Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
— John 16:24
You and I live daily within an external — and internal — clash of two worldviews. This tension is the exact tension Jesus himself ministered throughout. here is the worldview we might call Materialism that even Jesus’ followers can’t seem to keep themselves away from, and in which the entire unbelieving world continues to swim. And then there’s the worldview of Christianity. And so many of the disciples’ problems arise from their confusing the worldview of Christianity and the worldview of materialism. And so many of our problems arise from confusing these worldviews too. It’s one reason why taking verses like John 16:23-24 out of context can be so appealing, even though we’re not doing it intentionally.
The worldview of materialism kind of thinks along these lines:
1. Mankind’s greatest need is to have his desires (or feelings) met.
2. Therefore we need things, experiences, and achievements to meet those desires.
3. And then we will be happy.
It begins with our desires (or appetites). It assumes that having “stuff” will satisfy these desires. And then we have these desires met, we will be happy.
Christianity, on the other hand, isn’t totally disinterested in our desires or feelings – it definitely speaks to those things – but it starts much deeper than our desires, and thus it goes much deeper than any other worldview can. Christianity teaches along these lines:
1. Mankind’s greatest need isn’t unmet desires but actually unrealized glory. Our biggest problem isn’t unsatisfied feelings but actually sin. We are disconnected from God, we fall short of his glory, because of our disobedience and rebellion against him.
2. Therefore, what we need is not things, experiences, and achievements, but salvation, redemption, forgiveness, righteousness, rescue – we need primarily the glory of Christ.
3. And once we have Christ (by faith), regardless of our circumstances or feelings (happy or sad), we can have something that runs much deeper than circumstantial feelings. We can have joy. “Fullness of joy,” in fact.
So materialism offers circumstantial experiences and temporary things to satisfy superficial desires. Christianity offers the glory of Christ to satisfy the eternal void inside of our souls.
The problem as I’ve said with the materialistic worldview is that it doesn’t go deep enough. We’re all searching for happiness but Jesus is offering a deep, bottomless, abounding, everlasting well of forever-joy.
The disciples think they’re treasuring Jesus but they only really see the Jesus they want to see, the Jesus they want him to be. And so he knows that when he first dies, they will be undone with confusion and pain. And he knows that when he ascends to heaven after his resurrection their joy at the reunion will be complicated by the sorrow of seeing him depart.
He also knows they will have to endure a very difficult life in the expansion of his mission after he’s gone. They will be threatened, accused, exiled, in some cases tortured, and in many cases executed for their faith.
But he makes them a promise. A promise that is far greater than earthly rewards and earthly successes.
Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16:20-22)
The pain is a promise. And your pain is a promise.
One day your tears will not only be wiped away, but they will turn to rapturous joy. He will trade your ashes for beauty. Every single hurt your endure will be stored up and returned to you a million-fold in heavenly bliss.
With that in mind, let us turn to the little theology of prayer Jesus offers here in John 16:
In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (vv.23-24)
Whenever we pray – or whenever we expect something from God – we face the clash of worldviews. Will we walk by sight — materialism – or walk by faith – true Christianity?
The key phrase in vv.23-24 is the repeated “in my name.”
Sometimes people treat this like magic words. “The reason you still suffer is because you don’t have enough faith.” Or “because you’re not praying hard enough.” Like we can add “In Jesus’ name” and get what we want. Like God is some kind of vending machine for our hopes and dreams. But the whole point of vv.23-24 – in fact the whole point of this entire passage – is that our hopes and dreams are not the point. The point is the glory of Jesus Christ!
When you ask anything “in the name of Jesus,” what that really means is that you want the name of Jesus to be magnified more than anything. And if that means the Father must say “no” to your requests – for healing, for comfort, for “stuff” – it means the no is better than the yes, if only the name of Christ is exalted. Whatever you want, Lord, we want! Whatever most brings you glory, Jesus, that’s what we want.
“Only one life, and soon will pass. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
The promise is that if you will align your purposes and ambitions and prayer requests with God’s purposes, you still may fail but he never will. And in the end, your sorrow will turn into joy.
So many of us have our hearts set on temporary happiness. And that’s fine as far that goes. You’d be weird if you only wanted to be sad all the time. You’d be abnormal if you enjoyed getting hurt! So pray for healing, pray for comfort, pray for things you need. But remember that true joy, which you can have despite your hurt, despite your trials, despite your poverty, despite your lack, can be had in any circumstance because you have Christ, who will never leave you nor forsake you.
He will never let you go.