Knowing and Loving God Through Prayer
A sermon on John 15:7 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 12/26/04
Yesterday, Christmas day, we celebrated the Incarnation: God the Son took on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. As we sing:
Veiled in flesh the
Hail the incarnate deity.
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel.
So since you’ve just been celebrating this great truth, complete this sentence:
Jesus became man, suffered, and died so that __________.
Last week we answered this question in part. We said God became incarnate, Jesus Christ became man, so that He might fulfill three roles:
Those are great truths. But we can fill in the blank more simply and more provocatively by saying:
Jesus became man, suffered, and died to produce a prayerful people.
I doubt any of you would have filled in the blank with those words. But I contend this is biblical.Think of it this way. Why did God create man? For the glory of His name (Isaiah 43:6-7). But man, thru his representative, Adam, rejected God’s purpose for Him. Instead of glorifying God, he chose to malign God’s character through his actions. So God put into effect His plan of redemption, culminating in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus became man, suffered, and died so that God would be glorified through redeemed humanity.
But the Bible tells us that redeemed humanity must be a people of prayer. Why? Why must redeemed humanity be people of prayer? Why must anyone who truly believes in Jesus as Lord and Savior be devoted to prayer? Why does Paul tell us to pray without ceasing?
Today we’ll look at John 15, particularly verse 7, to help us answer those questions, showing us why prayer is at the center of what it means for a person to be redeemed.
Recall that this series of sermons is on the Great Commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. We have looked at that command in general, in particular noting the link between knowing and loving. To love God with all our heart we must know Him. If we want to fulfill the Great Commandment, we must desire to know Him better. We also saw the extent of the command: We are to love God with all our being. Finally, we saw the implications for missions, expecting great things from God and therefore attempting great things for Him. Then last week we saw how the incarnation helps us to know and love God better. We saw that Jesus was truly man and truly God, and saw Him as our representative, our High Priest, and our propitiation.
Today we turn to seeing how prayer helps us to know and love God better. The main point: Prayer is the key link between knowing and loving God. Prayer is both the overflow of a heart that loves God, and the means by which we come to love God more.
Prayer is thus a little bit like communicating love in marriage. I love my wife Beth. And so my love for her expresses itself in word: Every day, I say to her several times, “I love you, Beth.” Those words are the overflow of a heart that loves her.
But the very expression of my love serves to spur me on to greater love. Saying, “I love you”, hearing myself say that, repeating it often, helps me reflect on who Beth is, who I am, and what a gift she is to me. So those words become one means by which I come to love her more.
That’s what happens in prayer. We love God. So we pray to Him. But as we pray to Him, we love Him more. And so we pray even more, in a positive feedback effect.
The analogy with communicating love in marriage is weak because the feedback effect is weak. My saying, “I love you, Beth” does a little, but not a great deal, to strengthen my love for her. In our relationship to God, however, prayer is one of the most important ways we increase our love for God – because God chooses to use our prayers as the precursor to His mighty work in our hearts.
Please turn now to our text, John 15:7
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (ESV)
We’ll begin by considering the image of the vine and the branches, and then look at each of the three phrases in this verse: “May I abide in Jesus,” “May His words abide in Me,” “So that whatever I ask will be done for me.”
In the first few verses of John 15, Jesus develops an image with four components: a grape vine, a vinedresser or gardener, branches that bear fruit, and branches that don’t bear fruit. Branches must be connected to the vine if they are to flourish and bear fruit. A branch cut off from the vine may look fine for a day or two, but it eventually wither and dry up. Such branches are not fulfilling the purpose of the grape vine. So the gardener will take them away and throw them in the fire. On the other hand, those branches bearing fruit are intimately connected to the vine. They are fulfilling the very purpose of branches: producing grapes.
Jesus is the vine, and His Father is the gardener. We are branches. As branches, we must seek our sustenance, our hope, in Him. And we must bear fruit. But what does the fruit stand for?
Consider what this passage tells us about fruit:
· Verse 16: “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.” The very reason that we are in Christ is to bear fruit. Bearing fruit is not transient, but lasts forever.
Those are the direct references to “fruit” in the passage. In addition to the direct references, there are other thoughts within the passage that are parallel with bearing fruit:
Verse 10: “Keep my commandments.”
Verse 11: “Your joy may be full.”
