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Second Lesson: 1 John 5:13-15 (NIV)
Gospel: Luke 18:1-8 (NIV)
- CW 803:1,2 Day by Day
- CW 803:3 Day by Day
- Children’s Anthem “No Mountain High Enough”
- CW 723 When in the Hour of Utmost Need
- CW 924:1,4,6 Abide, O Dearest Jesus
Tell me, what do you know? I don’t have a lot of memories from my early childhood any more but I remember that one. I was sitting in the principal’s office. I was on one side of the desk and the principal and my 1st grade teacher were on the other side. A $10 bill had gone missing from the teacher’s desk and I was a suspect. I was innocent. I had no idea what happened to the money, but I sure didn’t feel innocent. They kept asking me questions. Over and over, “what do you know?” And the more they asked, the less certain I was even about what I did know!
Maybe you’ve found yourself in that situation too. Falsely accused, but faced with people unwilling to listen. It happens to people of every skin color, every culture, every age. Every religion. As bad as it is to be asked and accused about something here, it can be most daunting to be asked what we know about God. What we know about faith and eternity. What we know about ourselves and our futures and our neighbors. If you’ve never been asked, let me ask you now: What do you know?
Our Scripture for this sermon is short, but powerful. The Apostle John tells us to be confident in the things we know. Because while we don’t know as much as we could, and we’ll never know as much as we want, we do know a few things. Important things. Look again at the text. We know that we have eternal life. We know that God hears our prayers. We know that God answers our prayers.
We’re so used to hearing the first of these things that we probably take it for granted. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Do you know that? One of the devil’s traps for Christians is to tempt us to hold onto guilt. What I mean by that is being unwilling to let go of the things that we have done wrong in the past. Maybe it’s the way you treated your parents when you were a child. Maybe you destroyed a marriage by your words or actions. Perhaps you lied to a teacher, stole from a grandmother, or lived for a time in public sin. As a pastor I often get to ask people if they think they’re going to heaven. How would you answer that question? Too often people respond saying, “I hope so.” or “I don’t know.” But John says here, “You do know!” And any answer short of a resounding “Yes, heaven is waiting for me!” shows that we’ve forgotten what we know.
We know we have eternal life because we know what it takes to get it. A perfect life without sin or even a moment of hesitation to do God’s will. It takes total devotion to God. Perfect submission to what he wants. And while our lives don’t fit that description in any way, Jesus’ life does. We may not have everything we want or know how to get it, but we have what matters – we believe in the name of the Son of God! We believe that God loves us so much that he sent his son to save us, that whoever believes in him won’t perish but have eternal life. That changes everything. You can be sure that God loves you. Sure that he approves of you. Sure that your name is written in the book of life. Sure that God is waiting for you in heaven and sending angels to watch over you here. I imagine sometimes that children know this better than we do. Kids don’t sing, “Jesus loves me, this I think.” They sing “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” That’s a childlike faith worth imitating.
Hopefully you’ve had pastors point out the tense of God’s promises of heaven before, because here we see it again. When God talks about eternal life for his people he doesn’t say that we will have eternal life. He doesn’t say that God will probably give us eternal life. We know we have eternal life. Present tense. Never forget what God has blessed you to know. God’s gift of eternal life is ours, and it’s ours already.
We Know God Hears Our Prayers
But knowing about the certainty of our eternal life doesn’t take away our worries about this present life. That’s clear from the way we think about, and forget about, prayer. In the second verse of our text, John writes, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” That’s a bold statement. Does God hear every prayer? The evidence would seem to say no. How many Christians have lost their way because God seemed to be silent in their time of need, even with heartfelt prayer?
We live in an age of immediate response. If I send an email, I expect to get a response within a few days. If I send a text, I expect an answer in a few minutes. If breaking news happens anywhere in the world, we know about it within hours. But should it surprise us that God who governs the whole universe takes a longer view of things than that? We don’t always get immediate feedback on our prayers with God. But he does hear us. God tells us so. He describes himself as a loving Father. He tells us that he works all things out for our good. In Scripture God invites us to pray, commands us to pray, promises rewards when we pray, teaches us how to pray, and even scolds us when we forget to pray. Even prays for us when we can’t find the words to say in prayer.
We know God is listening. There’s nothing so trivial or so serious that God doesn’t want us to bring it to him in prayer. Pray for a Packers victory? (Okay, or a Vikings victory…) You bet. Pray for a safe trip home? Absolutely. Pray that a relative dying in the hospital recovers miraculously? Yes. God tells us he listens. He invites us to stand before him, the almighty ruler of all things, and ask for his help. What an incredible, gracious God. We know this!
We Know God Answers Our Prayers
And even more, John says here that if God hears us, he will certainly answer. “And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked him.” A person reading these words carelessly might get the impression that we can ask God for anything anytime and be guaranteed to get it. Kind of like a cosmic, divine vending machine. We push God’s buttons and he gives us what we order. And so a person goes and prays for a winning lottery ticket or a new job or that Packers victory. And when it doesn’t happen, he gets cynical about prayer’s power and the Bible’s promises. But look more closely and you’ll see God doesn’t automatically give us whatever we ask for. Instead God gives us what is best.
It’s true that it doesn’t look like God answers every prayer. But the problem here is us, not him. The answer is in that phrase “according to his will.” You see, I think people misunderstand what prayer is, even Christians. Our reason for praying isn’t to get our way or to force God to rule the universe the way we’d like. Prayer is not just our chance to ask God to make our life or someone else’s life better. Prayer is our chance to give God praise for the way he is ruling. The way he is helping. Even if that’s a different way than we want. If I’m praying for God’s will to be done, that means accepting whatever his will is. I might think getting a job will fix my family’s problems. I might think that winning the lottery would let me pay the church’s bills. And I can pray for those things to happen, but ultimately my prayer is just that things get better. That God gets it done.
And who knows best how to get things done? Certainly not me. In fact, it would be cruel if God would let us have our way whenever we wanted. Anyone remember the movie Bruce Almighty? For all its questionable morality, that movie has been my go-to picture for prayer for years. When the lead character is given God’s power he starts out by answering every prayer the way it was asked for. You know what happened? The world fell into chaos. We’re so lost in the world we don’t even know the right things to ask for. Think of Pastor Enter’s message last week and your own prayers. How often do we pray “gimmie God” and how often do we pray “thank you” with content hearts? I think I know the answers, but part of this “peace that passes understanding “ that we believe in is knowing that God has them.
I’m a human being in this human world, and that means I like to be in control, even when I know I’m not. Christians, one of the comforts of knowing God answers every prayer is knowing that I don’t have to come up with the answers myself. All I have to do is pray that God makes it better, and trust that God will, in whatever way he knows best. And man, is there peace in that way of thinking. It’s the peace a child has in just trusting that Dad’s going to keep him safe. That mom’s going to tuck her in. What do you know today? You know that as a child of God, you’re taken care of.
There’s a lot we don’t know. Is the economy coming back anytime soon? Who’s going to win the elections? What’s going on in Ukraine? What will happen today, tomorrow, next week? Rejoice then in what you do know. We know that we have eternal life. Your place in heaven is secure and whatever happens in life, it can’t change that. We know that God hears our every prayer. Whatever problem you have today, God already knows what you need. And finally, we know that God has the answer. So what do you know? Well, know this. However afraid or overwhelmed or stressed out you might be, know that God has it under control. You believe in the name of the Son of God, and by that name you have an eternity in heaven waiting for you. Really, what else would you need to know? Amen.