A Confident Meaningful Prayer Life
1 John 5:13-17
Good evening. Last week we talked about “What Shall I Render Unto The Lord” and one of the things we saw the Psalmist offered to God was prayer. This morning we talked about how David went to the God when he had lost his footing. For this evening I would like to look at some things about prayer in our walk before the Lord.
Clearly prayer is something we often hear about and people have many different concepts about what prayer consists of and how best to approach the throne of God.
Let me start with a story. Three men were discussing the proper posture for prayer. The first said that one should be on one's knees with your head bowed in reverence to the Almighty. The second argued that one should stand with your head raised looking into the heavens and speak to the face of God as would a little child. The third spoke up and said "I know nothing about these prayer positions, but I do know this: the finest praying I've ever done was upside down when I fell into a well!"
On the subject of prayer, let us see what the Apostle John has to tell us today. In 1 John 1:9 he talked about the value of confessing our sins to God in prayer. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In 1 John 2:1 he talked about how Jesus Christ who is the righteous One, is our advocate in prayer. “My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” In 1 John 3:22 he talked about how God answers prayer if we do what He asks of us. “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”
I. Turn with me in your Bible to 1 John 5 where John is going to share with us how to pray with confidence. 1 John 5:13-15 – “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.”[para]
A. John in verse 13 confirms again that this is written to those in Christ, those who are Christians and he confirms to them that since they adhered to the fundamentals of the faith (a proper view of Christ, obedience, love), their salvation was sure.
B. In verse 14 John turns to prayer and shares with us how to pray for our prayers to be answered. Here is the 1st requirement, is our prayer request in line with God’s will? Have you ever heard the expression “banging your head against a brick wall”? It’s the idea of trying to do something or trying to talk to someone but nothings happening.
1. I read something from one preacher who said; “I have heard many prayers from all sorts of people and sometimes I believe certain people haven’t got a clue what they are asking for.” He said; “I have heard prayers for God to accept homosexuals into His church because they can’t help being homosexual, it is the way they were born. In other words just carry on with your sinful behavior. It’s ok.” “I’ve heard prayers to God for Christ to come into people’s lives without the need for baptism.” “I’ve heard prayers to God at funerals where the minister will ask God to accept this person who is now deceased and didn’t even know God, into His kingdom.”
2. After reading that I thought wow, they are all banging their heads against a brick wall, so to speak. They are banging their heads against a brick wall because they do not know the will of the Father.
3. For people to pray according to God’s will, they first need to know what God’s will is! Prayer is not about assuming that God will automatically answer that prayer. There are times, and we need to understand this, that God will on occasion say “No” to our requests. Especially if the request is not according to His will.
4. Why does the model prayer say “Thy will be done”? (Matthew 6:9-10). When we pray, “Thy will be done,” we acknowledge God’s right to rule. We do not pray, “My will be done”; we pray, “Thy will be done.” Asking that God’s will be done is a demonstration of our trust that He knows what is best. It is a statement of submission to God’s ways and His plans. We ask for our will to be conformed to His.
5. I would like to read you a poem by Claudia Minden Welsz; it’s called “And God Said, NO."
I asked God to take away my pride, And God said, "No."
He said, “It was not for Him to take away, But for me to give it up”.
I asked God to make my handicapped child whole, And God said, "No."
He said, “Her spirit is whole. Her body is only temporary.”
I asked God to grant me patience, And God said, "No."
He said, “Patience is a by-product of tribulation. It isn't granted, it is earned.”
I asked God to give me happiness, And God said, "No."
He said, “He gives the blessings, the happiness is up to me”.
I asked God to spare me pain, And God said, "No."
He said, "Suffering draws you apart from Worldly cares and brings you closer to Me."
I asked God to make my spirit grow, And God said, "No."
He said, “I must grow on my own, But he will prune me to make it fruitful.”
I asked God if He loved me, And God said, "Yes."
He gave me His only son, who died for me. And I will be in Heaven someday because... I believe.
I asked God to help me love others As much as He loves me,
And God said, "Ah finally, you have the idea."
