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.

A Taxing Situation

Romans 13:6-7 (NIV)

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

I’m pretty sure this verse comes around on Income Tax Day each year…. While none of us really like paying taxes (and there are too many to count); taxes are quite necessary for the functioning of our society.  And understanding the necessity of taxes to fund needs for the common good and welfare, probably none of resent taxation itself. Yet, I believe our disgruntlement and frustration stems from how our tax dollars are allocated or spent. My personal criticism is how I feel tax resources are wasted by our government. Nevertheless, let’s look at our verse in the surrounding context and similar passages with this theme in mind:

Romans 13:1-8 (NIV)

1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Thus, we are to submit to the authorities over us. This has been a principle for the people of God since the time of judges and kings being appointed over the people of God … and different forms of government have been forged over the millennia of history:

Ecclesiastes 8:2-6 (NKJV)

say, “Keep the king’s command for the sake of your oath to God. Do not be hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand for an evil thing, for he does whatever pleases him.” Where the word of the king is supreme; and who may say to him, “What are you doing?” He who keeps his command will experience nothing harmful; and a wise man’s heart discerns both time and judgment, because for every matter there is a time and judgment, although the misery of man is great upon him.

Titus 3:1-3 (NIV)

1 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 

Yet, we find that even kings and government authorities can abuse their roles and fail to fulfill their appointments by God:

Isaiah 10:1-4 (NASB)

Woe to those who enact evil statutes and to those who constantly record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice and rob the poor of My people of their rights; so that widows may be their spoil and that they may plunder the orphans. Now what will you do in the day of punishment, and in the devastation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help?
And where will you leave your glory or wealth? Nothing remains but to crouch among the captives or fall among the slain. In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away and His hand is still stretched out.

And there can be conflict when we disagree with those authorities.  Here is an example that illustrates that tension:

Acts 4:18-22 (NIV)

18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.

So where does this leave us?  What is the application?

1 Peter 2:11-17 (NKJV)

11 Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from sinful desires which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. 13 Therefore submit yourselves to every human authority for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— 16 Live as free people, yet not using liberty as a cover-up for evil, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

1 Timothy 2:1-4 (NIV)

1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

So, today, Father, I lift up and pray for all those in authority over us.  I pray that they will seek You, O God, for wisdom and understanding … to make laws and regulations that will conform to Your will for all people … that honor and protect widows and orphans … that will not oppress the poor … that will preserve the sanctity of life You have given … that will honor Your Word in all truth.  Protect and bless those in government who administrate your will for the peace and well-being of your people.  Rebuke, correct, and disciple those authorities who do evil in your sight and do not uphold Your Word.  May Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven through those You have appointed to govern over us.  And, Father, in all things, may we conduct ourselves in a manner that honors and glorifies You and Your Name … that we might expose darkness and bring light and hope to those around us.  In Your Name I pray.  Amen.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!