What is faith? How does faith work? What is our faith based on? What is saving faith? What happens when our faith is shattered? Those faith questions and others are addressed in this nine-week series simply called faith.
Pastor G takes a nine-week break from his “Just Jesus” series walk through the Gospel of Mathew.
This is a series Greg first heard Andy Stanley preach way back in 2002. It had such an impact on Greg that he has preached his version of it at every church he has served since.
Today is week seven and Greg focuses us in on “but what about… (Part 2 of 2).”
We’ve been talking about faith and we said that Faith is confidence, that God is who He says He is and that He will do everything He has promised to do. Faith is simply our response, our reaction to God’s first action. All through the Old Testament, we see this modeled for us. We have to learn that faith is not a force or a formula or a strong power of belief to move God, faith is given to move us. The men and women of great faith are not the men and women that move God. They’re the men and women who allow themselves to be moved in alignment with God’s will. The problem is that all that makes sense on the surface, but we don’t really always like that. We’d rather think that we have some sort of control, some kind of say in the situation. As we said last week, some folks hear me teach this and say “I get what you are saying Greg but what about … this verse? But what about … that verse.
The truth is, they have valid questions because there are certainly some things that Jesus said, at least at first glance, that seem to indicate that Jesus is presenting us with the model of, “Hey, if you come up with any idea or any desire, anything you want, if you just have enough faith in it, believe hard enough, then the Heavenly Father has to do it for You. That misunderstanding has set a lot of people of for very painful experiences and that misunderstanding has caused some people to walk away from the faith. To say, I used to be a Christian but not anymore. I used to believe, but not anymore. For example, I know of some people who prayed for a person who was really sick. They prayed and prayed, and they just believed and believed that God would heal this person. They knew it! They proclaimed it! They counted it as done. The person died. So then they prayed and they believed and they proclaimed it and they counted it as already done that God would raise this person from the dead. It was a terrible, scene right there in the hospital room. The person did not come back from the dead. And that group of sincere believers went away, all of them, either feeling guilty that they must be the one that did not have enough faith or they went away resentful and suspicious of someone else in the group that must not have had enough faith. Meanwhile, the poor widow was left there alone in the room with her dead husband after having been taken on this crazy roller coaster ride of emotions. She had to choose to either be upset with God for letting her down or to be upset with the pray-ers or to be upset with herself for a lack of having enough faith. Do you see how horribly damaging and painful this false teaching about faith, this misunderstanding of Jesus can be? You can have all the belief and confidence in the world, but you’re not going to be allowed to mess up God’s plan and you’re not going to move God one inch off what He intends to do because He is in control, not us.
Today, I want us to look at another passage of scripture that’s sometimes confusing because of the way it has been taught. Jesus is speaking to His disciples and He again seems to make one of those open-ended promises that sound like God is giving us His American Express Black Card. It sounds as if He is presenting God as a genie in a lamp and He’s just waiting for us to rub the lamp with enough belief so that He can then proceed to grant our every wish. He seems to be saying we can name it and then claim it, blab it and grab it, as long as we just have enough faith. Let’s look at that passage together. Jesus says:
12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do WHATEVER you ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for ANYTHING in my name, and I will do it. ~ John 14:12-14
I mean, WOW! Doesn’t that sound great? Ask God for ANYTHING in Jesus’ name and He will do WHATEVER you ask! Is that really what this verse means? Every one of us knows this it just doesn’t work that way. I mean, we’d all have Ferraris, yachts, mansions, vaults full of money. The sky would be 1,000 different colors. We’d all look like supermodels. If all you had to do is ask and believe anything and Jesus will do it? Come on? He can’t possibly mean that the way it sounds? We’ve all tried it on one level or another and it just doesn’t work that way. We’ve said in recent weeks there is some very important context, subtext really, at work here. God is a good father. Good fathers don’t give their kids everything they ask for do they? Because kids ask for stupid and dangerous stuff sometimes. You and me as kids of the king included.
I agree. It really looks like an open-ended promise but we need to trust that our God is smarter than that. Let’s work our way through this. Go back to verse
12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, ~ John 14:12a
What works has Jesus been doing? We talked about this a lot last week. All through the Gospels, we could put every verse up here but essentially, Jesus told us repeatedly, things like this “The words I say to you, the works I do among you are not just My own. Rather, it is the Father living in Me who is doing and saying these things. I do not seek My own will.
