“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” – John 4: 13

Jesus states pretty clearly that whatever we ask for in his name, he will do. But a lot of us trip over this passage. Why is that? I think the part that can be confusing is the “in his name” part. Many of us have prayed for things that we believed were his will, but we did not receive them. How can we be sure that we are asking in his name?

Do you feel like God hasn’t been responding to your prayers the way Jesus promises in John 4:13? Here are three possible reasons why this passage might not seem to be working in your life.

Reason #1: We haven’t allowed our will to be conformed to God’s will.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” – 1 John 5:14

Let’s say that you work for a company and you have a working relationship with the CEO. You have been given a company credit card with a $5,000 limit and you are entrusted to put this money to good use.

You can’t go out and buy yourself a new TV with this credit card. Nor can you go spend this money on a wild night out for you and your friends. This money is given with the intent that you will use it to forward the company’s mission. Were you to start using the card for your own purposes, your privileges would certainly be revoked.

If you haven’t seen this spiritual principle at work in your life, ask yourself three questions:

  1. Do I live and breathe the mission of the Kingdom of God?
  2. How much time do I spend getting to know God through the reading of the Word?
  3. How much time do I spend in private worship and communion with the Holy Spirit?

If the focus of your life isn’t the kingdom of God, how can God trust you with gifts that are meant to further his kingdom?

This isn’t a question of whether you go to church or read your Bible – this is a question of being wholly sold out for the kingdom of God. If we want to reap the benefits of receiving anything that we ask for in his name, we can’t be lukewarm Christians. We need to be kingdom-minded believers, every moment focused on God and his purpose.

If you aren’t spending time in scripture and with the Holy Spirit, how could you possibly know what God wants? The more intimate your relationship with God, the more your heart will be aligned with his. Unity with God will yield desires within us that are aligned with his perfect will, and this is how we will start to see more answered prayers.

Reason #2: We aren’t cultivating faith.

Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” – Matthew 21:21

In this passage, Jesus has just encountered a fig tree that did not have any fruit on it and commanded it to wither. He then turned to his disciples and made this bold statement – if they believe, they will receive whatever they ask for in prayer.

The belief part is important. James goes as far as to say, “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

This passage can be a huge source of confusion or even feelings of condemnation – what are you supposed to do if you don’t have enough faith? Oh how hard many of us have tried to believe, tried to fight off our doubts, but to no avail.

The truth is, faith isn’t something that we can conjure up by believing hard enough. God has given each of us a measure of faith, and that faith is sufficient to receive the things he has for us. Jesus compared faith to a mustard seed. If you have a mustard seed and a plot of good soil, you have everything you need to grow a tree. But in seed form, you can’t do much with a mustard seed. It has to be planted in the ground and then it has to spend years growing and maturing before it reaches its full capacity.

When we ask God for big things that are beyond the capacity of our faith and receive no answer, it’s like we are taking a tiny mustard seed and getting frustrated that it isn’t instantly becoming a tree.

God has given you everything you need to have faith that can move mountains. To receive that faith, your first step is to ask him for it. When you ask, be prepared to respond with obedience to whatever he prompts you to do. It’s also important to spend time in his presence and in scripture, because, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).” And finally, one of my favorite ways to strengthen my faith is to spend time reflecting on the ways God has been faithful to me in the past and rejoicing for what he will do in the future. I think that reflection is a powerful and often overlooked aspect of building our faith, and when it becomes a regular aspect of your relationship with God, it will energize you in ways you’ve never experienced before.

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Reason #3: We give up when times get hard.

When you plant a seed, it’s not just about the seed – good soil is an important part of the growing process. Your heart is the soil for the seed of faith, and you must allow God to work on things within your heart that are choking out the faith he desires to grow in you. This process is lengthy and often painful. It requires our hidden sins to be exposed and brought to the surface. It requires us to humble ourselves before God, and often, to be involuntarily humbled by God.

Frequently, the growth of our faith is hindered because there is something we are refusing to surrender to God. Is there something that you know God is asking you to let go of that you’re clinging to? Is there a sin that you’ve committed repeatedly and haven’t taken it before the Lord to repent and ask for his help? Is there something he’s been pressing you to do that you’ve been running away from? Every time we say “no” to God, we are hindering the growth of our faith.

This messy and uncomfortable growth process is why so many of us never allow God to fully purify our hearts. We often tap out in the middle because of how painful it is. God never violates our free will, and so if we tell him to stop, he’ll stop. But there is so much freedom and joy on the other side of it, if only we remain faithful to what God asks us to do.

What is something in your life that you know needs to be surrendered to God? Is there anything you’re spending a significant amount of time on that doesn’t align with his kingdom? What steps can you take right now to spend more time in God’s presence?