The Word and Prayer
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever
you wish, and it shall be done for you.
John 15:7 NASB
The vital connection between the Word and prayer is one of the simplest and earliest lessons of the Christian life. As one new convert put it: ‘‘When I pray, I speak to my Father; when I read, my Father speaks to me. Before prayer, it is God’s Word that prepares me for it by revealing what the Father has told me to ask. In prayer, it is God’s Word that strengthens me by giving my faith its grounds for asking. And after prayer, it is God’s Word that brings me the answer, for through it the Spirit shows me I have heard the Father’s voice.’’
Prayer is not a monologue but a dialogue; God’s voice in response to mine is its most essential part. Listening to God’s voice is the secret of the assurance that He will listen to mine. ‘‘Give ear and hear’’ (Daniel 9:18); ‘‘Give ear to my prayer’’ (Psalm 17:1); ‘‘Listen to my cry’’ (Psalm 5:2); are words that God speaks to man as well as words man speaks to God. His listening will depend on ours. To the degree that His words find entrance into my heart will my words find effect with Him. What God’s words are to me is the test of what He is to me, and also of the uprightness of my desire after Him in prayer.
Jesus points to this connection between His Word and our prayer when He says, ‘‘If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.’’ The deep importance of this truth becomes clear as we notice the other expression from which this one is taken. More than once Jesus said, ‘‘Abide in Me, and I in you’’ (John 15:4 NASB). His abiding in us was the complement and the crown of our abiding in Him. But here, instead of ‘‘Abide in Me, and I in you,’’ He says, ‘‘You abide in Me, and My words abide in you.’’ His words abiding are the equivalent of His abiding.
What a picture is opened up to us here of the place the words of God in Christ are to have in our spiritual life, especially in prayer. By his words a man reveals himself. By his promises he gives himself away; he binds himself to the one who receives his promises. In his commands he sets forth his will and seeks to make himself master of him whose obedience he claims, to guide and use him as if he were part of himself. It is through our words that spirit holds fellowship with spirit and that the spirit of one man passes over to another. It is through the words of a man, heard and accepted, held fast and obeyed, that he can impart himself to another. On a human level, all this is done in a very relative and limited sense.
But when God, the infinite Being, in whom is life and power, spirit and truth—in the very deepest meaning of the words—speaks himself into His words, He really gives himself, His love and His life, His will and His power, to those who receive the words in a comprehensive way. In every promise He includes himself that we may lay hold of it with confidence; in every command He puts himself that we might share with Him His will, His holiness, and His perfection. In God’s Word God gives us himself. His Word is nothing less than the eternal Son, Jesus Christ. And so all Christ’s words are God’s words, full of divine quickening life and power. ‘‘The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life’’ (John 6:63).
Those who study and observe hearing impairment tell us how much the power of speaking depends on hearing, and how the loss of hearing in children is followed by loss of speaking. This is true in a wider sense: as we hear, so we speak. This is true in the highest sense of our communion with God. To pray—give utterance to certain wishes and appeal to certain promises—is an easy thing, and can be learned by anyone through human wisdom. But to pray in the Spirit and speak words that reach and touch God, that affect and influence the powers of the unseen world—such praying and speaking depend entirely upon our hearing God’s voice. To the degree that we listen to the voice and language God speaks, and in God’s words receive His thoughts, His mind, His life, into our heart, we will learn to speak in the voice and the language that God hears. It is the ear of the learner, awakened morning by morning, that prepares for the tongue of the learned to speak to God as well as to men (Isaiah 50:4).
Hearing the voice of God is something more than the thoughtful study of the Word of God. There may be study and knowledge of the Word in which there is very little real fellowship with the living God. But there is also a reading of the Word in the very presence of the Father and under the leading of the Spirit, in which the Word becomes to us a living power from God himself. It can be to us the very voice of the Father, a kind of personal fellowship with Him. It is the living voice of God entering the heart that brings blessing and strength, awakening the response of a living faith that reaches back to God.
