And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. John 14:13 NIV
(Todays post is taken from an email letter I received. The names have been changed and it has been edited for brevity.)
I’m struggling with a couple of verses. Recently my sister-in-law died from melanoma. Besides being heartbroken I am just struggling because naturally we had been praying and praying for her. I’m perfectly aware that we don’t always get what we pray for. But we had been praying so diligently for my sister-in-law to beat this cancer, and yet it spread very suddenly. The medicine ceased to be working in her upper liver, and within days of going to the hospital for nausea, she was gone!
What I can’t fathom not being the truth is this verse: John 14:13, 14 “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” What does this mean, exactly? I can find nothing either before or after it that would mean it’s out of context in any way. It seems to me that Jesus is telling us that whatever we ask for, if it’s in His name….He will do it. I’m not talking about money or material things. I am just struggling with what was truly on my heart, what I truly asked for…and taking this verse as literal, it wasn’t accomplished.
I also struggle with this verse albeit a bit lesser. Psalm 37:4 – “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I think the desires of our hearts are to be what His desires are, but still this bothers me somewhat, because the desire of my heart was for Jane (my sister-in-law) to live. She was about to get a Masters in Social Work and her daughter just graduated from High School, which Jane wasn’t able to attend because she passed away shortly before the graduation. What does this mean if we can’t really have the true desires of our hearts (which in this case was Jane living and being healed)?
I have an easier time accepting the things I pray for myself not coming true, because I’m open to my plan not being God’s plan. But, I just know Jane wanted to live so badly and she trusted God to save her. She will never see her grandkids now, or her only child marry or graduate college, or even high school. I know that other people suffer worse fates, etc. The subject of suffering too is one I read as much as I can get my hands on but have never come to a satisfactory answer for my brain….I just can’t explain it other than suffering gives us character and whatnot….Romans 5:3-4. But to see children suffer esp. when God could prevent it….perhaps you have no answer either….but then perhaps you do. For some reason the Lord placed it upon my heart to ask you. And so here I am.
Thanks for the help! I’m not thinking of abandoning God….I just am so hurt that these verses seem to not be true. And I don’t want to think that there is something in scripture that is not true! So that is really bothering me! We prayed with her to accept Jesus a few months ago so I know perfectly well she is in heaven. But like I said I’m just stumped over these verses, not to mention I will miss her forever. Life is not going to be the same without her.
Thank you so much for your email. First I just want to say how sorry I am for your loss. Please know that our thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family. While I am not a Bible scholar, I can share with you what I have gleaned from my own personal study that was prompted by my own similar questions. All of us come to this place of questioning at some point in our lives. In a way it is comforting to me to know we believe in a God that is so big I cannot figure Him out. While Isaiah 55:8-9 might seem like a simple and pat explanation to our questioning, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”, it is a good place to start. I believe humbling ourselves and acknowledging that we may never fully understand all of God’s ways this side of heaven gets us headed in the right direction. We are in good company, even the Apostle Paul said he was perplexed–but he was not in despair! (2 Corinthians 4:8)
When we find a passage or verse of scripture we don’t understand, here are some actions to take:
- Pray for understanding.
- Read the verse in its context, which is usually the whole chapter where the verse is located. (Sometimes it may require reading more chapters or even the entire book to get the full context.)
- Look at other verses that are similar or on the same topic.
- Look at the same passage in different Bible translations and paraphrases.
- Read Commentaries, lexicons, concordances and Word studies to gain more insight.
Let’s look at the verses you mentioned. Since we have already 1)Prayed for understanding and 2)Read the verses in context, the next step is to 3) Look at other verses that are similar in topic or theme.
“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” John 14:13,14
I highlighted “in my name” because this appears to be the clarifier. In almost all similar verses, a clarifier is present.
- “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7
- “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” John 15:16
- “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, 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.” John 16:23,24
- “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:19,20
Jesus is not saying you can ask anything and He will do it. He is saying ask anything, in my name and He will do it. We’ll look at what “in my name” means in step 5. But for now let’s look at some other verses on prayer that might give us more insight.
- In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus is teaching His disciples how to pray. (The Lord’s Prayer) Verse 10 gives us some more information that helps answer our questions. “May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” NLT
- In Luke 22:41-42, We get a glimpse of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. “He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ “
In these passages, we see that even Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, qualified His prayers by submitting to the Father’s will!
The next step, 4)Looking up our scripture in different translations, did not yield any additional information, so it isn’t necessary to include them here. Let’s move on to 5)Read Commentaries, lexicons, concordances. Here are the words of a few Bible scholars about the passage, John 14:13-14:
- The power of the disciples originated in prayer. Jesus could hardly have made more emphatic the declaration that whatever they should ask in his name, he would do. The phrase “in my name,” however, is not a talisman for the command of supernatural energy. He did not wish it to be used as a magical charm like an Aladdin’s lamp. It was both a guarantee, like the endorsement on a check, and a limitation on the petition; for he would grant only such petitions as could be presented consistently with his character and purpose. In prayer we call on him to work out his purpose, not simply to gratify our whims. The answer is promised so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. (Tenney, M. C. (1981). John. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9: John and Acts (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (146). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.)
- These are not “blank checks”—promises to supply everything anyone requests. “In My name” corresponds to “according to My character” and thus is parallel to other texts that require us to leave room for God’s will to overrule ours (e.g., Mt 6:10; Jms 4:15). (Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (1601). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.)
We won’t go in depth on Psalm 37:4, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” But I believe the following commentary explains it beautifully.
- And even this pleasant duty of delighting in God has a promise annexed to it, which is very full and precious, enough to recompense the hardest services: He shall give thee the desires of thy heart. He has not promised to gratify all the appetites of the body and the humours of the fancy, but to grant all the desires of the heart, all the cravings of the renewed sanctified soul. What is the desire of the heart of a good man? It is this, to know, and love, and live to God, to please him and to be pleased in him. (Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: Complete and unabridged in one volume (Ps 37:1–6). Peabody: Hendrickson.)
Lastly, in your email you mentioned the subject of suffering. The absolute best book I have ever read on the subject is: When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes. Besides the Bible, it has been the most life changing book I have ever read. You can find a link to it on my Resources page under Favorite Books.
I hope this has been helpful. I pray that God will give you comfort in your grief. I’m writing this on the fifth anniversary of my own fathers death. I understand loss and the pain of losing someone dear, but we must remember that we serve a God who loves us, He is working out good, and this life is just temporary. I want to leave you with Paul’s admonition in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.”
“JUST SAY KNOW” Bible Study
For this week’s Bible Study, pick your own Bible verse or passage. Using that passage, study and follow the schedule below. You can find all the Bible Study Aids you will need on my Resource Menu. Click Here
Day 1 — Pray for understanding. (Also take some time today to Click on the Bible Study Aids Link above and get familiar with the Bible Study websites to see which one works for you.)
Day 2 — Read the verse in its context, which is usually the whole chapter where the verse is located. (Sometimes it may require reading more chapters or even the entire book to get the full context.)
Day 3 — Look at other verses that are similar or on the same topic. (Use a concordance to find them.)
Day 4 — Look at the same passage in different Bible translations and paraphrases.
Day 5– Read Commentaries, lexicons, concordances and Word studies to gain more insight.