Prayer Can Change Your Life: The Five Conditions Of Answered Prayer 2 of 3
THE FIVE CONDITIONS OF ANSWERED PRAYER
Prayer Can Change Your Life - Part 2 of 3
John 15:7 & Selected
John 15. We're in a series of messages called "Prayer Can Change Your Life". Last week we talked about the four purposes of prayer. You've probably had people say to you, "I tried prayer and it didn't work. I had a need and prayed about it. After I'd prayed for a while, nothing happened and I didn't see any results. I'm disappointed and I don't believe in prayer." If we were honest we'd probably all say there are thousands of prayers that go up but there are very few answers that come down. Why is that? What causes that? Is prayer a farce, a superstition, something we just con ourselves into and pretend that it works but it really doesn't? What is prayer?
There's a deeper question than that. Does God promise to answer everyone's prayers?
No. It's very clear in scripture that God completely ignores some people's prayers. In fact, the Bible says that God has laid out some conditions to answered prayer. Five, to be specific.
I want us to look at those conditions because until you meet the conditions for answered prayer, you're wasting your breath.
What are the five conditions for answered prayer?
If you meet these conditions you have every right to expect that what you ask for will be answered in prayer.
1. You must have an honest relationship to God.
7If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. NKJV
I like the way the message words this passage.
7But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. The Message
That's a beautiful promise. But in Scripture every promise has a condition or every promise has a premise. The promise here is, "I will give you whatever you ask in prayer if you remain in Me." In other words, "...if you have a honest relationship with Me."
How do you remain in Christ? The next sentence tells it. By my words remaining in you. In other words, God says if we fill our minds with the Bible, the word of God, then we will be in Christ. We will be abiding in Him. God requires that we listen to Him first before He listens to us. If I don't pay attention to what God says to me in His word, why should He pay attention to me when I talk to Him? If I ignore His word, why should He pay attention to what I say to Him?
The starting point is to have an honest relationship to God. How? Through the word of God. That's why Bible study is important. You say, "Are you saying if I don't study my Bible I won't have answered prayer?" No, what I'm saying your prayer life will never be more effective than how much you understand scripture. The more you understand the Bible the more you'll know how to pray affectively.
Three questions on how to evaluate if you have an honest relationship to God. 1 John gives us questions on how to evaluate ourselves on if we have an honest relationship to God.
Three questions to test your honesty with God.
a) Do I have any unconfessed sin?
1. 1 John 1. Do I or have I refused to admit things that I have done wrong in the past? The Bible says that's called unconfessed sin. It may be an activity, an attitude, a habit. When we go our own way, do our own thing, it breaks the connection between us and God. When we try to cover up things that we know are wrong from God then that honest relationship is broken. There's a falseness, a con, a fraud, trying to live two different lives at once -- live for God and live for myself. So the first thing I ask if I'm really being honest with God is have I admitted what I've done wrong.
What do you do?
1 John 1:8 "If we claim to be without sin, we're just deceiving ourselves. The truth is not in us. However, if we confess our sins, He's faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." What is confession? Confession is simply being honest with God. It's saying, "God, You're right. I was wrong. That jealousy or that impatience was wrong. Please forgive me." The first way we can tell if we have an honest relationship with God is are we being honest when we make mistakes. "God, You're right. That was a mistake. That was wrong. It was an error."
b) Am I currently in the present ignoring any of God's principles?
2. Am I currently in the present ignoring any of God's principles? In other words, when God tells me to do something, when I know I'm holding on to something that God wants me to let go of and I continue to hold on to it, that breaks the prayer chain, the connection with God.
1 John 3:21-22 "Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us we have confidence before God and we receive from Him anything we ask [That's the promise] because we obey His commands and do what pleases Him. This is His command: To believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and to love one another as He has commanded us."
You say, “How can I keep all of God's commands. Nobody's perfect. How am I ever going to get any answers?" God does not demand perfection. He simply demands obedience. And obedience is an attitude: I want to do what's right. God doesn't expect perfection, but He does expect you to obey.