It is on hearing this voice that the power both to obey and to believe depends. The chief thing is not to know what God has said we must do but that God has said it. It is not the law or the book, not the knowledge of what is right that works obedience, but the personal influence of God and a living fellowship with Him. Even so, it is not the knowledge of what God has promised, but the presence of God that awakens faith and trust in prayer. It is only in the full presence of God that disobedience and unbelief become impossible.
‘‘If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.’’ Can you see what this means? The Savior gives himself. We must have His words in us, accepted into our will and life, and reproduced in our disposition and conduct. We must have them abiding in us—our whole life one continuous exposition of the words that are within and filling us; the words revealing Christ within, and our life revealing Him without. As the words of Christ enter our heart, become our life and influence it, our words will enter His heart and influence Him.
My prayer will depend on my life. What God’s words are to me and in me, my words will be to God and in God. It is almost as simple as If I do what God says, God will do what I say.
How well the Old Testament saints understood this connection between God’s words and ours, and how truly prayer for them was the loving response to what they had heard God speak! If the word were a promise, they counted on God to do as He had spoken. ‘‘Do as you promised’’ (2 Samuel 7:25); ‘‘For you, O Sovereign Lord, have spoken’’ (2 Samuel 7:29); ‘‘As you have promised’’ (Luke 2:29); ‘‘According to your word’’ (Psalm 119:169). By such expressions they showed that what God promised was the root and the life of what they repeated in prayer. If the word was a command, they simply did as the Lord had spoken: ‘‘So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken’’ (Genesis 12:4 NKJV). Their life was fellowship with God in an interchange of words and thoughts. What God spoke, they heard and did. What they spoke, God heard and did. In each word He speaks to us, the whole Christ gives himself to fulfill it for us. For each word He asks no less than that we give our whole person to keep that word and to receive its fulfillment.
‘‘If . . . my words abide in you’’ is a simple and clear condition. In His words His will is revealed. As the words abide in me, His will rules in me. My will becomes the empty vessel that His will fills, the willing instrument that His will wields. He fills my inner being. In the exercise of obedience and faith my will becomes stronger and is brought into deeper inner harmony with Him. He can fully trust it to will nothing but what He wills. He is not afraid to give the promise ‘‘If . . . my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.’’ To all who believe and act upon this promise, He will make it true.
Followers of Christ, is it not more and more clear to us that while we have been excusing our unanswered prayers and our impotence in prayer with an imagined submission to God’s wisdom and will, the real reason is that our own weak spiritual life is the cause of our weak prayers?
Nothing but the word coming to us from God’s mouth can make us strong. By that we must live. The word of Christ—loved, lived in, abiding in us, becoming through obedience and action part of our very being—makes us one with Christ and fits us spiritually for touching and taking hold of God. All that is of the world passes away; he that does the will of God abides forever. Let us yield our heart and life to the words of Christ, the words in which He gives himself, the personal living Savior. Then His promises will be our rich experience: ‘‘If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.’’
Blessed Lord, today you have again revealed to me why my prayer has not been more believing and prevailing. I was more occupied with my speaking to you than your speaking to me. I had forgotten that the secret of faith in prayer is that it is in proportion to the living Word dwelling in the soul.
Your Word has taught us so clearly: ‘‘Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak’’ (James 1:19). ‘‘Do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God’’ (Ecclesiastes 5:2). Lord, teach me that it is only when your Word is appropriated into my life that my words can be embraced by you; that your Word, if it is a living power within me, will work its power with you; what your mouth has spoken, your hands will perform.
Lord, deliver me from the uncircumcised ear. Give me the opened ear of the learner, awakened morning by morning to hear the Father’s voice. Even as you speak only what you hear, may my speaking be the echo of your speaking to me. ‘‘When Moses went into the tabernacle of meeting to speak with Him, he heard the voice of One speaking to him from above the mercy seat’’ (Numbers 7:89 NKJV). Lord, may it be so also with me. Let a life and character bearing the mark—that your words abide and are seen in it—be the preparation for the full blessing: ‘‘Ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.’’ Amen.