1 John 5:13-17

In his final encouraging remarks, the apostle, John, shows his pastor’s heart. He wants to pass on all that he has learned and fill his readers full of hope, encouraging them to focus on what is important. He declares in the first verse (1 John 5:13) exactly why he has bothered to write this letter to them, namely: "so that you may know that you have eternal life". Not that we may think we have eternal life or even hope that we have, but that we may know without any shadow of doubt. He recognises that, often, we do not fully comprehend all that is ours in Christ. We believe in Jesus and can see why others are included in the blessings of the kingdom of God, but we know ourselves and we can’t quite accept that these are for us as well. John wrote his "gospel" with the aim, "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that, by believing, you may have life in His name". (John 20:31) Now John is writing this letter to believers in order that their faith might become even stronger and more certain. We, who are Christians, have the hope of eternal glory and can have confidence when approaching God.

Confidence in prayer

In study fifteen, we covered the subjects, "How should we pray?" and "Conditions for a successful prayer life". Then, in study twenty, we looked at what is meant by "intercession" and "How to pray for other Christians". You may find it helpful to look back over these subjects again as we turn now to look at the foundation for our confidence in prayer.

Confidence in God was a new concept for Jewish people who had become believers because, previously, they had only had the opportunity to approach God once a year. This was when the high priest entered the "Holy of Holies" in the temple. Ordinary Jewish worshippers were separated from God by the thick curtain that screened off the "Holy of Holies" - the innermost section of the temple. They were never able to enter into God’s presence for themselves. Many of the non-Jewish people who had now joined churches had previously followed pagan gods that were fickle and could only be approached through offerings and sacrifices that appeased them. So John is aware that he is writing to a group of people with widely differing backgrounds and, probably, very little experience of being aware of the presence of God. His concern, therefore, is to remind all believers that we can approach God with confidence, because He is merciful and gracious and has provided us with a "pass" to come into His very presence. This is not something to which we are entitled or deserve to have through any good deeds on our part, but solely because of what Jesus Christ did by dying for us and taking the punishment for our sins. He opened up a new way into God's presence, building a bridge between God and us. (Hebrews 10:19-20) We can, therefore, have assurance when we approach God in prayer: that He hears us and receives us, because He is our Father and wants to talk to us - His children - and share with us all that He has. (Matthew 7:9-11)

I know that many Christian believers have struggled with this idea of being confident to come into God's presence. Some have prayed for many things but not seen answers and have begun to doubt that these verses are true. Some have given up praying for themselves and started to depend wholly on others praying for them, even travelling to listen to popular Christian speakers who seem able to pray vibrant and powerful prayers with spectacular results. If this has been your experience, listen to what John, the apostle, is saying to you: "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us." (1 John 5:14) It is vital that we listen to God’s voice, tune into the Holy Spirit and then pray according to His will. We often think that we are praying God’s will because we are praying for an answer that seems good from our perspective. But God will not listen to any doubt-filled, self-centred prayers with motives for our own gratification. John reminds us that when we pray "according to His will, we know that we have what we asked of Him". (1 John 5:15)

Praying - according to His will

This is what we can do when we have a serious matter to bring to God. It helps to begin by setting out in writing what we're asking for. Then we need to search the Scriptures, looking for a passage where a similar situation has affected someone in the past. (The Bible tells us that human experience is common to all generations that have ever lived. "What has been will be again. What has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." - Ecclesiastes 1:9-10) Look for a passage that gives some indication of how God might regard your particular problem and ask the Holy Spirit for His direction on how to pray about it. Often, the process of discovering God's will in any given situation is about learning to align our hopes and dreams with His perspective. He sees the bigger picture and, like any parent, He wants to help us to grow and develop. When we are looking for a "quick fix" to some looming problem, He may have set His heart on some more fundamental, deep-rooted change that will not only solve the immediate problem, but avert many similar such problems in the future as well.

This process of formulating our request may take some time, but that allows God to draw us into His vision and to reveal more of what He is already doing in our lives. Indeed, this is why many Christians have found that effective prayer often grows out of time spent purely in worship. There is a long-standing mnemonic that many have found helpful: A-C-T-S. It stands for:

A - Adoration
C - Confession
T - Thanksgiving
S - Supplication

"Supplication" is an old-fashioned word that means "asking for something". Notice how three parts are taken up with what is, effectively, worship before the final stage of actually making our request is reached. What this allows us to do is to quieten our own worries and fears and allow God's presence and peace to fill us. Many find that personal worship, including perhaps some "praying in tongues" (Romans 8:26-27), helps us to listen to what God is saying to us before we start talking to Him. This process also helps us to avoid the danger of trying to coerce God into underwriting our chosen solution to some problem. We may feel that we are praying with the best interests from our own perspective. The trouble is that we cannot see the bigger picture and our loving Father may have to respond to our request with a firm "No". The closer we can come to finding His heart before we start asking for something, the more likely it is that we shall be praying "according to His will".

Having a clear, written request not only helps us to sort out our own thinking before we start asking God for help, it also makes it much easier to recognise God's answer when it comes. The more precise and clear our request, the more obvious and remarkable will be His response when it comes.

