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Sermon Message

"Confidence in Prayer"

1 John 5:14-15
Theme: Confidence in prayer is one of the blessings of walking in fellowship with Jesus Christ.

(Delivered Sunday, August 25, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church.  All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)  


Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him (1 John 5:14-15).

* * * * * * * * * *

The promise God gives us in these two verses reminds me of a story from the Old Testament book of Esther; and I'd like to begin by sharing that story with you.

The book of Esther is a great adventure story. It's a story that takes place during the exile of the Jewish people from their homeland following their Babylonian deportation; and it tells of how, in the providence of God, a humble Jewish girl named Hadassah (later named Esther) became the beautiful bride of the mighty Median King Ahasuerus (or King Xerxes I); and how she, as the queen of a world ruler, was in the right position at the right time to rescue her people from an evil plot to bring about their complete destruction.

There's a scene in this drama that has always fascinated me. The plot against the Jewish people had been discovered; and it fell upon Esther to go to her royal husband -the king of the whole civilized world - and inform him of the plot and thus save her people. But even though she was the queen, it wasn't possible for her to simply step up to the king and make her request known. As she herself said, "All the king's servants and the people of the king's provinces know that any man or woman who goes into the inner court to the king, who has not been called, he has but one law: put all to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter, that he may live" (Esther 4:11). Esther was in great distress over her people; but she was also understandably fearful of the prospect of making her plea unannounced before the king, because she herself had not been summoned by him. She called for her people to fast and pray for her; and concluded, "So I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!" (v. 16).

As it happened, on the third day of fasting and prayer, she put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king's palace, directly across from the king's residence. The king sat upon his royal throne in his residence across from the court; and when, through the entrance of his house, he saw Queen Esther awaiting his verdict,

she found favor in his sight and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther went near and touched the top of the scepter. And the king said to her, "What do you wish, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given to you - up to half the kingdom!" (5:2-3).

And thus, Esther was able to make her request known to the king. In time, she revealed the full plot against the Jews to her royal husband; and he then took action on their behalf. Queen Esther was thus used by God to save God's chosen people from certain destruction.

Why am I reminding you of that story? My point is simply this: If it was such a dreadful and risky thing for Esther to walk into the presence of the mighty king of the Median empire and make her request known to him - though he were also her husband - how much more of an awesome thing it is for fallen beings like us to make our requests known to the holy, all-powerful King of the universe! How could we ever presume to do such a thing?!! And yet, that's exactly what God calls us to do in these two verses. He here, as it were, holds out the golden scepter to us and invites us to ask whatever we wish - not only promising to welcome us, but also to hear us in the thing we ask; and not limiting to give us up to half His kingdom, but promising to give us whatever we ask of Him!

Esther's story reminds us of the great privilege that this morning's passage says is ours - the privilege to approach the almighty God in prayer, and of having our requests in prayer heard and granted by Him.

* * * * * * * * * *

These two verses teach us much about prayer. They remind us that prayer is the greatest resource available to us. It is the most powerful resource in the universe; because even though we are pathetically limited in everything we try to do, God Himself is wonderfully unlimited and sovereign in whatever He wills to do; and it is through our prayers that the almighty God condescends to exercise His sovereignty on our behalf. It is through our prayers that we dare to touch His golden scepter and draw upon the resource of His limitless power.

It is always true that the most effective and relevant thing we can do, in any situation we encounter, is to pray. The Bible teaches us that "the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16). I know of no other activity that the Bible holds before us with such a promise as this - that it will "avail much" - except for prayer. It doesn't make any difference to the results of prayer how rich a man or woman is, or how educated, or how powerful; the only thing that is needed is that he or she stand before God in righteousness through Jesus Christ, and pray fervently in simple faith and with an expectant eye to the results. God Himself will see to it that such a person's prayer will "avail much". Prayer is simply a matter of talking to God; but as simple as it is, it's the most awesome and powerful act that can ever be performed upon this earth by any human being.

