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.

God Hears Us

1 John 5:14-15

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.

This passage has always intrigued me. For additional context, the passage is included in a list of “affirmations” that the Apostle John is sharing with his readers.  He is trying to build trust in God and His promises.  For example, Verse 13 reads: “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.”  Likewise in our passage, he encourages believers to pray (approach God) – asking according to HIS will.  John assures we can be confident that God hears us.

First of all, it should be amazing to us that God … the Creator of all that is seen and unseen – the entire universe … actually listens to our prayers.  Why would such a Being care about His creatures to even do so?  King David pondered the same question:

Psalm 8:3-4 (NIV)

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

Yet, David goes on to assert something quite incredible – God created us to have dominion over His works:

Psalm 8:5-6 (NIV)

You have made them (human beings) a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet:

It is clear from the whole of Scripture that God ordained for human beings to be an integral part of His creative order … for man to have dominion over the earth and everything in it … that man should rule (exercise our ordained authority) over creation with the same love and compassion for it as God Himself.  In other words, our unity and fellowship with God would be such that we as created beings would be “an extension” of God in His creation.  So it follows that God would desire us to communicate with Him and fellowship with Him in this relationship that He designed for us.  In the beginning, it was perfect communion … unity with God … until the first human beings allowed sin to desecrate and corrupt them.  Pride?  Exertion of self-will over the will of God? Disobedience?  Through all the above, we fell from the glory and honor God had bestowed upon us through the deceptive power and darkness of sin….  As Paul explained, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” (Cf. Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21) And as Paul affirmed, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Cf. Romans 3:23)

As we have previously noted in our studies, human beings MUST have a Savior.  We cannot save our selves.  We cannot redeem ourselves from our sin because we are incapable to offer a Holy God a perfect sacrifice to atone for our transgressions.  God did the only thing that could be done to reconcile and restore our fellowship with Him.  He offered a perfect Lamb … His Son, Jesus!  God did so because of His great love for us … not because we merited or deserved His kindness or mercy.  Paul makes this quite clear:

Ephesians 2:4-10 (NKJV)

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Father God would not allow His beloved creation … human beings … to continue in separation from Him.  No, His great love with which He loved us would not allow us to remain dead in our sin.  God sent His Son to redeem us … to restore us to true life and to accomplish the good works which God had already prepared for us to do.  He replaced a crown of thorns with a crown of glory and honor! “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ Jesus. And so through Him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:20) I believe this is why the Apostle John insists we can know that we have eternal life.  This is why John confirms that God hears our prayers.  And if God hears us … we know that we have what we asked of Him!

Jesus made an astonishing declaration right before He raised Lazarus from the dead:

John 11:38-42 (NIV)

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” He said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 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 … and a demonstration to us about the power of 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 Church; 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 that is the challenge for us!  That is the conundrum of prayer and the mystery of faith.  How do we ever truly know the will of God in a specific circumstance or situation?  To be honest, I’m not sure. 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.  In Deuteronomy 29:29 we read, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

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.  And we can do so through the study of His Word and the life of His Son, Christ Jesus.  Those are things we CAN do if we will take the time to do them….  To me, it follows, that increased wisdom will translate into prayers that resonate the will of God.  And ­when He hear us … we need to “receive” and embrace HIS answer to our prayers.  His answer will be in accordance with His will.  And I believe that we can fully trust that His will is always for our good.  His great love redeemed us.  His great love is for us! (Cf. Romans 8:31) 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.  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.  We just need to be attuned to how His will is being revealed….

One last thought or observation on this subject.  And I share this as a challenge to all of us who pray fervently for something in our lives.  Hebrews 5:7 reads, “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.  Notice that the Scripture here said Jesus was heard because of His reverent submission.  I believe there is a lesson for us here.  Being heard was predicated upon reverent submission.  If a person does not fear God … if a person does not believe Him … if a person does not submit themselves to the authority of the Creator over their life … I’m not inclined to think that their prayer is going to be heard.  God knows those who truly believe Him and reverence Him.  He knows those who love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Cf. Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37) You cannot fool God and think that He will hear or answer your prayers.

