“In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:23–24, ESV)
Here Jesus continues speaking directly to His disciples. They had been very close. All that they did in ministry was at His instruction and all that they knew of the Father’s will for them was given to them by Him. If they needed anything they could and did take it to Him. At the same time Jesus told them that His being sent was according to the will of the Father, and that He and the Father were so united in oneness that if they had seen Him they had seen the Father.
At that moment He was preparing them for His leaving and His return to the Father. They would no longer be able to approach Him physically as they had become so accustomed. But this did not mean that they would be cut off. Far from it, just as before when Jesus had been speaking to them from the Father, after He left they would approach the Father just as they would Him and the Father would hear their prayers and answer just as Jesus would have in their presence.
For Jesus’ disciples there was a dramatic change coming. Their requests would soon be made directly to the Father through their relationship with the Son. It would be as if Jesus were asking the Father on their behalf, and the Father would answer them just as Jesus did in their presence. By assuring them of this, Jesus affirmed again that they surely would not be left alone. And, in addition to the Father answering their requests, they also would have the Holy Spirit to guide them in all the truth. Between the direction of the Spirit and the response of the Father the disciples truly would know God’s continued presence, hand, and direction in their lives and the ministry which they were left to accomplish—those greater works that Jesus spoke of in John 14:12 and which were followed with, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:13–14, ESV)
Rather than sensing loneliness and walking in a cloud of uncertainty, Jesus assured His disciples that they would continue to know God’s presence and faithfulness to them such that they would know the full joy that came from walking with Him and watching Him work.
As for who the promise of answered prayer applies, the words of Jesus to His disciples in these instances are not the entirety of what Scripture has to say. John himself wrote in 1 John 5:13-15, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5:13–15, ESV) John took the instruction He had received from Christ, and through the direction of the Holy Spirit assured us that God indeed does answer prayer. He answers prayer for all who believe in the name of the Son of God having received eternal life. We can go to God with confidence knowing that He hears us, and more than that we can do so with the assurance of knowing that He will answer. John tells us that God grants prayer requests—those that are according to His will, His plan, His direction for our lives, and those that we pray for.
Looking back to Jesus’ personal interaction with His disciples we know that Jesus did not give them everything they asked for. There were some things that His disciples desired that did not line up with what God intended (e.g., who would be first in the kingdom or who might sit on His right or left). Looking at these promises of answered prayer there is inherent in them our being in accord with and submitted to the will of the Father. Just as Jesus told His disciples that it was really up to the Father to determine who might sit on His right or His left (Mark 10:40), so there may be things that we pray that really are not in line with God’s will and as such may not be granted. Even the apostle Paul asked several times that a thorn be removed from Him, but God did not do so. Paul wrote of this, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8–10, ESV)
When I bring things to God in prayer it really is not a matter of me changing God’s mind or prompting Him to move in a certain way, but really more of me speaking these things to Him and then submitting myself to align with His perfect will and what He desires to accomplish. God hears every single prayer. He knows every word on my tongue before even one of them is formed (Psalm 139:4), and the reality of things is that I don’t. As I spend time before Him I have the incredible opportunity to hear His voice, to allow His Spirit to conform my heart, to direct my mind, and then watch Him work. My joy is in knowing that God will work to accomplish His perfect will. When I go to prayer it is a valuable time for me to get to know Him better and to wait on Him to do what He knows best. There is great joy in knowing that I don’t have to figure it all out. I don’t have to have all of the answers or even ask it the right way. There is great freedom in knowing that I don’t have to get my own understanding right before pleading my case before Him. There is joy in knowing that I can come to Him with the assurance that He indeed will direct my steps.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6, NASB95)
Prayer is not about moving God, but knowing that in spending time with Him that He moves me.