Parents practice this prayer principle
If we had good parents, and/or are good parents, we’ve experienced this. When a child asks for something special, his or her behavior factors into whether or not the something is given. You want me to take you for ice cream after you’ve been harassing your sister and disobeying my command to stop? I don’t think so. It’s more likely something will be taken away rather than given.
Should it then surprise us if our heavenly Father makes similar considerations before answering a prayer?
I’ve been pondering prayer and though I haven’t fully plumbed the depths of prayer’s problems and potential, I’ve presented particular personal positions and presumptions. (And played with the plethora of P words.) Today I conclude my series on prayer with this parental perspective.
In 1 John we read, “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” Good parents know (and good animal trainers too, btw) that rewarding good behavior encourages more goodness and failing to address bad behavior encourages badness. God as the perfect Parent will not reward his children for disobeying him but will favor us when we are heeding his commands and living lives that please him.
We mustn’t think of this as a foolproof formula, however, such that strict obedience will necessarily result in answered prayer. I believe John is communicating in these verses a general principle, not a guarantee. In this first letter of his he has been contrasting those who walk in the light with those who walk in darkness . . . those who practice righteousness with those who practice sinning. It is in this context that he offers this principle as an encouragement to those who are being faithful to God.
The relationship between obedience and answered prayer is also found in Proverbs, “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.” And in James, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” The comparable principle of blessing and rewards for obedience can be found throughout both the Old and New Testaments.
So again, though obedience does not guarantee that we’ll receive what we ask, because of other possible mitigating factors, it certainly increases the likelihood. That’s not to say that performance for the sole purpose of gaining God’s favor and blessing is acceptable to him. He will not be manipulated. And anyone, righteous or wicked, can perform a good deed. The blessing, however, is contingent on motivation because “man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” If we are obeying God out of love and a recognition of his supreme authority, that will not fail to be rewarded by him. Perhaps not in this life, but definitely in the next.
I end with what I began in this series on prayer: it’s an incredible gift, this personal access to the God of the universe. And though I know I will continue to struggle with many of these problems I’ve presented, they will not stop me from praying. God is real; he knows me, he loves me. How can I not take advantage of this incredible opportunity to communicate with him? And because he loves me he won’t reject me because of my struggles and occasional doubts. He’s pretty awesome.
He’s actually supremely awesome. I pray that whether you know him or don’t know him, you recognize that you can put in a “call” to him right now. And participate in the privilege of prayer.