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.
Now, some of you, at this point, I hope you’re asking, “Well, that sounds pretty open to interpretation. What’s it mean to have an obedient lifestyle? What’s it mean to obey His commandments?”
Well, he’s going to tell us. Look at verse 23. He explains, very clearly, what commands he’s talking about: “And this is His command.” Is that clear enough for you? There are two things. The first one is “to believe in the name of His Son,” and, “to love one another as He commanded us.”
The very first thing you need to do to fulfill this commandment is that if you’ve never asked Jesus Christ to be the Savior of your life, if you’ve never looked to the cross and said, “Jesus died on the cross for me, His death paid the price for my sin, and He rose from the dead to forgive me all my sin and has offered that free gift” – if you’ve never received that free gift, he says that’s the first step of obedience. And until you’ve done that, this promise doesn’t apply to you. God’s not going to hear your prayer.
See, we’ve got this idea that God is a benevolent King of a democratic society, and that there are all these hotlines that go to heaven, and He answers them all the same. He doesn’t. Some people call, and He answers very regularly. Other people call and call, and He says, “I’ve left a few messages on your recorder. And when you take care of the few messages that I’ve left on your recorder, call Me back.”
See, we do have a part. And see, we don’t deal with that, and yet, we keep calling and calling and calling, and then we get hot at God because He doesn’t answer. He answers.
So, the first step is that if you’ve never asked Him to come into your life and forgive you, do that, today. In fact, I encourage you to skip out on the rest of this message, and glaze forward, like this, to make people think you’re listening, and have a private conversation with God, and ask Him to come into your life and forgive you.
The second thing, though, it says a different tense of the verb. This is present tense – ongoing, habitually. It says, what is the second part? What are His commands? “To love one another.” He says it’s in loving one another – that command needs to be fulfilled. There ought to be a love for one another, in the body of Christ, that is so radical, that that has to be fulfilled before you meet the condition for God to hear your prayers.
And at this point in time, again, that gets gray. What’s it mean to really love each other? I’m here today, aren’t I?
Well, that is neat, but this passage will explain: what does it mean to love one another? Look up at verse 16. He gives us the definition of love – the measuring, the litmus test. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.”
Love is a choice. Love is radical sacrifice. Love is seeing the needs of someone else, and putting aside your wants, your desires, and extending your time, your energy, your resources, and even your life, if need be, to give to someone else. That’s what love is.
So, now, we’ve got to back it up and say, Am I loving people like that, or do I just love them when it’s convenient? Is my attitude in the body, “What do they have for me? Are you meeting my needs? I’d like a little bit more of this. Do you think you could start earlier, or start later, or whatever?” Did you notice the next line, in verse 16? “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”
Now, you think about this condition. See, the people that are seeing God do graphic, supernatural works of power in their lives are people that are radically loving their brothers and sisters in Christ, who are expending and giving their lives, their hearts, their time, their emotions, and their finances to meet the needs of other people. That’s who qualifies for this promise.
In fact, in verse 17, he gives us the first illustration. He says, “If that’s too vague, I’ll picture it for you.” Look at verse 17: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”
See, the reason Jesus talked more about money, in the New Testament, than heaven and hell combined, is because the fact of the matter is, money will tell you: who is your god? And when other people have needs, and I can’t give of my time, or my emotional energy, or if I can’t give of my finances, off the top, to love other people, then the love of God isn’t operating in my life. I’m saying, “It’s my time. It’s my money.”
Who gave you the job? God did. Who gave you the health? God did. Who gave you the family? God did. Who gave you the home? God did. And then, we tell them, “But I can’t afford to give any of it back to you!” You can’t afford not to.
Because when we are not radically loving and giving, not just of our money, but of our energy, our time, then we’re not loving other people. And if you’re not loving other people, you’re not keeping His command. And if you’re not keeping His command, this promise does not apply to you. God will not hear your prayer. That’s a condition.
It’s like saying, “Oh, God, oh, God, I need a loan! I need a loan! I need a loan! I need a loan!” And He says, “Fine, have you filled out the paperwork?” And you say, “I don’t do paperwork.” He says, “Fine.”
When you do the paperwork, then you qualify to be a recipient of the eternal God of the universe, who wants to give you more than you ever dreamed, who wants to do stuff in your family, who wants to do stuff at work, who wants to do things in relationships – it would take a miracle! God has miracles.
The third condition goes beyond a clear conscience, and an obedient lifestyle. Condition number three is – you can write the words – “a yearning heart,” “a yearning heart.” And what I mean is a heart that longs to please God.
God answers the prayers of those who do the things that are pleasing in His sight. Did you notice that, in verse 22? “And we know that we have whatever we ask, because,” one, “we keep His commandments,” and, two, building on that, “we do what is pleasing in His sight,” says the New American Standard.
See, there are some of us – and it’s part our personalities, and part our backgrounds – we want to find out where the lines are. “We’re supposed to keep these four rules? Okay, I’ll keep them. These five rules? Okay, I’ll keep them. Are there twenty-nine rules? I’ll get them. I’ll list them.” These people make charts, and then they check them. “Are you supposed to read the Bible? Okay, two chapters a day, pray for so long…”
And what God wants you to understand is that He wants a yearning heart, not rote, exterior, legalistic obedience. He wants you and I not just to do what’s right, to say, “Okay, I don’t do this,” or, “I don’t do this,” or, “I don’t do that.” But instead, He wants you to have a heart inside that longs to please Him, and your obedience flows not out of duty and obligation, but out of a love relationship. He wants you to go beyond just exterior obedience: “Well, I kept the commandments. Okay, God, You’ve got to come through. I filled out the loan papers.” He says, “It doesn’t work that way.”
