The Truth About Prayer
January 1, 2008 - John 15:7 tells us that if the words of Jesus abide in us, we will pray with power and effectiveness, both for our good and God’s glory. Four truths about prayer come from meditating on this Scripture in its wider context.
by John Piper
God designed prayer to give His disciples the joy of bearing fruit while God Himself gets the glory.
Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:7-8).
In verse 16. Jesus says to His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he may give to you.”
The logical connection between the two parts of this verse is important. Jesus says, in effect, “I have given you a fruit-bearing mission in order that your prayers might be answered!”
You would expect His words to be just the reverse: God will give you what you ask in order that you might have a fruit-bearing mission. But Jesus says it the other way around: I give you a fruit-bearing mission in order that the Father might answer your prayers.
The point: Prayer malfunctions when it is not used in fruit-bearing. Therefore, since I want you to pray and to get answers to your prayers, I chose you and I appointed you to go and bear fruit. If you are not devoted to fruit-bearing, you have no warrant for expecting answers to prayer.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And what could be more natural than the desire to eat? There are dozens of instances in the Bible of people praying for desires—for protection from enemies, escape from danger, success in vocation, fertility in marriage, recovery from sickness.
It’s not that those desires are wrong, but they should always be subordinate to spiritual desires; Kingdom desires; fruit-bearing desires; Gospel-spreading, God-centered desires; Christ-exalting, God-glorifying desires. And when our natural desires are felt as a means to these greater desires, then they become the proper subject of prayer.
Just before Jesus said to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” He said, “Make it your heart’s desire that God would hallow His name and that the Kingdom would come and that the will of God would be done on earth.” When your heart is caught up with these great desires, then having something to eat is not merely a natural desire, but a means to some great God-centered end. And then it is the proper subject of prayer.
Used for His Ends
If prayer is not for gratifying natural desires but for bearing fruit for God, the major challenge of prayer is to become the kind of people who are not dominated by natural desires, the kind of people who do not use God for their own ends but are utterly devoted to being used for His ends.
This is why Jesus says, “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.” The words of Jesus abiding in us make us those kind of people.
Here are a few examples that show this in John’s writings:
- In 1 John 1:10 he says, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” If the words of Jesus were abiding in us, we would have known ourselves better—that we have sinned. The words of Jesus abiding in us is the key to a true and humble assessment of ourselves that keeps us in line with God’s purposes.
- In 1 John 2:14 John says, “I write to you, young men, because ... the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” So the words of Jesus abiding in us triumph over Satan and free us from the deceptions that would put us at odds with God and make natural desires dominate our lives.
- In John 14:24 Jesus says, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” So if we keep the words of Jesus—if they abide in us—they will define for us the path of love, precisely the path where prayer was designed to bear fruit.
The abiding Word of Jesus puts us in tune with the fruit-bearing purposes of God to glorify Himself.
Saturated by His Words
So the fourth and final truth about prayer is that the more we are saturated by the words of Jesus, the more our prayers will be answered.
The challenge of prayer in the year ahead is the challenge to become the kind of people who do not live at the level of mere natural desire, but who live to bear fruit for God—to hallow His Name, seek His Kingdom and do His will.
The key to becoming that kind of person is letting the words of Jesus—the Word of God (John 3:34, 14:10, 17:8) —abide in us. Being filled and saturated by the words of Scripture brings us so close to the mind of God that we pray in tune with His purposes and receive whatever we ask.