Think of the marvelous examples the Bible give us of the power of prayer. It tells us that the prophet Elijah "was a man with a nature like ours". He wasn't made out of a different kind of flesh and blood than you or me. He was as limited in and of himself as we are. And yet, at a time of national and spiritual distress for the people of Israel, "he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit" (James 5:17-18; see also 1 Kings 17-18). Brilliant scientists and meteorologist have been trying for ages - without success - to control the weather; and yet, here we see that the almighty God who already controls the weather places droughts and cloudbursts into the hand of a simple man who prays!

The Bible tells us of Joshua - the mighty general of God's people, but nevertheless a limited man like you or me. And yet, in the middle of a battle against the malicious enemies of Israel, he prayed that the Sun would stand still in the midst of the sky; and the sun remained frozen in position in the heavens for a whole day, until God's people gained the victory (Joshua 10:12-13). How should we, with a modern understanding of the solar system, understand this marvelous thing to have happened? Perhaps we can never know for sure this side of heaven. But the Bible does say that "there has been no day like that, before it or after it, that the LORD heeded the voice of a man; for the LORD fought for Israel" (v. 14).

The Bible tells us of Asa, the king of Judah. A vast army of the Ethiopians - one million soldiers strong, and along with three hundred chariots - met Asa's army of half that size. As the two armies faced each other, Asa realized that he himself had no power against such an army. But one man joined to God in prayer is mightier than a million. Asa cried out to God, saying, "Lord, it is nothing for You to help, whether with many or with those who have no power; help us, O LORD our God, for we rest on you, and in Your name we go against this multitude. O LORD, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You!" (2 Chronicals 14:11). Through prayer, Asa's army became God's army; and the Bible tells us that "the LORD struck the Ethiopians before Asa and Judah" (v. 12). They fled as Asa's troops pursued and overtook them; "So the Ethiopians were overthrown, and they could not recover, for they were broken before the LORD and His army." (v. 13).

The Bible tells us of king Hezekiah. The mighty Assyrian army conquered all the nations in the land until it came to the very doorstep of Jerusalem, the city from which Hezekiah reigned. The Assyrian army, just as the arrogant Assyrian general boasted, had successfully swept away every other nation before them; and in and of itself, tiny little Jerusalem was surely as doomed as they. But Hezekiah told the people, "Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid nor dismayed before the king of Assyria, nor before all the multitude that is with him; for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles" (2 Chronicles 32:7-8). The king prayed (2 Kings 19:14-19); and as a result, the Angel of the Lord came into the camp of the Assyrian army in the middle of the night and put 185.000 Assyrian soldiers to death. The people of Israel woke up in the morning and found them all dead - without a single Israelite sword being raised! The only thing that was raised was prayer; and that was more than enough.

Prayer is not just a weapon for battle. Think of all that the Bible tells us of healings that occurred, or the dead that were raised, or the lions' mouths that were closed, or provisions that were made - all as a result of prayer! A man or woman of prayer even transforms nations. God says, "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:17). God told the prophet Jeremiah, "See, I have this day set you over nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant" (Jeremiah 1:10).

Jesus invites us tap into the unlimited power of the Godhead through prayer. He said, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (Matthew 7:7). After He spoke to a barren fig tree and caused it to whither, Jesus told His disciples, "Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive" (Matthew 21:21-22; see also 17:20).

There is no greater resource available to human beings than prayer! That's a God-revealed fact! So then, why don't we, as God's people, pray more than we do? Why is it that, almost everywhere you go, prayer meetings are the lowest attended meetings in churches? Why is it that some professing Christians barely pray at all? Why is it that we so often don't even think about prayer until our heads hit the pillow at night - when we're far too worn out from the rest of the junk of the day to pray effectively?

There might be lots of reasons for such a thing; but there's really only one main reason, and that's a lack of faith. We're not really convinced of what God has told us about prayer in the Bible. We're not convinced that it does any good to pray. We don't really believe prayer "avails much". Our priorities reveal the truth about us - that we believe there are more productive ways to use our time than by praying. Otherwise, if we truly believed what God has said about prayer, churches would be packed-out at every prayer meeting, and it would be the most important item on our individual lists of things to do.

