Confidence in prayer
Sermon based on 1 John 5:13-15
We were talking with some friends recently and one of them asked, “So, are you all moved in?” Unfortunately, the answer is, “Not quite.” No one likes moving, but going through the process comes with some benefits. Maybe the biggest benefit is having to come face to face with all your stuff. Moving forces you to take an inventory of everything you have. If you’ve ever done it, you know that you will rediscover things you had stored in your basement or up in the attic. When I worked for a moving company, it was common for people to see you carrying something out of the basement and say, “I forgot I had that!” Of course, I wanted to respond, “Do you really want to move something you didn’t even know you had?” But my job was to move stuff and not ask pesky questions.
As a pastor, though, my job is to ask pesky questions… not to get people to get rid of junk they have lying around (although your kids will thank you someday if you do that) but questions about our lives as Christians. It’s good for us to take an inventory of all that God has given us so that we don’t stick parts of our faith away in the basement and forget about them.
How do we take an inventory of God’s goodness to us? That’s one of the reasons we come to church. Every week we pull out treasures old and new from God’s Word. We dust them off and admire them so that we can go and display them in our lives. One of these treasures is prayer. Let me read to you words from 1 John chapter 5 where Jesus’ disciple, John, highlights this treasure.
13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 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.
Did you catch the three things that we have? John says that those who believe in the name of Jesus have eternal life; we have confidence to approach God with requests made according to his will and we have the promise that God answers those prayers.
None of these is shocking to us, but they really should be. We have eternal life in Jesus. The God of this universe wants us to talk to him in prayer. What could be greater than this? What could possibly be more important to us than these gifts from our God?! We know the right answer with our heads, but have we put these treasures in storage rather than put them into use in our lives?
How do we explain the gap that exists between what we say we believe and how we actually live? We all agree that being able to pray to God is one of the greatest blessings, but how do we explain why I think most of us would say, “I want to pray more. I want to pray believing that it matters and not just because I know I’m supposed to before I bite into my sandwich”?
It’s easy to see sin when we do something wrong like tell a lie to get out trouble or lose our temper and say things that we wouldn’t want recorded. But what about when we don’t pray a prayer of thanksgiving, or when we don’t call upon God in our time of trouble? Our lack of doing something; of praying, also says a lot about sin in our hearts. One of the reasons we don’t pray like we should is because we don’t believe as we ought. Do we live as those who have eternal life in Jesus? ...as if our faith makes all the difference? Because if we did, praying would come as easily to us as breathing.
The thing that everyone in this world is looking for is life. They are trying to find the thing that brings meaning to life or promises and fuller life. Plenty of people think they’ll really be living if they only find the right spouse or buy the right house or shoot the right deer, or if their team wins the right game. We shouldn’t be surprised that people who live apart from Christ are always looking for something that promises to make them truly “alive.” They don’t have Jesus. They don’t know any better. But we do. We know that we have eternal life. And it is to our shame that our prayers falter so often because we are too busy trying, like everyone else, to make a life for ourselves on this earth. If our eyes are stuck looking down only on things of this life, one of the consequences would be that we rarely look up to God.
This doesn’t mean that Christians don’t have dreams or plans. We are not to be so heavenly minded that we despise life on earth. But neither should we be so focused on the fading things of this world that we never bother to look up to our Father in heaven who has already given us eternal life.
Take a look again at what John says we have and you see that not only is eternal life ours, but with it comes confidence that ought to inspire our prayers. He says, if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. Maybe the gap between what our prayer are and what we say they ought to be is because we’re not really sure our prayers matter.
That could be because we don’t think God cares or because we’re not sure we’ve been good enough for God to bother to listen to us. If I need a plumber and I call Joe’s Plumbing and leave a message, but Joe never calls me back, I’ll probably think that either Joe doesn’t care or that there was something I said in the message that caused Joe not to call me back. If we imagine that God is like this with our prayers, we will not pray with the confidence that John says ought to be ours.
Of course, this gets us to the elephant in the room when it comes to prayer. Why does it seem that God isn’t listening at times when I’m praying for things that I know are good? John points out that we can be confident when we pray according to God’s will. This doesn’t mean we simply tag on, “According to your will” at the end of every prayer. It means that we pray trusting God to do what is best.
So why hasn’t God turned the heart of my adult child who left the faith back to him? Isn’t it his will that all be saved? Why do people get cancer? Isn’t God good? Here, we have to acknowledge that there is a lot we don’t know and that our timeline may not match up with God’s. What we can say about God’s will must come from the Bible. We also have to realize that each day that passes is evidence of God’s mercy, not his indifference toward evil and suffering. The day will come when all evil will be put away, but each day that passes is another day when his call goes out to this world, “Come to me. Return to me and live.” Ultimately, our confidence comes not because we can understand all of the mysteries of God’s will, but because we know that he is good. He is good.
How do I know this. How can I be so sure? Because I know that there is a prayer which he answers day after day. “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Forgive me for the smallness of my faith. Forgive me for being distracted by the empty promises of this world. Forgive me for the gap that exists between what I know I ought to do, and what I actually do in the weakness of my flesh. Forgive me for the sake of your Son, in whose name I trust and who once prayed, ‘Your will, not mine be done,’ before offering himself to die for me.”
This is a prayer that we know God our Father answers because his will was that his Son be offered in our place on a cross. He turned his ear from the cries of his Son so that his ear would always be open to the prayers of his people. It is the forgiveness that is ours in Jesus that gives us the confidence to approach God in prayer trusting he will hear and answer them according to his goodness.
I’d like to end by saying, “So, pray more.” You’d all nod your head and then we’d move on. But how does a Christian grow in the good habit of prayer? Let me offer one resource as a suggestion. You’ve heard that we are ordering new hymnals here at Redeemer. The hymnal is not just meant to sit in a pew at church. They are designed to be used in our homes as well and include prayers and even devotions for use every day of the week. You can order a hymnal to use in your home and then use it. Or, when we give away the current red hymnals, take one home and use it as a resource for regular prayer. But don’t get a hymnal and stick it in your basement and forget about it until the next time you move.
Once in a while, during a move, a person will rediscover a real treasure that they had stored away and forgotten. Maybe it was a gift from a grandparent that didn’t take on as much meaning until that grandparent died. Maybe it was a Mother’s Day gift her daughter made for her back in kindergarten. Whatever it is, that treasure is pulled out and put on display. Pray is a treasure that belongs to all of us. It’s precious because of who it comes from, our heavenly Father who has given us eternal life in his Son so that we can pray, confident that he hears and answers us. Amen