I didn’t know Walt very well. I knew that he was a distinguished professor, that he was a good speaker in chapel, that he was someone that a lot of people admired, but, myself and three or four other pastors, and about four or five businessmen, ended up in Haiti with Walt. It was one of the red-eye specials.
We got off the plane, got up in the wee hours of the morning, and got on what they called a “bus.” Seven, all seven of us were on one row, and it would seat about four, comfortably. One seat back, a lady with a chicken was, it made the ride unusual. Seven and a half hours straight, I smelled things I have never smelled before. We got off that into a jitney; went into the interior of Haiti.
Walt had given twenty years of his life, and the deal that he made, when he came to teach at the seminary is that: “I’ve got to go back, every summer, for three months, and you have to let me take students, or I can’t take the job.”
He was setting up one of those trips, and I had the privilege of seeing the ministry. And as we were going through all that, I saw a ward of orphans that were totally abandoned that they were helping. I walked into an area where they were doing surgery, and doctors who had given their lives, and nurses, back in the middle of nowhere.
Late that night, after we’d traveled for about two and a half days, and I was absolutely wiped out, Walt said, “Let’s pray, Chip, before we go to bed.” Walt’s a big guy. He probably would have been a linebacker in the NFL, if he weren’t doing what he’s doing now. And we knelt down at this little bed, and we could look out, and there were these little grass huts.
And I know you’re not supposed to listen when people pray – you’re really supposed to be praying to God – but I couldn’t help myself. This man had given his life for these people. And he began to pray, and I realized I was in the presence of a man who knew God deeply and powerfully, and loved people, and had laid out his life. And as he prayed, then he took this big hand, this big paw, put it on my shoulder, and goose bumps went all over me. And I just prayed to God.
And I realized, as I listened to him pray, how he prayed, and what he prayed, were so different from the kinds of things that I prayed. And sometimes, listening to a person who knows God deeply, and for much longer than you and I, can really help us learn what God is like, and how to pray. And as we start this morning, I want to let you eavesdrop on a prayer of a man that God describes as being someone whose heart beats in the same rhythm as God’s, a man who has a heart after God Himself. Listen carefully to David, as he prays. Listen to what he prays. Hear the intimacy. Hear the desires of his own heart, and see what you can learn about God.
It’s a prayer that’s recorded in Scripture, in Psalm 101, and he says, “I will sing of lovingkindness and justice, to Thee, O Lord, I will sing praises. I will give heed to the blameless way. When will Thou come to me? I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart. I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not fasten its grip on me. A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will know” – or “tolerate” – “no evil. I will get rid of anyone who whispers evil things about someone else, and I won’t tolerate a man who’s proud and arrogant.
“I will approve of those who are faithful to God, and I’ll let them live in my palace. Those who are completely honest will be allowed to serve with me. No liar will live in my palace; no hypocrite will remain in my presence. Day after day I will destroy the wicked in our land, and I will expel all evil men from the city of our Lord.”
I want to talk about three conditions that are essential for you to experience the kind of power in your prayer that we’ve talked about. The text for the day is 1 John chapter 3, and the core verses we want to look at are verses 21 and verse 22. And in these two little verses are three conditions, three things that have to be true in your life, and in your experience, or these promises aren’t for you.
See, here’s what happens. Can I be candid with you? Some of you have gotten excited about prayer, and a little pumped up, and so, you’ve said, Okay, God, now, Chip said you can have wisdom when you need it, and last week you said, Okay, Lord, I’ve got a big decision. I’ve got a big problem. I want You to give me this wisdom. And the truth is, you didn’t hear a lot. Of course, you don’t want to say that, because it might embarrass you.
And there are some others who said, Okay, I’ll tell you what. Boy, our finances are tight. I’m going to claim this promise. I’m going to line that promise up. And oh, God, Philippians 4:19 – I’m believing this. And you didn’t get any check in the mail this week, did you? In fact, your finances are about, roughly, where they were last week.
