A friend recently remarked that when he prayed he often wondered if anyone was listening. He said he believed that God did listen but nevertheless the thought kept coming back. In reply I mentioned some of the Bible verses that tell us that God does listen and that He delights to answer our prayers. The following are some of those verses. However our conversation stimulated me to do some more thinking on the subject.
In 1 John 5:14-15 John affirms that we can know God listens to us when we pray. We can also know that He answers our prayers. There are 2 main words for “know” in New Testament. One is the verb (ginosko ) from the noun (gnosis = knowledge.) It can mean beginning to know and increasing in knowledge. The other main word is (oida a perfect tense form of the verb εἴδω = eídō meaning “to see.”) It means having a full or complete knowledge. It is used twice in these verses.
1). WE CAN “KNOW” THAT GOD HEARS US WHEN WE PRAY. 1 Jn 5:14
1 Jn 5:14) “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 (οιδαμεν =oidamen) that he hears us–whatever we ask— …” John is stating the fact that God hears prayers that are prayed according to His will.
Another fact my friend found helpful was the statement that God takes us seriously. He is supremely motivated to listen and to answer our prayers.
We see that even in the Old Testament. For example in Isaiah 65:24 “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” He knows what we are going to say and to pray at any moment. So in that sense it may be that His answer is in the process of being fulfilled even as we pray. In Jeremiah we see another aspect to prayer, Jeremiah 33:3 “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” When our hearts are inclined to call out to Him, He listens and answers and may bring greater enlightenment to us. A reason why prayer is answered is found in Zechariah 13:9 “They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.'” Calling on His name means trusting in who He is and in what He has done. They are described as “God’s people” who acknowledge that “The Lord is our God.” God listens particularly to the prayers of His people in this personal relationship with them.
But what are the conditions for answered prayer? God is certainly not a robot who responds instantly and positively to whatever we pray. John gives us the answer in 1 Jn 5:14. “if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”
i). We have to be in the centre of God’s will, and praying according to God’s will for our prayers to be answered. Again it is about the intimacy of our relationship with Him. As Jesus promised in John 15:7 “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Remaining or abiding in close fellowship with Him enables us to come to know Him more closely and to discover more of Hs character and His will. The real measure of that is if we are taking His words seriously and living by them. It means that if we are abiding in Him and allowing His words to abide in us, we are being drawn into a closer relationship with Him. Then we will have a greater understanding of His will. Our prayers will then be in closer conformity to His will. It is these prayers that He promises to answer.
We see the same truth a few verses later in John 15:14 “You are my friends if you do what I command. … 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last–and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.” Being a true friend to Jesus by obeying Him enables Him to be a TRUE FRIEND to us by blessing us with answers to our prayers.
ii). We have to get rid of doubt and truly trust Him.
Mk 11:22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.” AND
Jas 1:6 “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” Doubt is a lack of trust and a breach of love.
iii). We need to get rid of pockets of unbelief. Jesus speaks with the father of a boy with an unclean spirit. Mar 9:21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” 23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Many of us have faith for some things to happen. But there may be pockets of unbelief in all of us regarding other things. It is a mature person who prays to the Lord, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Only God knows what those pockets are. Having faith in the sufficiency of my faith is entirely different to having faith in the sufficiency of the Lord.
iv). We have to live lives pleasing to Him. 1Jn 3:21-23, “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” To “receive from Him whatever we ask” is conditional. It is conditional on keeping His commandments especially His commands to believe in His name and to love others.
v). We have to have the right motives in praying. Jas 4:2 “…. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” A failure to pray will mean a failure to receive. A failure to pray with the right motive will also mean a failure to receive. We are to live for His glory, not ours. To do His will, not our own. To fulfil His purpose for our lives, not to ask Him to simply satisfy our desires for our sakes.
2). WE CAN “KNOW” THAT GOD ANSWERS OUR PRAYERS. 1 John 5:15
1 John 5:15) “And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask—we KNOW (οιδαμεν =oidamen) that we have what we asked of him.” It is not saying, “Might possibly get” or “Perhaps may get sometime in the future”. Whether we like it or not the words are in the present tense, “we have”.
I once advertised the topic of a coming sermon. It had this title, “We Ask! He Hears! We Have!” It drew some interesting responses. Among them was this, “Where did you get that from?” It was a natural response. It seems too glib or too good to be true. It certainly wasn’t true in the experience of some of the questioners that when they prayed they immediately got the answers they were seeking. But we have to take God’s word seriously and to reflect on what it is really saying, even when it doesn’t seem to fit in with our experience. Reality is what God says. It is not what we feel or have experienced thus far in life. I told my questioners that I got the sermon title directly from these verses in 1 John 5:14-15, “… we ask … he hears … we have.” (I had simply deleted the intervening words.) They are the natural ways to interpret those verses.
We might ask, what did Jesus teach about answers to prayer?
It was interesting meeting up a week later with the friend I mentioned at the beginning of this article. He shared that it had encouraged him to realise that God takes His people (including him) seriously. I responded in words that I have reflected on ever since, “Yes, He takes us a lot more seriously than we take Him.” I realised afresh what an indictment that is on us as humans! God Almighty, the Creator of all things and all people takes us seriously. Enough to send His Son to die for us on a cross and to offer us forgiveness and new life in Him! Enough to ensure that all His promises to His people are fulfilled in Christ! As St Paul wrote, 2 Corinthians 1:19-20 “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. (20) For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him …”. The promises are ours in Him!
St Peter said the same, that God’s promises are ours in Him, 2 Peter 1:3 “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” Promises that enable us to become like Him. Yet how seriously do we take Him? How seriously do we take His promises to us?
Jesus made many promises about prayers being answered. The following are some of them.
- Mark 11:24 “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” The answer to our prayer is available to us now in Christ [you have received] but is released to us [will be yours] according to His timetable, not ours.
- John 14:13 “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”[The important thing to note is that prayer has to be in His “name”. It has to be in accord with Who Jesus is and dependent on what He has done. It has to be for the glory of God, and not simply for our own personal convenience! Though of course God delights to give us what we need to live for Him.]
- John 16:23-24, “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” Jesus was stating that the time would come when His disciples would not need to ask Him for help. They could ask the Father directly and He would give them whatever they asked for in Jesus’ name.
They could do so because Jesus had opened the way for them to approach God directly and because they now belonged to the family of God as His children, Ephesians 2:18 “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” The writer to the Hebrews put the same truths in these words, Hebrews 10:10 “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. … 10:19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, … 10:22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Confidence to come before God personally with the full assurance of faith.
Is There Any Limit To What God Can Do In Answer To Prayer?
Paul wrote these encouraging words in a Doxology in Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” God can do far more than we can ever ask for in prayer. In fact He can do much more than we could ever imagine. How does He do it? According to His power that is at work in us.
What then is the upper limit? Sorry, I have no answer because God says of me that as a finite human being I cannot even begin to imagine the unimaginable. I just know it is more than I can imagine. Even the fact that I know that God hears and answers our prayers came by revelation from Him through His word. My experience in prayer confirms this revealed truth. But what I do realise is that it is His power not mine. Perhaps what I need to do is to act on Paul’s command in Philippians 2:12 “… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Perhaps it is time for all of us to cease trying to imagine the unimaginable and to cooperate with God as He works in us to give us the willingness and the ability to do what He wants to do in and through us by His power. The things that please Him! Perhaps even unimaginable things for His pleasure? Imagine that! (No I can’t, but He can!)
Blog No.198. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Thursday 27th October 2016