...for anything God wants to do.
That's what Ruthie said the other day. She had made up a song about being strong and courageous but that no one is stronger than God. After she sang, or maybe as part of the song, she said "We can ask God to do anything God wants to do." And I thought that might be the wisest interpretation of prayer I've ever heard. We can ask God to do anything God wants to do.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, "You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!" (New Living Translation)
There have been lots of interpretations of that verse over the years.
Does it mean whatever we ask? To win the lottery? For someone to love us? For our team to win the big game? Does it really mean whatever?
Does "in my name" mean we just put the Jesus stamp on whatever we pray and it will happen?
I think most of us know the answer to those questions is "no." We've prayed for things and said "In Jesus' name" and those things didn't happen. And clearly we've prayed for "whatever" (*well, if not us, certainly someone has) and whatever hasn't happened. So, there must be some other, deeper, meaning to Jesus' words "whatever you ask in my name".
And I think Ruthie sort of nails it..."we can ask God to do whatever God wants to do." In other words, if we ask for things that are a part of God's will, then God can/will do it. Just saying that makes me know it's a sticky wicket, because after all....we believe God wants what is good for us, what draws us to wholeness, what makes us more Christ-like and surely we (or others) have asked for things that meet those qualifications and seemingly some of those prayers haven't been answered either. So it's not so simple.
But there is wisdom in Ruth's words. Certainly, asking God for what God doesn't want to do isn't likely to work out in our favor. And while the formula isn't perfect (or really set), we are invited to pray and ask for anything (that lies within the will of God). The easiest retort to that is "Well, what is it that God wants?" And while we may now know those specifics either, we do know the general categories. God wants what is good for us and good for others. God wants justice. God wants peace. God wants mercy. So, if we pray for those things, maybe God will give them since we can ask God to do anything God wants to do.