Example: I tell my four-year-old daughter, "Amy, go clean up your room." If thirty minutes later I go in and the room is half picked up and she's still got things falling all over the side -- it's not immaculate, do I get upset about it? No. She's only a four year old. But she did the best she could. She's not perfect, she did the best she could. But if I come in a half hour later and she's still watching TV, then do I get upset. You bet. Why? Because as a parent, I don't expect perfection but I do expect obedience, an attitude of "I want to do what's right."
So we ask, "Am I hiding something from God in my relationship? ... Am I doing what I know He wants me to do at this point?"
c) Do I really want God's will for my life?
3. Do I really want God's will for my life?
1 John 5:14 "This is the assurance we have in approaching God that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us and if we know that He hears us then whatever we ask we know that we have what we've asked of Him." When we ask according to God's will then we have confidence in prayer and we know He's going to answer.
Most Christians make a big mistake in prayer. They go around constantly saying, "God, is it Your will that I ask for this?" over every little item.
St. Augustine said this: "Love God and do what you please." Why did he say that? Because if you really love God with all your heart, you're not going to want to do what displeases God.
So you don't have to constantly say, "Is it Your will?" You go down to buy a new car: "God is it Your will that I buy a brown Chevy or a gold Mercedes? ... God, is it Your will that I order the steak or the pork chops?" No, you don't have to ask God's will on every little item like that. You get your life in God's will and say, "To the best of my knowledge, I'm trying to do what's right, Lord. I want to live in Your will." Then you ask according to your desires. You get in God's will.
How do you know the answer to the question, "Do I really want God's will for my life?" How do you know if you really want it? Simple. How eager are you to read the Bible? Because the only way you can know the will of God is by reading the word of God. And God's word tells you God's will. So you want to read it, you want to study it.
So the first condition to answered prayer is this: You have an honest relationship to God.
2. You must have a forgiving attitude toward other people.
"Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. Note: 25"Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.
More than any other characteristic in the Bible except maybe faith, the number one thing related to prayer is forgiveness. Over and over again, every time Jesus talks about prayer He talks about forgiveness.
Why? Because nothing will kill your prayers faster than resentment. When you hold a grudge, when you nurse an ill feeling, when you allow bitterness to grow in your life, it knocks off your prayers. Maybe you're praying and not getting an answer because you're holding a grudge against somebody.
Hebrews 12:15 (Living Bible) "Watch out that no bitterness take root among you for as it springs up among you it causes deep trouble, hurting many in their spiritual lives." Bitterness is like a poison, it will eat you alive. You can't have unforgiveness in your heart and have your prayers answered.
What do you pray every time you pray the Lord's Prayer? "Father, forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." You're saying, "God, I want You to forgive me as much as I forgive everybody else." Do you really want to pray that? "God, You forgive me as much as I forgive everybody else." Why? Bitterness and resentment will block prayer.
1 Peter 3:7
says why sometimes you haven't had an answer to prayer. Peter is talking about marriage. Anyone knows that one of the easiest places to have resentment build up is in families. Family members hurt each other's feelings, husbands hurt wives, wives hurt husbands, parents hurt their children and vice versa. Bitterness and resentment are a common experience in family relationships. Peter has given the low-down to the women then in verse 7 he starts talking to the husbands.
He says "Husbands, in the same way [just like he's talked to the wives in the previous verses] be considerate as you live with your wives and treat them with respect.... so that nothing will hinder your prayers."
Did you know that the Bible says that disharmony in the home blocks answers to prayer? That's why some people don't have answers to prayer. In fact the Scripture says how you treat your spouse influences your prayer life. That's pretty strong. In the Scriptures, when it lists the qualifications that a pastor must have in his life in order to be a pastor and the qualifications for a deacon, one of the qualifications of being a deacon or a pastor is he has to have a happy, peaceful home life. Why? Because if you're in tension at home, the prayers of those leaders of the church will be totally ineffective -- according to Scripture.