My point is that the key aspect of prayer is ultimately our relationship with God.  Ultimately, His will is for each of us to be in perfect fellowship with Him through our Lord Jesus Christ.  And that requires reverent submission! That requires humility … forsaking human pride and confessing our sins … and seeking reconciliation through Christ.  It reminds me of an often-quoted passage and I will end here:

2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV)

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 

If we want our prayers to be heard, we most certainly must ask according to His will.  And His will is for us is accomplished only through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ:

            Recognition of our sinful nature;

            Repentance for our transgressions;

            Redemption from the power of sin;

            Reconciliation to the Father;

            Relationship with the Father;

            Reverence for the Father

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Verse of the Day – 02/24/19

Jeremiah 29:11-13

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.

This passage has always been a favorite of mine – and I am sure many of you are quite familiar with it as well.  Like the “series” of verses we have reviewed the past few weeks, this one also reveals the great love of God for you and His concern for your life as well.  He knows YOU!  He knows the desires of your heart!  AND He longs for you…. Yes, God longs for a close relationship with you … a deep, personal relationship …  and He promises that you WILL find Him when you seek Him with all your heart.  God is delighted when you and I seek Him … when we call on Him … when we pray to Him.   AND God promises to listen to you.

This verse reminded me of a speech that the Apostle Paul made before the men of Athens when he spoke at the Areopagus (Mars Hill) near the Acropolis.  It is recorded in the Book of Acts, and I will share it here for your contemplation.  For indeed, Paul confirms that God desires us to seek Him … to reach out to Him … and to find Him … though He is ever present with us:

Acts 17:22-31 (NIV)

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. 24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Rather, God Himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man (Adam) God made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any one of us28 ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.’ (Here Paul is quoting the Cretan philosopher Epimenides) As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are His offspring.’ (Here Paul is quoting the Cilician Stoic philosopher Aratus) 29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For God has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed (the man Christ Jesus).  God has given proof of this to everyone by raising Him (Jesus) from the dead.”

I observed here how Paul used the cerebral contemplations of contemporary or well-known (well-read) philosophers to bring “Truth” into the forefront of his apologetics.  He implies that there is truth to be discovered even within the “ignorance” of these purveyors of human wisdom.  But Paul brings the wisdom of God into view … revealing how God desires us … how He longs for us … how He wants us to seek Him and find Him!  He is not an “unknown” God; rather, He is the Creator who has revealed Himself through His Word … and in these last days made Himself known through His Son!  (Cf. Hebrews 1:2) Jesus is the picture … the “selfie” of the love of God!  And He has brought you and I into the world at this time in history … at this place in history … in this specific community … in your specific family … for one purpose.  That purpose is to seek God … to reach out to Him … and to find Him.  EVERY CONTEXT in which you and I live and move and have our being – home, work, family, friends, church, community, etc. – has only one goal in the mind of God – that you and I would seek Him above all else.  Everything else in this life pales in comparison to abiding in God and He in us!  And everything else … outside of the body He gave you … is simply the context which He designed for us – and woven into the tapestry of plans He has for us – to accomplish this one goal – TO BRING YOU AND ME TO HIMSELF!

Why would God save us from darkness and bring us into His marvelous light (Cf. 1 Peter 2:9) if He did not love us and want a personal relationship with His created beings?  And if He loves us (and He does), why would He not have your best and my best life in His mind.  Yes, Father God has a plan and a purpose for each of us!.  And God has ordained His best life for each of us according to His own counsel, wisdom, and will … even if we cannot envision what He sees for our lives.  Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28 that we can readily and confidently know that God causes all things to work for the good of those who love Him, to those who have been called according to His purpose.” And in Romans 8:31 Paul asserts: “If God is FOR us, who can be against us?”  This is what faith is all about!  This is faith in its purest expression … that no matter what befalls us in this life … we place our full and complete trust in the living God.

O, how I pray that we will trust and rely on the love that God has for us. (Cf. 1 John 4:16) Help us to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that we might be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Cf. Ephesians 3:19).  Yes, I pray that God will fill us with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives. (Cf. Colossians 1:9) O Lord, increase our faith! Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!