"And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 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 5:14-15
In this post we'll consider one aspect of the spiritual discipline of prayer. In the passage above, John is wrapping up his letter. In verse 13 he tells us that he has written all the things in his letter so that we can have confident knowledge that we have eternal life. In the next sentence, John turns to show how this assurance, this confidence is to have an impact in our lives; particularly in prayer.
This passage has to do with how we ought to pray. John says that God hears Christians when we pray, and that we can know that we have the requests that we ask of Him since we know that He hears us and when we ask according to His will. That phrase "according to His will" is important. The implication is that God does not hear and give answer to any request we might make. We can have confidence that He hears and answers prayers according to His will.
We know this from other passages of Scripture. Jesus taught us to pray in the The Lord's Prayer, "Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
Psalm 37:4 shows us something similar: "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." If you delight in and desire the Lord, He will give you those desires: more of Himself.
If we're honest, we might be tempted to think that this requirement to pray according to God's will is limiting. It's like a father taking his son to the toy store and saying, "I'll buy you whatever you want... As long as it's under $10." We tend to think that, because of this instruction, we can't ask for the toys we really want: physical things such as winning the lottery, a new car, relationships, etc.
Some of the more mature among us think of things like healing, the salvation of a loved one. We often ask for these things, but then tack the phrase "if it be your will" onto the end of our prayers as a kind of disclaimer statement, as if we don't believe it to actually be God's will. We tend to think that that stuff is too outrageous to ask God for, and it not the kind of things He's interested in. He's only interested in serious, spiritual things: church, salvation, and repentance.
But I'd like to challenge that. I believe that our perception of prayer "according to God's will" as limiting reveals how small we perceive God and His will to be. The problem is not that we want too much, but too little. We think God would be great to give us money, cars, relationships, and more. But our desires are not too great for God, but too small. Consider this quote from C.S. Lewis:
"Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)
Lewis is right. God has greater things for us in the gospel of the kingdom. Our problem is not that we want to much from God, but too little.
Just consider for a moment that phrase from the Lord's prayer: "Your will be done, Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven." Do you want that? Do you want this world to no longer be broken, sin-ravaged, sick, dying, in rebellion against God? If you want that, Jesus says, then pray. There's a lot to pray for. There people to pray for, ministry efforts to pray for, and ideologies and theologies to pray against. There is work that has to be done, things that have to be built. jobs that have to be gotten, and mouths that have to be fed. There are people that have to be born grow up and mature and have children themselves.
God desires for every knee to bow before Christ as King. God desires for His glory to cover the globe. God desires for His people to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and create. When we consider the breadth and beauty of what it means for God's kingdom to come on earth, we find our desires not to be too strong for God, but too weak. There is more to pray for than we could ever imagine.
This qualifier "according to His will" is not limiting. It is as limitless as God is limitless. So pray, and have confidence that God hears and answers this kind of prayer in ways greater than we could ask or think.