Summary: What are the keys to an effective prayer life? Perseverance! We are sometimes tempted to lose heart in our pursuit of an answer from God. This message explores four observations from Scripture about persisting in prayer.
Asking According to His Will (II)
Our subject is prayer; and more specifically how to pray with confidence and get answers. The text that we began working with last week is 1 John 5:14-15
“Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”
There is in that verse powerful assurance that we can “have the petitions that we have asked of Him”: in other words we can have our prayers answered. However, the condition to answered prayer in this verse is that we ask “according to His will.” Am I or am I not praying “according to His will”? How do I know? Last week we suggested four questions that would help us process that issue.
(1) What does the Bible say about the matter we’re praying about? Does Scripture specifically tell us the will of God concerning our request? If it does then we can know we are praying “according to His will.” For example, 1 Thess. 4:3 says “For this is the will of God, your sanctification....” So if I’m asking God to deliver me from a sinful habit, I am without question praying “according to His will.” I can pray with confidence that God already wants to answer this prayer. However, there are a lot of areas that are not specifically addressed in that way. Nowhere in Scripture does God tell me whether I’m to take a job in Boston or stay in Springfield. If I am praying for a particular job in Boston, I cannot turn to chapter and verse and know whether I am praying “according to His will.” I can apply some principles revealed in the Bible that will help me with that. But I’ll need to process the request further to gain the assurance that I am praying “according to His will.”
(2) Does the request line up with the priorities God has for my life?
We talked a lot about the priority stated in Romans 8:29 that we be “conformed to the image of His Son.” God is working all things together in our lives to make us like Jesus. That’s His priority; and sometimes He sacrifices our comfort for our development. Am I working the same priorities that God is working? Maybe there is something He wants me to deal with as I move toward the answer to this prayer. For example, my priority might be to get my stomach healed because it is causing me a lot of pain. But when I pray, God is wanting to talk with me about forgiving Brother Smith and to stop criticizing Sister Jones. Yes, God wants me healed; but what about this relationship with Brother Smith? Let’s get that dealt with first. In fact, the anxiety of that relationship, may be the root of my stomach problems. How does my particular request fit into God’s order of priorities? Are His priorities, my priorities?
(3) Does the request fit within the plan God has for my life? Am I asking God to make me a quarterback in the NFL; but God has called me to be a missionary in Nigeria? Am I swimming upstream against the current of God’s design for my life or am I hearing Him and asking Him to equip me for what He has in mind?
So those questions revolved around the (1) word (2) priorities and (3) plan of God. We ran out of time last week and did not get to the fourth question which is probably where more prayers fail than anywhere else. The key to answered prayer in our text is praying “according to His will.” Here is the other question we need to process.
(4) Am I willing to persevere in prayer until I know His will on the matter? Will I keep coming to God until He tells me what I need to know? Maybe the answer is no; but don’t assume that until He says so—especially on subjects that are generally His will.
The common mistake people make is to ask God for something a couple of times; if it doesn’t happen pretty easy they give up. They usually give up wondering why God didn’t answer the prayer. Sometimes they assume it must have not been God’s will. But they don’t pursue it enough to really know one way or another.
The tragedy of that is the person’s faith is slowly undermined, one unanswered prayer at a time. So eventually he just goes through the mechanics of prayer; but in the heart he doesn’t really expect it to make much difference.
If we approached anything else like that, we would not have much success. Suppose I begin classes at Missouri State University in order to receive a Bachelor’s degree. I show up for that first class on Monday with great exuberance. The teacher provides a syllabus for the course and explains some highlights of what we will be doing. When I get home that evening and take a second look at the syllabus, I see that I’m supposed to read two chapters in the text and turn in a ten-page paper next Wednesday. Well this is a problem because I was planning to go out with my friends tonight and I have to work late tomorrow—I mean when am I going to have time to read those two chapters and do the paper? So now I have to decide how serious I really am about getting a Bachelor’s degree. If I don’t make the time to read the text and do the papers, I won’t pass this first class. If I can’t pass the first class, it’s not too likely I will receive the Bachelor’s degree. So I have a couple of options.