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Letters to the Editor: We Do Not Know What We Ought To Pray For

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In a recent article, “We Do Not Know What We Ought To Pray For” (February 2023) in the Prayer series, Darren Tappouras wrestles with several passages that plainly tell us that God grants you whatsoever you ask.

The contexts of these seeming carte blanche passages point to a solution that leaves no vexation. Yes, God does give whatever you ask for, as long as you understand that the “whatever” refers to “whatever sin you ask forgiveness for.”

Jesus’ statement, as recorded in Mark, is plainly in the context of forgiveness:

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11:24-25 ESV).

The conjunctive “and” at the beginning of v. 25 indicates a direct connection between the two statements. The phrase “whenever you stand praying” is, therefore, to be understood as “whenever you stand praying for forgiveness for your trespasses.” Thus, “whatever you ask in prayer” is “whatever sins you ask to be forgiven.”

This is the same message as in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:14-15). God forgives whatsoever we ask, provided we also grant the same to those who cause us harm—whatever it might be.

The four similar statements Jesus made in his final address to the disciples (John 14:13-14; 15:7, 16; 16:23) are also in the context of forgiveness of sins, though not as plainly stated. These passages are all associated with the coming of the Comforter (Helper in the ESV), Counselor (NIV), and Greek parakletos.

The Comforter is identified by John himself as the resurrected Jesus, the propitiator of our sins. “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate [parakletos] with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (I John 2:1-2). This is the only other place in the New Testament where parakletos appears. Again the context is forgiveness of sins.

Another passage that bears directly on this subject is Paul preaching in the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia. He tells the audience, “through this man [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39).

Do not diminish the universality of “whatever we ask in prayer, God will grant,” but do interpret this in context. We all have all of our sins forgiven, whatever they are. These are the prayers that God always answers “Yes.”

David Levin,
Denver Ecclesia, CO


Bro. David Levin’s proposal is quite sound, and we are in total agreement that the only valid response from God in these prayer guarantees is “yes.” Therefore, we need to narrow the scope somehow to determine just what they are referring to. Bro. David’s proposal that they refer to God forgiving our sins is very encouraging.

As foremost and as central, forgiveness is as an essential element in the “indescribable gift” of God. May I suggest that not only is forgiveness of sins in scope here but also included is the power to overcome sin in our life through faith.

For example, the immediate context of the prayer guarantee in John 15:16 is that the disciple is chosen for the objective to “bear fruit” and this is illustrated in verse 17 as to “love one another.”

I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last–and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other. (NIV).

Sin in our life is dealt with by God both through forgiveness (justification) and the empowerment and motivation to develop a life of holiness (sanctification). God’s power to achieve both these objectives appears to me to be on offer here.

The multidimensional aspect of the guarantee is illustrated in Matthew 7:7, which tells us to ask–seek–knock.  God’s response promised is that we will receive—find—open. Seeking and knocking would suggest a lifetime of growth and spiritual development.

Also, the use of the plural gift responses in the guarantee—“things” (Mark 11:24), “Whatever” (Matt 21:22, 1 John 3:22 (KJV), John 14:13), “anything” (1 John 5:14), and “good gifts” (Matt 7:11), may well be referring to different types of sins or multiple sin events. Still, to me, they seem to imply that God’s prayer guarantees not only to grant us the incredible gift of forgiveness but if we ask in faith and true commitment (Jas 1:5-6), His power is there to help us overcome sin in our lives.

Darren Tappouras,
Gosford Ecclesia, NSW

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