“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” ~ 1 John 5:14
Explanation of the Text: “There are few subjects in the Christian life more puzzling to more of God’s people than prayer. On the surface we might think that prayer should be the most natural and uncomplicated part of Christian living, for what should be more natural than to speak out of one’s heart to one’s heavenly Father? Nevertheless, in practice Christians often are confused by prayer and ask: What is prayer? Does prayer change things or does prayer merely change the one who is praying? How should we pray? What should we pray for? Can we be sure that God always hears prayer? Can we be confident that he will answer it?” (1). As John has continually provided assurance of salvation throughout his epistle, he now provides assurance of prayer.
He writes that we can have confidence toward him when we come to him. The word confidence speaks specifically to the fact of having confidence in speaking. It is often associated with one being able to have boldness when sharing the gospel with the unbelieving world. Here it denotes our reassurance that God both hears and answers our prayers when we come before Him.
In fact, John says we can ask of God anything. “The ‘anything’ of which John speaks is in the emphatic position, perhaps calling attention to the limitless span of what believers might bring before God for his consideration. They may ‘request’ whatever they wish. The question arises is this: what is a believer free to wish?” (2). If God has a limitless span of the requests that He can answer, do we have a limitless span of what we can ask of Him?
It is important, when we explore biblical concepts, that we take the full counsel of God’s word into account. The best interpreter of Scripture is Scripture. It is not uncommon for some to quote Psalm 37:4 which states “He (God) will give you the desires of your heart.” Often this interpreted as a blanket statement for believers to request whatever they want from God. However, the first part of that verse is often overlooked which says, “Delight yourself in God.” When we are delighting in God, our focus . . . our will, becomes fixated not upon our own personal wants, but on the will of God. John reasserts that point here by adding the qualifier “according to His will.” Our prayers are to be motivated by the will of God. Thus, when we pray and receive an answer we do not want, we have confidence that the will of the Lord was done, which is good, acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).
Examination & Application of the Text: The restriction that God provides here, to pray according to His will, is not because God cares more about His will than our desires, but because God indeed has a great care and concern for us. Calvin reminds us “For though God has promised to do whatsoever his people may ask, yet he does not allow them an unbridled liberty to ask whatever may come to their minds; but he has at the same time prescribed to them a law according to which they are to pray. And doubtless nothing is better for us than this restriction; for if it was allowed to every one of us to ask what he pleased, and if God were to indulge us in our wishes, it would be to provide very badly for us. For what may be expedient we know not; nay, we boil over with corrupt and hurtful desires. But God supplies a twofold remedy, lest we should pray otherwise than according to what his own will has prescribed; for he teaches us by his word what he would have us to ask, and he has also set over us his Spirit as our guide and ruler, to restrain our feelings, so as not to suffer them to wander beyond due bounds. For what or how to pray, we know not, says Paul, but the Spirit helpeth our infirmity, and excites in us unutterable groans. (Rom. 8:26.) We ought also to ask the mouth of the Lord to direct and guide our prayers; for God in his promises has fixed for us, as it has been said, the right way of praying” (3).
If God is limitless in so many ways, including his ability to hear and answer our prayers and we are reassured of the confidence that we can have in bringing our prayers to Him, why is it that we are so hesitant to pray? I suspect that because even though we won’t always admit it to ourselves or others, deep down we recognize that the majority of our prayers are not motivated by the desire of God’s will, but the desire of our own will. Thus, when the prayer is not answered according to what we want, we grow frustrated and discontent. However, if God’s is the desire of our heart, when He answers our prayer according to His will we find genuine contentment because we are pleased to know that whatever the answer may be, it is for our greatest good and God’s greatest glory.
I am of the mindset that prayer is one of the greatest indicators of our relationship with God and our relationship with others.
Question to Consider:
- What priority does prayer have in your life?
- Do you have confidence when you pray? Why or why not? What does this say about your faith and trust in God?
- How can 1 John 5:14 provide reassurance to you in prayer? How can it provide motivation to your prayer life?
- What steps should take place to make prayer a priority in your life now?
(1) James Montgomery Boice, The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 137.
(2) Robert W. Yarbrough, 1-3 John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 299.
(3) John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 266.