When I was a child, I prayed like this: “God, if you answer this prayer in the way that I want, I promise I will do whatever you want.” Most of the time, my prayers were over something petty, such as getting over an upset stomach. But it wasn’t so much as what I was praying for that was the problem, it was the basis for which I thought I would be heard. Prayer was a one-way street where I could somehow manipulate God into giving me what I wanted if I said or did the right thing.
As adults, I’m sure few of us are as naïve to pray prayers like I did as a child. Surely we know that a vow to God to “never sin again” or “do whatever you ask” if he answers us is an empty prayer at best and self-delusion at worst. And yet I think we often fall into similar errors of basing the effectiveness of our prayer on ourselves. When we don’t think we have been heard, or that our prayers have not been answered to our liking, we are prone to look inward with a posture of defeat. If only we had done or said more, perhaps God would have heard and answered our prayer.
This can happen in a couple of ways. Sometimes we tell ourselves that if we say the right things, we will appease God and cause our prayer to be heard. With enough Scripture references – maybe a line or two from the Lord’s prayer for safe measure – we will be heard. More commonly, we look to our recent performance as the basis of the effectiveness for our prayer. We look to our Bible reading, lack of enthusiasm in sharing our faith, or any number of other reasons to guilt ourselves into believing that we are the cause for unheard or unanswered prayer.
The Apostle John provides us with a helpful course correction in thinking about our prayer. Toward the end of his first epistle, he wrote:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 And 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. (1 John 5:13-15)
These three verses serve as wonderful reminders of where the effectiveness and strength of our prayer comes from. As Charles Spurgeon said, it is the weight of our prayer which matters – not its length or our verbiage. There are at least three lessons we can learn and apply from this passage to our own habits of prayer.
- Pray with Confidence In Christ
The Apostle John is very concerned with the believer being assured of the forgiveness of sins and participation in eternal life. It is a theme that is strung throughout his letter (1:3, 1:9, 2:1, 2:28, 3:21, etc.). This confidence is anchored in who God has revealed himself to be in Jesus Christ (5:20). Those who have believed in Jesus Christ have been given the Holy Spirit (4:13) who assures us that we are in Christ.
What does this mean? Our prayers should be anchored in full confidence that we have and will receive eternal life. Praying “in Christ’s name” (John 14:13) isn’t merely a lucky charm we tack on to the end of our prayers. It is praying with full confidence that we are forgiven, inheritors of eternal life, fully loved by God the Father.Our prayers should be anchored in full confidence that we have and will receive eternal life. Click To Tweet
- Pray Hopefully
John tells us that that the confidence we have in Christ leads us to know for certain that we will be heard whenever we ask anything according to his will. This promise should fill us with a posture of hopefulness. Unfortunately, we tend toward despair since we often do not know the exact nature of God’s will for our lives. But the Apostle’s instructions here are not words of warning but words of hope. When we pray with full confidence and assurance in Christ, this will lead us to hopefulness that our lives are aligning more and more with the will of God.
The Puritan David Clarkson exhorted his readers to have great hope and confidence that their prayers will be heard and answered. His exhortation is based on this same confidence in Christ:
How confidently you might pray if you are assured that the one who not only has the greatest power, but all power in heaven and earth, is appearing for you! Can you doubt that your petitions will prevail when Christ owns you and stands up on your behalf?
If Jesus Christ is our advocate (1 John 2:2), then we have no reason not to be hopeful that our prayers will be heard.
- Pray Expectantly
Not only heard, but also answered! Since we are those who believe in the Son of God, then we can be hopeful of being heard and expectant about our prayers being answered. God hears us in whatever we ask, and that means we can expect to have prayers answered that we have asked of him.
We may look at the few examples in the Bible of prayer not being answered (such as Paul’s thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10) as evidence that our prayer will also not be answered. But the overwhelming testimony of Scripture is that God answers prayer! So, as those who have confidence and assurance in Christ, we ought to be those who are both hopeful and expectant in prayer.The overwhelming testimony of Scripture is that God answers prayer! Click To Tweet
One of the entries in The Valley of Vision summarizes this posture of prayer well:
Help me to pray in faith and so find thy will,
by leaning hard on thy rich free mercy,
by believing thou wilt give what thou hast promised;
Strengthen me to pray with the conviction
that whatever I receive is thy gift
so that I may pray until prayer be granted.
(From “The Divine Will”)