I only seek the will of Him who sent me. I’m only here to do what the Father tells me to do and I’m only here to say what the Father tells me to say. That was the sum total of Jesus’ works that He had been doing. This is a pretty overwhelming thought as you allow it to sink in. Not even Jesus, the only perfect human being ever, tried to impose His human will on God the Father. Remember last week? He didn’t curse that fig tree just because He felt like cursing the fig tree for not giving Him figs. He didn’t call particular disciples because He just thought they were fine fellas. He didn’t heal certain people because after all, they needed healing and not heal other people just because He didn’t feel like it. While on this earth, Jesus Christ didn’t initiate anything Himself. His work was all about saying what the Father said to say and doing what the Father said to do.
Think about that! Jesus didn’t come up with his own sermons. Jesus said what the Father told Him to say. He was modeling a perfect human believer life for us! He was in constant communication with the Father. This is an overwhelming thought! Don’t miss this! Your Savior, as smart as He was and as much insight as He had, as sinless as He was, willingly chose to NOT function on His own human initiative or will or desires. He ONLY came to say what the Father told Him to say and to only do what the Father told Him to do. PERIOD! That’s the context and that’s the subtext of EVERY SINGLE THING Jesus ever said or did while He was walking this earth and that’s what He is expecting from us, His followers, as well. C.I.E. Right? With ALL THAT in mind, THEN Jesus turns to the disciples and He says: “If you have faith in Me, you’ll do exactly what I’ve been doing.” We ask “Ooooo. What have You been doing Jesus?” We want to go to the big miraculous stuff right? Healing people, exorcising demons, walking on water. Changing water into wine! CHA-CHING grocery bill! Creating bread and fish out of thin air! CHA-CHING again grocery bill! Controlling the weather, raising people from the dead, raising Himself from the dead, ascending to heaven. We’re going to do all that stuff too? AWESOME! No. That’s not what Jesus meant. He meant, “What have I been doing? Oh, I’ve just been saying only what the Father told Me to say and just been doing only what the Father told Me to do. If you have faith in Me, that’s exactly what you’ll do too.” Do you see that? “Oh? That’s it?” We say in disappointment. See how that truth flies in the face of, “Oh, goody, I get to come up with all kinds of crazy, miraculous, amazing, things and God has to do whatever I want Him to do? Anything I want as long as I really believe!”
That’s what we WANT this verse to say and I admit, on the surface, without proper context, it looks like that is what Jesus is saying, but it is not. Our own life experience clearly tells us it cannot mean that. It has to mean “If you trust Me, if you believe in Me, if you have faith in Me, the net result is you will, like I did, always live to do the will of the father. You too will ONLY want to do what He tells you to do and you will only want to say what He tells you to say. And that is still REALLY AWESOME!” That HAS to be what it means! See how that is pretty much the exact opposite of what we hear taught. No. We are NOT in control. God is always in control. We aren’t going to control God or get God to perform for us anytime we want as long as we just really, really, really believe He will. That’s ludicrous! That’s switching roles with God, acting like we are His God and not the other way around. No offense, but you would make a terrible God. Me too!
God is the initiator, always. He acts and our faith is just our REACTION to His initial action, initial revelation, or command. True faith is about bringing our lives into submission and alignment with His overall purposes and will. Let’s continue. Jesus goes on to say
…and they will do even greater things than these … ~ John 14:12b
WOW! Isn’t THAT exciting! Almost every single time I’ve ever heard this preached, here’s how I’ve heard it. Again the focus is completely wrong: “Just as Jesus did miraculous things, healing people, walking on water, changing water into wine, producing fish and bread out of thin air, controlling the weather, raising the dead, exorcising demons, raising Himself from the dead, ascending to heaven, you’ll do EVEN MORE MIRACULOUS things than this!” WOW! Can you imagine!?!?!?! What in the world would be even more miraculous than that stuff? I can’t even fathom what that would be! Can you? Jesus rose from the dead? Are you going to rise from the dead twice? Ten-time? Just as Jesus did miraculous things you’re going to do even more miraculous things if you just have enough faith?
No. The word we translate as greater here, in Greek is meizona. It is a form of the Greek word megas. Just like our English words, greater or the prefix mega. Meizona can mean a variety of things. It’s true that it CAN mean more miraculous or more spectacular. But it’s also used to talk about age or weight or height or length or status or significance. The reason I don’t think He means you’ll do more spectacular, more miraculous things that I did is this. First, the disciples are always a good measure as to what Jesus promised. Remember, we said earlier in this series if you want to see if something is a real promise from God, dependent upon our level of belief, just look at the lives of the disciples.
