3 Things About Prayer You Don't Want to Hear
John taught some things about prayer that are not exactly popular but they are vital for us to hear.
Offensive: Embracing the Harsh Realities Of The Gospel
1 John 5:14-17
Most of us have been taught to pray to try and get God to do the things we want. If you want to sell a book on prayer that’s the way to really get them flying off the shelves. You convince people you found the secret to the genie in the bottle! As I say that, I actually just started reading a book on prayer the other day. So far it isn’t doing that at all. I’ll wait until I’m done reading it before I share the title. I do that with any book I read. But when it comes to books on prayer, right or wrong, I’m particularly skeptical! But, unlike so many of the “books” on prayer that try and tell us what we want to hear, John deals with aspects of prayer that you probably don't want to hear!
So, let’s jump right in to this thing. Will you stand with me as I read God’s Word!
14And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. 16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life--to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. (5:14-17)
There are 3 lessons on prayer that may not be what you were hoping for.
God doesn’t give us whatever we want. (5:14-15)
14And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
Confidence! This comes straight from the Gospel that assures us that we get to boldly approach the throne of God because He has adopted us as His children! The guy on the throne is our dad!
But, In that confidence John makes it clear that God only does what He wills. That is you can’t ask for whatever you want, but rather we should be confident that He is only going to do what is according to His will!
Before I even take you through the scripture think about this just logically for a second. If God is love then basic common sense parenting tells you if you love your kids you are not going to give them everything they ask for! It will either (a) spoil them or (b) give them things that will end up destroying them!
Illustration – In High School me asking my parents to do away with my 11pm curfew. They knew it was good for me whether I liked it or not. They endured my anger and frustration over it. And looking back, I’m glad they did it!
But, that’s focusing on what God doesn’t answer. Things that are not according to His will. But, John’s focus is on what He does answer Things that are according to His will! In John’s Gospel he records Jesus as saying this...
“If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:14)
Now that doesn’t mean asking whatever we want and slapping a Jesus label on it. When you do or ask something in somebody’s name you are saying that what your are doing or asking for is what they want! You are proclaiming to be representing them! So how are we to know what matches up with His name?
Jesus said, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10). FYI, in John 17 Jesus said life is knowing God! That it is so much of life that he called it eternal life! To have abundant life is to have eternal life. To literally abound in a relationship with God so much that we know God wants us to have that!
So we find Paul in 2 Corinthians not feeling like he is really experiencing abundant life because of some really serious burden in his life. Presumably a demon that is making Paul suffer. Now that doesn’t sound like abundant life. So you would guess that if Paul asked for this to stop God would say yes. But, read what Paul wrote.
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
Why did God say no? Because God was using that thorn, that burden, to set Paul free from sin & lead Paul into abundant life! Jesus said He came to give! Life free from the bonds of our weak and sinful flesh and into the power of Christ. The power to know God. The power to live set free from the confines of this world where Solomon concluded in Ecclesiastes that everything is in vain apart from what is not in God. Paul concluded in 1 Corinthians that we can know that all we do in Christ is worth being steadfast, immovable and always abounding in! God was answering His prayer. As a loving father He gave was giving Paul the greatest gift. Life! It took going through the intense labor of asking 3 different times for what He wanted before he released God. The one who knows us better than ourselves was giving him exactly what Paul truly wanted, life!
So, the 1st lesson on prayer that you're probably not hoping for is that God doesn’t give us whatever we want. But, wow, there is nothing greater than what He does give!
What’s the 2nd lesson John gives us on prayer that we probably don’t want?
It’s not judgmental to pray for Christians to repent from sin. (5:16a)
16 If anyone sees his brother (he is speaking of saved people) committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life--to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. (much more on “sins that do not lead to death” in lesson #3)
This is straight forward. Kruse put it plainly - “When his readers see fellow believers (‘a brother’) committing a sin, the author says they are to pray for them. (Kruse)
So Kruse says of this verse “The ‘sin that does not lead to death’ is the sin believers commit and for which forgiveness has been secured by the atoning sacrifice of Christ. (cf. 1:9; 2:1–2) For this reason, the author is quite confident that prayer for the restoration of a repentant believer will be answered, and God will give him life’.” (Kruse)
The Key to understanding this is to remember that life is what we were just talking about. Living in relationship with God. Basking in it, being defined by it. Being consumed by it!
However, when we are living in sin, that is in an active sense of consciously rebelling from God. We are rejecting His authority in our life. Thus abandoning a thriving abundant relationship with Him for sin. As such, we should know that when we pray for a brother or sister in Christ to repent from that then we are praying for God to do exactly what Jesus said He came to do!
Now, as soon as I say this, inevitably somebody will quote some of the words of Jesus at me from the Sermon on the Mount …
1 "Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)
People take this out of context all the time. He wasn’t saying don’t point out something is somebody else’s eye. He’s saying make sure you are paying attention to what is in your eye first. Then you can take the time to help the other guy. Imagine trying to get a speck out of my eye while you got a log sticking out of yours. Talk about a difficult job! Ha! But my point here is that nowhere are we told to ignore each others sin. The Bible actually tells us to do the opposite. To help each other overcome it. That means approaching each other with a humble attitude that realizes we are jacked up sinners as well. But it by no means implies abandoning the rescue mission of rescuing someone from the jaws of sin!
So what about these sins that lead to death? As in not our experience in this life, but permanent death. That is permanent condemnation from God and thus cast into hell. What is he talking about?
Well that takes us to the 3rd lesson on prayer we probably don’t want to hear.
You can’t pray somebody into heaven. (5:16b-17)
Now this is not to say praying for people to be saved is not effective. I pray that for many people because I know Jesus came to seek and to save that which is lost. However, there is a point at which my prayers are no good anymore. John says it this way …
There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. (5:16b-17)
“...this seems to be the meaning of “sin unto death;” willful and obstinate rejection of God’s grace and persistence in unrepented sin.” (Spence-Jones)
Jesus was very clear that the only sin a person commits that is unforgivable is the sin of rejecting Him. Also called blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Saying no to the work of the one who has come to convict the world of sin and righteousness and point the world to Jesus! It's why I believe in what is called limited atonement. That is that Christ died for the sins of the world, but that it is only effective for the elect. For those who are actually in Christ.
Remember, sin is rejecting God. If you continue in the sin to your death then you will die permanently in that sin. And that sin is unforgivable!
So, you can’t pray somebody into heaven or get baptized for them and somehow get them into heaven. There is nothing that any of us can do to save anybody. Each of us must repent and believe. John has been abundantly clear throughout his letter that if a person does not do this then they are not saved. Thus the blood of Christ and his atonement for sin is not applied to their “account” with God. Meaning their sins are not forgiven. Christ died for the sins of the world, but it is only effective to those who repent and believe in the gospel. That is, it is only applied to those who have faith in who Jesus says he is and what he said he came to do and did!
This is bad news for those who have loved ones that died and never gave their life to Christ. For loved ones that you didn’t know if they did or not. But it is a harsh truth of the Gospel that is unavoidable.
How much of your prayer life is a conversation with God about the sin in your own heart and life as well as others?
Don’t let prayer be so mysterious. Don’t worry if you’re saying the right things, but also don’t waste your time. That is, don’t go to a rich guy and ask for $25 and you really should be asking for $100,000. When it comes to God he’s not annoyed by our pity request. But, do you realize you have the opportunity to go to the author of life? So why are we always talking to him about death? That is things that are of this world. Oh wow! We could be conversing with him about the things in our life that are in the way of actual life!