1 John 5:16

Praying for each other

Having told us how to have confidence in God when it comes to prayer, John now suggests who we should be praying for and what the result will be. For example, if we see a sister commit a sin, we should pray for her and God will give her life. This could be either physical life (such as the restoration of the body from sickness - James 5:16) or spiritual life (which is the new life a sinner receives after being forgiven and cleansed from sin - 1 John 1:9). It shows how powerful our prayers are and yet our first reaction when we see others in sin tends to be to revel in their downfall, to judge them, gossip about them and draw our own conclusions about them. All believers sin, but this does not necessarily lead to death because God has provided a way forward wherever there is repentance in the heart followed by active confession. (1 John 1:8-10)

Many Christians worry about having committed the unforgivable "sin that leads to death" which is referred to (in Mark 3:29) as "whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit". The very fact that someone is concerned about such a thing is a sure sign that he or she has not committed it, because this particular sin concerns an ongoing and deliberate rejection of God, of Christ, of the good news of salvation and the witness of the Holy Spirit. It is knowingly to continue sinning without repentance from the heart, which has become hardened by the constant turning away from the drawing of the Holy Spirit. Anyone who has truly committed this sin neither worries about it nor cares about the consequences. We can recognise such people by their "fruit" (the things that they say and do - Matthew 7:16). (At the same time, we cannot be sure that they will not be forgiven, so we should continue to pray for all people that they would repent of all their sins and turn to Christ.)

Ananias and Sapphira are an example of the judgement of God on a couple who "lied to the Holy Spirit". (Acts 5:1-11) As a leader, Peter highlighted their sin, giving them an opportunity to repent. Sometimes we are called by God to do this, but it can hurt us more than the person being challenged, because we need to make sure that we are right with God in our heart before we open our mouth. (Matthew 7:1-6) There may also be times when we need to receive a disciplinary word from someone who sees a problem in our lives. Our response must be grateful and gracious, bringing what has been said before the Lord, repenting of any sin and asking God to fill the dirty hole with His Spirit and His love. It is always valuable to have a close friend to whom we are accountable and who will tell us the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

Spiritual warfare

The battle is raging, whether we like it or not. We need to make spiritual warfare a vital part of our prayer lives. Jesus gave us the perfect example for overpowering our enemy. (Matthew 3:13-4:11) Moreover, He provides us with all the personal, protective equipment that we need. As spiritual soldiers, we can go into battle with spiritual armour. (Ephesians 6:13-17) This includes: the belt of truth, the breastplate of God's approval, the boots of the good news about peace with God, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit and the power of prayer.

Our enemy hates to see joyful Christians, especially when they are praising the Lord Jesus for saving them from a life of sin. One of his favourite tricks is to plant doubts in our minds. He tries taking us into the past and replaying past mistakes and errors. Alternatively, he tries to project us into the future, where the path is strewn with potential concerns that worry us and create fear. But God says: "Do not let him steal your joy." (Nehemiah 8:10) God's gift to us is the whole armour: a very special birthday present, issued to us on the day that we were born again. When such thoughts assail us, let's grab hold of them, not giving them a chance to take root. Let's cast them into the presence of God and watch them instantly be burned to a cinder. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

On His majesty's service

Soldiers on active service spend most of their lives in uniform and would not consider going out on patrol without their personal protective equipment and weapon. The same needs to be true for all believers when it comes to wearing our spiritual protection. It's really helpful to get into the habit - at least once every day - of spending time in prayer and Bible study. We may not specifically run through each item of our spiritual "armour" every time, but it is a way of reminding ourselves Whom we serve and what we're about. It enables us to "put on" the Lord Jesus Christ and to listen to our "daily orders". "In solemn truth I tell you, anyone believing in Me shall do the same miracles I have done and even greater ones, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask Him for anything, using My name and I will do it, for this will bring praise to the Father because of what I, the Son, will do for you. Yes, ask anything, using My name and I will do it!" (John 14:13-14)

Our security lies in His protection. We are able to endure trials, difficulties and sufferings and still come out as winners. What great news! Our own strength is useless. (Ephesians 6:11) Remember, when we have asked Jesus into our lives, it means that we have changed sides and our enemy is furious. (1 Peter 5:8) He tries to savage us in our minds, our thoughts and our bodies. He lies to us, because "he was a murderer from the beginning and a hater of truth - there is not an iota of truth in him. When he lies, it is perfectly normal, for he is the father of liars." (John 8:44) Jesus came to earth and defeated the devil and sin. When Jesus healed, raised the dead and cast out demons, He drew on the power of God. (John 14:10) He knew that God was in Him and working through Him. (John 10:30) When Jesus faced Satan and all the forces of hell during His crucifixion, He drew on the power of God. He didn't rely on His own strength to bring about His resurrection; He simply committed His Spirit to God. That power and confidence is now in us. (Romans 8:11) If Jesus needed His Father’s power, then how much more do we need it!

As we draw on God's power in Jesus, by faith, we realise it is possible to be invincible where Satan is concerned. A soldier involved in hand-to-hand combat would be crazy to go into battle without putting on his personal protective equipment. As Christian soldiers, the principle is the same. We need to put on the whole armour of God, Christ's armour, "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ". (Galatians 3:27)

The apostle Paul wrote, "The night is far gone; the day of His return will soon be here. So quit the evil deeds of darkness and put on the armour of right living, as we who live in the daylight should! Be decent and true in everything you do so that all can approve your behaviour. Don't spend your time in wild parties and getting drunk, or in adultery and lust or fighting or jealousy." (Romans 13:12-13 - Living Bible version)

"Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful." (Hebrews 10:22-23)

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