Parameters of Prayer…

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. ~ 1 John 5:14-15

We have been talking about being faithful in prayer; and this verse reviews some appropriate parameters of prayer….

First of all, we need to realize that asking God for anything must certainly be aligned with His will. For why would God grant anything that is contrary to His will and desire for us?  Think about that for a moment.  He allows or permits us to have thoughts and to conduct ourselves against His leading, guidance, and the precepts of His Word.  But if we ask Him to do so in prayer, it is not something that He will grant us.  No, John tells us that we must ask according to His will and He will hear us….

Therein lies the challenge for us.  If we want to know if our prayers will be answered … if we want to have confidence when approaching God in prayer … the key will be to know His will!  This means we need to have an understanding of what the will of God might be in order to have confidence that we will receive what we ask.  So some thoughts arise here as I mediate on this verse.  When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, we learn that God is to be approached with reverence and to acknowledge His authority over heaven and earth:

Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)

“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

Luke 11:1-4 (NIV)

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Our Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’”

What is the difference between “your kingdom come” and “your will be done?”  Is not His kingdom … His sovereign rule in accordance with His will? I sense that asking for His kingdom to come so that His will is done is the point … the application. The kingdom of God must first come to our hearts in order for our thoughts to be changed so that our behaviors (conduct) will change. We know Jesus as Savior but we know Jesus as Lord also.  We must surrender all to Jesus if we are to ever to know His will and to ask according to it.  So what John shared is consistent with what Jesus taught….  Paul weighs in on this point as well; explaining that the intercessory prayer of the Spirit is in accordance with the will of God.

Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)

26 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. 27 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.

So what would be some examples of approaching God according to His will?  Do we have anything explicit in the Word of God to guide us in prayer according to His will?  Well, the Bible is filled with the will of God – expressed as His commandments, statutes, ordinances, and precepts. And we know that with the law comes the knowledge of sin (Cf. Romans 3:20) because sin is the transgression of God’s law by definition. (Cf. 1 John 3:4) Paul reasoned that whatever is not of faith is sin. (Cf. Romans 14:23) So when we sin, we are not acting in accordance with the will of God.  Thus, God will not answer a prayer that leads to sin; rather, His desire is for our obedience … our holiness.

2 Peter 3:8-9 (NIV)

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not willing that any should perish, but that everyone should come to repentance.

John 6:29 (NIV)

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.”

John 6:40 (NIV)

For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 (NIV)

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorablenot in passionate lust like the unbelievers, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you His Holy Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 (NIV)

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 

1 Peter 2:15-16 (NRSV)

15 For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. 16 As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.

So, I am confident that anyone who prays to be obedient … to repent and believe in His Son … to receive salvation through Jesus will receive answered prayer.  I am sure that anyone who prays for sanctification will experience that process in their heart. I am certain that God receives our thanksgiving and praise in prayer. And I believe when you pray to do the right thing, God will hear you.  But what about prayers and requests that are improper … even asking in opposition to the will of God?  The Apostle James addressed this matter when he wrote:

James 4:1-4 (NASB)

1 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 pleasuresYou adulterous people, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

It is probable that if we ask anything according to our own will, God will not be inclined to hear.  Unless our personal will conforms to the revealed will of God, John indicates that God will not hear that prayer. Silence is the response … the answer.  Indeed, James indicates that prayers focused on ourselves or our worldly passions are in opposition to God and offensive to Him.  He compares such prayers to infidelity and unfaithfulness.  The Prophet Isaiah makes similar commentary:

Isaiah 59:1-3 (NIV)

1 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. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wickedness.

So what is the application here?  Confidence in prayer stems from confidence in faith! Anyone who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. (Cf. Hebrews 11:6) We cannot be double-minded or waiver when we approach God in prayer. James gives us this admonition: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”(Cf. James 1:5-8) Likewise, James instructed: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

As we can see, doubt or unbelief can be as great a hindrance to prayer as any other sin.  So, trusting God at His Word … asking according to His Will … and believing you have what you ask are great steps to take when it comes to prayer. This is what Jesus taught as well: “So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. 24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.  Indeed, our prayers will be heard when we position ourselves within these parameters of prayer that God has revealed to us.  And I hope this study will encourage you in your prayer time.  Be bold and courageous … and believe!    

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

1 John 5

Faith in the Incarnate Son of God

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Concluding Affirmations

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

16 If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. 19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

The Spirit God Gave Us

2 Timothy 1:7

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

This verse has come up a couple of times during my prayer times this week.  So the subject of spiritual empowerment appears to be something that I, perhaps we, need to think about more deeply….