* * * * * * * * * *

These two verses are here to encourage us to make full use of this greatest of all resources. They come immediately after a verse that sums up John's whole purpose in writing this tiny epistle: "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life ..." (1 John 5:13). John wrote to help believers know for certain that they truly do walk in fellowship with Jesus Christ, and truly do have eternal life in Him. And John shows us that, among the benefits of that certainty and assurance is confidence in prayer. We who are in Christ and have eternal life in Him may boldly approach His throne, touch His golden scepter, and ask whatever we wish of the almighty God of the universe! "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him."

* * * * * * * * * *

First all, please notice ...


John teaches us that a condition must be met before we can be confident that our prayers are heard and answered by the almighty God. The condition that must be met is that our prayers be made to God "according to His will".

Now I can imagine someone thinking, "Well, what's the point of praying at all if the only thing I can ask is what God wanted to do anyway? If my prayers can only be answered if they are prayed 'according to His will', then why bother praying in the first place?"

I believe that's a very good question; and I have wondered often what the answer might be. And the conclusion I have come to touches on one of the most fundamental mistakes we can make about the purpose of prayer. In our spiritual immaturity, we often think of prayer as a way to change God and to get Him where we want Him to be. But that's not the point of prayer at all. Prayer truly does move the hand of God; but God's real purpose in calling us to pray is because prayer changes us and get us where He wants US to be!

God does not need us to pray to make Him do anything. He doesn't even need us to pray as a way of getting valuable information from us as to what's going on in the world. The Bible tells us that "there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Heb. 4:13). He isn't in desperate need of information. And could we ever be so arrogant as to think we know enough about the situations around us to give God any advice worth having? In fact, the Bible tells us that there isn't a word on our tongue, but God knows it altogether (Psalm 139:4). He knows our prayers before we utter them. He knows of our needs perfectly, before we even know that we have them. The one thing you can be sure God has never said in response to our prayers is, "Thank you so very much; I didn't know that!"

Do you know why I believe God commands us to pray "according to His will"? It's because endeavoring to do so forces us to search out and discover His will, and become conformed to it! Prayer conforms us to God's will, so that His power can freely work through us!

* * * * * * * * * *

But what exactly does it mean to pray "according to His will"? I'd like to suggest three dimensions to what it means.

First, we, who ask, must be "in" His will. We must be personally related to Him through faith in His Son Jesus Christ; and we must be actively seeking to walk in holy fellowship with Christ in the way we live. Jesus said, "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you" (John 15:7). Likewise, the apostle John writes, "Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3:21-22).

This isn't, of course, to say that we must be perfectly sinless before God will hear our prayers. We can be grateful that it doesn't mean that! But if you have never confessed your sins to God, have never placed your trust in the cross of Jesus for the forgiveness of those sins, and do not rely on Jesus as your Savior and Lord today, then you are not in God's will and your prayers will not be heard. Or if you have trusted Jesus Christ but continue to live a persistent life-style of sinful disobedience to Him, or if you harbor unconfessed sin in your heart, you are still not in God's will, and your prayers will not be heard. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear" (Psalm 66:18). We must start by being sure that we, ourselves, are in a state of being that is in God's will before we can ask "according to His will".

A second dimension to this is that the focus of our asking must be toward His will. Not only must we be in God's will, but our whole purpose must be to seek His will. The Bible tells us that He "works all things according to the counsel of His will" (Eph. 1:11); and so, our asking must be in conformity with the way He works all things. The apostle James warns us, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:3). Such praying is as if to say, "Not Your will, but mine O Lord"; and such a self-focus in prayer will not be honored.

