Jesus' own words make this very clear. There are two groups of teachings on prayer in those three and a half years as given by the gospel records. The first of these groups is in the Sermon on the Mount which Jesus preached about half-way through the second year of His ministry. The second group comes sheer at the end. All of it is in the last six months, and most of it in the last ten days, and much of that on the very eve of that last tragic day.
It is after the sharp rupture with the leaders that this second series of statements is made. The most positive, and most sweeping utterances on prayer are here. Of Jesus' eight promises regarding prayer six are here. I want to ask you please to notice these six promises or statements; and then, to notice their relation to our topic of to-day.
In Mat_18:19-20, is the first of these. "Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth, as touching anything that they Shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father who is in heaven." Notice the place of prayer—"on earth"; and the sweep—"anything"; and the positiveness—"it shall be done." Then the reason why is given. "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." That is to say, if there are two persons praying, there are three. If three meet to pray, there are four praying. There is always one more than you can see. And if you might perhaps be saying to yourself in a bit of dejection, "He'll not hear me: I'm so sinful: so weak"—you would be wrong in thinking and saying so, but then we do think and say things that are not right—if you might be thinking that, you could at once fall back upon this: the Father always hears Jesus. And wherever earnest hearts pray Jesus is there taking their prayer and making it His prayer.
The second of these: Mar_11:22-24, "Jesus answering saith unto them, have faith in God"—with the emphasis double-lined under the word "God." The chief factor in prayer is God. "Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall say unto this mountain, be thou taken up and cast into the sea—" Choosing, do you see the unlikeliest thing that might occur. Such a thing did not take place. We never hear of Jesus moving an actual mountain. The need for such action does not seem to have arisen. But He chooses the thing most difficult for His illustration. Can you imagine a mountain moving off into the sea—the Jungfrau, or Blanc, or Rainier? If you know mountains down in your country you cannot imagine it actually occurring. "—And shall not doubt in his heart—" That is Jesus' definition of faith. "—But shall believe that what he saith cometh to pass; he shall have it. Therefore, I say unto you, all things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." How utterly sweeping this last statement! And to make it more positive it is preceded by the emphatic "therefore—I—say—unto—you." Both whatsoever and whosoever are here. Anything, and anybody. We always feel instinctively as though these statements need careful guarding: a few fences put up around them. Wait a bit and we shall see what the Master's own fence is.
The last four of the six are in John's gospel. In that last long quiet talk on the night in which He was betrayed. John preserves much of that heart-talk for us in chapters thirteen to seventeen.
Here in Joh_14:13-14 : "And whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in My name, that will I do." The repetition is to emphasize the unlimited sweep of what may be asked.
Joh_15:7 : "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you—" That word abide is a strong word. It does not mean to leave your cards; nor to hire a night's lodging; nor to pitch a tent, or run up a miner's shanty, or a lumberman's shack. It means moving in to stay. "—Ask whatsoever ye will—" The Old Version says, "ye shall ask." But here the revised is more accurate: "Ask; please ask; I ask you to ask." There is nothing said directly about God's will. There is something said about our wills. "—And it shall be done unto you." Or, a little more literally, "I will bring it to pass for you."
I remember the remark quoted to me by a friend one day. His church membership is in the Methodist Church of the North, but his service crosses church lines both in this country and abroad. He was talking with one of the bishops of that church whose heart was in the foreign mission field. The bishop was eager to have this friend serve as missionary secretary of his church. But he knew, as everybody knows, how difficult appointments oftentimes are in all large bodies. He was earnestly discussing the matter with my friend, and made this remark: "If you will allow the use of your name for this appointment, I will lay myself out to have it made." Now if you will kindly not think there is any lack of reverence in my saying so—and there is surely none in my thought—that is the practical meaning of Jesus' words here. "If you abide in Me, and My words sway you, you please ask what it is your will to ask. And—softly, reverently now—I will lay Myself out to bring that thing to pass for you." That is the force of His words here.
This same chapter, sixteenth verse: "Ye did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide; that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in My name, He may give it you." God had our prayer partnership with Himself in His mind in choosing us. And the last of these, Joh_16:23-24, second clause, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, if ye shall ask anything of the Father, He will give it you in My name. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be fulfilled."
These statements are the most sweeping to be found anywhere in the Scriptures regarding prayer. There is no limitation as to who shall ask, nor the kind of thing to be asked for. There are three limitations imposed: the prayer is to be through Jesus; the person praying is to be in fullest sympathy with Him; and this person is to have faith.