6. Our prayers are dependant upon the will of God. Even Jesus' own example of prayer illustrates that answer to prayer depends upon whether or not it is in harmony with God's will. Remember when Jesus was praying in the Garden? He’s praying to God and what did He say? Matthew 26:39-42 – “39. He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.'' 40. Then He came to the disciples and found them asleep, and said to Peter, "What, could you not watch with Me one hour? 41. "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.'' 42. He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.''” Two times Jesus prayed and said, “Father, your will be done.”
7. Remember the apostle Paul was struggling with a thorn in his flesh? He said in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 – “7. And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9. And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'' Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Three times Paul asked God to take his torment away and three times God said, “No.” Why? Because it stopped Paul from becoming big headed and so his request to God wasn’t in line with God’s will.
8. What we see here emphasizes the importance of studying the Bible. The more we learn God's revealed will through His word the more likely we will pray according to His will. The more we pray according to His will, the greater confidence we can have that our prayers will be answered accordingly.
C. That brings us to the 2nd requirement of prayer. We not only need to pray according to God’s will but we also need to keep God’s commandments. John has already stressed the importance of keeping the lord’s commands in reference to prayer in 1 John 3:21-22 where he writes; “21. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. 22. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”,
1. He’s saying even if we are asking for something that would normally be within God's will for us, if we are not keeping His commandments can we really expect God to answer our prayers? I don’t believe we can expect God to answer our prayers if we just live our lives in anyway we want.
2. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:12 – “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.''” The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,-- who are the righteous? We need to go back to 1 John 3:22 where John tells us the righteous are those who "do those things that are pleasing in His sight."
3. Sometimes we struggle to do what is pleasing to Him don’t we? We know what to do but we don’t do it. Maybe we need to pray to God for strength to do what He wants us to do. God understands that we struggle at times to live according to His will, but folks, pleasing Him is His will. He wants to help us live by His will, but He can only do that if we ask Him for help.
4. Allow me to illustrate. A father was watching his young son try to dislodge a heavy stone. The boy couldn't budge it. "Are you sure you are using all your strength?" the father asked. "Yes, I am," said the exasperated boy. "No, you are not son," the father replied. "You haven't asked me to help you."
D. We struggle to pray with confidence because we don’t fully know what His will is or we struggle to keep His commandments, it is then that we should be praying for God to help us understand His will and to help us keep His commandments.
1. The Psalmist says in Psalm 119:18 – “Open my eyes, that I may see Wondrous things from Your law.” What is the Psalmist asking? He is asking God to help him understand God’s will, so that he can live his life by God’s will.
2. A little later in the same Psalm, he says, Psalm 119:173-176 – “173. Let Your hand become my help, For I have chosen Your precepts. 174. I long for Your salvation, O Lord, And Your law is my delight. 175. Let my soul live, and it shall praise You; And let Your judgments help me. 176. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; Seek Your servant, For I do not forget Your commandments.”
3. The Lord’s commands are not burdensome; His commandments are there for us to delight in. His commandments are there to sustain us in everyway.
II. After what John says in 1 John 3:21-22 talking about confidence in prayer, he goes on to say in verse 23 – “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” Not only are our prayers to be according to His will, not only are they to be on the condition that we keep His commands, but prayer requires that Christians remain in Jesus and His words remain in us.
A. Jesus said referring to prayer in John 15:7- “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” Jesus just summarized what John has been saying to us in 1 John. Confidence in prayer depends upon keeping His commandments, but keeping the commandments is the key to remaining in Jesus.
1. John says the exact same thing back in 1 John 3:24 – “Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.”
2. What John is telling us here? If being confident in our prayer lives depends upon asking according to God's Will, and it depends upon Jesus' words remaining in us; then won't knowing Jesus words help us know what God's will is? Won’t that help us to know what and what not to ask for in our prayer lives?