Verses 12 and 17: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Obedience to God like Jesus was obedient to Him; joy in God; loving each other like Jesus. We could spend several hours looking at other places in John’s writings (like John 6, John 14, and 1 John 2-4) which also talk about abiding in Christ to investigate this further. But even our brief study here gives a clear answer: Bearing fruit means becoming like Christ. This interpretation fits all the clues above: As we become like Christ, God cleanses us even further so that we might take on even more of His character; we cannot become like Christ except through His power; as we become Christlike we glorify God and fulfill the purpose of our creation; our Christlike character will continue for all eternity; as become Christlike, we are obedient like Him, having an inexpressible joy in God like Him, and we love one another like Him.
Indeed, as John says elsewhere,
If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected (or “completed”) in us. 1 John 4:12 ESV
So if the fruit is Christlikeness, what do the branches not bearing fruit stand for?These must represent those who claim to be Christians who are not taking on His character, who are not becoming like Him. They are not really connected to the vine. They will be cut off and thrown into the fire.
That’s the image: God’s people are meant to display His glory. They are meant to become like Him. We are meant to obey Him, love Him, love each other, enjoy Him. Indeed, we are meant to spread a passion for His supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples.
What does this have to do with prayer? Note our text again:
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. John 15:7 ESV
By the end of today’s sermon, I hope you will have memorized this verse and know what it means. This verse is frequently misinterpreted with regard to prayer. Many take it as a promise that if you are “good”, you can ask anything and God will give it to you. So people begin to think, “If I just do enough Bible reading, and if I go to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evening, God will be pleased with me and then He’ll give me all I want! That Lexus is right around the corner!”
But that’s not what the verse means. Instead, it is telling us that if we abide in Jesus, we will bear the fruit of Christlikeness. If we abide in Him, we will become more and more like Him, so that our desires become the desires of Jesus, our requests become the requests of Jesus, and our joy comes from whatever gives Him joy. Furthermore, His Word abides in us, transforming us into His likeness. Thus our abiding in Him, and the abiding of His Words in us, are parallel with our bearing fruit. In effect, Jesus says here, “When you become like me, you ask whatever you wish, and it will be done. For I do whatever I please. When your desires are my desires, you will ask for exactly what I plan to do.”
Think about this: When you are like Him, what will you ask?
First and foremost, you will ask for more of Him! So you will say, “May I abide in You more! May you abide in me more!” Thus, the first two phrases in the verse are not only precursors to effective prayer, but the content of effective prayer.
This brings us back to our main point: Prayer is both overflow of a heart that loves God and the key means by which we come to love God more.
Let’s now look at the three phrases in verse 7 so that we might understand this concept better and thus love God more.
We’ll look at three aspects of abiding in Christ: Resting in Him, depending on Him, and rejoicing in Him.
When we rest in Christ, we remember that we are invited into God’s presence not because of our merits or accomplishments, not because of our efforts or intentions, but because of the finished work of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, we remember that there’s nothing further we can do to add to Jesus’ work.
Think of it this way. Let’s say you climb to the top of Crowder’s Mountain this afternoon. You arrive, you are at the top. Now you’re looking at the view. Then someone tells you, “Keep climbing! Go on up! Climb higher! Don’t stop now!” What would you say? “I’m already here! There’s no need to climb! Indeed, there’s no place to climb! I’m at the top. I can just remain here. I can rest!”
Just so with abiding in Christ. If you trust Him, if you are in Christ – you are accepted by God the Father! You are already there! You are His beloved child! You are adopted into His family. There is no need to strive to earn God’s favor; indeed, you can’t do anything to increase God’s love for you, for you already have the righteousness of Christ; God already loves you as He loves His Son. So your job is to remain in Christ! Abide in Him! Know your position before God, and live and act in a way consistent with that position. Rejoice in the grace that put you there.
(There’s one problem with that analogy, however. In the story, you did climb to the top. In our relationship to God, He does the work. He saves us. So perhaps we should change the story, saying a helicopter dropped you off at the top of the mountain.)
So abiding in Christ means knowing that you are in the vine! So we must pray to stay there, asking, “Lord I am in you. Keep me in you day by day. Increase my confidence that I am yours and that nothing can separate me from your love. Help me to resist Satan’s arrows that try to make me doubt you, and my position before you.”
Just as the branch draws its sustenance from the vine, we are to draw our strength and power from God, knowing that He will enable us to fulfill His purposes for us in this world. As Paul writes in Colossians 1:29:
To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. (NIV)
Paul strives, Paul works – and even a cursory reading of the Book of Acts shows the extent of Paul’s striving – but he knows that the true power that enables Him to accomplish anything of any eternal value is the power of God. He is the One who energizes Paul, He is the One who makes Paul’s words effective.
We need to pray to receive such power ourselves. We abide in Him by depending on Him for the power to accomplish His tasks today.
