(Based on 1.John 5: 13-15).
In the 5th. chapter of his first ‘Letter', John writes: ‘This is the confidence that we have in approaching God, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us; in whatever we ask; we know that we have what we ask of him’.
John wrote those words in a positive and purposeful manner; but how many people, when reading them, are equally purposeful, confident and assured, in their approaches to God?
The poet, John Donne, wrote: ‘No man is an island’: indicating that each person belongs to, and is a part of, something bigger than themselves alone.
But: many people, including Christians; have life-styles that go against the poet’s intentions. Deliberately or otherwise; they keep themselves to themselves: and, often, use language that does not readily facilitate communication; or convey real meaning.
A good deal of social language is a matter of words at the surface, with no real intention of deeper meaning. For example, if we meet a man whom we know, just a little: and he stops and asks: ‘How are things with you?’ does he really want an answer?
To find out, start telling him about your blocked-up kitchen drain. As like as not, he will suddenly remember something urgent, and hurry off.
To step back to the question: 'How many people, reading John's words, are purposeful, confident and assured in their approaches to God: because they believe that, in making such approaches, they entirely within his will?’
If so many people, including Christians, tend to keep themselves to themselves, through lacking assurance, and confidence, in relation to other people…
…then; in relation to God; it is highly unlikely that they possess the purposeful confidence, that is necessary to approaching the Lord in the manner that 1. John 5 brings to our attention.
Instead: their approaches will be occasional, instead of part of a continual openness towards the Lord: and that uncertainties of mind; and hesitancy of manner, will not allow the meaning of John's text, to even begin to touch and bless their lives.
What might, otherwise, have led to developing relationship; answered prayer; and blessings to share with others, becomes dissipated, or lost; causing those who seek the Lord in their own ways: to experience ongoing disappointment.
But one of the many blessings offered by the Church, based on the teachings of Jesus: is that, in this life, what is lost; does not have to remain so.
While there is life, there is not only hope, but also the continuing offer of new beginnings, and of good change being effected, and new qualities being added to the lives of those who seek the Lord; good things, which lead to spiritual growth and fulfilment.
However, the Christian must do all that he or she can, to co-operate with the way that God brings good about; and so help facilitate prayer answers.
Although the Lord occasionally brings about immediate and radical change in a life; as with the conversion of St. Paul; the more usual Christian experience is that he responds to the true desires of his people ...
... encourages them to move forward, step-by-step; and, without forcing anything upon them, gradually effects life-enhancing good.
Most Christians have a testimony, that, whenever a step of faith has been successfully taken; they have been given encouragement to take another one; and have felt the presence of God, at the heart of it all.
Obviously, progress to somewhere, has to be made from somewhere; and the most logical place from which to make new progress is right where we are; but where, exactly, are we?
In one sense, we all stand in the same place; that place of belief and trust where, as St. Paul taught:-
Christ himself is our peace. He has broken down the barrier between God and man; thus making peace…he has reconciled us to God, and, through him, we have access to the Father’ (Ephesians 2: paraphrased).
But, in another sense, 'where we are', varies quite considerably from person to person; for each of us is at our own, personal stage of openness towards others; and our personal stage of openness towards God.
Most Christians believe that, through Jesus Christ, we have access to the Father, in prayer and spiritual communion. Yet, despite this knowledge, for some people, a close relationship with God may not actually exist.
For such people, the things of the Spirit often seem to be remote from the habits and requirements of ordinary, daily life. Those who are aware of the situation; and seek to amend it; often wonder what they could be doing.
Perhaps the most practical way to make a new start, is not in a direct approach to God, but by way of an indirect approach, through other people.
Developing deeper relationships with other people, brings new meaning into the life of the individual believer; and into the gathered-together life of the Church Family.
The success of deepening relationships with other Christians, brings about a quite natural encouragement, towards a deepening relationship with God.
During the late 1960's, there was a radio programme on the subject of mushrooms. It took the form of a half-hour discussion between two men. One of them was, by his own definition: 'A quite ordinary chap'. The other was a high-ranking judge.
As the conversation about their common love of mushrooms began to develop, the 'quite ordinary chap' said that he felt awkward talking to a high-court judge, and he asked him.. ‘How do I address you? Do I call you 'My lord', or what?’.
The judge replied: My dear fellow; mushrooms are far too important a subject for formality; call me John'. He did; and they got on well together.
If 'Mushrooms are far too important a subject for formality'; then how much more so, the Christian life of love; faith, hope and sharing?
As people begin to be more open with each other; and relationships deepen; they soon realize that what they have in common, is far greater than the things that once divided them.
Those who experience a deepening and widening relationship with other Christians, find it natural to desire a deepening and widening relationship with God; and to seek ways of fulfilling that desire.
Perhaps the most sensible and practical way of getting closer to God, is to approach him in the same ways that enable us to get close to other people; listening to them, and learning about them.
Before looking at that a bit more, here is the text again; with one or two comments. ‘This is the assurance that we have in approaching God; that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us; in whatever we ask; we know that we have what we have asked of him’.
John makes it clear that the 'assurance' that we desire is close-linked to asking for things that lie within God's will. So, what are we asking for? Many Christians have what is known as 'The Shopping-list Approach' to God; telling the Lord about umpteen wants, needs and desires.
That sort of approach, takes people only so far along the journey of faith; but it takes them almost nowhere, in developing a deeper relationship with God.
In ordinary human terms, we do not expect people who have met, to develop an on-going, meaningful relationship through demanding things from each other; and yet, sadly, that is what so many people appear to believe.
Being sensible, we know that true, meaningful relationships with others, come about through a giving, and sharing, of self; and so with our relationship with God.
The way ahead for the God-seeking Christian, is not even bigger and better 'Shopping lists' of requirements and requests; no matter how good the things asked for may appear to be.
Instead, what is needed is to ask God about himself. This is entirely within the Lord's will, as is clearly demonstrated in that very important New Testament story: 'The Conversion of St. Paul'.
By birth; background, training and professional standing; Paul must have felt that he 'had it made' . Then God took him by the hand, and effected such radical and good change in Paul, that it was as though he had been re-born in the body, as well as re-born of the Spirit.
There, on the road to Damascus, at the very first moment of that new beginning; what did Paul do? What was his part in beginning the whole process of deepening and widening relationship with God?
He asked a question: ‘Who are you, Lord?’.
The immediate reply was: ‘I am Jesus’; and things progressed from that moment, and continued to do so, all through Paul's life of service.
Certainly, Paul had his own brief 'Shopping-list' of requests; as all Christians do; but his 'list' was of secondary importance. Of prime importance, was his personal relationship with God, through Jesus Christ.
If there are places in our spiritual lives where we feel that we are getting nowhere in particular; and we want those places to become filled with meaning, in ways that help us to move on; perhaps we, too, could ask, either: ‘Who are you lord?’, or ‘Please tell me more’.
As with Paul, so with us. Good, and even great, change can come upon us, as individual Christians, and as a gathered-together church.
It can be a whole new beginning, to the spiritual adventure of life in the Lord. Amen.