Did Jesus promise us that whatever we ask Him in prayer, He would grant us with no strings attached?

Didn't Jesus say the following?

Matthew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Matthew 21:21, 22 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

John 15:7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Matthew 18:19, 20 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Wow! What amazing promises. Do you feel like going right away and make a long shopping list? Do you know that two of Jesus' disciples were paying close attention to these words of Jesus. They thought they understood what Jesus meant and with great boldness (we might prefer to call it faith) went to Jesus with a very pious, heavenly request. We read about this in Mark 10: 35-40

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

In Matthew 20:20 we also read that it was not just James and John but they even got their mother to join them in prayer. Their prayer appeared perfect. In fact they didn't want to take a chance at Jesus' words. In Matthew 7:7 Jesus used the word everyone meaning any single person can make his request in prayer and it will be granted. In Matthew 18:19, Jesus said that if two agreed on their request, it would be granted. But then Jesus added that "where two or three are gathered". They didn't want to take their chances. They made sure there were three of them making the request in compete agreement, so that their request met all the criteria. But to their shock Jesus denied their request. Jesus even mentioned that those places were not even available to be requested. Doesn't Jesus' response seem contradictory to all that He had said about prayer? In fact even today there are many who intrepret Jesus' words on prayer just the way James, John and their mother interpreted. They think they can bend the will of God by their prayer.

James having learned this important lesson about prayer elaborates on it in James 4: 1-6.

Do you know where your fights and arguments come from? They come from the selfish desires that war within you. You want things, but you do not have them. So you are ready to kill and are jealous of other people, but you still cannot get what you want. So you argue and fight. You do not get what you want, because you do not ask God. Or when you ask, you do not receive because the reason you ask is wrong. You want things so you can use them for your own pleasures. So, you are not loyal to God! You should know that loving the world is the same as hating God. Anyone who wants to be a friend of the world becomes God’s enemy. Do you think the Scripture means nothing that says, “The Spirit that God made to live in us wants us for himself alone”? But God gives us even more grace, as the Scripture says, “God is against the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.”

Did you get it? James tells us that when he and his brother made that request that day, they were selfish and wordy though their request seemed to be heavenly. Their desire seemed spiritual but actually it was carnal. The end result was that they did not receive what they asked for. What does he talk about next? He talks about grace. What is the connection of grace to this topic of prayer. He says that God gives grace. Wait a minute! I thought God is my servant waiting to do my bidding and would do exactly what I ask for because He said He would. Didn't Jesus Himself say those words? James and John understood the true meaning of what Jesus said about prayer after that disastrous first prayer and now concludes that God always answers our prayers but always with grace. What does that mean?, I hear you ask. If a baby asks you for a knife, you would not heed to the baby's request. This is because you know better than the baby and you are sparing the baby and many others from something very tragic. That's exactly how Jesus responded to James and John. He said you have no idea what you are requesting and I am not going to grant you your request. In denying the request, Jesus showed them grace.

In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, we read about Paul's prayer. He desired a specific answer but that was denied but instead God's grace was given him. Paul realized that God had a purpose for giving him the thorn and in answer to his prayer gave him grace to bear it. Also note that Paul uses the word weakness here. James writes the same thing. He says that the purpose of prayer is actually to make us humble and to experience God's grace just like it made Paul weak but also made him experience God's grace.

Please read all these verses carefully and God would speak to you about the true meaning of Jesus' words about prayer. If we don't we would end up praying like James and John and that would only cause envy, lust, covetousness, fighting, jealousy and sinfulness in our lives.