I believe that one of the best ways to understand this is to remember that we are always to pray "in Jesus' name". That isn't merely a 'magic phrase' to be stuck habitually on the ends of our prayers; but is, rather, a way of intelligently affirming that we are asking the Father, under Jesus' authority, for what Jesus Himself would want if He were praying in our place. Jesus gave us this wonderful promise: "And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it" (John 14:13-14). He told His disciples, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you" (15:16). We must learn about Jesus from the Bible, so that we'll know better what He would have us ask "in His name".

A third dimension to what it means to ask "according to His will" is that what we specifically ask for must be His will; that is, the things we ask must be the things that He wants. Jesus taught us to pray, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). And He Himself set the example for us in this. During His torment in the garden, His prayer was, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39).

The way we know God's will is through the Bible. We are commanded to "not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:17); and we gain this understanding from our study of the Scriptures. The Bible plainly tells us what God's will is. It lets us know, for example, that God "is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9); and so, when we pray for the repentance of some lost sinner, we're praying "according to His will". It tells us, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification" (1 Thess. 4:3); so, when we pray for the personal holiness and Christ-likeness of ourselves and our brothers and sisters, we're praying "according to His will". Jesus said, "And this is the will of Him who sent me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life ..." (John 6:40); so, when we pray for the spread of the gospel through evangelism and world missions - that others may "see" Him and believe - then we are praying "according to His will". Such prayers are sure to be heard by Him, because they pursue what He already says He wants.

Think of how this passage teaches us to pray: "... In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thess. 5:18)? Are your prayers expressions of thanks to God for all things? Or what about this?: "For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men" (1 Peter 2:15). Do you pray that your behavior will bear a witness for Christ at home, in the workplace, and in your neighborhood? Think of what this teaches us to pray: "For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil" (1 Peter 3:17). Do you pray about those times when you suffer for your faith? Or do you pray for your brothers and sisters who suffer in other parts of the world for their faith? The Bible is filled with the expressions of God's will - often through very clear statements such as these. We must faithfully study the Bible and learn what God has already told us is His will, so that we can ask "according to His will".

* * * * * * * * * *

So; this is the condition to the believer's prayer - that we ask in accordance to God's will. And this leads us to ...


John writes, "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him", that is, in Christ. (Note that a relationship with Christ is assumed in that statement.) And we can have confidence that, if we truly are in Christ, and we ask according to His will, "He hears us." And so, John goes on to say, "And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him" (v. 15).

I want you to notice three wonderful things we can have confidence in from this verse. First, please notice that He "hears" us. To say that God "hears" us means much more than that He simply hears the sounds of our words. It means that He is graciously inclined toward us with favor, and is glad to give His attention to what we pray.

One of my former professors tells of the time that the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer spoke at the Bible College. Dr. Schaeffer was one of the most noted Christian leaders and thinkers of the twentieth century; and it was a great privilege to have him speak at the chapel service. The chapel service was held in a church just a block or so up the street from the college; and the professor said that as he was exiting the building from one direction, and Dr. Schaeffer from another, they both happened to meet and walk down the street to the college together. This professor was intimidated by the idea of walking down the street alongside such a brilliant man, and uncertain of what to do with himself. He had to walk down the street with Dr. Schaeffer; but what in the world would do you talk to Francis Schaeffer about? How can you say anything to such a noted Christian leader without feeling terribly self-conscious or concerned that you were being a pest?

I'm sure that Dr. Schaeffer was a gracious man; and I suspect that it would have helped if he had turned to my professor and said, "Listen; I know that you're a bit uncomfortable. But don't worry about it. Let me put your mind at ease. I'm very glad that you're walking with me. I'm happy to invite you to ask me any questions you wish, or talk with me about anything you'd like. I like you and I'll gladly hear you."

I think that illustrates what that wonderful promise means - that God "hears" us. It's as if He says to us; "Let Me put your mind at ease. I'm glad that you're talking with Me, because I love you very much. And I want you to feel absolutely confident and free to ask Me anything you want. There's no limit; because I'll gladly hear you."

Just before going to the cross, Jesus told His disciples;

Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now, you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will not longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God (John 16:22-27).