They were faithful men, 100% sold out to the cause of Christ. Did any of them do MORE SPECTACULAR miracles than Jesus? Scripture records some healings the disciples were involved in. Scripture records both Paul and Peter being involved with one miraculous resurrection each. But I don’t know of any of them controlling the weather or creating food out of thin air. I don’t know of any of them that came back to life, do you? I don’t know any of them that predicted their own death, burial, resurrection and pulled it off. I don’t know of any of them that said see you guys later and ascended up into the clouds to heaven. I’m thinking it’s going to be pretty hard to top bringing yourself back to life from the dead and then ascending in bodily form to heaven.
So, there are some miraculous things you can come up with that we have records of the disciples doing but in terms of more spectacular, more marvelous, more incredible, even greater miracles, none of them come close to topping Jesus. That’s CLEARLY NOT what Jesus was talking about. If it was, the apostles would have done them. Fortunately, Jesus gives us a clue in the next verse that gives us the context to know exactly what He means when He says we will do greater things than these. He gives us the reason. He says “BECAUSE” – “Because I am going to the Father. Don’t miss this. Listen. Catch the connection. The reason the disciples and everyone else down through history that puts their faith in Him, that’s the context of this verse, the reason we will be able to do greater things (whatever He means by that) catch the connection is
… because I am going to the Father. ~ John 14:12c
So whatever He means when He says we will do even greater things than these, we must be able to link that closely to the fact that it is only because He ascended back to the Father after His resurrection.
Do you see that? Somehow, the fact that Jesus returned to the Father in heaven, somehow, THAT will enable believers to do even greater things than He did, whatever that means. So what exactly is He talking about? He doesn’t mean greater in the sense of more spectacular or more marvelous or more incredible. He means greater in the sense of broader, even more far-reaching, even more people being impacted. Why do I say that and how does that happen? It’s because when Jesus went to the Father, what happened next? He sent us His Holy Spirit to live inside of us and minister through us.
Jesus taught us God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all one. Jesus was teaching us when I leave this physical human body form and rejoin fully with the Father in heaven, I will send My Holy Spirit to you. Unlike this human form, that will enable Me to be in more than one place at a time. You see, Human Jesus never traveled more than about twenty-five miles total from home. Can you believe that the Son of God who created the entire universe locked Himself into about twenty-five miles in any direction from where He was born? As HUGE and miraculous as His impact was, in His human body, He only directly impacted that 25-mile diameter circle of geography and the people who lived inside of it for about 33 years, most of that impact happening from age 30-33. And so He says to the disciples, “When my physical body leaves, buckle your seat belts, boys, because I will send Our Holy Spirit and He will enable you to do much greater, much broader, much bigger, much more far-reaching ministry in many more nations and for many more people, for many centuries to come. Doesn’t that make more sense than thinking we can all, somehow, out-miracle Jesus? That we’re all going to be Super Jesuses? Super miracle workers?
Now listen. Don’t miss this. The truth is very exciting! Every one of us who is a believer, a follower of Jesus, is the fulfillment of that promise. Here we are, most of us watching online are thousands of miles away from Bethlehem, thousands of miles away from Jerusalem. Yet just like the original disciples, we too are trusting and believing in and worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ. We too are sharing our faith with others and seeing even more people become followers of Christ. Why? Because once He left, that enabled His Holy Spirit to fill all of us and minister through us. We represent the greater breadth, greater range, the greater impact of ministry that Jesus promised would happen.
The apostle Paul personally ministered to and preached to and taught far more people than Jesus. Billy Graham ministered to and preached the gospel to far more people than the apostle Paul. Now, in the high-tech mass media world we live in today, the gospel is being presented to millions and millions of people every single day. What Jesus said was absolutely right, not in the sense of we’re doing even more spectacular things, even more, miraculous things, but that the breadth of the ministry, the depth of the ministry, the expansion of the ministry, the impact of the ministry, it’s much, much, much, much greater than when He was doing it all by Himself for those three years in that 25-mile diameter circle. Why? ONLY BECAUSE He went to be with the Heavenly Father and then was able to send His Holy Spirit to empower each and every one of us as believers to become ministers of the Gospel. You see, every time you share your faith, every time you do something God tells you to do, every time you say something God tells you to say. Every time you serve, every time you love, every time you exhibit Christlike behavior, you are fulfilling this promise.
Jesus gives us another clue about what He really means. And this is the best part of the passage to me. Look at verse 13 again.
13 And I will do whatever you ask in My name … ~ John 14:13a
We’ll talk about the rest of this verse in a minute. We zero in on these first ten words. “Oh, look, anything I ask, anything I ask! An open line of credit. American Express Black Card!” I would bet everything I have, that when the disciples heard Him say these words they didn’t walk away, going “Did you hear that? We can have anything we ask?” No, the first thing that blew them away was that Jesus had just turned the whole paradigm of prayer in their culture upside down. He said, from now on, whenever you pray to God the Father, pray in My name.
