likely prove to be long on obfuscation and theological gymnastics and short on, The B-i-b-l-e, yes that’s the book for me. I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-i-b-l-e. BIBLE!

How did your pastors and churches handle verses such as John 14:13 and Mark 11:24? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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7 Comments

  1. Matilda

    Around the time I was deconverting, 5yrs ago and had recently discovered your blog, Bruce, I seem to recall you saying you and Polly had sat down and tried to list positive answers to prayer…and come up with a list of fewer than 5 that might have been that. I was the same, we’ve all had times when we prayed our socks off for a sick child, who died, for world peace and an end to hunger…etc…etc .and didn’t seem to notice it never happened.
    So, I laughed this week when the Community Cafe I volunteer at was asked to host a lunch for a group of 17 (and they’ll all be over 70yo). The local Methodist circuit -which has 2 churches still ‘active’, has decreed a Year Of Daily Prayer and are kicking off with hiring a bus to drive round the region and stop off to sing and pray at local tourist beaches. I imagine the families making sandcastles and swimming are gonna just think ‘What on earth is that small bunch of wrinkly weirdos doing?’ But in the minds of those x-tians, they have done something powerful and amazing for god….and at the end of the year when a few more of them have died of old age…there won’t be even one moment of self-reflection as to why not a single soul got saved and came to put their bum on a pew in their failing churches.

    Reply
  2. Neil

    Over on Escaping Fundamentalist Christianity has been having a dialogue with a conservative Christian about the John version of this ‘whatsoever’ promise. Here’s how the Christian wriggles round it:

    Really? Does that kind of interpretation (that the verse means what it says) make any sense at all? Let’s keep our common sense, eh? It says, “… anything in His name“. That phrase, ‘in His name’, is there for a reason. It means that, as members of God’s family, Christians can speak with His authority. But to do that, we must also be acting under His authority. If a police officer demanded of a random stranger, “Hey, Buddy, go get me a coffee, now!” the citizen may rightly refuse; the officer would be acting outside her authority. Same for Christians. The implication of “anything” is that God invites our active participation in His work. Through the scriptures, God is saying in effect, “Here is our goal and purpose; here are your boundaries. Now, you tell Me, what would you like us to create together within that space?”

    So there you have it, the theological gymnastics you mention, Bruce. The Mark version of the promise, however, is not so easily explained away.

    Reply
  3. ObstacleChick

    We were taught at my church and Christian school that YES you can ask and receive anything in the name of Jesus, but the terms and conditions after the asterisk were about a mile ling, most having to do with something wrong with the human asking, it wasn’t God’s will or timing, or the umbrella excuse of God’s mysterious ways that we are too stupid to understand.

    I was struck last night by the magical nature surrounding people’s expectations of prayer. An old friend’s husband has a rapidly growing glioblastoma and is receiving radiation and chemotherapy. His prognosis isn’t great. But she got all excited last night when one of his old military buddies said he is going to Israel this week and will pray for the patient at the Wailing Wall. All these Christians responded how wonderful that is, and old cynical atheist over here is thinking, why would your omnipotent and omniscient God need for your prayers to come from a certain location to be considered more powerful or more worthy of answering? Ot mass me sad to realize how desperate they are for hope that they imbue a bunch of ancient stones with magical powers. My brother has a bottle of water from the Jordan River that my grandma’s friend brought back from Israel in 1980. The cap is rusted out and the handwritten ink on the bottle is fading, but they think that water has some special Jesus power. Fundamentalist Christian’s make fun of Catholics and their relics, but are they any better?

    Reply
  4. John Arthur

    How many times have Christians prayed and their prayers have not been answered. Of course, Fundaments say that God is saying “wait”. How long does a person have to wait before we can be sure that he has said “No”? Does it mean that they have to wait till they die?

    Of course, if God doesn’t exist, then he cannot answer prayer and any “praying” or “waiting” is futile.

    Reply
    1. Angiep

      The Christian explanation that God’s answers are “yes, no, or wait” is such a cop-out. Everything falls under one of those, right? But why would an omnipotent god leave it to us to figure out which one applies, and what was wrong with our minds or hearts when we asked? Nope, I realized after about 15 years of not receiving answers (no matter how selfless or sincere my requests), which FLEW IN THE FACE of Biblical teaching, that it was time to give up.

      Reply
  5. Mark Greenbaum

    As always, “interpretation” is as varied as colors in a crayon box. There is no “answer” to this anymore than there is an answer to “what’s the best… fill in the blank…?

    Some go with the safer interpretation that “in his name” means ” according to his purpose” and thus anything asked in prayer that’s not according to god’s plan is therefore null and void and will never be answered.

    The IFB answer seemed to be more about trying to crank up some sort of “belief”, trying to make yourself truly believe what you have no knowledge of, trying to really “feel” faith, that whatever cockamamy idea you are trying to come up with will somehow become a “sure thing” in your mind.

    The other extreme I’ve seen is the “name it and claim it” crowd that have this idea that ANYTHING you ask for and then tack on the holy postmark “In Jesus’ Name” is a done deal and you SHOULD expect to receive just what you ordered faster than Amazon can deliver it. I’ve even heard Isaiah 45:11 “Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me.” used as if god is the magic genie, waiting to take orders, while other versions translate it as a question, a sort of “Do you dare command me?” Obviously the IFBs prefer the former.

    It’s really just another form of mysticism but instead of “abbra cadabra” it’s “In Jesus’ Name”.

    Reply
  6. Steve Ruis

    Praying every day or hour for mundane things (daily bread, air to breathe, water to drink, etc.) is a brilliant sales point. If one prays ever hour for the things that happen normally, then one will have a flood of prayers answered in the affirmative! See prayers work!

    If it looks like a con, smells like a con, acts like a con … it is a con. The Mafia was well-noted for selling protection to small businesses … from themselves! “This is a nice little business you got goin’ here. It would be a shame if something were to happen to it.”

    Christianity offers forgiveness and salvation from … ? Yahweh’s curse.

    Reply

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