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Prayer: 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 become aware that a behavior or action is a 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. Does your own version of THE BIBLE SAY __________? 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.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    “Ask and you shall receive” as long as what you ask is “right.” It reminds me of the old joke about the doctor who tells a patient, “I’m going to put you on a diet that lets you eat whatever you like.” The patient, of course, is elated. Then the doctor adds, “Now I’m going to tell you what you’re going to like.”

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    The disconnect between what God/Jesus promises regarding prayer (and other promises, for that matter) and reality was the final straw that collapsed my faith. I was able to ignore or justify everything else, but the failure of this most personal aspect of my relationship with God was the part I ultimately couldn’t overcome.

    My pastors knew that God does not answer prayer as the Bible declares he does, so there were lots of sermons about how we misunderstood prayer. It’s not that God doesn’t answer, it’s that he doesn’t seem to answer. When God doesn’t seem to answer, the answer is either a “no” or a “wait”. The fact that God is silent and doesn’t actually communicate those answers is immaterial.

    If God answers “no” it’s because what we pray for isn’t good for us and/or it’s not God will. This was a regular sermon topic – praying God’s will. Those verses about God responding to prayer needed to be taken “in context” with the Bible as a whole. Align your prayers to God’s will and he always say “yes”. Of course the reader will note that Jesus didn’t make this particularly clear when speaking his red letters. He needed the Apostles to clear that up by writing their commentary decades later (and I would argue they didn’t do a very good job at clarification).

    So what is God’s will? That’s a muddy topic. Most of the things I/we prayed about aren’t in the Bible. The only way to know if it’s God’s will is pray and see what happens. Since God doesn’t seem to be in the supernatural miracle business anymore it’s hard to discern the difference between God’s will and coincidence. As someone mentioned in a prior article, it’s drawing the target around the arrow after it lands.

    I learned the formulas ACTS and PACTS and tried to be diligent in praying them, didn’t make any difference. Eventually all I wanted was for God to talk to me, like a friend does. I didn’t even expect him to act, just speak. Nothing. Prayer is a one-way communication. Many Christians are okay with this. As for me, I finally admitted it was just me talking to myself

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    john 14 is quite a problem for christians. Their “messiah” inconveniently makes promises that they know will hever happen and this jesus also says to believe in the miracles even if you don’t accept him. Which makes their “hidden god” not make any sense at all.

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    these are all of the verses that I found that make promises that christians really hate being brought up.

    “22 Jesus answered them, ‘Have[b] faith in God. 23 Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea”, and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. 24 So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received[c] it, and it will be yours.” – Mark 11

    “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news[d] to the whole creation. 16 The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes in their hands,[e] and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.’” Mark 16

    “7 ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10 Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7

    “1 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me[e] for anything, I will do it.” John 14

    “ 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. “ John 15

    “13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.” James 5

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    My cousin’s little 10-year-old granddaughter was diagnosed with lymphoma right after Thanksgiving, 2022. The little girl has been getting chemotherapy treatment for awhile, but several weeks ago she nearly died. The girl’s mom attends a church that’s big into “naming and claiming”, of “believing that she’s already healed, we’re just praying for the healing to manifest”. She posted so many specifics for how to pray – specific words and attitudes. It felt a lot like spell-casting to me. Fortunately, the medical team was able to get her back to the point where she was off the ventilator, out of ICU and is now home. The amount of “praise God” was overwhelming. Meanwhile, her friend at the hospital was being prayed for just as hard, to the point where my cousin had convinced the girl’s guardian to come back to Jesus, and the poor girl died. As an atheist, my opinion is that the medical treatment worked on my cousin but not on this other girl, unfortunately. But my cousin’s are all of the notion that these events were all part of God’s plan for these girls. It seems pretty sh!try to me that God’s plan for the other girl included her dying at a young age. I want to ask if the guardian is still a fervent convert or did she go back to doubting God when her child died – but I can’t ask that….. And it also made me cringe when my cousin was posting on social media about demons being after our children….ugh….

    Prayer makes people feel like they’re doing something, exerting some control, where they may feel they lack control. It gives them hope. And when the outcome isn’t good they have to convince themselves that it’s all part of God’s plan, even if it’s the sh!ttiest plan.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    So true !! Prayer is a crapshoot anyway, that’s what I found out. Some preachers these days say that prayer is all about communion with God, rather than getting needs met or help with emergencies. It’s way more honest to say that this itself is the priority,but this claim isn’t popular with most people. My condolences to the guardian and family of the child who died. I can just imagine how hard this is to go through right now.

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Bruce Gerencser