We probably haven’t given fifteen seconds of thought to the incredible significance of praying in Jesus’ name the last five years of our Christianity. But we tack it on all the time. Father God, then we pray about something, and then at the end of prayer, we say “in Jesus name. Amen.” What’s that about? I dunno. That’s just the way they taught me in Sunday School. Father God, blah blah blah, in Jesus name. Amen. They just told me to say that. It sort of becomes a theological throwaway for most of us. We don’t even think about it. It’s just what we say at the end of a prayer. But what did Jesus mean when He said that in this verse? Because this is where we developed that habit, praying in Jesus’ name. Jesus told us to do that. And here’s what He meant. The Apostle Paul tells us what the disciples learned for the first time that day in John 14:13
5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time ~ 1 Timothy 2:5-6
Here’s the only thing that could have gone through the disciples’ heads when they heard this. Not, “Sweet, anything we ask, anything we ask!” No. What impacted them was this realization that Jesus, because of who He is and what He was going to do, was the only mediator between God and man. No longer would they go through a priest or anyone else. They had the right to go directly to the Father in prayer because of their association with, because of their faith in, Jesus. Even more than that. To pray in Jesus’ name was to pray with Jesus’ authority and approval. To pray the way Jesus would pray if He were the one in our position lifting up the prayer. To pray in Jesus’ name was to bring up a request that should be in perfect alignment with something Jesus Himself would ask for. To never pray anything that would not match up with what Jesus Himself would pray. To not misrepresent Him in our prayers to the Father. We aren’t praying in our name or in the name of the High Priest. We are praying in Jesus’ name. That was a revolutionary thing for the disciples who heard it for the first time that day.
Here we are out in the United States of America, or wherever you are watching online, most of us thousands of miles from Jerusalem, thousands of years away, yet we are each, don’t miss this, listen. Each of us, as a believer, is representing the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul calls us ambassadors of Christ through whom God is making His appeal of reconciliation to sinful humanity. Whenever we, the ambassadors of Jesus, pray, we are to pray ONLY in Jesus’ name. In other words, “Father God, to the best of my ability, to the best of my knowledge, to the best of my understanding and wisdom gained from You so far, I am praying for this to happen because I truly believe this is what Jesus would pray if He were in my shoes.
It is my honest belief that what I am praying is in alignment with Jesus’ purposes and with His will. Otherwise, I would never think of approaching you with this prayer or this request.” Hear how different that is from the way we tend to use it. We tend to use it as the tap from the magic wand at the end of the spell. Said all I want to say, laid out what I want to happen, tap – In Jesus name, abracadabra, hocus pocus. Now God’s gotta do it. I put the magic fairy dust on it. No. The disciples got the real teaching. Because Jesus is going to the Father and sending His Holy Spirit to live in and through us, from now on, when we come to the Heavenly Father we should be praying “Lord, I am daily dying to myself and asking Jesus live through me by Your Holy Spirit. I really think this is what Jesus would ask for if He were in my shows. He lives in me and through me, so I am coming to You, in Jesus’ name.” Jesus is saying, if you go to God in my name, in my will, I’ll do it.”
See how this is not at all the American Express Card? This is about, once again, as always, us bringing our lives into alignment with the purposes and the plan of God. Asking for God’s will, NOT for our will, as this is so often falsely taught. Jesus always functioned in the will of the Father. Jesus came to represent the Father. Jesus came to us in the Father’s name. And then He says to you and me, when you pray, go to the Father in my name as well. See how that works? It’s so clear. Then, what’s the last part of that verse? Jesus said the reason He would do whatever they were asking when they were truly asking it in His name, as we’ve just clarified what that means is
… SO THAT the Father may be glorified in the Son. ~ John 14:13b
This is called a Hina Clause or a Purpose Clause in Greek. So That – those two English words are the one Greek word hina.
A hina clause designated the purpose of the action. Jesus is saying the purpose behind all of this. Watch! Don’t miss this. The purpose of all this is NOT that you get your prayers answered. The purpose behind all of this, the driving force of this whole discussion Jesus is having with the disciples, the reason they are going to ask the Father for things in Jesus’ name, and the reason Jesus is going to do them is so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. That’s what our entire prayer life is supposed to be all about Jesus says. Bringing glory to the Father through the Son. That’s why it’s not about “What’s in it for me? What cool stuff can I get God to give me, do for me, etc? Since I used the magic faith formula “In Jesus’ name?” Whatever we ask? In Jesus’ name? He will do anything?” Jesus tells us “Well, of course, it has to be something that will glorify the Father through the Son.” Anything You ask Me to do that will ultimately bring glory to the Father through the Son, if you ask that in my name (with my will, perspective, and purpose guiding the content of that prayer) Yeah. I will do that.
