Praying Boldly- I John 5: 14-21
- I remember those days following 9-11. Wednesday prayer meeting looked like Easter Sunday. Gina and I were living in Florida at the time, attending Indian Rocks Baptist Church. Our pastor, Charlie Martin, made this statement: in times of tragedy, people want someone to pray, call on God for help and they have a desire to give in order to help. We certainly saw that happen during those days, as on national television we heard renown men of God, such as Billy Graham praying for our country. The Red Cross in NYC, sent out an urgent requests to stop sending donations- as they had no more room to store them- they had enough. The truth is- there is a deep-seated instinct to call on God in times of trouble. That is why in times of trouble- God hears from a lot of strangers.
I believe in the power of prayer. I believe the enemy wants to keep us from praying effectively- for he knows the power of the One to whom we are praying. He will stop at nothing to distract us and will often have the phone ring during our time of prayer or cause our minds to wander or as he did on that fateful night in the garden when Jesus asked the disciples to pray- they could not keep their eyes open and fell asleep.
Yet in these very verses- John tells us we can have confidence when we pray. He is not the only one to tell us of this confidence. In Hebrews 4 we are told: let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of trouble. How do we have this boldness? We have boldness to enter into the holiest of holies by the blood of Jesus.. ( Hebrews 10:19)
Yet for all the power of prayer, for all the encouragement of God, Himself to call on Him- there remains a great puzzle. The puzzle is unanswered prayer. How do we get our prayers answered? So before we look at these two fundamental principles of prayer,let us consider some other truths regarding prayer.
The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. We also notice that we were told it was the custom of Jesus to get up early in the morning and get away to spend time alone with God. Listen carefully to the following scriptures- notice the promise and the conditions:
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 upon 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. ( Jeremiah 29: 11-13)
You do not have because you do not ask. When you ask ,you do not receive because you ask amiss( ask with the wrong motives.), that you might spend what you get on your pleasures.: ( James 4:3)
Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter into mourning and your joy into gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up. ( James 4:8-10)
But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.: (James 1:6)
Now let us consider what can hinder our prayers. Starting with the scriptures from Jeremiah we see the link between Gods plans for us- His will for us is found by prayer. God says to pray to Him and He will listen when you seek Him- not what you can get from Him- not His blessing but Him Alone. We also notice it must be with all our heart; half-hearted efforts will never work. Half-hearted efforts come from someone who is doubting, double-minded, and with an unsurrendered will. Why should God reveal His will to someone like that- who has not obeyed the will of God that has already been revealed to him or her?
James tells us we do not have our prayers answered for two reasons- we have not asked- prayerlessness, and we ask with wrong, selfish motives. He also tells us we cannot draw near to God until we have washed our hands and purified our hearts. We can enter boldly into the throne room- but we cannot ignore Gods Holiness. We must come with a cleansed heart that comes from godly repentance and sorrow. Jesus said to the Peter unless I wash you, you have no part with me. I can have no fellowship with you Jesus is saying to us when you have unconfessed sin in your life. I John 1 tells us if we confess our sins- He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
A word about entering boldly into the throne room- boldly does not mean casually. We are coming before Holy, Almighty God. We must enter into a time of cleansing using His Word and the Spirit to search our hearts and expose any area of sin that would hinder our prayers.
Now let us look at these two amazing verses so we may experience the same confidence that John had when he entered into prayer. For John- prayer was a sure thing. This is the confidence we have in HIM: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.. (I John 5:14-15, KJV)
This kind of certainty arises from the knowledge of two fundamental principles of prayer: the certainty of hearing , and the certainty of having. However note where or whom the confidence is in- God (Him)
The major reason for most unanswered prayer is they are not according to Gods will. John says we can be certain if we ask according to His will- God hears us. Which immediately makes it crystal clear prayer is not a way or method to get God to do our will. Why would we ever think we know better than God what we need.? Prayer is a will alignment. Not God aligning His will to ours- but our aligning our will to Gods. Ahayou exclaim. So for my prayers to be answered- they must be in Gods will. What does this mean about those requests I make when I am not sure if it is Gods will? Am I wrong to ask for something even if I am not sure if it is Gods will? No- absolutely not. Even our Lord Jesus in His prayer in the Garden asked His Father , IF it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will but as you will.