B. 3rd that brings us to John’s final point concerning prayer, we should pray like we mean it. One of the great themes running through John’s 1st letter is the theme of love. Knowing that, it shouldn’t be surprising for us to find him talking about prayer and love together. He goes on to say in 1 John 5:16-17 – “16. If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. 17. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.” Time and time again John has stressed the importance of brotherly love. He says in 1 John 3:16 that we "ought to lay down our lives for each other” He asks us in 1 John 3:17 that if "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”[para] It’s not surprising then that he says we should be willing to pray for each other.
1. You’ve heard the story about the little boy who was with his father in boat fishing at a local lake. He asked his father, “Where do all the fish come from dad?” His dad said, “I don’t really know son.” Then he asked his dad, “Dad where do all the clouds come from dad”? Again his dad said, “I don’t really know son.” This went on for a few minutes and then he finally asked his dad, “Dad do you mind me asking you all these questions?” His dad said, “Not at all son, how else are you going to learn anything?”
2. Like the little boy, to get the right answers we need to ask the right questions. There is no escaping the fact that this is a difficult text to understand. It has led to some unfortunate views that do not agree with the rest of scripture very well.
a. What is the "sin that doesn’t lead to death”?
b. What is the sin that “does lead to death”?
c. What does John mean when he says, "God will give him life"?
C. At this point I will be giving my understanding of the verses. In the context of this section John makes it very clear in verses 1 thru 8 he is addressing Christians, brethren. In verses 14-15 it is clear the subject is prayer. In verse 16 John is saying, “Listen, if anyone sees his brother sin.” John is talking about after the fact, after the sin has taken place that one should pray for a brother who has sinned. Or he will ask as some translations have it.
D. Let’s look at this part about praying for our brother a bit more before we continue. Since we are commanded to love our brethren’s soul and care for their physical well being (1 John 3:10, 17; 4:20), John now commanded that we pray for our brother who is in sin. Just as we pray for one who is ill in body, physical illness, so we pray for one who is spiritually ill.
E. What do we know about prayer and sin? Let me give you some texts:
1. Sin equals lawlessness and unrighteous acts (1 John 3:4; 5:17).
a. The one “born of God” does not continue in sin (1 John 3:9).
b. The one “of the devil” continues in sin (1 John 3:8, 10).
c. A premise is therefore established; i.e., All sin, but the righteous do not continue in sin. The righteous repent and confess their sins and those of the devil do not.
2. Repentance is demanded and brought forth by truth (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38, 17:30; 2 Corinthians 7:9).
3. Repentance moves one to “confess” their sins (2 Corinthians 7:9; 1 John 1:9).
4. The desire for heaven and truth motivates one to purify them self (Matthew 13:16-17; 1 John 3:3).
5. Here another premise is established: God will forgive the sinner who confesses their sin (1 John 1:9); however, He will not forgive nor will He hear the prayers of a sinner who continues in his sin through stubbornness and hardness of heart (Psalms 51; Isaiah 57:15; 66:2).
6. The sin “not unto death” must therefore be the sin a Christian commits and receives forgiveness through humility and contriteness of heart (1 John 1:9; 3:3).
7. We understand that, and indeed in the invitation we state that, if someone has sinned and comes forward, confesses that sin and repents we will pray for them and with them. The sin that doesn’t lead to death and the sin that does, isn’t a specific sin. It depends on the response a person has to their sin.
F. What kind of sin could a Christian commit that would lead to death? James says in James 1:13-15 – “13. Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God''; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” According to James, any temptation can lead to sin and death. But what we need to remember is that sin does not produce "death" until it is "full-grown."
1. How do we avoid sinning toward death? What is the sin that doesn’t lead to death? John gives us the answer in 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
2. When we put these scriptures together we can clearly see that the sin that leads to death is the un-repented and un-confessed sin. If we follow this understanding of the text it is obvious that the sin that doesn’t lead to death is the sin which has been confessed and repented of.
3. It is this sin about which John says that we can pray for our brethren and God will forgive. Common sense tells us that we cannot expect God to forgive a person who refuses to repent. That why John says in 1 John 5:16 – "I do not say that he should pray about that."
G. We need to remember that when John is talking about death here, he’s talking about spiritual death. Remember when Adam was in the Garden and God said to him in Genesis 2:16-17 – “"Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; "but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.''”
