Unleashing God's Truth, One Verse at a Time

This post originally appeared in September 2015. -ed.

What do your prayers sound like to other people? Are you expressing submission to the Lord and His will for your life? Or do you approach His throne with an exhaustive wish list?

If we are honest, we’re all occasionally guilty of treating God like a mystical genie or Santa Claus—as though He exists only to fulfill our requests. Often, such impertinence is the result of immature faith, spiritual short-sightedness, and unbiblical priorities. It must not be the norm.

However there are some who claim to know and love the Lord who routinely approach Him with that kind of presumptuousness, and brazenly defend it with Scripture—specifically, John 14:14, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (other verses are similarly abused, including Matthew 21:22, Mark 11:24, and 1 John 5:15).

That verse is a particular favorite within the Word Faith movement—a subset of the charismatic church that’s home to most of the flamboyant prosperity preachers you’ve seen on TBN, along with all other proponents of charismatic “health and wealth” theology. In his book Charismatic Chaos, John MacArthur defines the movement this way:

As the name “Word Faith” implies, this movement teaches that faith is a matter of what we say more than whom we trust or what truths we embrace and affirm in our hearts. A favorite term in the Word Faith movement is “positive confession.” It refers to the Word Faith teaching that words have creative power. What you say, Word Faith teachers claim, determines everything that happens to you. Your “confessions,” that is, the things you say—especially the favors you demand of God—must all be stated positively and without wavering. Then God is required to answer. [1] John MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992) 281.

While there are only microscopic differences between that theology and man-centered psycho-babble like the power of positive thinking, the Word Faith movement legitimizes its lies with a lot of biblical-sounding doublespeak, and the occasional proof text wrenched from its context and twisted beyond recognition. Here’s an example noted in Charismatic Chaos

Positive confession teaches people that their words are determinative. God is no longer the object of faith; Word Faith devotees learn to put their faith in their own words—or as [Kenneth] Hagin bluntly puts it, “faith in [their] own faith.” Try to follow his logic as he attempts to substantiate that concept:

Did you ever stop to think about having faith in your own faith? Evidently God had faith in His faith, because He spoke the words of faith and they came to pass. Evidently Jesus had faith in His faith, because He spoke to the fig tree, and what He said came to pass.

In other words, having faith in your words is having faith in your faith.

That’s what you’ve got to learn to do to get things from God: Have faith in your faith. . . .

Word Faith believers view their positive confessions as an incantation by which they can conjure up anything they desire. “Believe it in your heart; say it with your mouth. That is the principle of faith. You can have what you say,” Kenneth Hagin claims. Quoting John 14:14 (“If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it”), ignoring the plain implications of the phrase “in My name,” they take that verse to be an unqualified promise they can use in extorting from God whatever kind of cargo they fancy. [2] Charismatic Chaos, 284-285.

Worse still, Word Faith teachers reject the biblical mandate to submit their requests to the will of God, claiming that such submission is unbiblical. In his book, John MacArthur cites two examples of prosperity preachers (Fred Price and Robert Tilton) who guided their followers to pray for blessings and sow monetary seeds that exceeded their financial means. He then explains:

Note that both Price and Tilton recoil from praying, “If it be Thy will.” That is a common characteristic of Word Faith teachers. As we noted, they love to quote John 14:14, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” But 1 John 5:14 is noticeably missing from their database: “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (emphasis added). Hagin goes so far as to claim that no such truth is taught in the New Testament:

Because we didn’t understand what Jesus said, and because we’ve been religiously brainwashed instead of New Testament-taught, we watered down the promises of God and tacked on something that Jesus didn’t say, and added on something else to it: “Well, He will all right if it’s His will, but it might not be His will,” people have said. And yet, you don’t find that kind of talk in the New Testament.

Hagin has also written, “It is unscriptural to pray, ‘If it is the will of God.’ When you put an ‘if’ in your prayer, you are praying in doubt.” [3] Charismatic Chaos, 287.

Such blatant disregard for God’s will ought to trigger spiritual alarms and offend the consciences of everyone who truly knows and loves the Lord.

Certainly that wasn’t the attitude Christ commended to His disciples when He first spoke the words in John 14:14. In fact, as John MacArthur explains, the presumption of positive confession is a direct contradiction of Christ’s instruction in the upper room.

Jesus’ disciples had left everything and were completely without resources. Without their Master, they would be all alone in a hostile world. Yet, He assured them, they did not need to worry about any of their needs. The gap between Him and them would be closed instantly whenever they prayed. Even though He would be absent, they would have access to all His supplies.

That is not carte blanche for every whim of the flesh. There’s a qualifying statement repeated twice. He doesn’t say, “I’ll give you absolutely anything you ask for,” but rather, “I’ll do what you ask in My name.” That does not mean we can simply tack the words, “in-Jesus’-name-amen” on the end of our prayers and expect the answers we want every time. Neither is it a special formula or abracadabra that will magically guarantee the granting of our every wish.

The name of Jesus stands for all that He is. Throughout Scripture, God’s names are the same as His attributes. When Isaiah prophesied that Messiah would be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), he was not listing actual names, but rather giving an overview of Messiah’s character. “I am who I am,” the name revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14, is as much an affirmation of God’s eternal nature as it is a name by which He is to be called.

Therefore, praying in the name of Jesus is more than merely mentioning His name at the end of our prayers. If we are truly praying in Jesus’ name, we will pray only for that which is consistent with His perfect character, and for that which will bring glory to Him. It implies an acknowledgement of all that He has done and a submission to His will. [4] John MacArthur, The Upper Room (The Woodlands, TX: Kress Biblical Resources, 2014) 95-96.

God does not intend for His people to use His Son’s name as an incantation for material blessings—that’s nothing more than blasphemy. The whole point of praying in the name of Jesus is that we are submitting ourselves—and our requests—to Him and His will.

If anything, following Christ’s instructions in John 14:14 should break us of the kind of materialism that leads to such blasphemous abuse of His promise. As John MacArthur explains:

What praying in Jesus’ name really means is that we should pray as if our Lord Himself were doing the asking. We approach the throne of the Father in full identification with the Son, seeking only what He would seek. When we pray with that perspective, we begin to pray for the things that really matter, and we eliminate selfish requests. [5] The Upper Room, 96.

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