Before You Pray
Read: John 15:5–17
Before we conclude that Jesus is giving an unconditional promise to hand us anything we want (just so long as it's good and not too ridiculous or selfish), let's break down this passage carefully.
Condition #1 (Verses 5–7): We must maintain a "living communion" with Christ.
A bouquet of real flowers in a vase can transform a whole room. But I keep fake ones instead, because the bothersome real ones always die in a few days. Severed from their source of nutrition and life, the poor things just can't make it.
In these opening verses, Jesus compares Himself to the vine from which we draw all our sustenance and nutrients. Severed from its vine, a branch dies. It's helpless to sustain itself apart from the vine. Here, He gives us the first condition: "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish." IF you abide.
We tend to hone in on the "ask whatever you wish" phrase first, but we can't even start to think about applying the second part if we're ignoring the first part—the command to abide.
But what does it mean to "abide"? It's a funny little word that's fallen out of use—so I dug a little through a dusty old book of my dad's. In Kenneth S. Wuest's The New Testament: An Expanded Translation, he helpfully defines the full meaning of the word in the original text: it can literally be translated "If you maintain a living communion with me and my words are at home in you, I command you to ask whatever you wish..."
In other words, before asking we must first be maintaining a living communion with Christ by making His words "at home" in our hearts. We have to be connected to Christ, our Vine, through constant immersion in the Word.
Verse 7 continues, "Ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you." Whatever you wish. No caveat. It says "whatever" and it means "whatever." At first, this confused me big-time.
Now consider this verse carefully in light of the previous commands to abide. Jesus can say this safely, without any contradiction, because there is a fusion between the vine and the branches. They aren't in conflict—the branches are not tugging one way and the vine tugging another way. The vine controls the life of the branches; the life in the branches flows from the vine.
What does this mean? If we're "maintaining a living communion" with Christ and His words are "at home" in us, His desires are going to become our desires. We'll be fused together.
Psalm 37:4, which talks about delighting in God and receiving the desires of our hearts, conveys this same idea. It doesn't mean that if you want a boyfriend, it must be God's plan for you. Interpretations like that turn the verse on its head by reversing God's role with ours. Our holy, perfect, ever-loving Father doesn't ever modify His desires to match up with our tiny, imperfect ideas of what's best.
Instead, as we maintain a living communion with Christ through Scripture, He will slowly purge us of the things our flesh desires—and replace those controlling desires with the things He is concerned about. As we give ourselves to the study of the Word, our minds will be filled with the things His mind is filled with. We'll be praying more God-centered prayers and fewer me-centered ones. And God will be actively making good on the promise to do "whatever" we ask in His name.
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