This is the confidence 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—whatever we ask—we know
that we have what we asked of him.
1 John 5:14–15

Undoubtedly one of the greatest hindrances to believing prayer is this: many do not know if what they ask agrees with the will of God. As long as they are in doubt on this point, they cannot have the boldness to ask in the assurance that they will receive. And they soon begin to think that if they have made known their requests and receive no answer, it is best to leave it to God to do according to His good pleasure. The words of John, ‘‘If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us’’ (1 John 5:14), as they understand them, make answer to prayer impossible, because they cannot be sure what the will of God is. They think of God’s will as His hidden counsel. How can man fathom what may be the purpose of the all-wise God?
However, this is the very opposite of what John was aiming at. He wanted to stir us to boldness, to confidence, to full assurance of faith in prayer. He says, ‘‘This is the confidence we have in approaching God’’ (v. 14) that we can say, ‘‘Father, you know and I know that I ask according to your will. I know you hear me.’’ ‘‘This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us’’ (v. 14). But He adds at once, ‘‘If we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know,’’ through this faith, ‘‘that we have what we asked of him’’ (v.15), that while we pray we receive ‘‘the petition,’’ the special things we have asked of Him.
John assumes that when we pray we first find out if our prayers are according to the will of God. They may be according to God’s will, and yet not be answered at once, or they may not be answered without persevering prayer. To encourage us to persevere and be strong in faith, He tells us that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. It is obvious that if we are uncertain about whether our petitions are according to His will, we will not have the comfort of knowing that we ‘‘have the petitions which we have asked of him.’’
But here is the problem. More than one believer says, ‘‘I do not know if what I desire is according to the will of God. God’s will is the purpose of His infinite wisdom. It is impossible for me to know if He thinks something else is better for me than what I want, or if He has some reason for withholding what I ask.’’ Of course, when we think like this, the prayer of faith described by Jesus does become impossible. There may be the prayer of submission and of trust in God’s wisdom, but there cannot be the prayer of faith. The great mistake here is that God’s children do not really believe that it is possible to know God’s will. Or if they believe it, they do not take the time and trouble to find out what it is.* We will learn to know that our petitions are according to His will through God’s holy Word received into the heart, life, and will, and through God’s Holy Spirit, accepted in His indwelling and leading.
There is a secret or hidden will of God with which we often fear our prayers may not agree. It is not with this will but with His will as revealed in His Word that we are dealing in prayer. Our notions about what God’s secret will is and how it might render the answers to our prayers impossible are usually in error. Childlike faith simply believes the Father’s assurance that it is His will to hear our prayers and to do what faith in His Word desires.
The Father has revealed through general promises in His Word the great principles of His will concerning His people. The child must take the promise and apply it to the circumstances in his life to which it refers. Whatever he asks within the limits of that revealed will, he can know to be according to the will of God and he may confidently expect an answer. God’s Word gives us the revelation of His will and plans for us, for all His people, and for the world. He also gives us precious promises of grace and power by which He will carry out His plans and do His work among and through His people.
As faith becomes strong and bold enough to claim the fulfillment of the promise in a particular case, we have the assurance that our prayers are heard and that they are according to God’s will. As an illustration, take the words of John in the verse following our text: ‘‘If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life’’ (1 John 5:16). Such is the general promise; and the believer who pleads on the ground of this promise prays according to the will of God.
But this comprehension of God’s will is something spiritual, and must be spiritually discerned. It is not a matter of logic that we can argue out: God has said it; I will have it. Nor has every Christian the same gift or calling. While the general will revealed in the promise is the same for all, there is for each one a different special will according to God’s purpose. Herein is the wisdom of the saints, to know this special will of God for each of us according to the measure of grace given us. Then we ask in prayer just what God has prepared and made possible for each. It is to communicate this wisdom that the Holy Spirit dwells in us. The Holy Spirit is given to lead us to the personal application of the general promises of the Word to our particular personal needs.
Many do not understand this union of the teaching of the Word and the guidance of the Spirit, so that there is a twofold difficulty in knowing what God’s will may be. Some seek the will of God by an inner feeling or conviction and want the Spirit to lead them without the Word. Others seek His will in the Word without the living leading of the Holy Spirit. The two must be united—the Word and the Spirit— so that we can know the will of God and learn to pray according to it.
