In 1 John 5:14, we find a powerful statement, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” This verse, part of John’s closing words in his letter, underscores an unwavering confidence in God’s responsiveness to our prayers. However, there’s a catch. God listens to us if we ask anything according to His will. We shouldn’t anticipate answers that contradict His divine plan, and passages such as John 16:24 cannot be used to demand always getting what we want. But what does it truly mean to align our requests with God’s will?
Much has been said about God’s will, the subject matter in 1 John 5:14. For our purpose, we’ll delve into two facets of His will: His moral will and His sovereign will. God’s sovereign will encompasses His comprehensive plan and purpose for everything in life, including pain and suffering. Much of this plan remains veiled to humanity, as Moses affirmed, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).
The “things revealed to us” constitute God’s moral will, also called His revealed or preceptive will. His moral will includes the unchanging guidelines of right and wrong. Even the time-bound ceremonial laws bestowed upon Israel served a moral purpose, separating the Israelites from the pagan customs of the surrounding nations. The command to “repent and believe the good news” can also be seen as a part of God’s moral will, as it remains the sole path for sinful humans to be made perfectly righteous (Romans 3:22). While many might argue for a third facet of God’s will, a personal will—a unique blueprint from God for each individual—even this fits within His sovereign will.
We can apply both dimensions of God’s will to 1 John 5:14. Our prayers should align with God’s moral will, as disclosed in Scripture, and we also pray bearing in mind that God’s sovereign will reigns supreme. Aligning with God’s moral will and submitting to His sovereign will, as Jesus exemplified in the Garden of Gethsemane, strengthens the assurance that God hears us. This alignment also purifies our motivation, eliminating selfish desires. The biblical instruction on prayer is that we pray for the good things that we truly need, according to the will of God, in the authority of Jesus Christ (John 14:14), persistently (see Luke 18:1), unselfishly (see James 4:3), and in faith (see James 1:6).
Many individuals grapple with the idea of praying according to the will of God because they struggle with understanding God’s sovereign will, especially in the face of tragedy. It may seem more comforting to believe that God had no control over the pain we endured. However, this perspective is bleak. If God relinquishes control in our dark moments, what hope do we have?
Here are some points to consider:
These points underscore that, if humans can formulate reasons for God allowing evil while remaining in control, then He possesses a more profound understanding than we can fathom. How should we cope with disappointment when God denies something we desperately desire? The psalmist offers insight: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:11). And we have the promise that we can have confidence in approaching God: “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14).