With every rereading of I John, it occurs to me that at some point, I need to talk about the I John 5:15, “And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (NAS).
It pains me to think of how many people have left the Christian faith, feeling ripped off by God, right when their prayers were not answered in the manner they had wished. Oh, that good theology would be more valued and more prioritized in the mind of every Christ follower! The great need of evangelicals is to seek the living God on God’s terms. That way, we will not be set up for disillusionment nor will we be affronted when God turns out to be unmanageable.
God is God! Luther said it, and Barth explained it, yet the truthfulness of the statement comes straight from Scripture. God said to Moses, “I am Who I am!” As we ponder I John, it is our responsibility to bear in mind that He Who hears us when we pray is the God Who is GOD. He is our Master. We are not His master.
And yet He is a Master Who reveals Himself as One Who wants to help us. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength,a very present help in trouble.”
So let’s back up. What is the apostle John talking about when he says, “And if we know that He hears us … we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him”? Is John saying that God will give us what we want as long “we know” and we do not doubt even 1 percent that God will grant us our requests? Is John encouraging us to put our faith in our own faith? Is he saying that answered prayer depends more upon the assurance of the person who prays than upon God Himself? No, no and no. Then what’s the point here?
I like the way A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) reasoned this. He said:
“Some are concerned because there are not more miracles and wonders wrought in our midst through faith. In our day, everything is commercialized. And I must say that I do not believe in commercialized miracles.”
Tozer understood that our confidence must be placed in the Person of Jesus Christ and not in the power of our own prayers. Tozer stated, “Our confidence [in God] rises as the character of God becomes greater and more trustworthy to our spiritual comprehension.”
We want things to be reasonable. We want to be able to reason to ourselves that if I pray, God will answer—that’s reasonable. And if I am in need, God will provide—that is reasonable, too.
Given that mindset, we tell ourselves it is unreasonable for God not to answer according to our requests, and it’s downright unfair for Him not to provide what we ask for. We then approach the Scriptures with demanding, selfish hearts rather than with open hearts toward God Who is God. And we quickly become dejected and overcome by unbelief that distances us away from the real God.
Tozer said: “The person of faith does not dare rest on human reason. He or she does not reject the place of human reason, but he or she knows that there are things human reason cannot do.”
So first things first, when we read I John 5:15, we must tell ourselves it is reasonable not to rely on our own limited reason, but rather to place our faith in the living God.
What does God promise in I John 5:15? He promises to grant the requests He hears. So the question, I believe, is this? Which requests of ours does God hear? The word “hear” here refers not to that which is audible, but rather that which honors and defers to God’s will.
We know from I John 2:17 that “the world is passing away.” That tells it is not God’s will for the world to endure forever. Yet many of our prayers have to do with our desires for the world NOT to pass away. Example: “Dear Lord, we pray for world peace.” How many prayers do we pray for the sake of our own advancement? “Dear Lord, please help me to cinch the deal. Help me to make the grade. Help me to win.” In such cases, are we praying for God’s will to be done or our own?
Praying to God is a form of worshiping God. How many times do we pray in subversion for the purpose of exalting ourselves?
Praying for God’s will is different. It’s like praying for our heritage, asking for things that our Father God already has left for us in His will. I believe Tozer is right when he suggests that God has made a will for us, His heirs. Thus we can pray in confidence, according to God’s will, that He will give us that which He has already willed to give us, if only we will choose to receive good gifts from Him.