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It is, in many ways, unfortunate that some parts of the Bible are not restricted, to close friends and followers of Jesus only. In particular, I'm talking about the promises about God answering prayer.

Jesus said to his closest friends one day, "So far, you have not asked me for anything. Now I want you to ask God for things in my name, so that your joy may be full." (John 16:24)

When the average person reads that (and unfortunately, that includes whole congregations full of professing Christians), all they think of is a magic wishing well, where they can get anything they like. They overlook the fact that Jesus was talking to people who had spent a long time with him, learning to appreciate all that he taught and did, apparently without even a THOUGHT of asking for something from him for themselves.

What these non-believers (and I'm still including those congregations full of professing Christians who just try to use God to get what they want) also overlook are those all-important words "in my name". In other words, he was encouraging them to ask God for things that he himself wanted for them... not things that their selfish carnal nature would desire.

Anyone wanting to "claim the promises" should be required to read two or three other very important passages first, and get down the lessons in them very well before they even think of moving on to the "promises".

One of those passages is in James 4:1-3. He says, "You ask and receive not, because you ask selfishly." That's pretty simple; hardly needs an explanation. And yet the "name it and claim it" preachers never preach that one. Obviously there are some kind of restrictions on what it is that we are supposed to ask for. When Jesus says, "Ask for whatever you want," he is not talking to the general public. He is talking to people who have spent years learning to want only what God wants.

Another one of those passages is in Paul's letter to the Romans (Romans 8:28): "All things work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." When Paul says "all things", I think he means "all things". He is saying that the hard times, the misfortunes, the failures, the sicknesses, the sadness, the pain, and the suffering all work together for a deeper spiritual good if you love God and are called according to his purpose.

Do you see in those final few words that same hint I referred to earlier, i.e. that what God is looking for first are disciples, friends, followers, who want only to be conformed to HIS will and purpose, and not their own? These are people who discover that the greatest benefit of having God as a friend is not that you can get anything you like, but that you have someone you can hold onto through the hard times. That is where real discipline (often called discipleship) is learned. Through it all we are learning lessons that far outweigh selfish trinkets and indulgences.

Then there is a verse Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 10:13): "There is no temptation that has taken you that is not common to others as well. But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tested above what you are able to bear, but will, with the testing also make a way to escape that you may be able to bear it."

Once again, we do not have a picture of abundant material wealth, health, and pleasure showering down on the true friends of God. Instead, we have a picture of pilgrims labouring on faithfully against temptations which seem to be almost overwhelming at times. And we have God's promise that he will pull them through... or at least make a way for them to escape the temptations, if they are too overpowering.

So what DOES he mean by that first promise... about asking for what we want, so that we can be truly happy? When we have narrowed the audience down to a faithful band of true followers who have been learning for years the lessons of faithfulness, then the exact meaning of the promise does not become such a problem. It may mean that he will send us ice cream and cake if we are living in a country that is going through a famine, a convenient parking space if we are running late for an appointment in the city, or just the right dress to go with the colour of our hair. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense to assume that what he is really (or mostly?) talking about are things like integrity, courage, faith, love, and hope... even in the face of overwhelming odds.

Exactly what he wants to give needs to be worked out between the Master and his disciplined ones. I have certainly found that he gives a lot of nice treats at times, but I have also found that it is best to leave that part up to him. What I want mostly is that his will may be done and that his kingdom may soon come to this earth, so that all may hallow his name as he so deserves. That is when my joy will be full.
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