WOW! That’s so different than the way we usually hear this preached, isn’t it? We hear, “Ask God for anything, perfect health, perfect wealth, anything and everything, in Jesus’ name, really, really believing and He will automatically give it to you.” No. No. No. Look. Don’t miss this. Listen. Jesus is telling the disciples, just as I have been here representing the Father, from here on out, when I go back to the Father, you will be representing the Father as well and you will do it in My name, as My disciples, as My ambassadors. Do you know what else the Bible teaches? It says there will be people who come in Jesus’ name but they are actually false teachers and false prophets. The Scripture says you are to ignore them. It says to have nothing to do with them.
Just because they claim to come in Jesus’ name does not make it true. Just because they ask for something in Jesus’ name doesn’t mean it will happen. Jesus’ name is not a magic formula that ensures anything. Now, let’s put it all together. Jesus says, “I’ve been here to show You the Father. I’ve been here to bring glory to the Father. That’s why I only do what He says to do and that’s why I only say what He says to say. It is His works and His words flowing through Me. Now, the time has come for Me to go back to the Father. I’m leaving earth. But here’s the good news. Because I am going to send My Holy Spirit in a new and powerful and personal way, I will inhabit all of you. Once I leave, and My spirit comes, you guys are going to be able to bring even more glory to the Father than I did alone these past 33 years of human life. That’s because you’re going to be filled with My Holy Spirit and be all over the world for many, centuries to come.”
Everything about you and me is to be in alignment with this one phrase, bring glory to the father, in Jesus’ name. We are to bring glory to the Father in Jesus’ name. People will see what you do and hear what you say and they will ask why? You can say because I’m bringing glory to the Father in Jesus’ name. Speak to them, interact with them in Jesus’ name. Pray to the Father as a representative of Jesus, in Jesus’ name. Through Christ inhabiting you with His Holy Spirit, function throughout every area of your life in Jesus’ name and bring glory to the Father, in Jesus’ name. That’s Jesus’ point in this passage from John. Do you know why this is so great? Why the truth is so much better than the health and wealth gimmie gimmie gimmie interpretation. This is amazing. Don’t miss this! Listen! You and I have been invited by the one and only God who created all of time, matter, space, and energy, to carry on the work of His Son, in Jesus’ name.
We have been invited to be Christ’s ambassadors, communicating God’s will into our own lives and actions and to the world around us. Just as Jesus didn’t run around coming up with His own human prayer requests and trying to line His pockets with extreme wealth and (grunt) faith God the Father into whatever His human flesh wanted, that’s not the pattern He is proposing to you and me either. Remember, that’s what Satan tried to get Him to do? That was the original temptation to sin that Satan tried to use on Jesus. Use Your God power for your own human pleasure. Turn stones into bread since you are hungry. Fling yourself off a cliff and name and claim the angels to come and catch You. Talk about a show-off move. Bow down to me and you can grab all the money and power the world has to offer. Oh my goodness, that sounds so familiar now doesn’t it? What was Jesus’ response? To paraphrase: Humans should not focus on material things but instead live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. They shouldn’t test or tempt the Lord their God. They should worship Him alone. In shorthand, Jesus told Satan “No. God the Father has not told Me to do any of these things you are suggesting. These are your ideas. I’m only here to do what the Father tells Me to do and I’m only here to say what the Father tells me to say.” Do you see that?
In this passage, Jesus has been inviting us to bring our minds and wills and emotions and behavior and speech into alignment with the will of God, and in doing so, as Jesus’ representatives, we will be instruments through which the Heavenly Father is brought glory and that happens through the Son who dwells within us through His Holy Spirit. When your life is aligned in that way when the only things you are asking for are the things that are in His will?
When you are only asking for things that will ultimately bring Him glory, then, of course, anything you ask, of course, He’ll do that for you. That is so exciting, to be able to participate in God’s great plan. It’s great stuff. The point isn’t, you know, you just get whatever you want. The point is you’ve been included in the master plan of God. Now, let’s talk about why some of you don’t like that answer. Somebody taught you differently, taught you the other way and you are having to choose which one sounds right to you. Let me tell you why some of you are still resisting the explanation I’ve just shared. Many of us, truth be told, are still in rebellion against God. Truth be told, we don’t want to worship Him as much as we want to use Him. We don’t really want to say Thy will be done no matter what it is. We aren’t sure we’re going to like God’s will when it happens. Instead, we’re still really trying to figure out how to get Him in on our will. Or at least weigh His will against our other options and then decide for ourselves.
