Who’s asking?

Pithy Pearls Oct 17 2012
Study on 1 John 5:14-15

“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

Let’s deal with the easy part of these verses.
God has a will. We know this.
God’s will cannot be frustrated or resisted. Our rebellion against His will affects our side of the battle alone. God will always have His way.

So if we can discern God’s will, either through the revelation of His word, the Bible, or through His specific will for our lives through revelation by the Holy Spirit with His word, then we can have full confidence that if we pray according to that will, then God will give us what we ask. No doubt. No possibly maybes. 100% fully assured confidence.

There are things we know are in God’s will for each of us, which also live there as desires in our hearts as we follow Jesus and grow in our relationship with the Father.
“Lord, help me to love you with all my heart, mind, soul and strength.”
“Help me to love my neighbour as myself.”
“Help me not to sin against you or my neighbour.”
“Help me to love my enemies.”
“Give me an undivided heart.”
“Help me to worship you in spirit and truth.”
“Help me to seek first your kingdom and your righteousness.”
All of these, and many, many more, are God’s will for us, so we can know that if we ask, we will receive.

This interpretation fits well with the context in which John gives us these verses.
He firstly assures us of our eternal life, and then speaks to us about sins that will be forgiven (“ask for this, according to His will”, says John) and sin that won’t be forgiven (“don’t ask for this”, says John). He then follows up with a re-assurance of our assurance so we don’t accidentally end up in a place of paranoia that I might sin and not be forgiven.
“Jesus protects you from this!” says John.
(see this blog for our study on John’s assurance and re-assurance of our eternal life
Assured, re-assured

So, job done. End of group study…. or is it?
A: “How can we know if we are praying according to God’s will?”

What a great question. I mean, it’s easy to see how the things we know are God’s will are things He will say “yes” to when we pray for them.
And it’s not the case that those things aren’t important to us; they are. In fact we can probably all see how addressing these ‘big’ things, which affect all lives of all people, will also take care of the ‘little’ things of my own specific life.

But our lives aren’t that neat or straightforward.
The Bible does not address myriad of things which we have to make decisions about every single day of our lives.
“How much should I spend on a car/house/clothes/food?”
“How much time should I spend in prayer/reading the Bible/at church?”
“What should I eat for breakfast?”
“Should I go down Flixton Rd or Church Rd?”

And these are just questions that are very mundane, particular and specific to each one of us. What about how we pray for people and situations beyond ourselves?
The situation in Syria? A family member who is sick or dying?
And what happens when we discern that God has brought about a specific ‘bad’ situation to help someone to grow in maturity? Is it right to ask for relief for them – would this be going against God’s will?

Here we need Jesus to help us make sense of this.
“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matt 7:9-11

Jesus wants us to see two people in a relationship here.
He wants us to see who’s asking, and who’s being asked.
As soon as we realise that our praying, our asking, is that of a child asking their parent for something, it helps us to understand what we can ask for, and how God will respond.

Let’s take an extreme example; one which we may have to face and will therefore benefit from knowing how we could/should respond.
If God shows us that someone is going to die, should we ask Him to extend their life? If it’s in our heart, then yes we should.
This isn’t something I’m making up here. We have examples in God’s revealed word that show us this kind of dynamic.
Abraham interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah even though God had made it clear He had devoted them to destruction. Gen 18:22-33
Moses interceded for the people of Israel and prevented their destruction. Num 14:13-24
Isaiah was sent to announce the death of king Hezekiah, and when Hezekiah called out to God he was given another 15yrs. 2 Kings 20:1-11
And there are more…

So how does this fit in with our view of praying according to God’s will?
What we can see here is that God has set out His will quite clearly, and yet these little human beings, before Almighty God, appear to be changing God’s mind and His will.

This moves us away from the comfort of knowing what God’s will is and praying for it, to a very unsafe place where we can change God’s mind and influence His will.
Hands up all those who prefer this second place? Inasmuch as it might seem like a great thing to be able to influence God’s will, as you think it through you quickly arrive at the devastating question, “what if I ask for completely the wrong thing because I can’t see what God sees?”

Here’s my own thoughts on how we can understand what is going on when Abraham, Moses, Hezekiah, you, influence God’s will, and how we can feel both free and encouraged to ask God for anything and everything which is on our heart.

As I stated at the start of this blog, God’s will cannot be frustrated or resisted.
But God’s will is both, and simultaneously, a ‘big picture’ and ‘little picture’ reality.
God will have His way. How He gets there, and how He does it includes space and capacity for our choices, and our desires and needs as His children.
How else can He justly hold us responsible for our choices within His decisive will?
How else is it possible that ‘He makes all things work for good’ (Rom 8:28) unless there are things that aren’t good that need to work for good?
For His children, it’s only ever ‘Plan A’, as He meets us where we’ve stumbled, picks us up, dusts us down and continues to lead us into the Father’s house. When we wander He doesn’t wait for us to ‘come back’; as we turn He runs to meet us and take us on.

So we can always be confident that God will have His way, and that when we ask – whatever we ask for – we won’t ever break anything, or make things worse.
And we can be confident that whatever we ask for, we’ll never receive a stone instead of bread, or a snake instead of fish. Even if God’s answer to us is ‘NO!’, He will always give us something according to what we’ve asked.
He’s a Father, and those of us with children know that there are times we have to say no, but there are ways of responding positively, and encouragingly – ways of saying ‘I love you even though I’m going to say no’ – so that the end result is still all about the loving, tender relationship between a Father and child.

Our Father wants us to ask. He wants us to care about things, and to believe that it’s ok to ask Him to change His mind.
God is infinite in wisdom, knowledge and power and so it’s zero effort for Him to still accomplish His will whilst changing the original story mid-flow.

And this is where it gets interesting, because we are told, encouraged, exhorted, and commanded to pray throughout scripture, and so it matters to God our Father that we pray. So what if God doesn’t always start off with the ‘best’ story because He wants to join with us, in relationship and conversation, to arrive at the ‘best’ story?
He actually wants us to share with Him in shaping this world, not as passive bystanders, but as active agents and manifestations of the presence of the Divine bodily.

I don’t know about you, but that is really exciting – I can ask my Father for anything and the more I do, the more I am helping to shape and better the story of how God’s will is played out in this world, as a co-writer and actor in this great play.
AND… I can never mess it up!

John says, “this is the confidence we have…” 1 John 5:14
He wants us to grasp that our praying should never be lacking in confidence or have any shred of unbelief, because… “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
And we know – with 100% confidence – that His will is that we would be His children, and that we would relate to Him as our Father and ask Him for whatever is on our heart.