Grace and peace to the Body of Christ.
A major stumbling block in the Christian walk is praying with confidence. Most of us know how to pray, but we don’t pray with confidence because either we are not sure if God will grant our prayer, or we aren’t sure we are praying for the right thing. Consequently, we take our petitions to God and nervously wait for Him to move. When we don’t get what we want when we think we should get it, we lose faith. We could learn from Hannah, the mother of the prophet, Samuel, whose story is told in 1 Samuel.
In the first chapter, we learn Hannah’s story: that God had shut her womb so that she was unable to have children. As the story goes, it was the custom of Hannah to travel to Jerusalem every year with her husband to offer sacrifices. During this time, her husband’s second wife would torment Hannah so grievously because she was barren, that she would weep bitterly and would neither eat nor drink. This went on every year.
During one particular visit, Hannah, grieving as usual, goes to the temple to pray. In pouring out her supplication to God, she vows that if He would give her a son and take away her reproach, she would dedicate the boy to the Lord. After Hannah says this prayer, she leaves the temple and goes home, no more sorrowful. Scripture says,
“So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad” (1 Samuel 1:18).
Hannah believed that God would grant her petition, so she no longer fretted over it. She was confident that it would be done. Why? Because she was obedient. Remember that she and her husband went to Jerusalem faithfully each year to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. Hannah was obedient, and she knew that God is faithful. So, she was confident that He would honor her obedience and grant her petition. And we know that God did indeed grant her petition.
The apostle Paul gives another example of confidence in prayer as the fruit of obedience. In his letter to Philemon, he writes:
“Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say. But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you” (v. 21-22)
We can learn a great deal from this deceptively simple passage. Notice that there is no hint of uncertainty in Paul’s words, nor in his actions: “I wrote,” “I know,” “I trust,” “I shall be given.” There is even an imperative: “Prepare.” These are all words of action, and they are all the result of confidence: confidence in one’s obedience and in the faithfulness of God.
How can we apply this example to our own prayer life? First let us hear what God says about listening to our prayers. Psalm 66:18 says,
“If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”
This means that if we sin indiscriminately; that is, we enjoy sinning, God will not hear our prayers. Do you watch sinful programs like Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives, or reality TV programs like Jersey Shore or Basketball Wives? Rest assured that if you do, God is not pleased. If He has answered your prayers, it has been solely an act of grace and probably because you did it in ignorance. God will fire a couple of warning shots across your bow to wake you up, but do not test His grace.
This also applies to watching others sin. Do you laugh at your co-workers’ dirty jokes? When your roommate throws in an X-rated movie, do you watch too? When a guest at your in-laws, do you stay in the room when someone throws in a horror flick? If we tolerate sin in those with whom we live, work and associate, then God will not even hear our prayers. They will go no farther than the ceiling.
Therefore, if we want God to hear our prayers, we must hate sin. This does not mean that we need to be sinless, for this is impossible for us. But it does mean that we should not enjoy sinning and should do everything we possibly can to avoid it. When we do sin, we should be sorry and confess that sin to God. The Bible says,
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Confession of sin is very important if we want to stay in the center of God’s will.
Not only must we confess our sins to God, but we must also confess our faults to one another:
“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
This does not mean that we should confess our sins to men such as a priest as is popularly believed. Faults does not mean sins. What this passage is saying is that when we have wronged someone we should go to that person and reconcile our differences. We should admit they we made a mistake. This keeps us from being guilty of the sin of pride.
The next thing we must do to make sure that God hears our prayers is to pray according to His will. The Bible says,
“And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us…” (1 John 5:14).
This means that we must consider whether what we ask of God is what He would want for us, and not simply what we want. This is very important, because sometimes we want things that may be good to us but are no good for us; that is, spiritually. If it is of no spiritual benefit to us, we can count on God not wanting it for us.
Now this does not mean that God doesn’t want us to have anything unless it is of a spiritual nature. A stereo is of no spiritual benefit at all. But it can be used to play Gospel music that lifts up Jesus, which is good for the spirit. It is not out of the will of God, therefore, to ask God for a nice stereo.
A car is of no spiritual value, but a car has many benefits, and in some circumstances, can be a necessity. It is not out of the will of God, therefore, to ask God for a car. But is it prudent to ask God for a Ferrari? That depends. I am of the mind that God sometimes grants those kinds of petitions, but it is on a case-by-case basis, and is determined by other factors such as spiritual maturity. If God knows that Ferrari will not corrupt you and become an idol, He may give it to you.
In the end though, it is God’s will to give it to us, and we must want it that way.
Remember that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to God to take away the cup of suffering from which He was going to drink. But even in His anguish, He ultimately prayed for God’s will to be done and not His own. This is how we too must pray.
