1 John 5:14 // And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.
In 1 John 5:13, we see that those who believe in Jesus can have confidence that eternal life is theirs. The next step that John is calling us to — if we have assurance of our salvation — is to a firm belief in the power of prayer; in the fact that God does hear your prayer. It makes sense that this follows assurance of salvation. Look at what Pauls says in Romans.
Romans 8:32 // He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
If you are confident that Christ is yours, if you know without a doubt that you have been the recipient of an unspeakable gift in Christ, then you can have confidence that when you come to the Father and ask anything according to his will he hears you. God has already met your greatest need in Christ. How will he not also with him graciously give us all things? He has done the greater, why would he fail to do the lesser? So the question we need to ask then is: What does it mean to ask something “according to his will?”
Let me give you a few examples of what this does not mean first — ways that we often think wrongly about praying according to God’s will.
Sometimes it is easy to think about prayer like a magic wand. There is something we want done, a situation in our life that is less than ideal. Perhaps we are perplexed for a while but then we remember, “Ahh . . . I have this magic wand — it’s called prayer.” And if I say the right words with the right amount of passion, and direct them at the right object, then “boom” something crazy is going to happen. And when we see or hear someone who doesn’t pray using the words that we think they are supposed to we think, “Psh… if you knew how to talk to God, maybe he would answer your prayers.” We go all “Harmony Granger” on people and start critiquing the way people pray — it’s Levi-O-sa, not Levi-o-SA.
But prayer is not a magic wand, that’s what wizards use to get what they want. Asking according to God’s will doesn’t mean making sure you say the right words, with the right amount of passion, pointed at the right object.
GENIE IN A LAMP
Sometimes it’s easy to think about prayer like a genie in a lamp. “You get three wishes. Don’t waste them.” But God is more than a genie who is there to grant us three wishes. He is our Father who wants to have a relationship with us. We don’t just come to God when we have some wish that we want him to grant.
What about this one? Have you ever treated God like a gumball machine in prayer? “Lord, I did my devotions today, would you please help Billy to like me . . . in Jesus’ name.” “I witnessed to a friend today, can you help me to do well on my test today . . . in Jesus’ name.” “Lord, you know that I am faithful to you and super involved in my church, can you tell me where I should go to college . . . in Jesus’ name.” And, it can be so easy to come to God with the long list of things that we’ve done thinking that now God owes me one. And even if we don’t say it out loud we can become frustrated or disillusioned when God doesn’t appear to be answering our prayers because I put something in the machine and I deserve to get something back.
Maybe you treat God’s will like a target in prayer? Have you ever thought about praying like trying to hit the bullseye on a target? As if the only way that God will answer prayer is if you guess correctly the thing that He wants you to pray for. As if God is up in heaven listening to you sharing your requests, ignoring all of your requests until you get to one He likes. When you get to one He likes, He says, “Ahh… I see halfway down the page on your prayer sheet for Tuesday that you asked for such and such. Well, I am glad you asked.”
The problem is that when this is the way we think about prayer it causes us to come to God apologetically. And the moment that we come to the Lord with a bigger request we tack onto the end of our prayer, “But Lord only if it’s your will,” and before we have even waited expectantly for God to act on our behalf we are giving him an excuse answering our prayer, “Lord we know that this might not be your will and so if you decide not to do it that fine too and so just do your will.” Rather than praying with confidence and coming to God with boldness, we pray apologetically and don’t really expect God to act because more than likely our request isn’t on God’s agenda for the day and perhaps we will try again tomorrow to hit the target. Have you been there? I have.
ACCORDING TO GOD’S WILL
So if asking according to God’s will doesn’t mean treating prayer like a magic wand, genie’s lamp, gumball machine, or target, then what does it mean? Well, in chapter 3 John also talked about prayer using similar language.
1 John 3:19-22 // By this, we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us [there is the same idea of assurance before God], God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him [why?] because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him…Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God and God in him.
Now it might be easy to read these verses and think, “Oh great! I’ve got it prayer isn’t like a gumball machine it is like a math problem. Keeping his commandments equals getting whatever we ask from God.” But if that is your conclusion, you’re missing John’s entire point. Notice that John says, “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God and God in him.” In John’s gospel, we see almost the exact same language used when Jesus is talking about prayer.
John 15:7, 10 // If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
The point John wants to make is this: Asking according to God’s will is actually connected to abiding in him, which means living in obedience to God and his word, primarily shown through loving God and loving others.
Throughout Scripture, we see this idea that praying the will of God is more about your heart’s posture before God than the prayer you bring to God. It is more about your relationship with him than the request you bring to him. It is about a lifestyle of abiding in God. John wants us to know that because we have a relationship with God, we can bring our requests to God and He hears us.
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