Authority in Prayer

John 14:12-14, 15:7-8,16

Reminder of our series theme:   Prayer is talking deliberately to God.

While our primary text is in John 14 and 15 as previously read, there are a couple related texts which seem to provide a good pair of bookends to our topic today, “Faith to move mountains” (Matt 17:14-20). Listen, as we are reminded of this through song, "Mountain Moving Faith." This song was written by Ron Hamilton (aka-Patch the Pirate), back in the late 1980’s. There is truth in much of what the lyrics talk about and, there is no shortage of this sentiment as we journey through the Christian life. It is often expressed to exhort, encourage and motivate us to trust in God for seemingly impossible things. The thought behind these lyrics this is certainly well intentioned, it is true that we ought to trust in God, and that God is omnipotent.

I don’t know about you, but down where I live life, my personal experience often falls well short of this. When I fail to see or experience “mountain moving”, impossible, or “whatever you ask” type things happening in response to my prayer, how should I process what Jesus says in these various passages found in the gospels? Is this believable? Or, does “whatever you ask in prayer” or “faith to move mountains” mean something other than that? Is it some glacial process in which the future results are so far removed or require a level of persistence in which I will waver and lose focus along the way? On the other hand, these texts seem to imply the potential for more rapid results, and I have moments of thinking that certainly if I just ask “In Jesus name”, that somehow, the probabilities vastly increase or move me closer to the front of the line. “Name it and claim it” sounds really good.

So, how do we properly and biblically understand these texts in which Jesus speaks of seemingly unlimited results from sincere, faith filled requests in prayer? Hermeneutics has to do with how we interpret Scripture. I’m taught to take God’s Word normally, or literally. Am I to do that in this case?

As this sermon series developed, and I read through Jesus’ teachings on prayer, this particular topic grabbed me as one on which I had not spent the time in seeking the Holy Spirit’s leading in a proper understanding. It is entitled “Authority in Prayer” and there are four thoughts which I would like to think through with you this morning as we examine these texts.

Authority in prayer begins with personal faith in Christ.

Jesus spoke often about the ultimate purpose for why he came, but what was the purpose of his approximate 3 years of public ministry as he called people to follow him in faith?  It ultimately had to do with the fact that he was not going to physically remain here.  In speaking of this repeatedly, he made it abundantly clear that he a purpose and plan for his followers:

  • "As he called men from their vocation of fishing, he stated a very clear and precise purpose for them, to become fishers of men." (Mark 1:17)
  • "He explains the new message for his followers, that of learning from him through a close, discipling relationship." (Matt 11:28-30)
  • "He sends his followers on a training mission of multiplying his work by proclaiming the good news of the kingdom." (Matt 10:7)
  • "He left them with a clear purpose; to go and make disciples, teaching them to do the same. At the root of this was always the idea and expectation of reproduction." (Matt 28:19-20)

What often stood in the way? The gospel writers do not spare in exposing to us the frequent demonstrations of weak faith exhibited even by Christ’s closest followers. Furthermore, they really struggled with understanding why Jesus kept talking about leaving them. That certainly wasn’t their idea of the Messiah. Leaders shouldn’t leave. Leaders should be present. Followers are dependent on leaders and their presence. They needed him and wanted what they experienced when he was with them.

Despite their failures and weakness, Jesus did not give up on them. This brings us to our primary text this morning in John 14 & 15. As we descend into this, we must set the tone by a look at John 13:1. Here, we find these precious words…..”He loved them to the end”. Back in Chapter 10 of John, Jesus speaks with authority and assurance that as the Good Shepherd, his followers have eternal life and will never perish, nor be snatched away from him. Aren’t you glad of this truth?

The 13th – 17th chapters of John are special. They begins with Christ sharing the Passover meal with his closest followers. It ends later that evening with his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus packs an incredible discourse into these 5 chapters which John records for us. It likely took place in the space of just 3-4 hours. It is often referred to in two parts: the Upper Room discourse (13-14), followed by the Olivet discourse (15-17). When you consider that 24 hours later, Jesus’ body would be in the process of being placed in Joseph’s tomb, and all of the intensity of the events in those hours, it is no wonder that the precious words of Jesus in these two discourses reflect a deeply intimate and intense conversation with his followers in preparation for his leaving.

If we step back and look at the overarching theme of Jesus in 13:3 – 14:11, we find that his words to them generate a response from some of the disciples revealing interesting things about faith.

