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)
Prayer is a very important part of the Christian life: it is the means by which we communicate with God. The apostle John exhorts Christians that we can have confidence in prayer. If we have any needs or problems in life, we are to bring those requests to God, because prayer is effective! However, there is a condition for effective prayer that John sets forth: our prayers must be “according to His will.”
What does it mean to pray according to God’s will? It is not about setting forth my requests before God, not being sure if He will answer it, but letting Him decide. I have heard prayers said in such a fashion: “Lord, please grant my brother a speedy recovery, but let it be according to your will.” Such a prayer does not come across as being reassuring… we are supposed to have confidence in our prayers! Rather, praying according to God’s will is about aligning our requests with God’s will. What then is God’s will? Do we know God’s will? Does the Bible say anything about God’s will?
“Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4)
The Bible tells us what is God’s will and desire: it is for all men to be saved spiritually (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9). Certainly, God has expressed other desires as well e.g. the setting apart of Christians (1 Thess. 4:3); the giving of thanks (1 Thess. 5:18). However, it is obvious that His overarching desire is for the salvation of all men, which is something He has planned even before the world began (Matt. 25:34; Rev. 13:8). Let us examine some examples of prayer in the New Testament to see what it means to pray according to God’s will.
“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10)
Jesus, of course, understood the importance of praying according to the Father’s will, as expressed in His model prayer. Which part of God’s will was Jesus referring to though? He was referring to the coming of the kingdom, which would come very soon. The establishment of God’ kingdom, the church, was part of God’s plan. It is in the church that men can find salvation.
“And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt… He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done” (Matthew 26:39, 42).
Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, in anticipation of His impending suffering and death. As a human, Jesus certainly did not want to die; how painful that knowledge of His impending death must have been! Yet, it was God’s will that Jesus die on the cross, because that would lead to men’s salvation. In His prayer, we see Jesus submitting to God’s will.
“Act 4:29 And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word” (Acts 4:29)
Peter and John had just been arrested and reprimanded by the Jewish authorities for preaching the gospel. After their release, they regrouped with their company and had a prayer. What did they pray for? They prayed for boldness that they may continue to speak God’s word despite such persecution. The preaching of God’s word is important because it leads to men’s salvation (cf. Rom. 10:14-15). Is this not a prayer according to God’s will?
“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
We have already had a look at 1 Timothy 2:4. However, we have not examined the context of that passage. In the preceding verses, Paul was giving an exhortation to pray for those who in authority. Why? We are to pray for those in authority so that we Christians may be able to lead peaceful lives. Generally, peace is favourable for Christianity and for the propagation of the gospel. Therefore, praying for those in authority is “good and acceptable in the sight of God,” because he desires all men to be saved!
“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it” (1 John 5:14-16)
We now circle back to 1 John 5:14, where we are exhorted to ask “according to His will.” In verse 16, we see something that one might ask for: forgiveness of sins. Christians are exhorted to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another (cf. James 5:16). It is according to God’s will that we pray for the forgiveness of sins, because it leads to spiritual life! However, a condition for forgiveness is repentance: a man cannot be forgiven of his sin unless he first repents of it (cf. Luke 17:3). A “sin unto death” is a sin that a brother has not repented of, and which ultimately leads to his spiritual death. Since he has not repented of it, we cannot pray for his forgiveness.
Having seen examples of prayers that are in accordance to God’s will, how should this affect our prayers? It means that we should keep God’s will in mind whenever we pray. For example, when praying for a sick brother, we should ask ourselves: why do we want him to get better? Perhaps we want him to get better so that he can continue doing a good work in God’s kingdom. If praying for the health of someone who is not yet a Christian, we could add that we want him to get better so that he can have time and opportunity to obey the gospel. When praying for a brother who is looking for a job, consider why we want him to get the job: perhaps he needs the job to provide for his family, which is part of God’s command (cf. 1 Tim. 4:8). Furthermore, we should consider: will his job enable him to serve God effectively, or will it be a hindrance instead? Perhaps we could pray that he would be able to find a job that will provide for his needs and still enable him to have time to serve God.
We are instructed to pray according to God’s will, by considering God’s will – especially His desire for the salvation of mankind – in our prayers. By considering God’s will, we will be able to make profitable prayers, rather than selfish ones. If our prayers are in accordance with God’s will, would that not give us more confidence in our prayers?