Friday, June 14, 2024

The Vision (6.14.24): Apostolic Instructions on Prayer (1 John 5:14-15)


Image: Butterfly bush, North Garden, Virginia, June 2024

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on 1 John 5:14-15.

And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us (1 John 5:14).

As John comes to the close of his first General Epistle (1 John) he adds a brief exhortation on prayer in 1 John 5:14-15.

Our charismatic friends sometimes seize upon teaching like this and promote a “name it and claim it” theology of prayer. They will say that God is obligated to do whatever the believer asks, making the Lord into a cosmic butler.

John’s teaching on prayer, however, includes two vital qualifications:

First, there is the prepositional phrase, “according to his will.” If we ask anything according to God’s will he hears us.

Asking according to God’s will means asking for the things that God wills and has decreed for our good (cf. Romans 8:28). The mature believer does not ask for what is frivolous, superficial, or driven by selfish motives. He asks for things that are according to God’s will. He prays, as Christ taught, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” (Matthew 6:10).

John is echoing here the teaching of our Lord himself in John 14:13-14, where Christ taught the disciples that they might ask “any thing in my name” and he would do it. The qualifying phrase “in my name” has the same functional meaning as “according to his will.”

Christ himself modeled this kind of praying in Gethsemane on the eve of his crucifixion, when he said, “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39).

Second, there is the promise, “he heareth us.” John’s promise is not that the Lord will merely do whatever we ask or petition of him. The promise is that he will hear us.

Sometimes his answer to us must be “No,” because it is not according to his will. Or it might be, “Not yet,” or “Not in the way you expect,” but in a better way, according to God’s perfect will for our lives.

In Matthew Poole’s Commentary on these verses, he notes, “God answers his children according to that general meaning of their prayers, not always according to the particular (which may be often a much mistaken) meaning.”

Think how terrible it would be if a parent gave to his child everything that he asked. The child might unwisely ask to eat ice cream and candy at every meal. To have no bedtime. To play video games all day rather than do his homework and his chores. To have social media or internet access to things that might warp his mind and heart. Sometimes a loving and wise parent says, “No.” Or, “Not yet.” Or, “Here is something better for you.”

In James 4:3 the apostle said, “Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss that ye may consume it upon your own lusts.” And yet, John does proceed in v. 15 to write, “And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.”

John is reminding us that we have comfort simply in knowing that our heavenly Father hears us. And he will grant the petitions that we desired of him in such a way that is in perfect accord with his will, and we will praise him for it.

This type of confident faith in the Lord led the Psalmist to write, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes” (Psalm 119:17).

Can you imagine the level of maturity it takes to say something like that?

Let us be bold to bring large petitions to our God, but to ask according to his will and to be comforted simply by knowing that he hears us.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle


Andrew said...

Just so you know someone is reading here, the last verse is Psalm 119:71, rather than 118:17.

One more good verse to think about along with this: "And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you." (Matthew 17:20)

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Thanks! Corrected!

Yes, I did quote the Matthew 17:20 passage also in the complete sermon (and manuscript).