March 8, 1959
“Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, I will do it.” – John 14:13
In the Christian religion prayer is fundamental and vital. In the worship of the Jewish Church the smoke of the incense represented the ascending of prayer to the Lord. So they were commanded to build an altar for the burning of incense which was to be placed before the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle.
“Thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon… And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold… And thou shalt put it before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is before the testimony, where I will meet with thee.” And through Malachi the Lord commanded: “From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts.”
Often prayers are likened to incense. In the Psalms we read, “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice,” and in Revelation we read of the golden vials full of incense “which are the prayers of saints.”
Prayer holds a prominent place throughout the Word. There are many prayers in the Old Testament. Our first lesson was from Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple. The Psalms are for the most part prayers. And in the Lord’s life on earth prayer held a conspicuous place. He prayed constantly. All of the seventeenth chapter of John is a prayer. And He ended His life with prayer. He taught us an all-inclusive prayer, and has bidden us “always to pray.” He said of the temple, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” And He has given us the assurance that whatsoever is asked in His name He will grant.
The promise “‘Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, I will do it” has often been construed to mean “whatsoever ye shall ask, if ye include my name in the prayer, I will do it.” This has caused a disbelief in prayer, for prayers are made in this way and often not answered; so faith in prayer is shaken. There are many kinds of prayer that the Lord cannot answer. A prayer without faith cannot be answered. If we do not believe in the Lord, He can do nothing for us, for the state of mind in which the Lord’s power operates is lacking. The Lord could do no miracles where there was no faith. So it is written, “According to your faith be it unto you.” But faith is not a mere declaration of belief in the Lord, nor even the conviction that the Lord has power. It involves the belief that the Lord knows what is best for each of us, and the desire and effort to do His will.
No prayer is answered that is selfish. The Lord cannot be approached through prayers offered in self-interest. So, too, no prayer can be granted that is for oneself against another, or that involves or that seeks self-advantage. Of such prayers Isaiah writes: “When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me… it is iniquity… And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I trill not hear; your hands are full of blood.”
Some are wont to flee to prayer when evils and misfortunes befall them. Prayers to escape the punishment of sin because of fear rather than from repentance avail nothing. The Lord looks upon the heart, and sees only the heart; if true love and faith are not in the prayer, there is no life in it. Such prayers are not as incense ascending through the heavens to the Lord, but are likened to the smoke of a conflagration which, ascending, is blown back into the eyes by a downward gust of wind.
There is no aid in confessions and prayers which do not involve willingness to obey the Lord. So Isaiah continues, “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well;” then “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Prayer is but mockery unless one ceases to do evil.
The law of forgiveness is clearly and beautifully expressed in Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple: “What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house: Then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men).”
Prayers to prevent or remove all trials, burdens, and temptations cannot be heard by the Lord, for often these things are the means by which He illumines the mind, reveals His presence, and gives the power by which evils can be overcome. The Lord cannot answer any prayer that is contrary to His own love and wisdom, for in so doing His own purposes in creation would be defeated.
Confessions and prayers which lack faith, which have in them anything of the love of self or of fear, which are not offered from the Lord’s own spirit with man are but empty sounds and are not heard and received by the Lord.
What prayers then will the Lord answer? He will answer all prayers offered in His name. A man’s name is his character. The Lord’s name is His character, His quality, His nature. He answers every prayer as fully as the prayer is in harmony with His wisdom, or as fully as will contribute to a man’s eternal welfare. In our prayers, especially our prayers for others, we are prone to forget that the Lord is wisdom as well as love. We argue: “I, if I had the power, would gladly heal my friend; surely the Lord does not love him any less than I do, and He has the power.” We should pray for others. Our love and sympathy, reaching them through our angel associates, are helpful to them. But our desire for them should be what the Lord desires – we should pray “in His name.”
Jesus said, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” The Lord’s nature is humble and unselfish. To ask in His name is to pray from states of humility and unselfishness, and from the desire for things which will bring us and others real and lasting good. So we should especially pray when in temptations, for though prayer cannot remove the temptation, strength can be given to withstand. The Lord prayed that the temptation of the cross might be taken from Him, but with the conclusion “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” The temptation was not removed, but He was assured of victory. Temptations come to us that we may master our difficulties and so find peace and rest.
We read, “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” We cannot change the Lord’s plans for us or for others. We cannot inform Him as to what we need, nor can we instruct Him in what is best for us. Why then ask? Because prayer changes us. Because there is in it acknowledgment of the Lord and recognition of our need of His help, it opens our hearts to influx from Him.
The Psalmist writes, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” For our prayers to be true prayers we must shun evils, search the Scriptures, learn truths from the Word, and as of ourselves turn to the good of life. Then our prayers are “in His name.” They direct our minds to God and conjoin us to Him, and life from Him inflows. Often we feel a state of confidence and peace immediately following prayer.
Some pray for health, material things, and prosperity. It is natural for us to pray for these things, but we should realize that in all such prayers our desire may not be in accord with the Lord’s will, and that these natural blessings are not of primary importance. Let us rather pray for faith, humility, and wisdom for ourselves and others, knowing that if we seek to know the Lord’s will and desire that His will be done, no good thing will be withheld that can promote our eternal happiness. Let us pray for the Lord’s presence and guidance in everything we undertake, for it is forever His law: “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, I will do it.”