There is nothing worse than not knowing. It doesn’t matter what the lack of certainty pertains to…there is nothing worse than not knowing. There is always a tension filled question mark hanging over the head of the husband or wife who does not have the certainty that their spouse loves them and is committed to them. That question mark weighs upon their shoulders and causes a heaviness to follow them every moment of every day. There is always anxiety awaiting the employee who walks through the door and is reminded that he or she could be told to pack their things at any moment. There is nothing more detrimental to the development of a child than for the child not to have the assurance of his or her parent’s love. There is nothing more devastating to a church, more destructive to the health of a church, than for the congregation to wonder if God is true to His promises. There is nothing worse for the man, woman, or child who seeks after the Lord than to wonder if they have truly been saved or if there is something more that they must do. I can’t tell you the number of times I have spoken to someone who has said, “I hope that when I die I have lived a good enough life to go to Heaven.” The lack of certainty will wake you in the night, it will cause clouds of confusion and depression to follow you through the day, and it will ultimately result in the person losing hope since there is no person who has ever lived who has been able to be “good enough” to earn God’s gift of salvation.
The lack of certainty fosters confusion, depression, and anxiety like nothing else. Times have not changed. This fact of life is not new to those of us living in the year 2000. The lack of certainty, question marks planted in the fertile soil of the mind, have been around since the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden.
Where does this lack come from? Why do all people have to deal with the lack of certainty in our lives from time to time? That is a great question. If you will stop and think about it there are some glaring examples of how seeds of uncertainty are sown into our hearts and minds and begin to grow. Sometimes others sow the seeds of uncertainty and we allow them to take root and entangle us. The parent who refuses to give their child the security of their love sows seeds of uncertainty. The spouse who refuses to give their mate the security of their love and commitment sows seeds of uncertainty.
At other times our circumstances and the situations we find ourselves involved with in life sow seeds of uncertainty. If someone we love becomes ill and we pray and pray for God to deliver them from sickness only to watch them die…uncertainty can slip in and take root. If we think through a decision thoroughly, and prayerfully act on the decision, only to have it blow up in our faces…uncertainty can slip in and take root. If someone we admire, a Christian brother or sister we have held in high esteem, falls in their walk with the Lord…uncertainty can slip in and take root.
There are other times that we sow seeds of uncertainty into our lives and then we reap what we have sown. The person who refuses to yield their logic, emotions, and reasoning to the will and ways of God will definitely find themselves reaping a destructive harvest of uncertainty.
Whether the seeds of uncertainty are sown by others, our circumstances, or by ourselves we need to know that uncertainty will enslave us, ensnare us, and keep us from experiencing the abundant life that God intends for all of His children. I came by today to tell somebody that you do not have to live in the wasteland of uncertainty – this very morning you can set up residence in the Promised Land of God’s certainty.
This morning we are once again turning to John’s first Epistle to seek to learn how we can walk in the fullness of the Father’s will for our lives. Throughout this little letter John has been battling false teachers who have slipped into the church to try and lead the people astray. The Gnostics of John’s day desired nothing more than to sow seeds of uncertainty among the congregation, but John writes to these precious believers so that they may know. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in 1 John 5:13-20.
13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us-whatever we ask-we know that we have what we asked of him. 16If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. 17All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. 18We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. 19We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true-even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:13-20 NIV)
In these eight little verses are contained some of the most assuring truths that you can ever discover. By the time you leave here this morning God will have answered for you some of the most pressing, perplexing, and problematic questions that face humanity. Let’s begin.
First of all, John writes to us so that we may know that we have eternal life. As I mentioned earlier, the question of eternal life is one of the greatest uncertainties faced by people today. I will assure you that if we were to take a poll here at our church this morning and ask, “How can a person know that they are going to Heaven?” We would get all kinds of answers. “Well,” some would say, “you need to live a good life.” Others might say, “”You know I try to go to church and I even make Sunday school every now and then.” Someone else might suggest that we live by the Ten Commandments. A young college student who attended here many years ago told me that she believed in reincarnation. When I asked her “why?” she said, “I just don’t believe that anyone can live a good enough life in one lifetime to go to Heaven, so we have to try and try again until we get it right.” This was spoken by a very bright young woman who was a student in college, but who was misled in her thinking. There are some others here this morning that know that eternal life is a free gift from the hand of Almighty God. There is nothing that can be done to earn this free gift.
