Jesus encourages you to ask and you will receive. But what is the meaning of this sentence? Can it really be that all you have to do is just ask Jesus for what you want, and then expect to receive it – whatever you ask? The context of this statement that Jesus makes in the Bible is important to understand. Once you learn what it means to “ask and you shall receive,” you can welcome blessings into your life with gratitude, knowing that Jesus will respond to your requests in what is best.
Where is “Ask and you shall receive” in the Bible?
The quote “ask and you shall receive” is a paraphrase of what Jesus said in the King James Version of John 16:24: “So far you have asked nothing in my name: ask, and you shall receive, so may your joy be perfect.” Several other Bible verses quote Jesus saying something similar. In Matthew 7:7, Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Matthew 21:22 records Jesus saying “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” In Mark 11:24, Jesus says, “Therefore I say to you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it shall be given to you.” Luke 11:9 features Jesus saying, “I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened unto you. John 15:7, Jesus promises, “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it will be done for you.
How are these verses used in the wrong way?
On the surface, these verses may seem to assure you that you can ask Jesus to give you anything you want and then be sure to receive it. This is not a correct interpretation of what Jesus said, however. Interpreting the “ask and you shall receive” verses as a magical guarantee of getting whatever you want will only disappoint you. It’s not that God doesn’t want to bless you; it’s that he wants to do it in the way that’s truly best for you.
People who assume that the “ask and you shall receive” verses promise they can name whatever they want and then claim it (an attitude sometimes known as the prosperity gospel) will soon find that this approach doesn’t work. not. Try it and you’ll find that you can’t just make something you want appear in your life just because you pray for it. No matter how much you want something, you can’t convince God to give it to you just by praying. For example, if you want an expensive sports car, you can pray for it with utmost sincerity over and over again and not have that car show up in your driveway if God knows it’s not better to. accede to this particular request.
What did Jesus really mean when he said, “Ask and you shall receive”?
So what did Jesus really mean when he promised that if you ask, you will receive? The real meaning is deeper than it first appears. What Jesus means is linked to the relationship he invites you to have with him.
God is much more than a cosmic vending machine into which you can insert a code and then see the desired results drop into a slot. God is your Heavenly Father, so He answers your prayers in a relationship with you. Rather than approaching God with requests transactionally, you should approach God relationally for the best results. In Matthew 7, just after promising that “…everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (verse 8) Jesus uses the image of a father and a son to make a point of what true generosity looks like: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a snake? If, therefore, you know how to give good gifts to your children, however wicked, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in all things do unto others as you would have them do unto you…” (verses 9-12). Notice how Jesus mentions “good gifts” – not bad gifts – here. Jesus also emphasizes the importance of choosing wisely, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, rather than acting regardless of what is truly best. God wants to give you generous gifts, but only those that are good for you. James 1:17 describes that, from God’s perspective, every good gift is also perfect: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, which does not change like changing shadows.”
Another important aspect of what “ask and you shall receive” really means is that your requests must align with God’s will. In John 14:14, Jesus promises, “Ask me anything in my name, and I will do it.” To ask in the name of Jesus means to ask in accordance with the will of God. God won’t give you what he knows isn’t good for you. No matter how much you can pray for something that’s not God’s will for you, you can’t convince God to give it to you. Instead of trying to achieve a certain agenda when you pray, you should focus on seeking God’s will for the situation you are praying about. My book Wake up to wonder describes why it is essential to let go of agendas when we pray to experience the wonder of what God wants to give us. As I share the book, I prayed for many years for my mother to join a church, and it never happened. However, God answered my prayers with an even better answer. He ended up saving mum towards the end of his life despite mum not going to church – and God did it in a wonderful way that only he could orchestrate, by sending an angel to visit mom in the hospital. Ephesians 3:20 proclaims that God “is able to do infinitely more than anything we ask or imagine, according to his power working in us.”
Even when you think you know what is best for a certain situation or person, the truth is that God’s limitless perspective is far greater than your limited human perspective. You can limit the possibilities and block the wonder of how God wants to answer your prayers if you only pray for our own agendas to be fulfilled. However, if you let go of the agendas when you pray, you can welcome whatever blessings God wants to send you. 1 John 5:14 says, “It is the confidence we have in drawing near to God: if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. You can discover God’s will by asking the Holy Spirit to renew your spirit and by following the counsel of Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your spirit.” Then you can test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will.
You can be completely honest with God about what you want. Do not hesitate to express it in prayer at any time. However, it is also important to present your requests to God in the context of a relationship rather than a transaction. When you ask for what you want, also pray for God’s will in that situation. Be open to receiving what is truly best for you from your loving Father. Choose to trust God’s wisdom and generosity. You are a beloved child of a wise Father who wants to bless you with what will most benefit your soul. Let this confidence encourage you when you pray!
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Whitney Hopler is the author of Wake up to wonder Wake Up to Wonder book and blog, which helps people thrive by experiencing wonder. She leads communications work at the Center for Advancing Wellness at George Mason University. Whitney has served as a writer, editor and web developer for leading media organizations including Crosswalk.com, the Salvation Army national publications in the United States and Dotdash.com (where she produced a channel popular on angels and miracles). She also wrote the children’s novel dream factory. Connect with Whitney on Twitter.