Our discussions begin with a Scripture most know well… “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy & find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
We are comforted by that text. But are you like me in that I pray & wonder why so many times things don’t happen… why answers to my requests seem to take a really long time if they’re answered at all?
I suggest we’ve misunderstood prayer’s purpose. We don’t view prayer properly nor do we use it for the reason God gave it to us. Prayers prayed properly… for the right reason… are the ones that receive God’s attention & are answered quickly. Consider the following… 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. 15 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. (See appendix regarding “anything” and “whatever.”)
James 4:2 You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask & do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
Two thoughts. First, did you notice in 1 John it is when we ask “according to His will” that He hears and we receive? Second, did you notice in James when we ask & do not receive it is because we are praying selfishly? Those two points are important as we continue our thoughts…
Now let’s examine some texts in John for the balance of our time to help us pray according to God’s will which means to ask properly… not wrongly as warned about in James. John 14:13…
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
Jn 15:7 If you abide in me, & my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, & it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit & so prove to be my disciples.
Jn 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you & appointed you that you should go & bear fruit & that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you.
Let’s take these passages and discern a few things about prayer. In John 14:13 Jesus doing “whatever we ask” is cemented to “God’s glory.” Jesus says if our request doesn’t seek God’s glory, it won’t be considered a properly requested prayer! And therefore has no merit to God!
When we pray, God’s glory MUST be first in our minds and hearts! This is affirmed in Jn 15:8 & Ja 4:3. Truth is, the majority of our prayer requests are NOT about God’s glory first! They are about easing OUR pain… getting something WE want so that WE are happy. It is not often that we contemplate God’s glory, will, plan, & kingdom as FIRST in our heart as we pray.
We pray about getting a job so we don’t lose our stuff. We pray for healing because we don’t want our loved ones to die. We pray about our kid’s marriage because we want them to be happy. We pray about our marriages because we don’t want to live alone. But what about…
Praying for a job to give more to God’s kingdom and bless the poor? Praying for healing so that the God who heals is given credit? Praying for our kid’s marriage so that they will have Godly offspring?[i] Praying for our own marriages so that they will reflect the relationship between Christ and the Church?[ii] (Pause) Do you see the difference? Same prayer… different motivation!
Notice in John 15:8, 16 how God is glorified… it’s in relation to fruit! Prayers are properly motivated when the motivation is God’s glory and God is glorified when we bear much fruit.
Fruit is not what you hear in the prosperity “gospel.” Rather it is Kingdom oriented. The fruit that is born when prayers are properly prayed… which glorifies God… are found in Galatians 5:22…
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Notice that Paul writes “the fruit of the Spirit is…” Not “the fruits of the Spirit are.” The fruit of the Spirit is a single package… not individual and different things. The believer will grow in ALL of these!
Don’t you find it interesting that those who have the fruit of the Spirit have killed (crucified) themselves?! They’ve given up being the center of attention and universe in favor of GOD’S glory! Which fits right in with where we are regarding prayer!
Praying to bear fruit that glorifies God sounds different from prayers that are “spent on our passions.” Instead of praying for earthly things, our prayers are Kingdom requests that DO glorify God.
Our requests start sounding more & more like this: “Your kingdom come… thru me, where I work.” “Make me more loving… gracious… patient… merciful… more like your son.” “God let me live so that I may tell the next generation about You!” “Make my child godly… make their spouse godly… that they may raise godly children!” “God, do in me… my life… & that of my family whatever will glorify You the most!”
When you read the prayers in Scripture, they are filled with requests for God to be made great among the nations… and God answered those prayers! As Jesus prayed, “Glorify Your name!”[iii] The more our prayers are GOD centered the less they’re centered on ourselves, the more God will answer!
John Piper likens prayer to a war time walkie-talkie for calling in air support in a battle. He says it isn’t intended to be a peacetime intercom for getting coffee or a fresh pillow. He suggests that if/when we prayer is misused it malfunctions. I beginning to agree with him. Think with me…
Let’s say a general receives a request from a platoon that is surrounded by the enemy and needs an A-10 Warthog to bomb and strafe immediately or they’ll die. Right after that, his assistant calls to requests 3 days R & R. What will be the general’s attitude toward his assistant? What will the general give his attention and resources to? Too many times I’ve been the assistant rather than on the front line. What about you…?
