The Gospel according to Matthew has the famous section which begins
“Ask, and it shall be given you.”Matthew 7:7
Jesus then reiterates what he is saying to emphasize it.
“For every one who asketh receiveth.”Matthew 7:7
Yet, this seems puzzling. Many Christians ask and don’t receive. What is going on here?
A clue is in the letter from St. James.
“Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”James 4:3
St. James is saying that they ask in the wrong way. This leads to another question – what is the right way?
Here we can turn to St. John.
“And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do.” John 14:13
Note ‘name’. Name here does not mean a label or tag – rather it means the essence of something. So we should ask ‘in’ God’s essence – what does that mean? We get the answer shortly after the above verse.
“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” John 15:7
So here we can see that asking in the right spirit means abiding in God and his words abiding in us. To abide means to rest in, or to dwell in. It means more than just a fleeting experience. So what does it mean to abide in God? Finally, we get the answer in St. John’s first letter.
“God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” 1 John 4:16
The language here is very similar to that in John 15:7.
So, the answer to our question of what the right way to ask is, is in the abiding spirit of divine love.
Here is what I want to emphasize. This isn’t abstract – rather, to pray in the right spirit is to experience love – to have a tangible experience of the presence of God. As St. John says, God is love. This is the key to much of the Gospel message.
So how do you have an experience of love? Much of what Jesus says is aimed at this. For examples, letting go of fear, resentment, and anger is important because those block the experience of this love. Letting God into one’s heart, which is to say letting God’s love into one’s heart. Divine love and emotions like fear are incompatible – one will inevitably end up removing the other one.
Once you are in the right spirit, you also won’t be asking for things like you might in a selfish state (as St. James says, ‘consuming it upon your lusts’).
However, this isn’t all there is to say about how to ask. St. James gives us the second big key.
“But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think he shall receive any thing of the Lord.”James 1:6
The term ‘faith’ here is meant to convey conviction. So, we have the two keys to asking.
- Ask in the abiding spirit of love.
- Ask with conviction – with a certainty in God.