I am not amazed at all that the people of our society are suffering from the uncertainty of not knowing when I take into consideration the legions of teachings concerning the things of God. Whatever kind of teaching you are looking for can be found today, but the question is, “Is it true?” John wants us to know the truth. He wants us to know beyond a shadow of doubt that we have eternal life and that this eternal life comes from God’s gift of the sacrifice of His Son on Calvary’s cross. John writes, 13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13 NIV)
The false teachers who had left the congregation sowed seeds of uncertainty, but John wanted the people to know that those who believed in Jesus’ sacrificial death, those who walk humbly with Him, and live in obedience to His commands were the possessors of life eternal that could never be taken from them. John had stated his thesis statement concerning eternal life just two verses earlier when he wrote,
11And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12 NIV)
My friend, if you have been waiting to get your life in order before you come to God then wait no longer. If you have been wondering if God could love you as you are then wonder no longer. If you have been uncertain about reading the road map to Heaven then be uncertain no longer. Eternal life comes as a free gift from the hand of Almighty God to those who will receive His gift. Paul wrote to the church in Rome and said, 23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 NIV)
Secondly, John wants us to know that God gives us what we ask when we pray according to His will. John writes to the brothers and sisters and says,
14This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us-whatever we ask-we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15 NIV)
Have you ever been uncertain about whether or not God was hearing your prayers? How many times have you ever heard someone say, “I just feel like my prayers are bouncing off the ceiling and hitting me in the face.” That is simply one of the ways that we communicate to folks that God does not hear us when we pray. I have heard other folks say, “I don’t feel like I can ever ask God to help me because my life is a wreck.” Oh, precious brothers and sisters, you need to know that your Father longs for you to come to Him. There is nothing that delights the heart of the Father more than for His children to come to Him. It doesn’t matter how marred and scarred by sin you are at this very moment – when you lift your tear stained eyes to the Throne of Heaven, crying out to God for help, your Father hears your cry.
Maybe you don’t believe me. Let me give you a picture of God’s love for you. Jesus told the story of a father and son who were separated because the son chose to walk away. The father allowed his son to have his way, to seek after the things of this world, but the son found out, when he was at the lowest point of his life, that there is no place like home. He had his way with the women while he had money and notoriety, but when he was broke and living in a pigsty there were no arms to hold him. He got so bogged down in the fast life that it left him almost paralyzed.
The young man sat in a pigsty and thought about how foolish it had been to walk away from the comfort and security of his father’s house. He thought about going home, but surely his daddy wouldn’t have him back after all that he had done. He reasoned with himself. He plotted his way out of the mess he was in, but then the thought hit him, “I would be better off to be a slave in my daddy’s house than to live like this – I’m going home and see what happens.” Take a look at Luke 15 to find out what happened when the young man “came to his senses” and decided to go home.
17″When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21″The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22″But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:17-24 NIV)
That has to be one of the most beautiful pictures of God’s love, His desire to see His children come home, that we could ever envision. Stop and think about the beaten down, scarred-by-sin-son walking that lonely road back to his father’s house. Think of the conversations he had with himself. Think of the various scenarios he had concocted in his mind. What he had envisioned, I am certain, were nothing like what took place. When his father saw him, “along way off,” he began to run towards his boy! He engulfed the boy in his arms and welcomed him home!
Those of us who have held back from crying out to God…it is time to cry out. Cry out with boldness! Cry out with faith that your Father hears you! That is what John is trying to get through to us. When John writes, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God,” he uses a beautifully descriptive word that you and I need to understand. The Greek word used for “confidence” is the word, “Parresia” (par-rhay-see’-ah) and it means, “freedom in speaking, unreservedness in speech, openly, frankly, without concealment, without ambiguity or circumlocution, without the use of figures and comparisons, free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, or assurance.” John wants us to know that we don’t have to hold anything back when we come before God’s throne. He is Sovereign. He is omniscient. He already knows what we need before we ever come before Him. He already knows what is eating away at our souls before we ever even recognize it. We have permission from the King of all creation to come before His throne of grace in prayer with boldness.
It is interesting when you look at other scriptures where the Greek word is used. I want to share just a couple of them with you so that you can see that the confidence we can have in approaching God in prayer is a confidence that lays everything out on the table with no reservation.
The high priest was questioning Jesus about His followers when Jesus responded to him by saying,
20″I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. (John 18:20 NIV)
Jesus never held anything back when He taught the truths of God’s Word. He didn’t allow the audience to dictate the truth of God — He was open and frank about God’s truth. Just as Jesus had no secrets in teaching the people, so we can openly and honestly approach God with whatever is on our heart.
Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians and asked them to pray for him that he would have “confidence” when he spoke about the Good News of Jesus. In the New International Version of the Bible the Greek word is translated, “fearlessly,” but it is the same Greek work as the one John uses in speaking about the “confidence” we have in approaching God. Paul writes,
19Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:19-20 NIV)
Paul doesn’t want to dance around the topic of the mystery of the Gospel just because those who have put him in jail may not want to hear the message. Paul wants to confidently proclaim the Gospel to those who oppose the cause of Christ. We can approach the throne of God with boldness and confidence, not having to dance around what we need to share with the Father.
There is a word of caution that needs to be shared at this point so that we won’t be duped into believing some of the lies that Satan is perpetrating on the Body of Christ in our day. There is a school of thought that says, “If you will just claim it in Jesus’ name then you will get what you ask for.” Some of these teachers talk about our claiming what is “rightfully” ours as if we can walk into the Holy of Holies and demand of God what we want. I want to caution you my friend. I would not suggest that you demand anything of God.
Once we realize that we can come before the Lord with confidence, not seeking to hide or having to shrink back from shame, then we need to pay special attention to the fact that we need to be praying in a specific way. John says,
14This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us-whatever we ask-we know that we have what we asked of him.