*Understand this very, very important truth: Prayer is a means of obtaining the will of God. We have His Word which reveals His will and His promises. We have a list of all the things He has given us- all the gifts for every good gift comes from Him. In fact, He has given us everything we need. We also have the Spirit who is our Helper in prayer.
So the principles are: to have our prayers answered they must be heard, to be certain they are heard they must be in Gods will. This means even when we are not sure of Gods will in regard to a specific request- we can make our request known, just as the Lord Jesus did with the understanding that what we desire is His will rather than ours. These two principles also mean- if we ask God to reveal His will to us- He will because this requests satisfies both of these principles. Hearing and having- the two are connected.
The primary goal of prayer is to gain the ear of God. That is the first and foremost step. If we desire to pray well- we must commit to study Gods word and store it in our hearts and minds. Jesus said- if you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you.:
The most complete teaching on prayer in one place is in Luke 11:1-14. For there in concise fashion the Lord responds to the disciples request to teach them to pray. His teaching focuses on three aspects of prayer: content, the principle of persistence and Gods faithfulness.
First, Jesus tells them to start in this manner: Our Father- this is a personal relationship with God. Which are in heaven- recognizing His ways are higher than our ways. Hallowed be thy name- praise and recognition of His Holiness. So in the very beginning- the Lord teaches us a relationship with God is the cornerstone of prayer and we enter His presence with praise for who He is- Holy.
Immediately following in Jesus outline for prayer is the purpose of prayer- for Gods will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Think about it- how is Gods will done in heaven? Immediately. Without question. In complete faith. More about Gods will later- but suffice it to say Gods will is expressed in His Word. We can ask Him for wisdom and according to James 1- God will give us wisdom liberally. But notice we are asking for knowledge of His will so that we might do it as the angels in heaven do. Are you asking God to reveal His will- so that you might consider your options? It must be because your intention is to obey His will.
Next we pray each day for daily provisions. But notice also the plural pronoun- us. This means we can intercede for others needs also. Keeping in mind if God has placed on your heart to pray for someone elses needs- He might intend also for you to supply them as He as supplied you.
Next comes forgiveness for our sins- confession. But also we must forgive those who sin against us. Forgiveness is another important cornerstone in prayer. We are also told in scriptures to be on guard at all times for our enemy goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Jesus instructed us- to watch and pray lest we fall into temptation. So in asking Him to lead us not into temptation, we are watching and praying lest we fall.
Gods will falls into two categories: Gods Moral Will, which is expressed in His Commandments. The dos and donts. Gods Personal Will for my life. His agenda and plans for me according to Jeremiah 29:12.
How do we discover Gods will? Prayer and searching His Word. Why doesnt he make it plain to me? Well this deals with the second part of Jesus teaching in Luke 11- persistence. One thing you need to know about God is He is more interested in revealing Himself that simply revealing His will for us. Hebrews 11:6 addresses this: Without faith it is impossible to please God and those who come to Him must believe that He is, and a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. God wants to be involved in our lives like any loving parent in the most intimate details. He wants a personal relationship that revolves around faith and trust. Sometimes we find ourselves in desperate situations because we made decisions without consulting our Heavenly Father. Then we find ourselves in a mess like the prodigal son and come to our senses and remember our Father who loves us unconditionally and wants only the best for us. In fact the parable Jesus gives about the neighbor seeking bread for a visitor is about how if a man will get up and do what someone else desires because of their persistence- how much more will a faithful God do. Ask- Jesus says and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives; he who seeks- finds, and to him who knocks,the door will be opened. Amazing, isnt it? God says ask of me call on me. He urges us to come to Him. The persistence will be rewarded. Our knocking will get His attention.