Sometimes there's been something I've really wanted to talk to the Lord about in prayer and I've just had an argument with Kay. I know I've got to get that right before God's going to hear the prayer. It's a nice motivation to get harmony restored.
How do you have answers to prayer? Five conditions: One, Have an honest relationship to God. Two, Have a forgiving attitude toward other people.
3. You must be willing to share the results.
This is the principles, “What you sow you reap, Give and it will be given unto you. It's the principle of generosity, the more you give out, the more God gives to you.” If you expect God to bless your life you must be willing to bless other people's lives with the same benefits God has given to you.
13 If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor,
he too will cry out and not be answered.
That's a fact of life. God says if you pay no attention to other people's legitimate needs, why should He pay attention to your needs? He wants us to be like Him. He says a pre-requisite for God to bless our lives is that we must be blessings to other people. If we ignore those who are in obvious difficulty around us, what right do we have to expect God to bail us out?
1 John 3:22. We've read the verse that says, "We receive from Him anything we ask because we obey His commands." What are His commands? The next verse: "His commands are believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ ... love one another as He has commanded us." He says one of the ways we keep commands is by loving other people. What is He talking about? v. 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?" One of the ways we prove that we have love is we're willing to be generous with other people. God blesses us so that we may bless others. This is the principle of stewardship. It's all through scripture -- that God blesses us in order that we might be blessings to other people.
We are a channel. I would not presume to ask God to bless my business if I were not willing to at least give back a portion of what He had blessed me with in a percentage, a tithe. You say, "I ask God for good health." What are you going to do with that healthy body after you've got it? Are you going to spend all the effort and energy on yourself or are you willing to help other people? One of the conditions for answered prayer is to be willing to help those less fortunate with the blessings which we are given.
James 4:1 "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but you don't get it. You kill and you covet but you can't have what you want. You quarrel and you fight. But you have not because you don't ask God...v. 3 gives us another reason why our prayers are hindered: When you ask you don't receive because you ask with the wrong motive that you may spend what you get on your own pleasures." He's saying motive is important in prayer. Why you pray is more important than what you pray for.
Is it possible to pray for the right thing with the wrong motive? Sure. It's possible to pray for the right thing with the wrong motive. Should you never pray for your own personal needs? I'm not saying that. Jesus says to pray for your own needs. He says to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." In Mark 11, He says you can even pray for your desires. But the motive is, are you willing to share your blessing with other people or are you going to horde it all to yourself?
This week I talked to a man who is literally a multi-multi-multi millionaire. He lives in another state. He's a fine Christian man. God has blessed his business. He had been bankrupt a number of years ago and now is a multi-millionaire. I began to talk with him. The interesting thing about this man is that he gives away 97% of his income and lives on three percent and still has a higher standard of living than probably any of us here today. Why? How? What makes the difference? How did you do this? He said when he was a young man he began to give from the blessings God had given him. He found that he couldn’t outgive God. He said the more he gave, the more God blessed him. He kept increasing his tithe -- 20% to 30% and now 90% -- and he's still a multi-millionaire.
If you want God to bless you, you must be willing to be a channel of blessing to other people.
4. You must believe that God will answer.
James 1:5-7 "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault and it will be given to him." He says, “If you need any wisdom go ahead and ask God; He'll give it to you.” He's not going to complain. You don't have to convince Him. v. 6 "But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord. He's a double-minded man unstable in all he does."
You can't doubt. You must expect God to answer. There's only one kind of prayer that God answers: the prayer of faith. Mark 9:29 says, "According to your faith, it will be done unto you." What are you expecting God to do in your life? Hebrews 11:6 says, "Without faith it is impossible to please God." You can't even please God if you don't have faith. It's the number one prerequisite in life. Have faith. It's such a major factor, we'll come back and talk about this in another session about how do you build faith and how do you pray for specific things and get answers.
What is faith? Is faith believing that God can do it? "I believe God can do it!" That's not faith. When you believe God can, that's just a fact. God can do it whether you believe it or not. "I believe God might do it." That's not faith either. That's hope. You hope He might.
