Faith is not believing that God will give you what you ask for. Faith is believing that God can do anything He wants and that He will do everything He has promised. You may wonder then, “Should we ask only for things that we know are God’s will?”
I think the story of Peter walking on water helps us. Peter did not know if it was God’s will for him to walk on water. No OT text says, “You can walk on water if you ask God.” But, Peter wanted to, so he asked. And Jesus said, “Come!” This teaches us that it is permissible and appropriate to ask for things we desire—provided that our request is qualified with “Not my will, but yours be done” (Mat. 26:39).
However, once Jesus had said, “Come!” Peter knew it was God’s will for him to walk on water. Peter’s step over the side of the boat and his initial steps on the water evidenced the reality of his faith. His near drowning occurred because his faith that Jesus would keep His word wavered (Mat. 14:31). In other words, if you ask for permission to “walk on water,” you must be prepared to step out of the boat and keep walking—despite waves, wind, and unsteady footing—in full confidence that God will enable you to do His will.
But what about Jesus’ promise that if we ask anything in His name, the Father will give it to us (John 14:13, 14; 15:16; 16:23, 24, 26)? The phrase “in the name of” has three main uses in the NT.
First, “in the name of” may mean “as a member of the category named.” Matthew 10:41 says, “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward.” When a person says, “I am a prophet,” and people receive him “in the name of a prophet,” they are receiving him as a member of the category “prophet.”
Second, “in the name of” may mean “as a follower and representative of the person named.” In Colossians 3:17 Paul commands believers to do everything “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Whatever we say or do, we are to do as followers of and thus representatives of Jesus. This is the sense in which we give a cup of cold water “in Jesus’ name” (Mat. 10:42). People should be able to watch us and say, “That’s how Jesus’ would act.”
Third, “in the name of” may mean “on the basis of the authority of the person named.” When Paul commands the demon to come out of the Philippian slave-girl “in the name of Jesus Christ,” he was issuing that command on the basis of Jesus’ authority.
To pray or ask “in Jesus’ name” is a combination of the second and third meanings. It is to ask as Jesus’ follower/representative and thus to ask upon the basis of His authority. This is much like a police officer knocking on a door and saying, “Open up in the name of the law.” It is on the basis of the law’s authority and as a representative of the law that the officer has the right to demand that the door be opened.
To pray in Jesus’ name is to ask as Jesus’ follower and representative, and thus to ask upon the basis of His authority.
Imagine a state trooper saying to you, “In the name of the law, give me all your cash and credit cards.” How absurd! A law officer cannot act “in the name of the law” and do something that breaks the law! It is equally absurd for us to expect to receive something that is contrary to God’s will just because we asked “in Jesus’ name.”
The apostle John confirms this understanding of Jesus’ intent in 1 John 5:15-16—“If we ask anything according to his will we know that he hears us, and … we have the requests we have asked from Him.”
This then is what Mark 11:24 means: Whatever you ask for when you pray—knowing that it is God’s will—believe that it is already on the way, and you will have it. If you pray, “Not my will, but yours be done,” faith believes that God is doing His will.
Originally published in the Ministry Library of God’s Bible School & College.