And some of you have a child that you want to see come back to the Lord, and some of you have a relationship, or a situation at work, and you’re praying. You’re really praying. And it’s been about a week, or two, and in your heart of hearts, down deep, you’re saying, “You know that line he said: Mark 11:24? ‘Ask anything in My name, believe that you’ve received it, and you’re going to get it’?” You’re just about at the point where you’re saying, “On Saturday night, or Sunday, when this guy gets up and talks about it, it sounds really good. But you know what? This isn’t really working for me.”
I want to tell you, this morning, why it’s not working for you. What I want to tell you this morning is, there are three conditions that are essential. These promises about “ask anything in His name,” “believe what you’ve received,” they’re given to a special classification of people. They’re not for everyone. And if these conditions aren’t met, those promises don’t belong to you, and they don’t belong to me.
It’s like if you want to get a loan from the bank, and you walk into the bank and say, “I really need about five thousand dollars. There are some really important needs.” And they say, “Well, here’s the paperwork. Fill it out.” And you say, “Oh, I don’t like paperwork. I don’t do paperwork.” They say, “Well, we don’t do loans for people who don’t do paperwork.”
You see, I’m not talking about merit. I’m not saying you can do certain things, and they’re brownie points, and God’s going to answer your prayer because you do these certain things. I’m saying there are conditions. There are conditions that, if they’re not met, the old school talks about getting on praying ground. You’re not even qualified, you’re not even in the running for God to hear you, to answer, unless you meet these conditions.
And so, a bank isn’t evaluating and saying, “Well, we don’t know if we want to give you the money.” They don’t give the money to anyone who doesn’t do the paperwork.
And so, I want to talk today about: what’s the paperwork? What are the conditions that God demands to be true in your life, and in your heart, and in mine, so that these outlandish promises about asking anything in His name, believing that you’ve received them, and praying according to His will, can be true in your life, and you can see that power?
Verse 21 has the first condition. The last two conditions are in verse 22. Let’s follow along as I read. “Dear friends,” the apostle John writes, “if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and we receive from Him anything that we ask” – you might circle the next word – “because we obey His commands and do what pleases Him.” You can ask whatever, and you know you’re going to get it, if we keep His commands, and do the things that are pleasing to Him. Those are the two major conditions.
But verse 21 has one, also. He says, “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God.”
This word, confidence, keeps popping up. The word meant, in ancient Greece, in Greek culture, “the most sacred right, or value, of a citizen.” The word has the meaning “to feel free to speak one’s mind, unhampered by fear or shame.”
It’s a picture of having this freedom, and boldness, and confidence, that you step right before God, and you know you belong here – no fear, no shame, no baggage. And when you speak, you know He’s going to hear. That’s what this word means. What stops that confidence? It’s when your heart does condemn you.
Condition number one – I’d like you to write in: “a clear conscience.” Those are the key words that I’ve left space for. Condition number one: a clear conscience. A clear conscience gives us boldness and confidence before God in prayer.
Now, you’ve got to ask yourself, How do you get a clear conscience? And the reference here, by the way – the whole context is a word of assurance. Now, there are times, and there are many of us, maybe most of us, this applies to is we’ve done some things wrong, and we don’t deal with things and we’re really, for some of us, God takes a bulldozer to get our attention.
But there are some of you – and this is what this passage is for – there are some of you that are very, very sensitive. You’re the kinds of people that you do nine things right, and you’re down on yourself because there’s probably a tenth you missed. You’re the kinds of people that love others, and are really caring, and we look at you, and we all wish we could be more like you. But you go to bed at night, and bow your head, and think, Oh, gosh, I forgot to call so-and-so.
You’re the kind of person that is generous with your time, you’re generous with your money, you’re caring toward others, but you always think, Well, maybe I should have prayed a little more. Maybe I should have given just a little bit more. Maybe I should have taken a little extra.
And so, what happens, there’s a group of people in the body of Christ that they’re guilt ridden. They’re always down on themselves. And when you feel guilty, deep in your heart, you don’t want to come and talk to God. You feel bad. You feel like there’s a wedge between you, and your relationship with the Lord.