"I believe God will do it." That's faith. Not believing God can do it, not believing God might do it, but believing God will do it. Faith.
Faith is not desire. Some people think, "I've got this tremendous desire. I've got these goals that I'm praying about -- family goals, spiritual goals, financial goals, health goals. I'm praying about all these goals. I really have a desire." Desire is not faith. Desire can lead to faith but it's not faith.
I honestly believe that if God actually answered some people's prayers they'd have a heart attack. An answered prayer! He probably hasn't answered some of them to keep them alive! "They don't believe I'm going to do it, so I might as well not." We see so little in our lives because we expect so little in our lives. The Bible says "According to your faith" not according to your ability, not according to your education, not according to how good a person you are but "According to your faith, it will be done unto you."
The fact is, if you have met the conditions of Scripture -- you have an honest relationship to God, you have, as far as you know, no unforgiveness toward anyone, you're willing to share the results with other people, and you're asking God in faith and expecting -- you have every right to expect God to answer. If God doesn't answer, that's His problem, because you've done what the Bible says.
If I take a seed and plant it in the ground and in a few months it sprouts and I get a tomato plant from it, is that a miracle? No. I simply cooperated with the laws of the universe and it happened. When I pray believing and following the conditions laid out in Scripture and God answers, is that a miracle? No. It is simply in line with the universal laws of life that God has ordained.
Principles: Have an honest relationship to God. No unforgiveness. Be willing to share the result. Believe that God will answer.
5. The fifth condition for answered prayer: You must pray in Jesus' name.
John 14:13-14 NKJV
And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.
John 16:24 He says the same thing.
24Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
What is so special about Jesus' name? Honestly, for a long time, I had no idea. I'd hear everybody pray and they'd end their prayers, "In Jesus' name. Amen." I kind of thought it was a signal that the prayer was about to end. Like a spiritual sign off. CB sign off -- "Ten-four, good buddy." The Walter Cronkite of prayer, "And that's the way it is." Kind of a cut off.
Some people think "In Jesus' name" is kind of a mystical password that gets you into God. Like the secret word. "Here are all my requests. By the way -- codeword: In Jesus' name."
What in the world does it mean to pray "In Jesus' name"? What does it mean?
I heard a story once that illustrates it. A pastor friend I know took his young son and about fourteen of his son's friends to the carnival for a birthday party. He bought a roll of tickets and he'd stand at the front of every ride and as the kids came by -- his son and the fourteen friends -- he gave everybody a ticket. He was just handing them out. All of a sudden he looked up and realized there was a little boy with his hand out asking for a ticket that he'd never seen in his life. He stopped and said, "Son, are you with my son's party?" No. "Why should I give you a ticket?" The young boy turned around and pointed to the man's son and said, "Your son said you'd give me one." So he gave him one.
Here's the point. I don't have any right to get any answered prayers from God. What makes me think I should get my prayers to be answered? God doesn't owe me anything. I owe him a lot but He doesn't owe me anything. When I come and pray and ask God for requests, I don't ask on my own merit but I come on the merit of Christ. I come and say, "Father, I'm coming to You because Your Son said so. I'm coming because of what Jesus Christ has already done for me on the cross and He's promised and He said I can ask in His name. God, I'm coming in Jesus' name." Jesus is the bridge between God and man. God came in the form of a man -- Jesus Christ. The Bible says there's one mediator, one bridge, between God and man. Jesus said it like this, "I am the Way. No one comes to the Father except through Me." He's the bridge to God.
Let's say I was to go to LA to Beverly Hills bank. I walk into the bank where I've never been before in my life and pull out my checkbook, write out a check for cash for $1000 and sign it in Richard Warren's name. I hand the check to the teller. She looks at it and recognizes that it's not from her bank and she says, "Mr. Warren, do you have an account at our bank?" I say, "No." She says, "I'm sorry. I can't accept this check. It's in your name but you don't have an account here." Let's say I've got a millionaire friend who's a rock star in Beverly Hills. We go in together. He walks up, puts his arm around her and says, "Give my buddy a good check here." He pulls out his checkbook, writes a check to Rick Warren and signs it in his name and hands it to her. All of a sudden we get some action. He's got a good credit line.
