Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Prayers Answered, Guaranteed

What if God promised to answer your prayers? Would it change your commitment to the discipline of prayer?

There are several places in the Bible where God promises to answer our prayers (e.g. Psalm 34:17; Proverbs 15:29; Matthew 7:7; 21:22; John 14:13; 15:7). We find another one of those places in 1 John 3:21-22. Here's what it says:

Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.

So what should we make of such a daring promise? And why do so many of us get frustrated that we do not receive from God “whatever we ask” of him?

One thing to note about this promise of answered prayer is the invitation that God extends to his children to ask. He wants us to pray, and apparently is delighted to answer the requests of his children. Getting our prayers answered begins with us having “confidence before God.” In other words, answered prayer stems from a vibrant relationship with God in which we are unashamed in approaching God and asking. The Christian's prayer life, then, is a good indication of the health of his relationship with God.

But there is an element of conditionality to the promise of answered prayer. Whenever we find this promise in the Bible, we find (1) that God answers the prayers of the righteous but not the wicked; (2) that faith is required for receiving what we ask for; (3) that God answers our prayers so that he receives the glory; and (4) that we must abide in Christ to receive our requests. In our present text we have already seen that we need a heart that does not condemn to even be able to approach God with our requests. And verse 22 tells us that the reason why we can receive from God whatever we ask is “because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”

In other words, the Bible is clear that God answers our prayers to the extent that he is pleased with our request and glorified in answering our request. God does not answer our prayers because we somehow merit his favor. He is not like Herod who was so pleased by the performance of his step-daughter that he promised to give her as a gift whatever she should ask for (Matthew 14:1-12). God will give us what we ask for provided what we ask for is pleasing to him as well. The reason why we get what we ask for is because “we are keeping his commandments and doing the things that please him.” So if that is true, then what we ask for will be those things that help us to please him and keep his commandments. And God will always be pleased to answer such requests.

So God answers our prayers only if our request is in accordance with his will. This is exactly what John will say later in this book in 1 John 5:14-15. The key to answered prayer is asking for the things that please God. Obviously this rules out our requests for selfish gain. And for many Christians, this “small print” is what keeps so many of them off their knees. After all, if God only answers the prayers that further his will, and if God will accomplish his will regardless, then why bother praying? Surely there are more important things to do with our time.

But such a conclusion misses the point of prayer and God’s eagerness that we participate in it. Since the beginning of this chapter (see 1 John 3:1) John has had in mind the relationship we have with God, calling it the relationship of a son to his father. While it is true that our sovereign God will surely accomplish his will, it appears that the means by which he will do so is through answered prayer. And the reason this is so is so that we might be allowed to participate with God in seeing his will accomplished. In other words, God invites us to pray for his glory and for our joy.

When we fully enter into the relationship that we have with God as his children, the more our desire will be for the things that God desires most. Our prayer will be for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We will be radically different from a world that cares nothing about God’s values. We will not ask for bigger houses, newer cars, fatter paychecks, and the latest fads. We will not ask for things that make us look good but for things that make God look good. And he will be pleased to answer such prayers. God will be glorified, and we will be satisfied.

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