The Word and the Spirit must be joined in our hearts. Only by their indwelling can we experience their teaching. The Word must abide in us. Our life must day by day be under its influence. Not from without but from within comes the quickening of the Word by the Spirit. Only he who yields himself entirely to the supremacy of the Word and the will of God can expect to discern what that will is and to boldly ask in prayer. He who through the Word and the Spirit lives in the will of God by doing it, will know to pray according to that will in the confidence that He hears us.
I long that Christians might see what incalculable harm they do themselves by the thought that because they think their prayer is not according to God’s will, they must be content without an answer. God’s Word tells us that the great reason for unanswered prayer is that we do not pray in the right way. ‘‘When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives’’ (James 4:3). In not granting an answer, the Father tells us that there is something wrong in our praying. He wants to teach us to find out what is wrong and confess the problem so that He can educate us to believing and prevailing prayer. He can attain His object only when He brings us to see that we are to blame for the withholding of the answer. Our motives or our faith or our life are not what they should be. But this purpose of God is frustrated as long as we are content to say, ‘‘Perhaps because my prayer is not according to His will, He does not hear me.’’
Let us no longer cast the blame of our unanswered prayers on some hidden will of God but rather on our having prayed in error. Allow His Word ‘‘When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives’’ to search your heart and life. Believe that you can know if your prayer is according to God’s will. Live day by day with the anointing of the Spirit that teaches all things. Then you will understand how the Father’s love longs to have His child know His will and to grant the petitions he has asked of Him. ‘‘This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us’’ (1 John 5:14).
There is often great confusion about the will of God. People think what God wills must inevitably take place. This is by no means the case. A great deal of the blessing that God wills for His people never comes to them. He wills it earnestly, but they do not will it, and so it cannot reach them. This is the great mystery of man being created with a free will. God’s will in redemption is also dependent on the will of man. Of God’s will revealed in His promises, as much is fulfilled as our faith allows. Prayer is the power that brings to pass that which otherwise would not take place. Faith is the power by which it is decided how much of God’s will is effected in us. When once God reveals what He desires to do for us, the responsibility for its execution rests with us.
Some fear this puts too much power into the hands of man. But all power is put into the hands of man in Christ Jesus. The key to all prayer and all power is His. When we come to understand that He is just as much one with us as with the Father, and that we are just as much one with Him as He is with the Father, we will also see how natural and right and safe it is that we are entrusted with so much power in prayer. It is Christ who has the right to ask what He will: it is through our abiding in Him and His abiding in us (in a divine reality of which we have too little understanding) that His Spirit breathes in us what He wants to ask and obtain through us. We pray in His name: the prayers are ours but just as truly His.
Others fear that to believe prayer has such power is to limit the liberty and love of God. If we only knew how we are limiting His liberty and His love by not allowing Him to act in the only way in which He chooses to act. I have been asked whether there was not a danger of our thinking that our love for souls and our willingness to see them blessed actually moved God’s love and God’s willingness to bless them. A good illustration of this happening is the way water runs through water pipes, following the contour and direction of the pipes. The pipes do not make the water willing to flow downward from the hills, nor do they give it its power of refreshment. The pipes determine the water’s direction simply by their form and nature. And so it is the very nature of God to love and to bless. His love longs to flow to those in need, but He is dependent upon our prayers to be the conduits of this blessing. He has left it to prayer to specify where the blessing is to flow. He has committed it to His believing people to bring the living water to the desert places. The will of God to bless is dependent upon the will of man to say where the blessing must descend. Such an honor have all his saints. ‘‘This is the confidence 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—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him’’ (1 John 5:14–15).
Blessed Master, with my whole heart I thank you for this wonderful lesson: the path to a life full of answers to prayer is through knowing and doing the will of God. Teach me to know your will by living it, loving it, and doing it. Then may I be bold to pray according to your will and find confidence in your answer.
Father, I know it is your will that your children enjoy your presence and blessing. It is your will that everything in the life of your child flow in accordance with your will as the Holy Spirit works this in him. It is your will that your child should live in the daily experience of answers to prayer, so as to enjoy direct fellowship with you. It is your will that your name should be glorified in and through your children. Father, may your will be my confidence in all I ask.
Blessed Savior, teach me to believe in the reality of your will. That your eternal love works out its purpose in each life that yields itself to you. Show me the power behind every promise and every command of the Word and that its fulfillment is sure because God himself guarantees it. Let the will of God be the rock on which my prayer and my assurance of an answer rest. Amen.
*See this illustrated in the extracts from George Müller in the appendix at the end of this book.