Jesus Christ has an excellent credit reference with the Father. Where I may be spiritually bankrupt, He's got plenty of dough, and plenty of pull. When I came to God and pray, "In Jesus' name" I'm saying, "God, I realize that You don't have any reason to give me this, but I'm coming in Jesus' name because of Him, because of what He's done."
Is it always necessary to say the word, "In Jesus' name" at the end of every prayer? I don't think it's necessary if you've got the attitude, but I think it's a good idea. I don't see anything wrong with doing it every time. Why? Because it reminds you why you have the right to pray. It is a constant reminder. You don't have to say it at the end, you could say it at the start. "Lord, Father, I'm coming to You in Jesus' name" and give your requests. You don't have to tack it on at the end. But I think it's a good reminder of the fact that the way we pray is in Jesus' merit, not our own. We are to pray to the Father, the Heavenly Father, through the Son.
Which of these conditions have you been overlooking? That's why you haven't been getting any answers to prayer.
Maybe you've been holding a grudge. Maybe you've been nursing a resentment and you have allowed bitterness to build up in your life and it's no wonder you don't have any answers to prayer.
Maybe you've been refusing to admit some wrong in your life. You've known it was there but you didn't want to go to God and say, "You're right, God, that's wrong. I admit it." We think Watergate was a cover up. It's nothing compared to some of the things we try on God. So we say, "God, I admit it. That was wrong. I shouldn't have lost my cool just then."
Maybe you've prayed but you've never really expected God to answer. If you don't expect God to answer, you're just wasting your time. Don't even pray. God says, "Why bother? If you don't believe that I'm going to do it, don't even make the effort." It's a condition.
Maybe you've been unwilling to share God's blessing with other people. Maybe you've been hesitant to give back to God a percentage of all the things He's been blessing you with. You must be willing to share the benefits with other people.
You haven't been abiding in Him. Abiding in His word. Reading the Bible, getting involved in a Bible study.
Have you been praying in Jesus' name?
You can't pray in Jesus' name unless you know Him as a friend, as your Lord, as your Savior, as the director of your life. The most important question is, “Do you have an honest relationship with God?” I'm not talking about church membership. I'm not talking about being religious. I'm talking about a relationship. God wants me to know Him personally. That's why He sent Christ to earth, so we could know what Christ is like. Jesus said, "I am the Way."
I would encourage you to follow me in this prayer I'm about the pray. It's a simple prayer. Maybe you’ve never before been certain about your relationship to God. You can settle it this morning. I want to make sure. I want to know God personally, that I'm a Christian, that I'm a believer, that I have Christ in my life. Just say something like this -- the words aren't as important as the attitude. "God, I realize I have a need for You in my life. And I admit that I've tried to go my own way or live my life without Your input. I ask You to forgive me for that. I believe You will forgive me. Thank You for loving me. Jesus Christ, help me to believe in You. I want to believe in You. I want You to be the manager of my life. I want to be the kind of person You want me to be. As much as I know how, I ask You to come into my life."
If you prayed a prayer like that, this is the kick off point of the Christian life, an initial commitment. You don't have to understand it all. It's simply saying, "God, I want You. I want to know You. I want to be on Your side. I want Christ in my life."
Others of you are saying, "I know I'm a Christian and I'm in relationship with God, but I have not been meeting one or more of these conditions and now I understand why I see such little results in my prayer life. Today I want to recommit my life to having a life of forgiveness, having a life of generosity, being willing to share, even being willing to give back to God a percentage of what God has given to me. I want to believe in faith."
Lord, I thank You for the Bible that it is so practical and relevant to our lives and that it helps us. Thank You that prayer is no big mystery but it is simply a communication with You. When we meet the conditions that You've laid for us we can see tremendous results in our lives. Thank You for the privilege of prayer. In Jesus' name we do pray. Amen.