1. We know that both Adam and Eve ate from the tree and they were cast out of the Garden but they didn’t die physically, did they? They died spiritually.
2. In 1 John 5:16 John says, “16. If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life”. If the "death" in this passage is "spiritual death"; it is natural to believe the life is "spiritual life."
3. How then shall a brother pray for a sinning brother who is currently in sin yet is not one who has hardened their heart and rejected God?
a. First we can pray that they will come to the realization of their sin, that they are in danger and repent. 1 John 4:6 – “We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”
b. Second if they repent then we can pray for help that they remain strongly opposed to their temptations. You see the "life" which God will give the repentant sinner in answer to our prayers could also be described as "forgiveness." What we can not pray for is the forgiveness of a brother that does not repent.
4. One writer puts it this way. In our experience that there are two kinds of sinners. There is the person who may be said to sin against their will; that is they sin because they are swept away by passion or desire, which at the moment is too strong for them; their sin is not so much a matter of choice as it is a yielding to temptation which at the moment they are not able to resist. Then there is the person who sins deliberately for the set purpose having their own way, although well aware that it is wrong.
5. These two people may begin the same way. It is the experience of every person that the first time that they do something wrong, they do it with shrinking and with fear; and, after they so it, they feel grief and remorse and regret.
a. But, if they allow themselves again and again to flirt with the temptation and to fall, on each occasion the sin becomes easier; and, if they think they escape the consequences, on each occasion the self-disgust and the remorse and the regret become less and less. In the end they reach a state where they can sin without fear.
b. It is precisely that state which is the sin which is leading to death. So long as a person in their heart of hearts hates sin and hates themselves for sinning, so long as they know that they are sinning, as long as they live they are never beyond repentance and, therefore, never beyond forgiveness; but once they begin to revel in sin and to make it the deliberate policy of their life, they are on the way to death, for they are on the way to a state where the idea of repentance will not, and cannot, enter their head.
H. In 1 John 1:9 John tells us that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” That is what the brothers and sisters of the sinner are praying for, that the sinner repent. That’s why he says in 1 John 5:16 that “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.”
1. Now the question occurs, why would we bother to pray for a repentant Christian if their sins will be forgiven anyway? That’s a good question and I suggest we consider the Book of James. James 5:16 – “ Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” When you know of another’s sin and they repent you can pray they are forgiven, not of God but of man, then pray for the strength they need to resist further temptation. The sin of a person can be a snare to brothers and sisters if they do not forgive the repentant person. In a sense you pray not only for their healing and support but for your own as well.
2. This is where many people make a mess of it. Our newspapers are filled with celebrities and people who have been caught in the act of doing something terrible. Many publications are in the business of exposing people’s lives. When they discover that a person has done something wrong, they share it with the world and they make them feel like a criminal. Listen folks, that’s not how it works in the Lord’s church.
3. When a Christian confesses their sin to God and has shown that they have repented, that should be the end of the matter. Like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 – “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”[NIV]
Folks, prayer is a privilege and a wonderful blessing, especially when we pray with confidence and pray like we mean it.
Don’t pray for someone publicly if you don’t mean what you say.
Don’t ask God to heal someone spiritually if you don’t want them to be healed.
Don’t ask God to forgive someone if you don’t want to forgive them.
Don’t ask God to help you live the life of a Christian if you have no intention of living that life.
Mean what you pray and pray from the heart.
Like the hymn says, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear, what a privilege it is to carry everything to God in prayer”.
How is our prayer life this evening? How do we each feel about our prayers to God?
Are we remaining in Jesus, and letting His words remain in us?
Are we keeping His commandments and doing the things that are pleasing in His sight?
Are we asking according to God's Will?
Are we praying not only for ourselves, but for each other?
Are we praying for those Christians who have been overtaken by sin, but who have demonstrated that they are repentant?
We all need the fullness of God's blessings in our lives.
Let's encourage one another to do whatever we can to be able to pray with both confidence and with meaning.
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