  • 13:3-17, As Jesus demonstrates and explains the humility of the servant/master, Peter’s weak faith is expressed in his initial, prideful attempt at refusing his master.
  • 13:18-30, Jesus tells of his imminent betrayal, explaining in v. 19 that the reason of sharing it with them is to generate deeper faith in him.
  • 13:31-35, Jesus describes that a new commandment is necessary as he leaves them.  Their demonstrated love for one another will be proof of faith in him.
  • 13:36-14:4, Although not sidestepping the awful consequences of Peter’s boastful pride and weak faith, Jesus graciously and tenderly calls him to believe.
  • 14:5-7, Even after hearing words of comfort and encouragement, Thomas responds with weak faith.  Jesus calls him to believe.
  • 14:8-11, In desiring just a little more, Philip reveals weak faith. Jesus calls him to believe.

This leads us to the first phrase of our primary text in 14:12 – “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in me...”

Whenever we find Jesus speaking this way ("most assuredly," "truly, truly," "verily, verily" – it could also be interpreted as AMEN – a solemn affirmation, this is so), there is particular emphasis being placed on what follows.  In summarizing the theme of faith in this upper room discourse, Jesus seems to be focused on two aspects of faith.

First, he is speaking to his disciples, the one’s present and hearing his words at that moment – “you”. It may be stated this way…”I say to you, who are present, who believe in me,…..”. We should stop here and consider this. Were the disciples true believers at this point? Due to the frequent gospel accounts showing a seeming lack of, or weak faith, some would question that. But consider two things:  John’s statement in 13:1 – “He loved them to the end”, reinforced by the saving power mentioned in Chapter 10. Just as significant are Jesus’ own words in 13:10. His reply to Peter is “He who is bathed…” Jesus indicates a difference between bathing/washing and being completely clean. Completely clean refers to saving faith. Bathing/washing refers to the ongoing work of sanctification and cleansing from daily sin as referenced in I John 1:9. Jesus declares all but one of them as clean, or of saving faith. So, as we approach 14:12, Jesus is referring to specific, justified followers of his who have saving faith, despite their just recorded demonstrations of weak faith.

Second, Jesus’ call to faith in verse 12 seems also to apply to anyone (“he who”), speaking of others, and those in the future who will have saving faith in him. So, what he is about to say is available to all. Before moving on, let me ask you, friend, do you have saving faith in Christ? As we are repeatedly reminded, it is not the amount of faith, but the object of our faith that saves. God’s Word makes it abundantly clear that saving faith is in Christ alone. It is possible to possess faith in your mind, even agreeing with everything about who Jesus is. But a change of the will (repentance); a surrender and submission of our being is necessary to bring a person into a truly saving relationship with Christ. Do not neglect that. If unsure, seek it out today.

So, of what importance is Jesus’ call to his followers; then present and future, in verse 12?  “I say to you, he who believes in me…”  We’ll hear the rest of the story in a few minutes.  But, first let’s look at the second thought:

Authority in prayer grows out of an abiding relationship with Christ.

If you would jump ahead with me to 14:31. As the events of the last supper in the upper room conclude,  Jesus says “let us depart from here.” The group then proceeds through the streets of Jerusalem, across the brook Kidron, into the garden of Gethsemane (lower part of the Mt. Olives); a frequent place of prayer for Jesus when in Jerusalem. Perhaps they passed vineyards along the way which prompted Jesus’ illustration in first part of Chapter 15.

Using the picture of vineyard in the first 6 verses, Jesus develops the theme of chapter 15 as that of an abiding relationship, made possible by saving faith.  Christ reveals a clear picture of what an ongoing life of faith looks like and results in.

  • V. 2-3 He makes it clear that belonging and abiding, although describing true believers, are not the same expressions of faith. A follower who belongs, but bears no fruit will experience loss and discipline. Those who abide will experience ongoing pruning, similar to the picture of washing/bathing in chapter 13. 
  • In vs. 10 and 14, he identifies obedience as a crucial element of a loving relationship with Christ. 
  • Finally, in vs 7 (the beginning of the second part of our main text – “If you abide in me…”), faith expressed as an abiding relationship leads to a life of living in Christ’s Word and prayer.

So, the lead up to both passages constituting our text this morning reveals Christ’s purpose for all those who follow him by faith and abide in him day by day.  This leads to our next thought….

Authority in prayer results in a life of bearing fruit for Christ.

In both texts (14:12-14, 15:7-8,16), Jesus speaks clearly of what will come out of a life lived by true, abiding faith in him.

First, continuing in verse 12 of chapter 14, What was Christ’s purpose for whoever follows him by faith?  Let’s examine the text again (John 14:12-14).