We also need to depend on Him to protect and enable us tomorrow. This is dependence on His future grace. We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know there will be challenges. Thus we need to listen to the author of the book of Hebrews:
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 ESV
Through prayer, we receive well-timed help, grace that meets our every need at exactly the right time. We can rest in that future help right now, even though we don’t know what those future needs will be, because God promises to meet those needs.
Furthermore, God does not react to our circumstances and then provide the help. He always works to support His people:
The eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. 2 Chronicle 16:9
I love this verse. I love the picture of God looking all over the earth, seeing how He can most strongly support those who love Him with all their heart and soul and mind and strength.
Depending on Him to act this way is abiding in Him. We pray for the strength to face our present trial, and we do not worry about tomorrow in confidence that He will strongly support us as His people, giving us whatever grace we need to fulfill His good purposes for us. We can’t see the future. We can’t accomplish anything now on our won. But we know He is faithful, He is mighty, and we can depend on Him, confident that He is working for our good.
The very fact that we can rest in Christ for our position before the Father, the very fact that we can depend on Him for all that we need, both today and in the life to come, leads to joy. When we abide in Him, we know that our deepest needs are met:
It’s all accomplished! All because we are connected to vine! So we see the One who accomplishes all this for us as most valuable, most precious. Meeting all our needs, He Himself is our greatest need. So we say with the psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire but you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26).
Jesus could have said, “If you abide in me and I in you.” For He does say that He will abide in His people; just in verse 5 He said, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” Indeed, the Bible says that all three persons of the godhead abide in us:
ESV 1 John 4:15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him.
NAU John 14:17 The Spirit of truth . . . abides with you and will be in you.
But if this is so, why did Jesus say, “If you abide in me and My words abide in you”?
Jesus is emphasizing the importance of the revelation of Himself found in the Bible. Clearly the New Testament tells us much about Him, but so does the Old Testament. As Jesus says in John 5:39, the Old Testament Scriptures bear witness about Him.
So Jesus is saying, “Learn about Me through My revelation of Myself found in the Bible. Don’t depend on some other mystical way of knowing God, of abiding in Him. I have revealed Myself – so learn from that revelation!”
This is in stark contrast to the preferred method of knowing Jesus taken by many. For example, two nights ago, Deepak Chopra was part of a panel on Larry King Live. The theme for the evening was, “Who was Jesus?” Chopra answered the question by saying, “I see Christ as a state of consciousness that we can all aspire to.”
It is to guard against such nonsense that Jesus says, “And my words abide in you.” He says, “God has revealed Himself to you through His Scriptures. So these words must be on your heart! You must feed on them. Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the Father!”
Indeed, Jesus says in John 6:63, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” And Peter declares three verses later, “You have the words of eternal life”.
We’ll talk about this issue more next week, as we look at Psalm 119 under the title, “Knowing and Loving God through His Word.” But the main point is clear even now:
We don’t figure out any of these on our own. So we love His Word. We meditate on it day and night. We devote ourselves to it until:
So we pray: “Lord, may your words abide in me! May I be in your word every day! May you open my eyes so I may see wonderful things in your law! May you change me by your word so that I may love you.”
The first two parts of the verse are the conditions for this last part to be true. Jesus assumes that you are abiding in Him and that His words are abiding in you.
You might think that if those two conditions are true, you need nothing. But Jesus says, “Ask!” You already have your greatest joy – but still ask!
Paul tells us the same:
Colossians 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
So abiding in Him implies asking!
But consider: If you are abiding in Him, if His words are abiding in you, what will you ask for? You won’t ask God, “Please make my life easy! Please give me a bigger house, give me a job where I can work minimal hours and make maximum money.”
What will you ask for? First of all, you will ask for more of Him. As the psalmist says,
Psalm 27:8 You have said, "Seek my face." My heart says to you, "Your face, LORD, do I seek."
Psalm 105:1-5 elaborates on how we are to seek the Lord:
1 Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! 2 Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! 3 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! 4 Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! 5 Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
We start by giving thanks to Him – seeing Him as the source of every good thing presently in our lives. Then we call upon His name, thus seeing Him as the source of every future good in our lives. Then we make know His deeds among the peoples, proclaiming His goodness and mercy to all the nations. We pray that He would use us to accomplish that task, through going to the peoples ourselves and through our supporting others who go. Then we sing praises to Him, proclaiming all His wonders. This takes place both in private worship and in public – even in personal conversation, we tell of His wondrous works. We then glory in His holy name, rejoicing because of Who He is. Our joy shows His glory. Then we look to the Lord for all the strength we need present in our lives all the time, living in conscious dependence on Him. Finally we think back and remember all that He has done and said, His faithful judgments over the centuries, from Bible times down to the present, even in our own lives.
