We left off yesterday with the following passage:
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15)
We could also consider the words of Jesus:
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14)
We are promised that our prayers will be answered. But taking the whole counsel of God into consideration, this is always qualified by the idea that our prayers must be according to God's will. In the 1 John passage we see this... “if we ask anything according to his will...” and in the John 14 passage, “Whatever you ask in my name...”; which implies “alignment” to His character and will. (How, for example, would you dare pray for someone's misfortune in Jesus' name? It suggests you don't even know Him.) Or another passage we might consider... “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:22). “If you have faith” is not to say that I can ask for whatever I want to, and if I would just have enough faith it will be given to me. Rather, if I have faith, then what I ask for should be in alignment with God's will. Even Jesus, when the Devil told Him to cast Himself off the temple roof in Luke 4, would not pray for God’s protection and did not do it, knowing it was not the Father’s will.
Now we, besides the fact that we are never perfectly mature in faith, do not have God's perspective on the world around us. So we often don't know what to pray for because we can't possibly know. In times of trouble, for example, should we pray for deliverance or for endurance? We often don't know, and can't know. Romans 8 tells us:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)
The Holy Spirit intercedes for us, which is why Paul then goes on to say “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) All things work together for good because the Holy Spirit has been interceding for us the whole time, praying for our endurance when that is God's will, or praying for our deliverance when that is God's will. God’s will is for us to be like Christ, and God knows what it is that will achieve this end.
Sometimes we pray for one thing, and it seems it should be perfectly in line with God's will, yet our prayer is not answered because, perhaps unknown to us, God thinks otherwise. And this should seem perfectly right because we are not as wise or as omniscient as God, and God is not going to do our bidding. I read an article on the Internet once by an atheist trying to prove there was no God. He argued that if Christians prayed sincerely that cancer would be healed over night it wouldn’t happen, which makes Jesus a liar since He said “Whatever you ask in my name...” But what if I prayed for every atheist to be killed this instant? I don't mean that vindictively; but let's say that a Christian genuinely thought this was a right thing to pray for? After all, they lead people away from Christ, which from God’s perspective has got to be the worst sin of all, right? People would say, “Such a prayer ought not to be answered! You clearly don’t have the wisdom of God!” And they’d be right. I would never pray such a prayer! Though sometimes we think we’re praying according to God’s will, we really aren’t. God’s will is that none should perish, and He waits patiently giving all people time to repent. And so likewise, though I might think that praying for the end of cancer tonight is praying according to God’s will, I don’t have the wisdom of God, and such a prayer ought not to be answered. Prayer is not a means for my will to be done, but is to help me learn the will of God. However, it is God’s will that cancer will some day be put to an end, and it is God’s will that His enemies will some day be punished. And we do pray for such things when we pray “Thy kingdom come...” This prayer will be answered; God’s kingdom will come. And when that happens, God’s enemies will be “put under His feet”, and there will be no more sickness. But to pray for this to happen tonight is not to pray according to God’s will, for no man knows the day nor the hour of Christ's return. God's will is for us to care for the sick, and for many to come to faith through our preaching of the gospel.
Now the Bible says “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” (Psalm 66:18). And “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.” (John 9:31). To me these passages seem to say nothing more than what I have said already; that prayers according to God's will are answered, but prayers which oppose God's will cannot be answered, such as sinful prayers. But there are others who see this as saying that, even if I pray the right prayer but I am aware of, and holding on to some unconfessed sin in my life, God will not listen to my prayer. Well, we know that we are all sinners and we can wrongly come to the conclusion, based on this idea, that none of our prayers will ever be answered because we always have sin in our lives. On 1 John 1:9, which says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” I heard one man say “But God doesn't always answer prayer... what if He doesn't answer my prayer for forgiveness!?” We are freed from the bondage of sin; let it not so cripple us that we don’t even feel that we can pray to God! Hebrews says:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
James says “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” In the midst of our sins we are to pray, and despite our sins God will answer them, but “the prayer of a righteous person has great power...” Of course it does, because a righteous person's whole life is far more aligned to the will of God, which is righteousness. Until tomorrow...
Pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)