The whole thrust of John's letter is to help us know that we are in fellowship with God through His Son Jesus Christ; and that, through Him, we truly have eternal life. God truly loves us; and He is a good Father, who is pleased to hear the requests of His children. The follower of Jesus Christ, who is seeking to walk in His will, can be confident that they are gladly heard by God.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now that's our confidence with respect to the acceptance of our prayers; that God "hears" us. Second, we have confidence concerning the "content" of our prayers; because we can know that He hears us "whatever we ask". If we are in Christ, we are the children of His Father; and His Father is inclined in love toward us just as much as He is to His own precious Son. Whatever concerns us concerns Him deeply. Our welfare is His great concern. The Bible invites us to bring everything to Him in prayer; "casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). He hears us in whatever we ask.

Now; someone might say, "But I thought I had to pray only according to His will. And now John says He hears us in everything we ask. How can that be? Which is it: 'only what is according to His will', or "whatever I ask'?"

I would suggest that it's both. A wonderful principle of His work of sanctifying us in Christ is involved in this. Psalm 37:3-6 says,

Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him. And He shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light and your justice as the noonday (Psalm 37:3-6).

God, here, promises to give us the desires of our heart and bring those desires to pass. But think about it: if you are following the pattern of life described in this psalm - that is, (1) you trust in the Lord, (2) you do good, (3) you dwell in the place He has put you, (4) you feed on His faithfulness, (5) you delight yourself in the Lord, and (6) you commit your way to Him - then what else would "the desires of your heart" be but His own will? Wouldn't your desires, from the deepest core of your being, be what He wants?

I believe this is saying that, if our hearts are right with Him, God not only gives us the "things" that we desire, but also the very "desires" themselves. He changes our desires so that they conform increasingly to His own. As Paul says, "... Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and do for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13). God puts in us not only the ability to do of His good pleasure, but also the will for it. And if God works in you both to will and do for His good pleasure, then - under such conditions - you may ask what you wish. Your heart's greatest desire will be for the very thing that He already wants.

* * * * * * * * * *

Third and finally, we see that we have confidence concerning the "outcome" of our prayers. "... If we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions we have asked"! God's offer is truly as unlimited as it sounds; and even if it sounds too good to be true, we shouldn't try to qualify it. God means exactly what He says - whatever we ask, we have the petition we have asked! As Dr. John Mitchell has said, God here offers us "a touch of omnipotence"!1

John uses the tense of the verb that indicates that we have the petition we have asked as a present possession. It's not that we "will have" the petitions we have asked, but that we have them right now. As soon as we ask, we have the answer.

Now, it may not be that the answer comes to us in the way that we expect; nor may it be that He gives us the answer at the time we expect it. He remains sovereign, and works consistent with His own good will. But God always answers; and His answers are far more multifaceted than we could ever imagine. Whenever God does a thing that we ask, He is doing a countless number of other things that we don't even know about. He is able to do "exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Eph. 3:20). And so, even if the answer doesn't seem to come as we expected; if we are patient - and if we trust Him - we will find that, in the end, God will have answered our prayers in a way that was far greater and more wonderful than we would have ever thought in the asking.

* * * * * * * * * *

Remember Queen Esther? She was invited by the king to come, touch the golden scepter, and ask whatever she wished - up to half the kingdom. What a privilege she had! Certainly hers the greatest privilege that an earthly king could offer her.

But as great as her privilege was, ours is even greater. Not a mere earthly king, but the almighty God Himself invites you and me to come before Him. He doesn't hold out the golden scepter of a mere earthly kingdom or offer to us mere earthly riches, but rather offers us the unlimited riches of heaven and the unlimited resources of His own power. He doesn't merely offer a portion of His kingdom to us; but gives us this unbounded promise:

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him (1 John 5:14-15).

Dear brothers and sisters; let's confidently touch His golden scepter in the name of His glorious Son Jesus. Let's dare to make full use of our limitless privilege in prayer!

1John G. Mitchell, Fellowship: Three Letters from John (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1973), p. 157.

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