1 John 5:14-15 (NIV)
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him.
Our Verse of the Day has always intrigued me. It is thought provoking when we consider the question of our prayers being answered by God. Here, John seems to indicate that we can have “whatever we ask” of God in prayer. But if you are like me, it seems that is not always the case in our personal experiences with prayer. God does not always give us exactly what we have asked of Him or answered our prayers in the way we believe He should. There are people that have lost battles with physical illness; people who have experienced separations and broken relationships; people who have suffered devastation or deprivation due to forces of nature; and people who have found themselves in financial distress through the loss of employment. The scenarios of human suffering and experience that we pray for God to spare us or our loved ones is quite diverse; yet, we see them occur even though we have diligently prayed for different outcomes. So, is John being dishonest? Is his assertion contradictory? Does God really hear our prayers? These are understandable questions in light of what we see happening in our human experience in this world.
There is a similar passage recorded in the Gospel of John that can be equally difficult to interpret. Here, Jesus seems to indicate that we can “ask for anything in His name, and He will do it.” I have reprinted the passage here for our reference and further discussion:
John 14:11-14 (NIV)
11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
Closer examination of the passage from 1 John 5:14-15 might help us better discern what John is affirming about our time in prayer before God. Verse 14 is the key: “If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Yes, therein lies the conundrum of our prayers. Sometimes the answers are simply not what we want them to be. Yet, I assure you the outcomes will be what God in His omniscience and sovereignty … in His compassion and love … knows are the best, ultimate outcomes. We are simply not able to see or understand what God already knows and purposes when we pray or intercede for others and their situations.
Likewise, with the statements Jesus made as recorded in John 14, I believe Verse 12 sheds some insight on Verses 13 and 14. The context is focused on “works” … the works which lead people to believe in Jesus and afford creditability to His messianic claims. I think the point of His teaching is to ask Him to empower us to do the works He has been doing. Such works serve to confirm the Word of God; to confirm that Jesus is Lord and Savior; to assure that the Father may be glorified in the Son. I sense that this is the context of His statement in these verses.
Jesus made an astonishing declaration right before He raised Lazarus from the dead:
John 11:40-42 (NIV)
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So, they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
Jesus knew that God heard Him … and knew that He would receive what He had asked in prayer. What a confirmation to us that God hears prayer. Yet, the reality we often experience is that we do not receive what we asked of God. What is the difference? Does God have selective hearing? Why is John so confident that God hears our prayers and that we can know that we have what we asked of Him? We pray, and yet, loved ones die of cancer; couples remain childless; children leave the faith; chronic illness continues unabated…. Why does God not answer our prayers the way we want Him to … the way we think He should?
John said God hears us when we ask anything according to His will … not our will. And therein is the challenge for us! How do we ever truly know the will of God in a specific circumstance or situation? In Isaiah 55:8-10 we read, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” So, we have to understand that issue and seek the mind of God. And Paul affirms that we can utilize the intercessory power of the Holy Spirit in this regard:
Romans 8:26-29 (NIV)
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.
So maybe we should consider that in order to pray and ask according to the will of God the Father, we need to grow in the knowledge of His “revealed” will. We can do so through the study of His Word and the life of Jesus. And we have to consider that we may not always see how God works and orchestrates in another person’s life to “work” His will for their good when answering our prayers. In other words, God IS answering the prayers offered up in faith; but He is doing so in His way and on His timetable according to His own purpose and grace. (Cf. Romans 8:28; Philippians 2:13; 2 Timothy 1:9-10) I just think we have to realize, and ultimately trust, that God does hear us and does answer us according to His will.
Additional Scriptures for Consideration:
Isaiah 59:1-2 (NIV)
Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.
James 4:1-3 (NASB)
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You desire (lust) and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
I will close with some final thoughts from Paul: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Cf. Romans 12:12) Yes, we are to “rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) My friends, it is clear that our Lord Jesus wants us to spend intimate time with Him through prayer … asking bold things and being conformed to His image. Indeed, if we ask anything according to His Will, He hears us. So, I hope this review has stimulated some thought regarding your views and expectations of prayer. Perhaps it has given you some additional insight and encouragement on how we should view prayer as a spiritual discipline designed to align ourselves with God’s will.
So Now You Know…
Have a Blessed Day!
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Son though He was, Jesus learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him. ~ Hebrews 5:7-9