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Not long after I posted the article about "The Most Dangerous Verse in the Bible" this response came in from a former Jesus Christian, whom we will call "Graduate A".  Overall, I think the two articles will help a lot of people to work through some of the problems that develop when we look at one verse in isolation from others.

Is it Really Dangerous?

by "Graduate A"

I found your article surprising.  The most dangerous verse in the Bible?  I am not sure I would have picked that one, as I really don't think that is the verse that has caused the most problems.  In any case, thanks for sharing your thoughts about it.

I felt a bit sad, Dave, by what you were saying, as it DID seem a little like losing faith in what Jesus said (or at least losing faith that what is recorded as having been said by Jesus really was what he said).

I think it may be helpful to look at what John says in his epistle in 1 John 5:14-15And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.

This verse makes it clear that if we ask anything according to HIS will, he hears us, and that we can have confidence that whatever we want that happens to be according to his will, we will have.  So, it seems to me, that it is a mix of the two (our will and God's will).

I am reminded of something you wrote in Thy Will Be Done where you referred to Jesus' comparison of him being the vine and us being the branches (John 15:5-7), which includes another "ask what you will" promise.  The point you made was that if we were really branches, we wouldn't want anything other than what the vine itself wanted.  And so, whenever we pray for something it should ALWAYS be with the desire above all things that God's will be done.  At the very least it should manifest itself the way Jesus himself prayed, where he asked for what HE wanted, but submitted the final decision to God's will.

This means that if we pray for something and we do not get it, we can rejoice as well, because we can be confident that if what we asked for WAS God's will, he would have given it, and since he has not given it, it means that it was contrary to his will (at least at the time), and therefore we are glad we did not receive it (lest we should frustrate God's greater plan). 

From the personal example that you gave, you would have to conclude that what you asked for was not part of God's will.  It may have been something unselfish that you asked for, and God may have told you that it wasn't wrong to ask for it, but that doesn't mean that what you were asking for fit in with God's overall plan.  Jesus asked for the "cup" to pass from his lips (i.e. that he not have to go through with the crucifixion), and yet Jesus not suffering did not fit in with God's overall plan, and so Jesus concluded his prayer with "nevertheless thy will be done".

There is a lot from Scripture that can teach us about what God does want (God's will).  For example, he wants everyone to repent, to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  He wants us to love one another.  He wants us to pray for labourers.  He wants us to care for the needy.  And yet none of these things are yet "fulfilled" or done.  God expresses what he wants, and it seems like he waits for us to participate in achieving those things.

Then there are other specifics that may or may not be part of God's will.  Take your example of praying for something to come through by a certain date.  Assuming it was what YOU really wanted, was it guaranteed to be what God wanted?  I don't think so.  It may not necessarily have been a selfish request, but was it really God's will?  It would seem to me, from hindsight, that it wasn't, since the request was not granted.  That is what I believe, because I also believe that if we ask anything according to His will, it will be done.  Since it was not done, I have to conclude that what you asked for was not according to God's will.  And so, rather than be disappointed that the prayer didn't "work", you can be glad that God showed you that it wasn't his will, and so you are exactly where God wants you to be.  That should be comforting.

I agree with what you said about how it is safer to question ourselves and conclude that our part of the deal has not yet been fulfilled (when a prayer is not answered) instead of assuming that God has not fulfilled his end of the bargain.  This should ALSO be an occasion for thanks, because it is God's way of showing us that we may still be missing something, that there may still be an area of our lives that is not yet in submission to Him.

I would assume that the early Christians DID ask for what they wanted and God gave it to them most of the time.  Just before Pentecost, for example, there were apparently 120 people all gathered together and praying in unity.  As a result something incredible happened and the next thing you know five thousand people start forsaking all and following Jesus, then another three thousand, and "the Lord added daily to the church".  Then there is the story of John and Peter and the begger at the temple to whom they said, "We don't have any money, but what we have, we give you... get up and walk in the name of Jesus" and the man was healed as a result.  Another time when Peter was in prison and people were praying for him, an angel appeared and broke him out of there.  And I think there are many other recorded stories of the early Christians receiving what they asked for in prayer.

You mentioned that you didn't know of anyone to whom the verse applied totally.  I am surprised by that.  I think many of us have prayed for things that we wanted and God has granted them, whenever they fitted in with his purposes.  I have, for example, prayed on several occasions that other people would receive dreams about different topics (as a "sign" that he wanted me to do something) and God has answered those prayers.  And how many times have we desired specific things like pizza or ice cream, only to find it that same day in a bin or in some other miraculous way?  I couldn't confidently say which one has been the exception: the times God has granted us what we wanted, or the times he hasn't.

As for your concerns about focusing our faith on believing we will get the thing that we have asked for, as stated in Mark 11, I think that taking all of the verses together, we can do that so long as the things we are asking for are spiritual things (e.g. wisdom), which God has already shown us are within his will.  The "surprise turn" with respect to the Mark 11 verse is all of the other verses and the various conditions placed on them, as well as the context in Mark 11, where Jesus goes on to talk about asking for forgiveness.  It makes sense that he would rebuke us for NOT asking for forgiveness, as well as for not believing that we will receive it if we do ask for it.

I think that the dangerous aspect of Mark 11:24 is the tendency for people to proof-text.  Proof-texting overlooks the context, and overlooks other verses on the same subject.  If Luke 14:33 (one of our favorite verses) was the only verse on the subject of forsaking all, and if there were no records of the disciples doing exactly that, then we would have to question whether a literal interpretation was a correct one.  Of course there is a lot of other material supporting the literal interpretation in that instance, though not so with Mark 11:24.

The selfish doctrine that has grown out of Mark 11:24 is dishonest.  But I can understand a sincere person becoming disillusioned if they take Mark 11:24 literally on its own.  Only when we look at the context, and at other similar verses, do we discover that there are conditions, and there are specific things that we are instructed to ask for.

In conclusion, I personally wouldn't advise people to stay away from these promises, but instead I would encourage them to claim these promises in the context of what they seem to be pointing to overall: asking God for things that we are confident are within His will: forgiveness, wisdom, more of his spirit, his kingdom to come, his will to be done, labourers in his vineyard, etc.

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