Yes, I understand that sentiment! My feelings exactly. I have known very few that I would say were really good at talking to people about the Lord and getting them into a Bible study. For the first nine years I preached I watched my friend, Bernice Boyes, get Bible studies with people from every walk of life. Everyone was a contact. She would set up Bible studies with the person next to her in a grocery store line. She would switch hairdressers and get a bad haircut to obtain an opportunity. She hired young men to work in her yard, then fix them lunch and talk to them about the Lord while they ate. She converted the cable TV guy by starting a conversation over the lunch she fixed him after he finished the service call, then later taught his wife. She brought oranges from her trees and other goodies to neighbors just so she could make a connection. She spent every day calling and visiting people with whom she had crossed paths, then called me with a schedule of Bible studies she had set up for the week. Thousands upon thousands heard the gospel because of Bernice, and thousands more from those she had a part in bringing to Christ. (Bernice is now 102 and in a convalescent home.)
Now, where is another Bernice? Well, that’s rare, isn’t it? I watched her do it, but I don’t have a tenth of the abilities she had. So let’s admit it. Most of us aren’t very good at evangelism. Do you think the Lord knows that? Did the Lord actually ask us to do something we couldn’t do, or at the very least, feel like such failures? Well yes he did! However, there is something about this effort that we have usually missed; it was something Bernice never missed. Let me explain.
Whatever You Ask in My Name, I Will Do
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:12–14 ESV)
The context is Jesus telling the apostles of his impending departure. As we can well imagine, this was troubling for them. How would they continue the Lord’s work without the Lord with them? It was a blessing to hear that he would send the Spirit as “another Comforter/Helper.” But having the word revealed did not solve the challenge of getting the message to the whole world.
Notice in our text that Jesus began with the words, “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these he will do…” Jesus was not just referring to the apostles, but “whoever believes.” In fact, these would do greater works than Jesus. That’s odd, isn’t it? How could anyone, even the apostles, do greater works than Jesus? Jesus was not talking about miracles. No one did greater miracles than Jesus. The answer is similar to what Jesus said about John the Baptist:
“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11).
The way people in the kingdom are greater than John is similar to the way kingdom people do greater works than Jesus. We are involved with actually bringing people into the kingdom not just announcing or preparing the way for the kingdom. Notice also that Jesus said that these greater works would be done, “because I am going to the Father.” When Jesus went to the Father, he was enthroned as King and began the work of restoring his kingdom and building his church. The book of Acts alludes to this in the very first words: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach…” (Acts 1:1). What Jesus did on earth was only what he “began” to do. But Acts records what he continues to do as King. Luke repeatedly chronicled the spread of the gospel and the growth of the kingdom in words such as, “and the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). Men and women were sharing the gospel, but the reason for success was “the hand of the Lord.” That reason has never changed.
This leads us to the second part of our text. Can we really “ask anything” in Jesus’ name and he would do it? Could the apostles even ask anything and have Jesus do whatever they asked? That doesn’t seem to fit the rest of scripture. Paul asked for his “thorn” to be removed and the Lord did not remove it. To what is Jesus referring? There are two qualifiers in the text. First, “if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” To ask in Jesus’ name has to do with being within the will and purposes of God. John said it this way: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15). The context of John 14 has to do with disciples continuing the work of Jesus, fulfilling his will by spreading the gospel message. Jesus knew his followers would need help, and he is giving them permission to ask.
The second qualifier clarifies the point further: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” The Father is glorified when the world is brought to God through the work of Christ (see Isaiah 49:1-6). Therefore, as we go about offering the gospel message, the Lord will help us in whatever we need. Of course, Jesus is not going to override a person’s freewill, but he will help us in our efforts. This should not be surprising to us because of other texts where similar promises were made:
“Thus says the Lord God: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock. Like the flock for sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 36:37–38 ESV)
The Messiah’s people are prophetically encouraged to “ask” the Lord and he will increase their people like a flock. Do we believe that promise? Are we asking?
In John 15:7, in reference to a branch abiding in him and bearing much fruit, he said, “If my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Jesus will help us bear fruit. It is why we are connected to the Vine and the reason for the Vine imagery.
Even the Great Commission ends with the most important words of all: “and behold, I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
So are you bad at evangelism? Yes, I am too. So are most Christians. Doesn’t matter. God made us the perfect “clay jar,” fragile, breakable, and insignificant, to carry the gospel message, “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7).
So, are you asking?