In my life I have had 2 encounters with Royalty. The first was when I was a teenager, waiting outside Windsor Castle for the Queen to arrive. As she came around the corner a person in the crowd suddenly thumped me, and pushed me onto the floor, because he believed that a scruffy, long haired youth had no right to shake the Queen’s hand.
The second occasion was when I was working behind the scenes in a theatre, and Prince Charles made a visit. As a member of the backstage team, I should have been in the queue waiting to shake hands with him, but I was not allowed to because I was in my dirty work clothes.
Contrary to these disappointing experiences with Royalty, the all-seeing all-knowing God sees the cess pit of the sin in our hearts, and still loves to welcome us into his presence.
In verses 14 – 15, it is clear that the apostle John believes that we do not need to stand in a queue to meet with God. We can approach him in prayer, ask him for whatever is on our heart and he will hear and answer.
“14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: 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 what we asked of him.”
I want us to consider some important aspects of prayer this morning
There are 4 words relating to prayer, in verse 14, that we can bring out of this passage.
Again and again this true apostolic message gives us confidence in prayer because our confidence is not in ourselves but in Him, in Jesus Christ.
In verse 9 of 1 John, Paul writes:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
If we sin, we have an advocate with the father. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. As believers we are purified from all unrighteousness.
Verse 13 tells us that, as believers in Jesus, we have eternal life. Therefore, we can have confidence in our prayers. We have unreserved freedom of speech before God. We can come boldly. Yes, we must come in humility, because he is the King, on his throne, but it is the throne of Grace, so in the name of Jesus we can come in all confidence.
Can I therefore encourage you, that if you believe in Jesus as the son of God, come confidently into his presence! No matter how inexperienced you are in prayer, just come. He is faithful and just to hear and answer prayer.
In Greek ‘ask’ means request. For many years I got this wrong. I felt I was bringing a list to God. A sort of ‘Click and collect’. I even saw God as some kind of genie in a bottle, ready to grant my wishes.
Of course, we mustn’t treat God like this, but we are instructed to ask.
Asking God shows us that we need Him, and it brings glory to Him because it shows that we are trusting Him. He has ordained that we gain benefits and blessings from talking to Him. Prayer takes away ‘self’-confidence and replaces it with confidence in Him as the provider.
In the letter of James, Ch 4:2 it says: ‘You don’t have because you don’t ask God.’
Come confidently and ask!
3. According to His will
Doubters may say “How can we be confident in prayer unless we know God’s will? Once we’ve discovered God’s will, then we can confidently pray.”
That’s the wrong way round.
You can confidently pray, bringing whatever is on your heart to God, knowing that He is in control. His divine purposes will be achieved, even if your prayers get it wrong. Our wrong prayers are not going to ruin the course of the universe. That is for God to deal with.
Perhaps our difficulty is that we don’t know how to pray.
Romans 8:26 says: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
The holy Spirit takes our “I don’t know” prayers and turns them into “the will of God prayers.”
On the subject of the Coronavirus, is it right to ask God to take it away? Or should we pray in the belief that the virus is a necessary thing to bring people to repent?
Well, despite these contradictions, the answer to both kinds of prayer is “Yes” because the Holy Spirit will take our prayers, as it tells us in Romans 8:27:
“And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
It is a great encouragement to realise that local Christians of the past were praying for gospel outreach in Kingston, and for the church to be established. And here we are, today, in effect, the living answer to their prayers!
Thomas Dennis was burnt at the stake for his faith, in Kingston, before the Reformation and Robert Taverner was another great Christian minister who prayed fervently for the church to be established in Kingston. We are an answer to the prayers of men such as these. God takes our prayers and turns them into long term answers.
“According to his will” also means to be saturated in his word.
God has revealed his will in the scriptures. The scriptures have been given to us to provide examples of how we should pray. It is helpful to use Scriptural truths to guide our prayers, and to turn passages of scripture into personal prayer.
Our prayers, as in the Lord’s prayer, should include requests concerning our daily bread and health, pleas for forgiveness, and a desire for an increase in such things as knowledge and wisdom. It is a valuable practice to turn scripture into prayer, and we should use the examples of prayer that are found throughout the Bible, as well as the prayers of the old prayer warriors.
“According to his will” is also referring to the way that we should pray. There should be humility and persistence in our prayers.
God is not too busy to hear. The one who made our ears isn’t deaf. The mighty God of the universe hears you. You can have freedom of speech with Him, so speak to Him.
Two specific examples, and how to pray
Verses 16 -17 are difficult, and there have been many interpretations of these words.
16 “If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.”
If you take this passage in the context of the whole letter, you will see that John is referring to two kinds of sinners, guilty of 2 different kinds of sin.
The sin that leads to death is the sin that declares “God is a liar”
In verse 10 we read: “Anyone who does not believe God, has made him out to be a liar, because he does not believe the testimony he has given about his son.”
John is particularly talking about those who once believed, but who have now left the
fellowship of believers. They have turned away and have embraced a diabolical lifestyle.
They have now declared all the foundational truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ to be a lie.
The person who denies all of this- who calls God a liar- is committing the sin that leads to death. People such as Judas and Esau would come into this category. They are Apostates.
Hebrews 6:4-6 tells us:
“ It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace”
So, for those who are denying the faith, and committing the sin that leads to death, John is saying that you should not pray for them.
However, there is another kind of sin, shown by believers who know the truth of God’s saving grace through Jesus, but who are not walking consistently with their belief, nor according to the will of God. The prayers of such people are ineffective because they lack confidence before God because of their sin.
In this situation John says, in verse 16: “If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give them life.”
So, although their own prayers will be ineffective, your prayers for them will give them life.
You can come to God with confidence in your prayers for them.
Sometimes we can’t restore them gently. They won’t let us in to their lives. But we can still pray for them with confidence: “Lord bring them to life. Save them from themselves.”
Prayer is serious. We are to come with confidence; asking; knowing that he hears us. And when we pray according to His will, He can convert our prayers into his sovereign will.
I encourage you to pray, for your circumstances, for your brothers and sisters in Christ and for yourselves.