It used to be that the church prayed kingdom prayers. It used to be that requests were lifted up to God for people to be saved… for young people to be called into the ministry… for families to be healed of spiritual malaise… for missionaries to be bold… for the pastor to preach the Word faithfully. Not so any more…
Things have changed. When it comes to prayers and prayer requests, we are much more likely to hear about physical illnesses. Sometimes requests for healing are the only ones made. Is it because we have drifted away from “Thy Kingdom come… THY will be done on earth as in heaven?”
If that is the case, it may very well be because we have taken ourselves out of the battle for the souls of men, women, and children. We aren’t really concerned about the lost. Our souls are not burdened for the next generation and who will lead them to honor God. We aren’t heavenly minded and so our prayers are bound to the things of this world.
Have we backslidden so far that we think prayer is what God has given us to make US happy? Have we so misunderstood why God tells us to ask that we actually think that what we’re to pray for is our own needs and safety? Is it because we’re so out of touch with God’s Kingdom work that we rarely pray for God to glorify Himself?
I know this… when you are in battle you want air support. When you are at war against spiritual forces of darkness, you KNOW you can’t defeat them alone & you NEED God to act. It is then that your prayers take on a tenor that is God centered! One more thing from John 15:8-9, 11…
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit & so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
Praying to bear fruit for God’s glory has a wonderful benefit… fullness of JOY! We aren’t joyful because we focus on ourselves. If we will laser in on glorifying God by praying God glorifying prayers that are aimed at bearing Kingdom fruit, JESUS’ joy is in us to overflowing! Listen!! We’re trying to become happy by doing the wrong things… praying the wrong prayers… & we’re missing the point!
Think about your prayer life. Do you NEED to pray… or is your life such that prayer is optional & given little attention? When you pray is there a sense of urgency because unless GOD acts all is lost… or is your prayer time boring work because nothing in your life requires God to intervene?
You know… it may be that we need to repent that we are so disengaged with spiritual things that we need to be put back on the front line. Maybe what we need is to be in such a place so that the only hope we have is God. Maybe we need to pray for God to rejuvenate us so that we are Kingdom minded and Heavenly focused.
Appendix: What “Anything” and “Whatever” Mean In 1 John 5:14-15
Jesus was serious when he said that he will grant anything Christians ask through prayer. He meant it when he said whatever is asked will be granted. The problem is not in what he said, but how most people hear it.
For some, anything and whatever means: Looking for a parking place… winning a ball game… getting a preferred hair appointment time… or other seemingly frivolous things. Others go extreme by asking God to: Destroy their enemies… wipe out a whole race of people… remove someone so they can get their job. After all (In their mind), anything means ANYTHING and whatever means WHATEVER. They are just taking Jesus at His word.
As the study/message above contains… but is not developed due to time… Jesus did mean what he said, but at the same time He defines how anything and whatever are to be understood. Without grasping Jesus’ definition, what He said is taken wildly out of context.
The defining context is glorifying God by bearing fruit. If God is glorified by finding a parking place or winning a ball game or getting a preferred hair appointment, then the request is granted. At the same time if the reason those things are asked of God for are nothing more than personal/selfish reasons, then they don’t meet the test for God to strategically intervene.
The same is true for the other class of requests… destroying individuals or races… if to do so would bring God glory (As when David fought the Philistines or The Promised Land was being inhabited or the Martyrs in requesting God to avenge their blood in Revelation), then the request will be granted. However, if the same prayer is prayed because a person is desiring revenge or selfishly wants to further their career with no regard for God’s glory, they are not in God’s will and therefore would be rejected.
As suggested in the message text, it all boils down to the motivation of the person’s heart who is making the request. Therefore, from my perspective, since I know my heart is deceitful and my requests are prone to being selfish… I WANT God to reject every prayer I pray that is not consistent with His will. I WANT God to say no when my motivation is not for His glory when I ask things of Him. I am thankful that the Holy Spirit prays for me according to God’s will because I DON’T know how to pray properly.
[i] Malachi 2:15.
[ii] Ephesians 5:25-32.
[iii] John 12:28.