You've heard the old cliché .... and perhaps you've said it yourself. Someone expresses a desire, such as, "I wish I had a different job!" or "I wish my kids wouldn't make so much noise!" And someone else says, with a smile or a look of concern, "Be careful what you ask for!" (Sometimes this is expressed as, "Be careful what you wish for!") What they mean is, "What if you got a job that was even worse?" Or, "What if something happened to your kids?" Sometimes, the statement is thought-provoking; sometimes, it's just someone's attempt to sound wise. It can be a very valid suggestion, but usually it's just a cliché: another way of saying, "Cheer up! Things could be worse!"
The statement is heard (and repeated) by born-again Christians, too. But the question of the day is: Should it be? Should a Christian be careful what he or she asks for .... really asks for, in prayer?
We're not talking about the basic mechanisms of prayer itself. Of course our prayers should always be reverent, sincere, and as spontaneous as a child talking to his or her Father: because, if you've received Christ according to John 1:12, that's exactly what you are. We're considering the very specific question: Should a Christian be careful what he or she asks for? Can our prayers "backfire" on us?
The Enemy, Satan, will always tell us that we should "be careful." Whenever we pray, really pray, the Enemy will make it His business to try and frustrate and discourage us, and get us to quit. This has happened in my own life. I've prayed, for example: "Lord, this migraine is killing me! Could you please give me some relief?" And a silent, insidious voice has whispered, "Be careful what you ask for. God might give you a brain tumor instead, without any pain at all!" That was not the voice of the Holy Spirit! A woman might ask, "Lord, my husband just won't stop nagging me about sex. I try to meet his needs, but he's just so demanding...." And she might hear that same silent voice say, "Be careful what you ask for. He might go elsewhere to meet his needs!" Again, if the woman is trying to be a good wife, that is not the voice of God's Spirit speaking to her! That's the Enemy, trying to stop us from praying ... and, even worse, trying to make us fear God in the wrong way: fear that He might do something just to spite us. He's been doing it ever since he tempted Eve. It's nothing new.
The English poet and hymn writer William Cowper famously said, "Satan trembles, when he sees the weakest Saint upon his knees." That's a great line, but whether the Enemy trembles or not, he gets busy. When a Christian goes to the Father in prayer, the Enemy is right there by his or her side, whispering, scoffing, and, most of all, distracting: he wants to stop our prayers, and make them ineffectual. One way he does this is by saying, "Be careful what you ask for!" You can practically hear him sneering.
But what does God say?
When someone says, "Be careful what you ask for," God says: Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6, 7). God doesn't want us to be timid or uncertain when we pray; He wants to hear the deepest, most sincere longings of our hearts, the most baffling questions in our minds, the simplest requests for our everyday concerns. He doesn't want us to address Him as a "buddy," or a golfing companion, or "one of the boys;" but neither does He want us to be afraid to approach Him, honestly and without fear. He's our Father. He loves us. And He wants us to be open and honest with Him, with no timidity and no fear. If any kind of prayer makes the Enemy tremble, it's that kind: but the object is not to outwit the Enemy, but to communicate with our Father.
(Unfortunately, if you're using one of the "modern translations," your Bible doesn't say Be careful for nothing. Apparently, the modern "translators" thought that concept was too "archaic," so they've all substituted "Be anxious for nothing" or "Don't worry about anything" or, so help me, "Don't fret." Those are nice thoughts, but that's not what God said. Only the King James Bible gives us the perfect reply to "Be careful!")
After all, why should we "be careful" about what we ask God? Has He commanded us to tiptoe up to Him, wringing our hands, and clear our throats, like Oliver Twist asking for more gruel? Hardly! If anything, He's said quite the opposite. If you've been born again, according to John 3:3-7, and are a child of God, you have your Father's instructions: Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). What an adverb: boldly!
And why can we do that? The preceding verses in Hebrews tell us: Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). Satan may seek to interrupt our prayers, but he's no competition for the Lord Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, Who prays for us and with us. And when we talk to God about our concerns and even our temptations, Jesus understands, because He's been down here on the ground, and He understands our every circumstance.
What more could we ask? God might not answer all of our prayers in a visible way, or in the way we'd hoped, but if I'm in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:1), and Christ is in me (Colossians 1:27), then I can pray about anything, and God's not going to get mad at me or laugh at me or brush me aside.
And if that weren't enough, when we can't even put our cares or concerns or desires into words, we have the Holy Spirit of God inside our bodies, helping us to pray, even when we don't know the "right" words: Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26, 27).When we come to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are right there with us!
(Note: I'm not talking about anything weird or spooky here, and I'm certainly not talking about "praying in tongues." God is as practical as He is powerful, and He's arranged things perfectly for the Christian who really seeks His Face.)
There's just one "catch." These promises of access to God, and the assistance of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, are not given to unbelievers. If you've never received Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour, by an act of the will, in a moment of time, Jesus is not praying for you. You can still pray; most people do, from time to time, and sometimes God answers. But He's not obligated to. In His great High Priestly prayer, the night before He was crucified, Jesus said:, speaking of His disciples and followers: I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are (John 17:9-11). Think about that: this may be the most intimate and sacred glimpse of the Saviour in the Bible. This is the Son speaking directly to His Father, and He specifically says that He's not praying for unbelievers, who are still "in the world."
But if you're still "in the world," if you've never received Christ, you can do it today, by receiving Him, by praying to Him, in your own words, for forgiveness and salvation. Your new life in Christ, and your access to the Father, can begin right now - - - if you're willing to trust Him.
What promises! What a Saviour!