And John, in this context, wants to assure you that there’s an acid test where you can know, for those of you that have a real strict conscience – and by the way, if you’re a bulldozer person, don’t listen to this. People like you and me take passages like this for license. This is for those really tenderhearted people.
Look at verse 19. The context explains it. “This, then, is how we can know that we belong to the truth,” he says, “and how we can set our hearts at rest in His presence” – how do you do that? – “whenever our hearts,” verse 20, “condemn us” – the word means “to accuse us” – “for God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything.”
Well, the key phrase, here, is “this, then,” isn’t it? In verse 19. Whatever “this, then” refers to is the way that we can know that we’re of the truth – assurance – know that this is the way to set our hearts quietly, when our heart – and the idea of this phrase is when your heart is falsely accusing you, when you’re feeling guilty, but you’re not feeling guilty because God wants you to feel guilty. You’re feeling guilty because you’re just one of those people that feels guilty a lot.
What’s the “this, then”? Verse 18 explains the “this, then.” “Dear children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in action and in truth.”
The apostle John is saying that your assurance, that your right relationship is just to look at the habitual practice of your life. Do you have a loving lifestyle? Are there deeds, and habitual actions – not that you hit it all, all the time, but your heart, your desire. You’re giving. You’re loving. You’re caring. He says when the habitual practice of your life is a caring, loving person, and you hear these little voices inside that say, “You should have done more.”
And by the way, these little voices are almost always vague. They’re never specific. The Holy Spirit, when He wants to convict you, He doesn’t mess around. He doesn’t say stuff like, “You’re sort of a yicky person. You’re kind of a jerk. You’re selfish. Why don’t you get with the program?”
When He convicts you, He says – zap! – “You were rude to so-and-so last night at nine o’clock, and you need to make that right.” Because the Holy Spirit’s job is to draw you back close to God, not to make you feel bad.
But there are some of you that struggle praying, and the reason you struggle praying is because you’re so down on yourself. And the apostle John, this apostle of love, says, “Look, this, then, is how you can know.” Just look at the objective facts of your life.
God knows everything. He knows your desires. If it’s 11:30 at night, and you say, “Oh, I wanted to call her, and I wanted to encourage her, but it’s too late, and now I’ve blown it, and now God’s probably down on me” – no, He’s not. He knew what you wanted to do. He understands. He loves you.
And so, the first thing that most of you with really tender hearts need to know is: come to God with a clear conscience. Come, knowing, Hey, you’re My child. I open up heaven on the basis of the work of Christ. Those of you that habitually practice loving, you come on. Don’t be so down on yourself.
Now, the second two conditions appeal more to people like myself that God has to knock me a little bit over the head.
The second condition is an obedient lifestyle. An obedient lifestyle. Look at verse 22: “And we receive from Him anything that we ask, because we obey His commands.” God answers the prayers of those who keep His commands. It’s a condition. It’s filling out the paperwork.
See, the fact of the matter is, there are Christians, like you, and like me, and we have these dreams. We’ve got a child that we want to see start to walk with the Lord, and there’s a relationship in our family we wish God would heal. We’ve got financial pressure over here, and there’s a situation at work we’re really asking God for.
And we’re over here saying, “Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God,” and we’re really praying, and to be honest, we’re not seeing many answers. We’re not seeing the kinds of answers that I’m talking about. And then, we get ticked off at God.
But the fact of the matter is, is that there are multiple commandments that we know that we are just flat out not doing. We’re not doing them!
He says we need to keep His commandments. If you’re not in the Scriptures, you can’t know what they are. Basic areas of the Christian life, in terms of our thought life, our morality, our love for other people, we aren’t obeying, and yet, we’re asking over here. And then, you know what we have the audacity to do? Boy, God, You don’t come through with Your promises.
And what the Lord wants us to understand is that these promises He’s talking about, where He’ll supernaturally work, there’s some paperwork involved. You need to meet the conditions. You need to come with a clear conscience, and you need to come with an obedient lifestyle.