“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” – 1 John 5:14
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines prayer as “an address (such as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought” or “an earnest request or wish.” Quite frankly, this definition is lacking. It seems to focus completely on a person’s desires and wants rather than communication and intimacy.
Could it be that there is more to praying than just approaching God like an omnipotent Santa Claus? Sure, there are times when requests are warranted whether for ourselves or others, but throughout Scripture, we see how it is used for so much more.
In the movie Shadowlands, director Richard Attenborough gives us a glimpse of C.S. Lewis’ relationship with his wife Joy Gresham. The movie demonstrates how the couple handled the news that Joy had been diagnosed with cancer.
During one particular scene, one of Lewis’ friends had commented that because Lewis had been praying so hard, God was answering his prayers. Here is how Lewis responded: “That’s not why I pray… I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.”
Now, you may be thinking, If we aren’t supposed to pray for the things we need, then what’s the meaning of 1 John 5:14? Well, so often we miss key words in short simple verses. In the second half of today’s bible quote, John says, “according to his will…” You see, it’s about him. It’s always about him.
He changes us through prayer so that we can glorify him in all we do. Prayer benefits us more than just receiving what we request. In fact, too often we use the phrase, “God answered my prayer” to describe a favorable outcome.
Remember, that a “yes” to one thing, is a “no” to everything else. God may not respond in a way that you were hoping, but he still responds—you just may receive a bunch of “no’s” before you hear the “yes” you may or may not have been waiting for.
We can also have “confidence toward him…” that “he hears us.” God is actively listening. We would do well to also listen to him as when we pray. Prayer is an intimate conversation with God so that we know him more, and understand what he would have us do. He’s not a genie, or a scratch-off card, or even St. Nick.
There’s this story of a young boy who had stage 4 lung cancer who prayed fervently to God for it to be removed. His father prayed just as hard for God to heal his son. Whether God removed the cancer or not, he still heard their cries—he listened to their voices.
One fateful day after an update at the doctor’s office, the family received the wonderful news that the boy’s cancer had disappeared. They were elated. However, after several weeks had passed, the boy seemed sad and depressed.
When his father asked him what was wrong the boy replied, “You know what, Dad? I sometimes wish God would have answered our prayers differently. Now that I am healed, my prayer life is not the same. I miss the closeness of God when I was sick. Prayer changed me and I was content with whatever my fate would be.”
For the next couple of days, reexamine how you approach prayer. Look at how it can change you rather than trying to change God’s mind toward something you desire. Pray according to his will and rest in the privilege of being able to communicate with the almighty God.