That’s a wonderful prescription for how to seek the Lord. Jude verses 20 and 21 give us another summary of how to seek the Lord. He tells us to “keep yourselves in the love of God” – or we might say, “keep yourself abiding in Him.” How do we do this? In two ways: by “building yourselves up in your most holy faith,” and by “praying in the Holy Spirit.”
So the first thing we pray for – knowing that God will give it to us – is more of Him. We seek His face in all these ways described in Psalm 105 and Jude, and we then can know for certain that He will give Himself to us. As we said at the beginning, prayer is both the overflow of love for God and the means by which we come to love Him more. Our abiding in Him prompts us to pray, and our first request is for more of Him.
If we are abiding in Him and His words are abiding in us, the second item for our prayers will be confession. We will acknowledge that while the phrase, “If you abide in me” may be generally true in our lives, we have not abided in Him continuously, completely. We must confess, “I don’t abide in you completely. Your words don’t abide in me completely. And this comes out in my life: the way I treat and respond to others. Forgive me, Lord.”
But God promises us:
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Jesus tells us: “Ask whatever you wish.” You wish for forgiveness! You want to keep abiding in the vine! You want to root out sin! You want to get rid of it completely!
So pray for that! Pray, “Lord God, whatever will make me and my loved ones more like You, do it! That may mean pain. It may mean suffering. Whatever, Lord. I want to abide in you completely! I want my children, my parents, those in my church to abide in you completely. So do it, Lord, no matter the cost, for our joy and your glory.”
That’s the way you pray when you abide in Him.
After seeking Him and confessing our sin, the third request we make if we abide in Him is, “Hallowed be Your name.” “Your name must be glorified.” This is the fundamental intercession. All other intercessions are subsidiary to this one. So we pray,
So do you see why “hallowed be Your name” is the fundamental intercession? Consider health. Praying for physical health is good, but prayer for spiritual health is prior. For physical health without spiritual health is death. Spiritual health without physical health is life eternal. Furthermore, what is the goal of physical health? The goal of physical health is not to live many years on this earth. That’s not particularly important for someone who recognizes that he will live for all eternity. The goal of physical health is to glorify God! So we pray for health so that God’s name might be hallowed.
Do you understand, then, why John 15:7 is true? Do you see why Jesus can say with confidence, “Ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you”?
The one who abides in Him, the one in whom His words abide, will:
God loves to say, “Yes!” to such prayers.
So we don’t know specifically how God will work through tsunamis, through tragedies, through disasters. But when we pray that He would use us, when we pray that He could glorify Himself through us and through His people, we can be confident that He will answer. Then we can step out with acts of mercy, with generous giving – and watch Him answer
“Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
Thus, prayer is key if we are to know God better and thus fulfill the Great Commandment. In prayer we express to God what we know of Him through His Word. We apply those truths to our lives. We ask that He will enable us to fulfill the commands He gives us.
You all are familiar with the concept of a vicious circle: A self- reinforcing cycle of evil. For example, those children who are abused are more likely than others to grow up to be parents who abuse their children. So the cycle of evil continues from generation to generation.
A virtuous circle is a self-reinforcing cycle of good. And prayer is a key part of Christian’s virtuous circle. We know God and His Word, and we delight in them; this prompts us to pray, asking in part that we would know Him better and love Him more; God answers that prayer, and our increased knowledge and love overflow into yet more prayer, asking that we might know Him even better. And so the virtuous circle continues.
Thus, as we said at the beginning, prayer is the key link between knowing and loving God. Prayer is both the overflow of a heart that loves God, and the means by which we come to love God more.
Jesus tells us, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and all your strength.” To the extent that you obey that command, you pray:
And these prayers lead us to love God more and more.
So prayer is both the result of a heart enraptured with God, and the means by which our hearts become enraptured with God.
Frankly, as I consider where we are today as a church, we have a clear vision for a prayer-powered church, but we fall well short of matching that vision with practice. Personally, I want to be much more of a man of prayer. And I want this church to be much more a church dependent on prayer, where prayer is natural, where after the service we see people praying with each other, rejoicing, weeping.
Will you make that commitment with me for 2005?
Will you join us prayer on New Years Day from 3-5PM, to pray for this? Will you join us before next Sunday morning’s service at 8:15 to pray this for the service?
Love the Lord your God – through prayer.
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 12/26/04.
Copyright © 2004, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.
This data file may not be copied in part, edited, revised, posted on the internet, copied for resale or incorporated in any products offered for sale, without the written permission of Thomas C. Pinckney, (send email), c/o Desiring God Community Church, PO Box 620099, Charlotte, NC 28262.