So, we know that in order for God to hear our prayers we must:
1. Not willfully sin against Him
2. Confess our sins to Him
3. Pray in accordance with His will
The last thing that we must do to make sure that God will hear our prayers, is to make sure that we are being obedient: that we are doing God’s will. The Bible says,
“And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22).
We must keep God’s commandments and do those things that are pleasing to Him. Now, I’m not going to get very specific about what God’s commandments are, because they are sprinkled throughout both the Old and New Testaments. I do, however, want to discuss the subject of obedience, because I have had a personal encounter with God due to disobedience.
I got saved six years ago. The circumstances under which God saved me led me to have an understanding of spiritual warfare that many Christians only come to later in their Christian walk. I won’t get specifics here; if you want to read more about it, click here.
To make a long story short, I got saved in Germany, a pagan country, and spent the next two years evangelizing. Prior to my salvation, I had already lived eight years among the Germans: I lived among them, worked with them, played among them, learned their language, ate their food, and sent my children to school with them. I also spent a great deal of time among the African Diaspora in Munich and even made some attempts to evangelize them.
So, in a manner of speaking, I have already been on the mission field, though I didn’t face the dangers that missionaries in countries openly hostile to the Gospel face. There were still dangers, but they were of a covert, spiritual nature. Most people could probably not imagine stranger bedfellows than Germans and Africans; but believe me: when it comes to the works of darkness, they are of one accord. I’m a witness. Forrest Gump would say, “They get along like peas and carrots.”
The spiritual battle did not end when I boarded a plane bound for America and left that country behind me. Enemies made on behalf of Jesus Christ are enemies for life. I am still fighting a war: on my behalf, on behalf of my family, and on behalf of others. I can tell you that to wage this kind of warfare, you must be in God’s will always. And being in His will means being obedient.
But, sometimes we can think we are being obedient while, in reality, we are being rebellious and this can affect our ability to wage effective spiritual warfare. This brings me to what I wanted to say with regard to obedience.
God allowed me to see deception and apostasy in the Christian church even before my conversion. This created a huge problem for me, because once I saw that a church was out of God’s will, I would leave it. For the most part, I left because I did not feel comfortable, but, on one occasion, even the pastor made it clear he didn’t want me there. He didn’t tell me to my face, but he dropped little hints that were as plain as the nose on your face.
For this reason, I was never more than a year with any congregation. Eventually, I gave up going to church, and would simply worship at home, asking God in prayer to find me a church home.
But my spirit would give me no rest, because deep down inside, I knew that I was outside of the will of God, for He told us to not forsake the gathering of ourselves together. I tried to convince myself that because I had tried unsuccessfully to find a church home and had been praying for God to find me one, I had fulfilled my responsibility. I basically placed my responsibility to fellowship firmly in God’s lap and said, “You handle it.”
Now, God’s didn’t get mad at me; He simply would not give me any peace on the matter. And when God doesn’t give you peace, you will be miserable; not simply because you don’t have peace, but because you know that it is because of your own disobedience. For someone who wants to please Him, it hurts to know you are not.
This can hurt you when you are trying to wage spiritual warfare. God will still fight your battles, but you will clearly feel something missing, and that something will steal your victory. This is the Holy Spirit saying, “You gotta fix this, Son.”
So, I found a local church a few weeks ago and joined myself with them this past Sunday. Are they perfect? No. Do we agree on every doctrinal issue? Of course not. Am I worried? No. Why not? Because I know that God is getting ready to fix the Christian church in America. We are about to be tried by fire. This will solve any discrepancies; doctrinal or otherwise.
The important thing is that I am being obedient and I know it. The first place it showed was in my prayer life as I was able to fast and pray more efficacious. This was a full week before I even made up my mind to join this church. Once I determined in my heart to be obedient, even before I had formally decided, God gave me my peace back. And peace is essential in spiritual warfare.
I said all of that (and it really was a lot) to emphasize that obedience is crucial for effectual fervent prayer. In this age of “name it and claim it” few ministries preach obedience, because many pastors are themselves out of step with God. But as we have clearly seen, it is important.
If you are sold out to Jesus, Satan knows that he will have little success tempting you with outright sin, so he will often try to make you disobey God in some way. Satan knows the Bible better than you and I ever will. He knows what we are supposed to do to please God, so He will try to get us to not do those things. In my case, Satan used my zeal for the Word of God to discourage me from fellowship. And it worked for a while.
Philemon was obedient and Paul knew it. This was why Paul had confidence that God would answer Philemon’s prayers on his behalf. Paul was so confident that he even went so far as to tell Philemon to make plans for his return. We can have the same confidence Paul had. The Bible says,
“And if we know that [God] hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions we desired of Him (1 John 5:15).
If God hears our prayers, it is a given–an absolute given–that He will answer us. This should give us confidence.
There is one more very important thing that I want you to notice about this passage. Let us look at it once again.
“Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.”