If this kind of preaching and this kind of message just kind of rubs you wrong, offends you, sounds too fatalistic, it may just be that you have been taught wrong and you are struggling now between these two options trying to decide which one makes the most sense. And it also may be because, truth be told, if you get real honest, it’s because your motives are wrong. Maybe you’re still in a tug of war with God about something in your life. Let me tell you playing about tug of war with God. Your will or His will? Drop the rope man. Drop the rope. You’re NOT going to win. NO WAY! You’re not going to thwart the plans of God. We already know how this whole earth and all of the human life thing ends up. I’ve read the last chapter of the book. God wants you to know, faith is not about moving Me. It’s never been about that and it never will be about that.
Faith is about Me moving you. I’m inviting You to be part of My plan. You can resist me, and wear yourself out trying, but you’re not going to move Me one inch. I am the same, yesterday, today, and forever. I am faithful to what I promise. I really am who I say I am and I really will do everything I’ve promised to do. We talked about this in past weeks a little bit. Some of you are asking “Well, then why pray at all? If God’s just gonna do whatever God’s gonna do, with or without my participation, what’s the point?” We’re going to answer that in just a minute. First, let’s look at 1 John, chapter five. Now, we said last week that there was a shift in New Testament Scriptural language about faith. Remember? I said there feels like there is a shift between what Jesus says about faith and what the apostles say about faith. Why is that? Listen. Don’t miss this. This is huge.
The Gospels are recording what Jesus SAID. The epistles are recording of what Jesus MEANT. The Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are recording, writing down, what Jesus SAID. The epistles, what Paul wrote, John wrote, what Peter wrote, what James wrote, are an interpretation and elaboration of what Jesus said. They’re more of what Jesus MEANT. They’re sort of a commentary on what Jesus taught. So, what we find, especially in the verse we’ll look at in just a moment, it seems as if there’s a change between the relationship of faith and prayer, between the Gospels and the Epistles. But the truth is, there’s no change at all. C.I.E. Context Is Everything. Remember, we said last week, the Jewish audience to which Jesus spoke understood that faith was a REACTION to God’s primary action. They knew that. It was ingrained in them. Jesus didn’t have to explain to THEM the way faith works. They understood faith.
It’s our non-Jewish background and the poor teaching of preachers who don’t understand or apply our Hebrew roots oftentimes that confuse us and teach us incorrect things about faith. So when John began to write his first epistle, he knew he wouldn’t be writing to a primarily Jewish audience. He was mostly writing to Gentile Christians. So he elaborated on and explained what Jesus really meant for them. So, again, there’s no contradiction. C.I.E. There’s just an explanation. Now, here’s a promise the prosperity guys don’t really cling to or even refer to. John says:
14 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
Ohhhhhh. That’s exactly what we’ve been coming up within all of our But What About … scriptures isn’t it? If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. Now, that doesn’t mean if you pray for the wrong thing Jesus reaches for a hearing aid and says “What? Speak up!” It’s a figure of speech the same way we use it. When it says that He hears us, it just means He does what we are asking. John says this is what Jesus meant about prayer, if we ask anything (oh, you might not have understood this the way we did when Jesus said it to us, disciples, I’ve heard some people teaching this wrong, so let me clarify for you) if you ask anything according to His will, yeah, that? He’ll definitely do that. Some of us, we just hate that promise because we go, well then, what is the use of praying? Big deal? We ask God for something He is going to already do and that’s when He will answer our prayers. That’s hardly even a promise, is it? We don’t like that promise. We like the one that seems to say you just gotta really believe anything will happen, anything you can dream up, and God’s gotta give it to you. Or as New Agers teach, manifest it and the Universe will deliver it to you.
Same teaching. Different religions. Both false. We want to camp out there. Anything and everything! WOOHOO! Throwing in this qualification of “Oh, did I mention, it has to be My will.” Well, that just kind of pees in our cornflakes. Do you know why? Because we realize God’s actually still in control, not us. We want to be in control every once in a while. We’d like God to do our bidding every once in a while. In other words, we still want to play God. We still want to be the god of our own life instead of Him. Now, here’s a trick question. OK, I want you to look at that verse, 1 John 5:14 again, and I want you to look at what that verse says about faith. OK, look carefully. What does that say about faith? How much faith do you have to have? What does it say about faith?