The principle of discovering Gods will is all about our personal relationship with Him. Every time we go through a crisis of decision making and discovering His will in a given situation- we come away with a deeper relationship with our Heavenly Father. Our faith has grown- our love for Him has become even more intimate and we are never the same again. Here are three markers that help us line up with Gods will that Charles Stanley gave as an illustration. Approaching a harbor in a cruise ship, the captain told Dr. Stanley the water was only deep enough in a certain area to allow the ship to enter harbor safely. There were three channel markers which guided the boat the captain said he must line up with in order to safely dock the ship. Dr. Stanley saw the illustration as three channel markers we must line up to know Gods will in any given situation:
- Gods Word which reveals His Moral Will. The dos and donts. The shalls and shall nots. John 14:21 , Jesus tells us: He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest(reveal) myself to him. BOTTOM LINE: You and I will have trouble discerning Gods personal will for our lives if we violate His moral will.
- The Principles of Gods Word. The difference between Gods Moral will and His principles is: His moral will is a clear commandment: thou shall not steal, murder, lie, commit adultery. His principles are like equations . Follow this principle and you will get this result. Sowing and reaping. They provide guidelines for decision making. This is why we must study the word of God for when we need to make decisions. Whenever there is not a clear commandment expressed in Gods commandments there will be a principle that will guide us.
- The third marker is wisdom. James told us wisdom is ours for the asking. God says ask me for wisdom and I will give it generously. Ephesians 5:15 states: See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise. Ask yourself what is the wise thing to do in light of my present circumstances? Past experience? Future goals? Also seek wise counsel from godly sources.
How does God answer our prayers? In four ways: Yes, No, Wait and My Grace is sufficient.
Let face it we love YES- dont we? It is so wonderful. But we are puzzled sometimes with the NO and perhaps confused and wonder if it just needs persistence and I am to wait. I have discovered- if my request is specific- His answer is specific. However- if after a season I lose my desire to continue or persist in that request- then I have accepted and moved on realizing ( as if I should ever forget) that Gods wisdom is infinite and He knows what is best. It is as if- the Spirit who prays for me, who groans inwardly when I do not know how to pray has revealed to me- move on.
Waiting is not something most of us enjoy doing, is it? Yet we know patience has an important role in developing and maturing our faith. Impatience can be viewed as an indication of immaturity. Impatience has caused many to make unwise decisions- financially, emotionally and in many areas of our lives.
*Sometimes what we thought was a no- later becomes a yes after a season of waiting. The announcement of the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah came long after I believe he thought the answer was NO. For he questioned the angel and said how can I be sure? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.
My grace is sufficient was the answer Paul received when he asked the Lord three times to remove a thorn in the flesh a weakness that Paul felt left him in a weakened condition. We are not sure what the thorn was- but evidently Paul thought he would be more effective- stronger if this affliction was removed. The Lord said I have a better solution- lets keep the thorn in your flesh- lets keep this affliction. Why? For my grace is sufficient for you, and my power is made perfect in weakness. Do you get this? Paul did. You see-HUMAN WEAKNESS PROVIDES THE IDEAL OPPORTUNITY FOR THE DISPLAY OF DIVINE POWER. Paul got it- that is why he said he would delight in his weakness- for when he was weak , the he was strong. This is an important truth and principle we must understand as Paul understood.
Hopefully and prayerfully this will encourage you to pray for it is God Himself who says over and overASK OF ME—- CALL ON ME—COME TO ME..
John closes his letter with a comment about sin that leads to death which has been the source of great speculation. I cannot find a specific sin that leads to death- physical death. We know the unforgivable sin is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. We also know that physical death entered the world through sin- for the wages of sin is death. In looking at scripture we see in the Old Testament and New incidents of immediate death as a result of sin. Achan in the OT and Ananias and Sapphira in the NT. This was swift and immediate judgment by God. I believe we could build a case for premature death based on continuous lifestyle of sin based on a life of sinful decadence that destroys ones health and causes them to not live a full life.
In verse 18- John says anyone born of God does not continue to sin. If a person who has been born again continues to live the same sinful lifestyle as before- without change, one can question their conversion . For clearly one of the birthmarks is we are new creatures- there is a change that has come into our lives since Jesus came into our lives.
John closes with some good advice. Keep yourselves from idols. Anything that takes Gods place or comes between you and God is an idol.