Did you notice the key? Listen closely, “If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Oh my brothers and sisters it is of greatest importance that we understand this truth of God’s Word. So often God’s Word is misquoted and we lead people into believing that they can ask for anything that they deem as “good” and God will give it to us. That is the farthest thing from the truth. I will tell you that we do not know what is good, only God can reveal to us what is His good and perfect will for our lives.
What God is seeking to do is to mold us into the image of His Son Jesus. God already has a plan for your life – what He desires is that you and I desire that same plan. That is why Jesus prayed in the Garden, “Not My will, but Thine be done O Lord.” Jesus asked, that if it was possible, that the cup of suffering be taken from Him, but at the same time He asked that God’s will be done in His life.
It is one thing for us to honestly share with God what is on our hearts – we need to be open and honest with God. At the same time, we must know that our desires are to be subjected to God’s will. The most common situation that I hear us battling with on a regular basis is pain. We desire the alleviation of pain in our lives. It doesn’t matter what kind of pain we are experiencing or the source of the pain – we just want it to end. As we appeal to God to bring an end to our pain we expect God to answer our prayers as we would want them answered.
I’ve seen folks who have asked God to bring an end to their pain who felt that their prayers weren’t answered by God and then, because of their disappointment, they walked away from God or stopped talking to God because they felt that He didn’t care. My friend, nothing could be further from the truth. God does care. As a matter of fact, God cares so much for you and for me that He knows what we need to mold us more into the image of His son Jesus.
You can find example after example in God’s Word where He answered the prayer of those who were hurting with comfort and deliverance. On the other hand you can find the same number of examples where God said, “No, now is not the time.” On of the most glaring examples of God allowing pain for His purposes is found in the life of Paul.
Paul prayed three times for his suffering to end, but each time God said, “No.” God did answer Paul’s prayer. God did not answer Paul with the answer Paul wanted, but God did answer Paul. God’s answer was given to Paul because God loved Paul too much to give him comfort. God had a purpose for the pain that was present in Paul’s life and it was to keep Paul humble, to help him remain dependent upon God and Him alone. Paul writes about this in 2 Corinthians 12 where he says,
7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV)
Paul said, “When I am weak in my suffering, then I am strong in my dependence upon the Lord.” We must be able to discern the purpose for the pain in our lives. Now, someone may say, “How am I supposed to know what I am to pray then? My natural reaction to pain is to avoid it, that is all I know. How am I supposed to be able to know if there is a purpose for what I am going through?” That is a great question and there is an answer.
First of all, we must abide in Christ. It is only through a sustaining intimate relationship with the Lord that we can understand the Father’s heart for our lives. It is only through walking daily with the Lord in sweet fellowship that we come to understand His process of molding us into the image of His son. Paul wrote in Romans 12,
2Do not conform any longer 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 NIV)
As we walk with the Lord, He will transform our thinking so that we can test and approve what God’s will is for our lives. With that said, there are times that we will experience when we will simply not understand. We can become so bogged down in our situations that are minds and eyes are clouded with the trouble we are going through. Have no fear, God loves us so much that He has provided for those times that we will experience by giving us His Spirit.
26In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. (Romans 8:26-27 NIV)
It is so important for us to understand God’s purpose and plan for our lives. We must be able to recognize that everything that happens in our lives happens for a purpose. God is seeking to mold us into the image of His son. He is seeking to develop within us a greater dependence upon Himself.
We need to pray according to God’s will. When we discern God’s will and we seek His will in prayer, then we will see God answer our prayer with boldness. God hears us when we pray. Don’t allow the enemy to deceive you into believing that God does not care for you. The fact of the matter is that God cares so much more for me than I care for myself that it isn’t even funny.
Since I have been a dad God has shown me so much about my relationship to Him through my relationship with my children. My greatest desire for each of my kids is that they burn with passionate love for the Lord. I can force them to have devotions with Connie and me at night before we go to bed, I can force them to go to Sunday school and church because it is good for them, and I can force them to read their Bibles. All of these things are good for them, but my heart soars when they want to do these things on their own.
When I say, “Let’s head upstairs and have a devo,” and I see them drag around and act like they don’t really have any interest in reading God’s Word – we still have our devotions. When they say, “Dad, are we going to pray together tonight?” My heart soars! There is nothing that brings me greater joy than when my children’s desire for their lives aligns with my heart’s desire for them in their walk with the Lord. Through this experience with my kids God has shown me how much joy He derives from my desire aligning with His. That truly is the purpose of our prayers – to bring our desires into alignment with the purposes of God for our lives.
John has written to us so that we might not suffer from confusion. He wants us to know that our salvation is secure in the sacrificial death of Jesus, the One who has won our salvation, not because we are good, but because of God’s gracious love for His people. He wants us to know that God hears us when we pray, that we can come to the Father with an open confidence in knowing that He cares for us, and that He desires for our wills to align with His will.
His perfect will is for those who have heard His voice this morning to surrender their lives to Jesus. Allow the Lord to drive away the doubts, confusion, and despair of your life. Allow the Lord to lead you out of the wasteland of confusion and into he Promised Land of God’s deep love for you that has been demonstrated through the death of His Son Jesus. Won’t you invite Jesus into your heart this morning?