“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever ye will, and it shall be alone unto you.” John 5:17
We are living in an age which may be characterized as “the age of pragmatism.” Perhaps this term is strange to you, even though you yourself may be a pragmatist. Very simply, a pragmatist is a person who is always asking, “Does it work; will it profit me; of what advantage is it to me?” If something works, it is good. If something does not work, it is not good.
This pragmatic spirit influences our thinking more than we realize. We ask, “Will it profit me?” in our decisions every day. This is, no doubt, a good attitude when we consider whether or not we should buy a car or an insurance policy. But this philosophy has also crept into our evaluation of moral and spiritual matters. In moral and spiritual matters, God’s Word, the Truth, should be the criterion of goodness. Still we hear people asking, “Will it be to my advantage to belong to this church—to send my children to that school—to take this stand in the community? Will it work?”
This spirit has also conditioned our attitude toward prayer. Does prayer work? The Scriptures say, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.” How wonderful! Prayer works! So we pray, “Lord, do this,” or “Lord, give me that.” But when these requests are not fulfilled we conclude. “Prayer doesn’t work. So why pray?”
But God does answer prayer. Prayer does work. However, there is a prerequisite for prayer. That prerequisite is faith.
I. Faith Teaches The Necessity Of Prayer
“If ye abide in me…ask whatsoever ye will and it shall be done unto you.” Obviously, Christ is speaking here of faith, for it is through faith that we abide in Christ.
As Reformed Christians, we believe and teach that we can be united to Christ only if and when he draws us to him. In other words, we believe in Christ only when he works faith in us. Because we arc by nature totally depraved. we abide in Christ only when we are born again by the power of the Holy Spirit.
However, once we are placed in possession of true faith, we must exercise ourselves in that faith. Our text speaks of this responsibility, “If ye abide in me.” This means that we must live in close relationship to Christ, as a branch does to a vine, acknowledging that apart from him we have nothing but that abiding in him we have everything. We must recognize Christ as the sole supplier of all the needs of our bodies and of our souls. It is faith which causes us to recognize our complete dependence on Christ. In other words, faith teaches us and recognizes the absolute necessity of prayer.
There are too many people who are praying today but do not acknowledge the fact just mentioned. Their whole demeanor shows that they do not feel that they really need Christ. They need and want money, popularity, and a position in the community. These are the things which will bring them real security. They will even violate the teachings of Scripture to gain this supposed security. Yes, they will pray, but only when they are placed in circumstances of obvious and dire need.
Such people, however, do not really pray. They seek to use prayer and God for their personal advantage.
If that is the way you live and pray, then prayer is a mockery in your life. True faith is a prerequisite for prayer, for it teaches the necessity of prayer.
II. Faith Teaches The Content Of Prayer
“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask...”
Christ tells us that faith not only unites us to him, but also that it places us under the control of his Word. When we are united to Christ by a true faith, we are no longer guided by our own will and desire. When Christ’s words abide in us, we are completely controlled in all our thoughts and actions by the will of God.
This is so very important in the matter of prayer. God must reveal himself to us. Cod must speak to us before we can speak to him. When God has spoken to us, his Word will govern the content of our prayers. Knowing from God’s Word that all things were made for his glory, we shall not use prayer to gain our selfish and carnal ends. We shall pray seeking his Name, his Kingdom, his Glory, his Cause, his Will. Knowing from God’s Word that he is o mniscient, we shall not use prayer to inform him about conditions in the world or in our lives, as if he is unaware of them. We shall pray in the consciousness of the fact that he knows better than we what our condition is. Knowing from God’s Word that he guides all things by his perfect wisdom, we shall not use prayer to tell him how we think our lives should be governed. We shall ask for grace to cheerfully abide in his will. Knowing from his Word that he is sovereign, we shall not try to impose our wills upon his will. In prayer, we shall ask for the grace to want what he wants.
Only when his Word abides in us, through faith, will we know what and how to pray. Then we can “ask whatsoever we will, and it shall be done unto us.”
In order that Christ’s Word may abide in us we must know that Word. We must study and learn the Word, hear the preaching of the Word, educate our children in the truths of the Word. Knowing the Word we must accept it. When it speaks, we must listen; when it commands, we must obey; when it promises, we must trust; when it chides, we must submit. Then we shall learn what should be the content of prayer.
Now we come to the most astound. ing part of this text, as we note that—
III. Faith Teaches The Answer To Prayer
“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will. and it shall be done unto you.”
When you pray, you may ask for anything you want! But what shall we want and ask for? Being united to Christ and guided by his Word, we shall desire only two things: That his will and purpose may be fulfilled to the end that he may be glorified, and that we may be used as instruments to perform his will.
“And it shall be done unto you.” Your prayers will be answered. But how? Consider this. You desire God’s glory? You want to be used to minister to his glory? “That you bear fruit” is the Scriptural method of glorifying God. If you abide in him, you will be given the power to bear fruit. If his Word abides in you, you will be directed to see what fruit he desires. Again, your prayers will be answered.
Prayer works! But it works only when we use it for the purpose for which it was intended. Therefore, if we use prayer selfishly, to get what we want, prayer will not work. But if we use prayer to seek God’s glory, then, “ask whatsoever ye will and it shall be done unto you.”
All this fits in beautifully with the manner in which the Lord taught us to pray. When you pray, do not seek selfish ends, but say, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, as in heaven so on earth.” When you pray, ask for that which you need to glorify him: “Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Why? “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.” When we pray this way we can really say, “Amen, so let it be,” for God in heaven is saying, “Amen.” And when God says that in response to our prayers they certainly will be answered. Prayer does work, doesn’t it?