I spent a good portion of the first two or three years of my Christian life finding out where the lines were. Having never read the Bible, I didn’t know many of the rules, nor did I know that God had them for my benefit. But here’s what I’d do. I’d find out, Okay, now, that line right here is sin. Okay. And this is what I did: “Okay, I’m not sinning! I’m not sinning! See, God, I didn’t break the letter of the Law!” That kind of heart doesn’t meet the condition for the God of the universe to answer prayer.
I remember, I had just begun to grow, and I started to get in the Bible. And then, I got into Bible study, and I started to share my faith, and a couple of guys at least prayed a prayer with me to become Christians. And then, I’d see them in the hallway, and they’d see me, and they’d duck, and turn, go down the other stairs. It was like I had cooties, or something.
And I was doing all the “right things,” but there was no fruit in my life. Nothing was happening. And then, I began to pray, seriously, God, how come You’re not using me?
And then, He convicted me about a relationship with my girlfriend. Oh, now, I wasn’t sleeping with her. We didn’t do “the big one.” But I’ll tell you what, our relationship did not honor God. And the things we did do did not honor God. It was not pleasing to God. Oh, I drew a line and said, “As long as don’t ‘have intercourse,’ I guess I’m okay.”
Let me ask you, is your focus, in the Christian life, trying to see how close you can get to sin, without sinning? Or is yours one of a child’s heart, running to the Father and saying, “I’m not sure if this is right or wrong. I want to do what You want me to do”?
You want to see a picture of that? Look back at the psalm of David. Do you remember how he’s described? He’s described as “a man after God’s own heart.” You want to hear his yearnings? You want to hear his heart? Listen to how he approaches God. This is why God answered his prayers. He met the condition. “I will sing of lovingkindness and justice, to Thee, O Lord, I’ll sing praises.”
Now, does that sound like someone who says, “Oh, gosh, it’s time to have a quiet time”? Is it duty, or is it delight? Do you get it? He wants to be with God! He says, “I will give heed to the blameless way. When will You come to me? I’ll walk within my house in the integrity of my heart.” Look at his character! He wants to be morally pure! He wants the inside of his heart to be clean – his motives, and his thoughts. Is that you? Is that me? That’s a heart pleasing to God.
He goes on, “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes. A perverse heart, it’ll depart from me.”
See, I think if David was living today, I bet he would put that on the front of his TV. “I will put no worthless thing before my eyes.” He wouldn’t say, “Okay, now, is this ‘G,’ or is this ‘PG,’ or is this ‘PG-13,’ or this an ‘R’ one that I heard is clean?” He wouldn’t play those games! He’d stick it and say, “Could I sit down on the couch with the Lord Jesus, and say, ‘Do You like this movie, Lord?’” Not, “Well, it’s okay, except for this, this, this, or that.”
See, I’m not talking about legalism here. I’m talking about longing to please God, instead of always seeing how close we can come. And I just can’t get the idea that the Lord would watch people’s heads getting blown off, and all the junk that we see, and say, Oh, boy, this is really encouraging, isn’t it? Ask yourself, does your heart yearn to please God in what you see, in what you do?
Notice verse 5. He says, “I’ll get rid of anyone who whispers evil things about someone else.” His relationships to others. Do you listen to gossip? It’s tantalizing, isn’t it? Do you know what David would say? “I don’t want to hear that trash. You got a problem with that person? You go talk to them. That’s ungodly. I don’t put up with that stuff.” Not, “Well, gosh, oh boy, I’ve heard the same thing. And if you talk to Betty, you’ll really find…”
Look at his relationships: “I approve of those who are faithful, those who are completely honest – no liars, no hypocrites.” He wanted to run with people that had a heart for God. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who dwells with wise men will be wise, but the companion of a fool will suffer harm.” Who do you run with? Who do you hang out with?
Ask God to give you a desire and a yearning, because here’s the deal: God wants to do marvelous, supernatural, tremendous works in your life, but some of us have not filled out the loan papers. And you’re not on praying ground. When you pray, you haven’t put yourself in a position to realize God really loves you, and you can have a clear conscience. You haven’t put yourself in a position to obey His commandments because you honestly love, sacrificially, others. And you haven’t put yourself in a position where you can say, in your heart of hearts, God, I blew it.
And we’re not talking perfection. It’s up and down, and up and down, and struggle. But it’s that sense of, Oh, Lord, I want to be Your man. I want to be Your woman. I want to be a student that would really be pleasing to You, and I know I fail, and I know I struggle, and I know You understand that.
You see, the flow of New Testament Christianity, and Old Testament faith, has to do with abiding, deep relationship of fellowship – that obedience, and love, and expenditure of energy, and time, and resources flows out of love, not duty.
And if you don’t want to give, of yourself, of your time, and your resources, it just tells you a whole lot more about you than you really want to know. It tells you about your relationship, or lack of it, in your heart of hearts, with the living God. I would just hate to see all the miracles get stuck up in heaven that He’d like to open up for you.
Verse 24 summarizes it all, and it’s for you and me, as we meet the conditions. He says, “Those who obey His commandments” – are you ready for this? – “live in Him” – is that great? – “and He in them.”
See, when you live this way, the power, the sweetness, the fellowship, the grace of God lives in you, and you live in Him. “And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit which He gave us.”
God wants to do great, mighty answers to prayer, and what we need to learn this week – it’s not that He’s unwilling. It’s that a great majority of His people haven’t filled out the loan papers.