Nothing. I told you it was a trick question. It says absolutely nothing about faith. Listen, this is very important. Don’t miss this. The verse says nothing about faith. John writes, “If you’re going to pray, here is the real secret formula you’ve been looking for. Pray in accordance to God’s will, and then He will definitely do it.” And we want to say “What are you talking about John? Weren’t you standing there when Jesus said? ‘You just have to believe and I’ll do anything you want?’ Faith, belief, positive thinking, HAS to figure into this. How does faith fit in? I mean, you’ve left out a key element. You’re talking about answered prayer and you don’t even mention faith. All you mention is praying according to the will of God. What’s the connection?” That’s what we’re asking Jesus and John and the rest of the apostles. Right? Here’s the connection. Praying in faith and praying according to the will of God are the same thing. You see, faith is just responding favorably to who God says He is and what God has promised He is going to do. That is faith. Faith is just working and living according to His will.
And so John says, “Let me clear up the confusion for you non-Jewish people. When you pray according to His will, He’ll do it.” That’s what Jesus meant. Because praying in faith and praying according to His will are the exact same thing. There’s no contradiction. It’s all about God being in control. That’s John’s point. Now, listen carefully before you misunderstand me. This verse does not limit what we can ASK for. This verse only defines what God is actually going to do, what God is actually going to give us. This verse does not say don’t ask for certain things or you’re going to get in trouble. Don’t ask for certain things because they might be outside of God’s will. This verse does not limit what we can ask for in any way. This verse only limits what God is actually going to do which is His will for you, as you Good loving, Heavenly Father who loves to give good gifts, good gifts in His opinion, to His children. For you Wednesday night folks, you know we’re talking about His Providential Will, His Moral Will, and His Personal Will for your life, right?
Now, don’t miss this. It’s actually possible for us to know His will. Paul told us how. Remember? Romans 12:2
2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. ~ Romans 12:2
Of course, that full transformation is a lifelong process of renewing our mind with God’s written word and times of regular prayer conversation and learning from the Holy Spirit. So sometimes we correctly discern God’s will and often we still miss it because we are still somewhat conformed instead of entirely transformed, but our odds of understanding His will go up the more we immerse ourselves in His word. Our odds go up the more time we spend in prayer.
Either way, understanding His will or not understanding His will, we have permission to ask anything, we have permission to hope for anything, but we can only have faith, certainty about what we hope for if it is within the will of God. Now, back to the big question, or what is the use of praying? Why should we pray if God is just going to do what God is going to do anyway? Because Prayer is a primary reminder that we are extremely dependent on God. And we SHOULD be dependent on God by the way. That’s not a weak thing. We are dependent on Him since He is the source of all life, all energy, all matter, all time, all space, all love, all hope, all faith. He is the one and only source of everything that exists! We should remember that. Prayer helps us do that.
Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. ~ 1 Peter 5:7
That’s the theme verse of our church by the way that gives us the tagline you see in our logo. Because He cares …
We pray because our Heavenly Father loves to hear from His children. And it’s a reminder for us of how dependent we are on Him. We pray because, as we said a few weeks ago, no matter what is going on around us when we pray, God will ALWAYS give us mercy and grace in our time of need. It’s just like a good human parent and their child. Parents don’t wait to hear from their kids before they provide for them what they need. They also don’t just give the kids everything and anything they want. Still, they always want their kids to continue asking them for the things they want. Why? Because in that exchange, the child learns to know the parent. On the human side of things, the parent learns to know the child.
It’s in that exchange that the knowledge of the mom or dad begins to train the child to know their will and to know the way the world works. Of course, our heavenly Father already knows everything about us but we know very little about Him. It’s in that prayer exchange with God that we learn to know God better and we renew our mind as Paul says. That’s actually how we begin to learn what God’s will is. We can get better at specifically praying for God’s will and know more and more confidently what that will actually is in a given situation. Our prayers, if we are only praying for the will of God, will always get a yes answer. Another reason we need to continue to pray, even though God is going to do His will is so that Prayer is how we can learn His Personal Will for our life. We need to learn how to make better decisions that keep us more firmly on course for the best possible life, in Christ, that we can live. Again, Wednesday night folks, we spent a whole series talking more deeply about this didn’t we? Another reason we need to pray is because prayer shows an unbelieving world the connection. between what’s happening in this world and what God is up to in this world.