Because of Philemon’s obedience, Paul knew that he would do more than he asked. He had tremendous confidence in him. What if I were to tell you that we can have that same confidence in God? Would you be encouraged? Then prepare to be encouraged. The Bible says that God is:
“[a]ble to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” (Ephesians 3:20).
This is wonderful news! Paul had tremendous confidence that Philemon would do above what he asked him to do. But God tells us that He will not only do exceedingly abundantly above what we ask Him to do, but also exceedingly abundantly above what we think! God doesn’t just exceed our wishes, but He even exceeds our expectations by giving us what we didn’t even think to ask for.
A great example of this is the case of Solomon. As we know, God told Solomon that He would give Him anything he asked for, and Solomon asked God for wisdom. God granted his petition, but He even went one better. He gave Solomon something he hadn’t asked for. The Bible tells it thus:
“Behold, I have done according to thy word: lo, I have given thee a wise and understanding heart…
“And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honour” (1 Kings 3:12-13).
So, God gave Solomon not only what he asked for, but what he did not ask for. And arguably, King Solomon is more known today for that which he did not ask, than for that which he asked. Indeed, God is able to do “exceedingly above all that we ask or think.”
But you have to get your head around a crucial part of this verse. God’s power works “according to the power that worketh in us”—our faith. In other words, if we believe that God is able to do it, if it is His will, He will do it. His power will manifest in your life according to your faith in Him.
Now God knows the stubbornness of the human heart. He knows that when it comes to faith, everyone comes from Missouri: we say “Show me.” Therefore, God will reveal His power to us just like He revealed His power to the Israelites on the day He freed them from Egyptian captivity.
He could have freed the Jews in less dramatic fashion. Instead of just striking dead the first born of the Egyptians, He could have simply killed them all. Then the Israelites could have taken their time getting their things together and simply moseyed out of Egypt. He didn’t have to part the Red Sea; He could just as easily have had a ship tied up and waiting for them. Better yet, He could have just taken them the Northern route and avoided the Red Sea altogether. But God didn’t do these things. He wanted to show the Israelites what He could do, by making it necessary for Him to do it. He wanted the Israelites to trust Him.
Now if we believe that the Word of God is true forever and that He never changes, then we should believe that He can still do those things. And if He can still do those things, then surely He can grant our pithy requests. Is anything too hard for God?
God understands that such faith does not come automatically, but is developed over time. This is one purpose of the trials He allows us to go through. Every time God comes through for us, every time He delivers us from something, He proves His credibility. That is why God not only blesses us according to our faith, but even exceeds our faith. He does this to raise the bar and get us to reach higher with our faith.
This is naturally a struggle for us, but we must keep struggling. God wants to bless us. But we must trust Him. If we are staying in God’s will by sanctifying ourselves, eschewing sin, confessing our sins, obeying His commandments, and praying according to His will, then when we pray we should not worry that our prayers will not be answered.
Now, I’m sure that someone is wondering why I did not add “praying in faith” to the list, based on James 1:6-7 which says:
“But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering; for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
“For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.”
I did not add praying in faith to the list because like I said before, faith takes time to develop, because of our sin nature. Faith is the fruit of experience. If you sit in a chair and the legs break under you, even after you have repaired it, you are going to be very tentative sitting in it. Only after you have sat in it a few times without incident will you begin to have faith that it will not break again.
It is no different with God. Our faith in Him grows after He has proven Himself faithful over time. What James means is that when a person to whom God has revealed His faithfulness continues to pray in unbelief, he is essentially calling God a liar. This was the reason God had Israel wandering in the desert for forty years, when they could have completed the journey to the Promised Land in a few months. G0d had revealed His power and providence to them on many occasions, yet they continued to doubt Him. If we do this, God at some point will stop answering our prayers. This is what James meant.
Now if God were hard and unyielding and 100% faithfulness were required for Him to answer our prayers, you and I would not be in the faith, because we would get tired of our prayers going unanswered. This kind of faith is only possible for children, which is why Jesus said our faith must be as a little child’s. Only after Jesus has proven Himself faithful on several occasions do we start to trust Him and have confidence in Him.
Now some people are capable of this kind of faith right at conversion. But it will be different with each person depending on what God has done for him and has delivered him from. Like Jesus said, “He who has been forgiven much, loves (and therefore trusts) more.”
Once we understand that all things are under Jesus’ feet and that He is 100% in charge, we will learn to pray according to His will. If it is His will that we have it; we will, and if it is not; we will not. Either way, it will be for our good and His glory. We must remember that.
So when we pray, let us be like Hannah: let us go our way, and let our countenance be no more sad. We can be confident that God is not only willing, but able to answer our prayers: even according to our faith.
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We pray that this teaching will edify and encourage you.
Be encouraged and look up; your redemption draweth nigh.
The Still Man.
Copyright © 2011 Anthony Keeton, The Still Man ®. All rights reserved.