The key to answered prayers
If you have a red letter Bible, you’ll see that every single word in chapter 15 of the Gospel of John is in red. Certainly, as the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…,” but the entirety of John 15 is direct teaching by Jesus and He’s sharing the secret of how to pray prayers that get answered. This is important to know whatever the color of the text!
The chapter begins with Jesus, God the Son, explaining His relationship to God the Father and to us, using the metaphor of a grapevine. John 15:1-4 says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (English Standard Version).
Jesus then reaffirms that He, himself is the vine and we are represented in the metaphor by the branches of the vine. God the Father wants us to live fruitful lives. John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
That’s a pretty strong statement, but then Jesus explains in John 15:7 what this really looks like in practice: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
That’s an even stronger—and more amazing—statement! Jesus Christ Himself promises that if we remain, or abide—live, dwell, rest in—Him, and if we allow His words to remain, abide, live or dwell in us, then we can pray prayers that will be answered. But before we start picking out the new car or boat we’ve had our eye on, we should understand exactly what Jesus is teaching.
There is a two-part condition, two big “ifs” followed by a result of meeting those conditions. If we consistently live a life in relationship with Jesus and consistently meditate on His word, depending on it to genuinely guide our decisions and everything about our lives, then we’ll see our prayers answered.
John 15:8 adds that a fruitful life, including answered prayers, is a hallmark of being a true follower of Jesus: “When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.” The last part of that verse explains why all of this is the way it is: To bring glory to God, which is one of our primary reasons for being created in the first place.
A mid-17th century teaching from English and Scottish theologians and church leaders known as the Westminster Shorter Catechism comprises 107 questions and answers about God and His word. Our Presbyterian friends know well the answer to the first and most famous question of the catechism: What is the chief end of man? The answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Both parts of that answer, glorifying and enjoying, are addressed by Jesus in John 15. In verse eight, Jesus explains that when we produce a lot of fruit, through a life full of answered prayers, among other things, God is glorified.
And when we see our prayers answered by God, we cannot help but enjoy Him all the more. Just consider the Facebook feeds of friends who you know post not only their prayer requests, but also the results of those requests. More times than not, prayers that come from a heart that meditates on the things of God and is therefore aligned with God and in step with His Spirit, will see answers according to His timing. And a funny thing happens when we abide in Christ and allow His words to abide in us—we’re less likely to be concerned with getting that new car or boat. As John Piper wrote at his blog, Desiring God, “The words of Jesus abiding in us make us the kind of persons who are not dominated by natural desires, but are devoted to fruit-bearing for God’s glory.”
Don’t we love to focus on the second half of John 15:7? “…ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” But if we do that, we risk missing the real joy of a relationship with God through Christ, and we forfeit the key to answered prayers. The true secret and power of prayer is found in the big “if” conditions: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you…” (emphases are mine). Only when these two conditions are true in our lives will we see evidence of the second part of Jesus’ statement: “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
It all comes down to abiding. If we stay close to the One who can answer our prayers, we’ll not only be in tune with Him enough to ask for the things He’ll be delighted to give us, but there will be no wall between us to make it awkward when we do need to ask for something.
Instead of asking ourselves why God won’t answer some of our prayers, should we be asking different questions? Like, “where am I abiding these days?” “What am I meditating on lately?” “Am I as close to the Answerer of Prayers as I would like to be?” If you are, how do you keep close? This post has just scratched the surface of this topic. We’d love to hear your thoughts on what abiding looks like in real life. Drop us a note using the box below.
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