That we are spiritual creatures is evident from Scripture.  King Solomon wrote: Remember your Creator before the silver cord is removed, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the well. Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. (Cf. Ecclesiastes 12:6-7) The Prophet Daniel wrote: “I, Daniel, was grieved in my spirit within my body, and the visions of my head troubled me. (Cf. Daniel 7:15) And Paul affirmed the nature of our beings when he wrote: “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (Cf. 1 Corinthians 6:20) And, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spiritsoul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23)

So, there is an aspect of our existence that is spiritual. The spirit we have been given by God is the “life force” of our bodies and our souls; and therefore, determines and guides the course of our lives. Since we are created in the image of God (Cf. Genesis 1:27), our beings reflect His Being.  Our spirits operate or function in the same manner as the Spirit of God; and this will manifest through our physical lives.  Perhaps, this is why both John and Paul spent a great deal of time teaching about the Holy Spirit and His work in and through our lives.  Paul, in particular, addressed the infilling of the Holy Spirit and His administration of spiritual gifts to equip and build up the Body of Christ … the Church.  You can read a portion of His teaching on the subject in 1 Corinthians 12.

Anyway, this verse has stirred my thoughts regarding the work of the Holy Spirit within my own life.  And I love the focus it brings upon the power we have been GIVEN.  The Holy Spirit does NOT make us timid; rather, He GIVES us courage.  He GIVES us confidence.  He GIVES us boldness and tenacity.  We do not have to remain in weakness or uncertainty of faith at all.  Peter shared, “His divine power has granted to us ALL things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3) Paul indicated that the weapons of our warfare (to battle sin and evil) are NOT of the flesh (that is, not within our physical natures) but have divine power to destroy strongholds. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 10:4) So divine power is what the Holy Spirit has given us in order to live as Jesus did. (Cf. 1 John 2:6)

Notice the Holy Spirit GIVES us love. Indeed, He fills us with the everlasting love of God. So it follows that we have been given divine power to love as we have been loved by God … to fulfill His command to love others with the same love we ourselves have experienced in Christ Jesus. In addition, the Holy Spirit GIVES us divine power to exercise self-discipline or self-control. To me this means we have power over our bodies … power over our emotions … power over our tongues … power over temptation.  And I believe this power is closely connected to the command to love.  For how can we sincerely love others if we disrespect, dishonor, violate or abuse them through the uncontrolled impulses of our sinful nature.  If our hearts are not changed by the Spirit of God, the inclinations of our sinful nature will be unabated…. Thus, His indwelling Spirit gives us power to have a renewed mind and to exercise self-control in order to love one another.

Indeed … power, love, and self-discipline … are a tri-fold manifestation of the Holy Spirit within your life and mine.  And the key point here is that God GAVE us His Spirit for this unified purpose. God did not give us power over others to dominate them; rather, He gave us power to love and serve one another … to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice. (Cf. Romans 12:1) He did not give us power to do as we please; rather, He gives us the power needed to exert self-control and to exhibit holiness.  We should not be timid or afraid to utilize the power He gave us.  On the contrary, His power should give us confidence, courage, and boldness to become all that God desires for us to be as beings created in His image.  It is clear that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit. (Cf. Luke 4:1, Luke 10:21) And His disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. (Cf. Acts 2:4, Acts 4:8, Acts 4:31, Acts 9:17, Acts 13:52) It follows that we, too, are to be filled with the Holy Spirit….

Jesus spoke about the “gift” of the Holy Spirit … and that He would be sent to us. Jesus spoke about the work and role of the Holy Spirit … as an Advocate for us … as the Spirit of Truth.

John 14:15-20 (NIV)

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate (comforter) to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be (is) in you18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

John 14:25-27 (NIV)

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 15:26-27 (NIV)

26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of Truth who goes out from the Father—He will testify about me27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

John 16:7-15 (NIV)

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. 12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come14 He will glorify me because it is from me that He will receive what He will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what He will make known to you.”

Acts 1:4-8 (NIV)

4  And being assembled together with them, Jesus commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

When we examine what Jesus taught about the Holy Spirit, we learn He is the Spirit of Truth, and He will guide us into all the truth. His purpose is to “help” us, and He will be with us forever.  We will “know” Him because He will indwell us.  His role is to “teach us all things” and to “remind us of everything” Jesus said.  The Holy Spirit will testify of Jesus and convict the world of who He is.  He will speak only what He hears … and share it with us.  We shall receive divine power through Him.  And this power shall enable us to be witnesses!  Indeed, everything we do and everything we speak should be a testimony of the grace of God given to us through faith in Jesus Christ.  So remember that every work … every gift of the Holy Spirit is for the exaltation of Jesus and the edification of His Body … the Church.  For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. Amen.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!