(A summary of the Sunday morning teaching on 27-Dec-15, in AFT Church, English service. From the series The Foundation For Victorious Living)
Walking In Love
And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.
1 John 3:19-23
The last time we studied this subject of ‘walking in love’ in our Christian life, we looked at what it means to practice brotherly love.
Let us continue to dig deeper into this topic.
John teaches us from the above passage that the way in which we love our brethren is very closely related to our prayer life. Before we see how they are linked, let us learn what prayer really is.
All throughout Scripture, we can see that prayer holds an important position. The Bible records Jesus saying that men ought to always pray and not faint. Later, Apostle Paul encourages believers to pray without ceasing. Let us look at some characteristics of prayer.
1. SAFE PLACE
Prayer is the safe place that we can run into when we face trials and tribulations. It is that place where we can shut everything out and talk to God directly. It fills us with an amazing assurance of well being in the midst of challenges and difficulties.
We see one such great prayer in the Bible. Hours before His painful death on the Cross, Jesus knelt before His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. The agony of carrying the sin of the world on His shoulders and being punished by God weighed His heart down. In anguish, He poured out His heart before God. Even His disciples had no clue that their Master was in such deep pain. While Jesus prayed, they slumbered. Alone and burdened, Jesus beseeched His Father to remove the cup of sorrow from Him if it was possible. But immediately, He recognized that the purpose of His earthly life was to die on the Cross and shed His blood for the sin of the people. As the truth of God’s purpose for His life sunk in, Jesus surrendered and said, ‘Not my will, but your will be done!’ His time with His Father alone strengthened His heart and comforted His Soul. Hebrews 5:7 says, ‘who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear’. As a result, Jesus was ready to face the soldiers who came to arrest Him. He was not taken by ‘surprise’.
2. COMING BEFORE GOD
People misunderstand prayer in many ways. Either they think that it is a psychotherapeutic solution to our problems or else they swing to the other extreme and consider it to be beautiful poetry. However, true and meaningful prayer is coming before God. It is gaining a personal audience with the most holy God. Let me help you understand this with an example. Imagine that you are going to meet the President of a country. How prepared would we be? We would turn off our phones and stop worrying about petty and mundane things. Our focus and attention will only be on the significant and important meeting on hand.
Similarly, when we go before God, we must turn off every other distraction and concentrate only on Him. He is the most powerful and important person in this whole world and He has drawn us close to Him by shedding His blood on the Cross of Calvary for us.
BROTHERLY LOVE AND PRAYER
So, if prayer is such a significant activity of our spiritual life, then we must ensure that it is guarded from all hindrances. Often, hindrances in prayer come in the form of broken relationships with our brethren. Let us now see what some of the essential aspects of prayer are and how brotherly love affects them.
1. FREEDOM FROM CONDEMNATION
John says that when we approach God in prayer and find that our heart condemns us, then we are in trouble.
CONDEMNATION OF THE HEART
Now, what does condemnation of the heart mean?
John is talking about the innermost part of a man’s being, that is the spirit. So, when we come before God and are alone in His presence, our heart or spirit begins to come undone. Maybe, we had been able to suppress and ignore our sins with numerous distractions till then. However, now it cannot be distracted.
It’s like trying to drive a car without wearing seatbelts. The newer models of cars will not stop beeping until we have worn the seatbelt. We cannot ignore the sound and try to continue driving. Similarly, when we are in God’s presence, our heart or our conscience will not stop working. It will continue to prick and nag at us until we deal with it.
HEART ALARM = CONSCIENCE
Let me try to break this down further with another example.
We all have bodies. Our bodies are designed in such a way that it alerts us at different points of time. For example, when we are hungry, our tummy rumbles or when we step on a sharp object, we feel a sharp shooting pain. These voices of our body are meant to protect us from danger. Similarly, our spirits have a voice and that is our conscience. The conscience goes off like a smoke alarm. It protects us from becoming unhappy or guilt ridden or losing our peace and joy. However if we ignore our conscience and continue in our sins then we will develop a seared or insensitive conscience. Then our lives will become an annoying burden to us and everybody around us.
Hence John says that when this conscience that is in us condemns us, we must pay attention. Instead of ignoring it, let us realize that it will cause us to lose our confidence in coming before God and asking for our needs.
Now, we may wonder how our seared conscience can cause us to lose confidence in coming before God or to make us feel condemned.
Here is why.
You see, in John 15:7-8, Jesus said, ‘If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples’. God wants to answer our requests so that His name may be glorified through our lives. But if our lives have no semblance to an upright prayerful life, then there will be no fruits in our lives where God can be glorified. In fact then our very Salvation will come under the scanner. That’s why 1 John 3:20 says that if our heart condemns us and tells us that we have sinned then let’s consider how much more God knows about us. God can look deep into our hearts and see every hidden and visible sin. We need to stop right away and seek God’s help in dealing with the sin in our heart. Our conscience therefore acts as the alarm that alerts us to resolve the issue.
The issue that we are dealing with now is brotherly love. It can be explained in this way. Jesus nailed the Ten Commandments on two simple commandments, that is, ‘Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself’. He then gave a new Commandment that said – ‘Love one another’. So, if we deal with this one issue of loving our brethren then all the other issues will be solved automatically. Therefore, when we are free from the condemnation of our heart about loving our brethren our prayer and life will flow smoothly.
Confidence or boldness is known as ‘dhairyam’ in Tamil. 1 John 3:21 says that, ‘if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God’. Now, as equally important it is to be free from a sense of condemnation, so important is it to be filled with confidence in our prayer life. Hebrews 4:14-16 states that, ‘Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need’. In a nutshell, prayer works only for those who can come boldly to the throne of grace.
So how can we gain this confidence? Hebrews 10:19-23 says that, ‘Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful’.
Therefore, if we love the brethren, then we can be confident of our Salvation. We will know for certain that because we are born again and are of the truth we are able to love people around us. But if we are unable to love, then our heart will start to condemn us and cause us to wonder if we are the children of God. Then we won’t be able to come confidently before God in prayer and ask our requests.
1 John 3:19 says, ‘and by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him’. Unless we deal with the issue of brotherly love, our hearts won’t have any assurance. We will be filled with a sense of condemnation and will have no confidence or assurance. Then we won’t be able to get anything from God.
James 1:5-6 says, ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all liberally and without reproach. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. We all need wisdom in order to succeed in every area of our lives. The Bible says that God is more than willing to give to any who come to Him for wisdom. He will never turn anybody away. The only condition that He puts forward is that we must not doubt His ability to grant it to us. We must be filled with assurance.
However, this assurance is something that can slip off very easily. Psalm 66:18 says, ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear’. Any sin in our lives takes away our assurance and confidence in coming before God. The only way that we can be filled with God’s assurance is described in John 15:7-8 that says, ‘If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified that you bear much fruit so that you will be my disciples’.
Moving on, 1 John 3:22-23 says that ‘And whatever we ask we receive from Him because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment’. So John says that when we obey the Commandment of loving our brethren then we can be certain that our lives are controlled by the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:16 says that, ‘they that are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God’. So that means even our prayer is inspired by God. We will then be able to ask God for wisdom, power and resources to carry out the tasks that He has prepared for us. Because 1 John 5:14-15 says, ‘Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us’. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask we know that we have the petitions of that we have asked of Him’.
So when we walk in love, then our prayer becomes powerful and effective. Our hearts will not condemn us and will give us the confidence to come before God. Like Jesus, we will have the assurance that God hears our prayer and will equip us with everything that is needed to accomplish His purpose for our lives.