Jesus gave us a great illustration. We talked about this on a recent Wednesday night as well. When we talked about the Omnibenevolence of God. Jesus stood outside the tomb of Lazarus and just before he raised Lazarus from the dead. Here’s what happened. I’m going to paraphrase Jesus’ prayer. Here’s what Jesus essentially prayed. “Heavenly Father, I don’t really need to pray this prayer because I already know Your will and I know what You have told Me to say and do. I’m praying so everybody here will know that what’s about to happen is not about Me, it’s about You. I pray aloud and ask You to raise Lazarus from the dead so that when he comes out, they will know it is You who has done it.
They’ll also know that You and I are perfectly connected. We are one and I am just here doing Your will. I am here to glorify the Father through the Son. Amen.” That’s the greater context of what Jesus was saying in His prayer. Then He said, “Lazarus, come out.” Everybody said, “Whoa, He’s definitely from God. He is representing God. He has access to the power and knowledge of God.” Jesus made sure they saw the connection through His prayer. Do you know something? You and I are surrounded by people every day who need to see the connection we have to Jesus. That’s why we pray in Jesus’ name. That’s why we pray according to the will of God rather than according to our own will. So that men and women will see that, no matter what, whatever happens, God is in control. Look at what God is doing.
On occasion, I have had friends who are not believers who got really sick or really badly injured or a family member was badly sick or injured. The doctors had done everything medical science knew to do. But they weren’t getting any better. Whether they ask me to pray for them or not, I always let them to know that I AM praying for them. I let them know that I am praying for God’s will in their life. I let them know that I know with certainty that God CAN heal them and that I am humbly hoping He will. I let them know I don’t know if that is God’s will. But I am making my request known and humbly hoping that this will be one of those good gifts the Father sometimes gives to His children. I fully acknowledge that whatever happens, I want His will to be done and ultimately, His will, will be done. I pray for God to show them grace and mercy in their time of need. When I see them or talk to them later, I say “How are you doing?” I remind them that I’ve been praying for them. Sometimes, the response is “I’m doing much better.
My loved one is doing much better. Thank you for praying.” I make sure they know, that’s not me. I don’t have super faith. I didn’t pray a super prayer. I don’t know what God’s specific will is for all of those people. I don’t know if His will is for them to get better or not. But I do know THIS with 100% certainty. If they DO get better? That’s God. AMEN? And I want to make sure they see that connection too. There’s a connection between what happens in our lives and the will of God. If we don’t pray and if we don’t pray according to the will of God, and if we don’t pray in Jesus’ name if we don’t make our prayer requests known, how will the world see the connection when God answers that prayer? We are the connection. If you are a Christian, you’re saved. Why didn’t Jesus just beam us all up the minute we put our faith in Him? It’s because we are here to glorify the Father through the Son and lead other people to glorify the Father through the Son. Now, I’ll tell you my number one reason for praying. This isn’t in the Bible. This is just a personal life observation. You know, why pray?
Because when I run into a situation where God seems to want me to do option A but I really want to do option B? It’s in that tension between my will and His will when I pray anyway, I change. I come away from those intense times of prayer where I have been pleading my case and my will like crazy. When I finish praying and what I want still hasn’t changed God’s will, I find that God is able, through that time of prayer, to bring me to the place where I’m able to say, “OK, not my will, but Thy will be done. I’m putting down the tug of war rope and I’m surrendering to Your will.”
We’ve talked about the Apostle Paul and his thorn in the flesh prayers. We’ve talked about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, about to suffer the pain and loss and separation from God that every sin that would ever be committed would cause. They both prayed this same prayer. Not my will but Thy will be done. Jesus went to pray in the Garden to Gethsemane because the Father’s will, which He already knew as God in the flesh, and His human will, the natural, innate human drive for survival, weren’t in sync. Jesus spent a long, anguishing time of prayer “If it is Your will please take away this cup of poison from Me.” He prayed so intently that His sweat became like drops of blood. Jesus knew that prayer would bring Him to the place where His human side could sincerely say, “Even though I don’t like it and I’m definitely not looking forward to the pain and loss and temporary separation from You, bottom line, Heavenly Father, not My will, but Thy will be done.”
That’s His model for you and me as well. Jesus showed us our faith and our prayers are never about changing God or controlling God or influencing God. God doesn’t need to change. He’s fine. Prayer is about changing us. The good news is this. Fortunately, you and I don’t have the power to change God. If we did, we would be God. No offense but you would make a terrible God. So would I. The good news is this. We cannot change God, but through faith, you and I can be changed and we can become more like Jesus. We can become clean, prepared vessels through which God is brought glory through His Son. And that’s what this whole thing is all about. AMEN? YAY GOD?
~~~~~ LET’S PRAY ~~~~~