Clearly stated, the true follower of Christ will do the works Christ did, AND even greater works than Christ did. What will this look like? The rest of the NT explain this.  Jesus’ followers will go and glorify God in Jesus’s name – by exceeding the work that he did in making disciples and building his church. Remember the call of the great commission - Matt 28:18-20 and consider that fact that “all authority” to carry out this work is given to and comes from Christ.

Consider the subsequent record given to us showing the “greater works” accomplished by the Holy Spirit through Christ’s followers (growth by multiplication).

Acts 2:41 – “that day there were added about 3,000 souls.” 
Acts 6:1 – “the disciples were increasing in number…”
Acts 8:4 – “those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”  
Acts 10:44 – “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on those who were listening to the message."
Acts 13:5 - "and when they reached Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God…,” the balance of Acts records Paul’s leading the multiplication of believers throughout the Roman world.

Second, in chapter 15 we learn the purpose of growing in an abiding relationship with Christ.  15:7-8,16.  Consider the progression:  v. 2 – from bearing no fruit, to fruit, to more fruit, but then, v. 8 - MUCH fruit to the abiding follower whose desires are aligned with Christ’s.

What does this bearing of MUCH fruit look like? Here are some other Scriptures which help to frame this: Luke 24:46-49, Acts 1:8, Prov 11:30, John 4:35-36, Matt 13:23, Psa 1:2-3.

I’m sure that we can begin to see out of these texts, a clearer picture as to what it means when Jesus says that his followers can “ask anything in my name”, knowing what Jesus desires to be accomplished in his name, and when we “ask what you desire”, that it is a desire shaped and conformed to what will bring glory to God. Friends, THIS is authority in prayer. It comes out of bending our will to faith in Christ and the desire to abide in him and through him to bear the fruit of making disciples. He wants us to ask boldly, with authority, to that end.

And finally...

Authority in prayer is not abnormal.

This final thought is intended for us to contemplate the personal application of what we have examined today.  There are two points:

First, words like “Anything, Whatever, Impossible” are not abnormal to ask of God:

  • When I am focused on Christ’s purpose of making disciples. 
  • I should confidently ask “in Christ’s name” for this result and rest in his authority to accomplish my commission for him.  
  • Amazingly, I am told to ask for what is impossible for me to do on my own. I am unable to save, justify, redeem anyone. But God, in his sovereign plan has chosen me as his follower to be the agent through which he works to miraculously draw people to saving faith in Christ.

“How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard?  And how shall they fear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach unless they are sent?  Just as it it written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom 10:14-15)

It is NOT abnormal to ask God to enable my feet to be beautiful!

Second, if honest, I must admit an ongoing struggle to fulfill this purpose.  Why does my life seem not to reflect attention to, desire for, speaking of, or results from seeking authority in prayer?  Why do I tend to just gloss over this, or hope that I never really have to come to grips with it, or explain it?

Let’s go back to our bookends – Matt 17:14-20.  In this text, Jesus teaches that:

  • Mountain moving faith is linked to spiritual warfare.  Jesus identifies it, and it’s seriousness.
  • Making disciples involves spiritual warfare.  II Cor 10:4 – “For the weapons of our warfare (making disciples) are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,…” Eph 6:12 – “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places.”
  • Then, Jesus likens the faith needed for this spiritual warfare to that of the mustard seed. Why? Elsewhere, it is described as the smallest of seeds, yet, when planted, it rapidly grows into the largest of plants. Could it be that my faith in Christ to accomplish his purpose of making disciples can grow quickly and powerfully, sufficient to engage in this spiritual battle for the souls of men?

But there is an obstacle that can hinder me. Contrast this with a similar illustration in Luke 17 (esp. v. 6).

Both texts speak of “faith as a mustard seed.” We just described the probable meaning of that, as having the potential for rapid, and full growth to maturity.

But, what is the difference between “mountain moving faith” and “mulberry tree moving faith?” The mulberry tree, also known as a sycamore, was a common, but seemingly valueless tree in that region. It is referred to in the OT as having little value and being removed in order to make room for more valuable trees. It may be likened in our area to trees such as boxelder or poplar. Little value, easily disposed of.

Matt 17 context linked faith to the magnitude of spiritual warfare. What is the context in Luke 17 (esp. v. 3-5)?

After describing the obstacles to faith stemming from the illustration of the rich man and Lazarus Chapter 16, Jesus exposes and warns against an insidious threat to faith. That of forgiving a brother/sister who has sinned against me.

  • Faith as a mustard seed can rapidly grow and mature, giving me the ability to be eager to forgive.
  • The difficulty of forgiveness must not be viewed as overly valuable. That difficulty must be easily discardable.   
  • A forgiving and forbearing spirit may be the first thing on which I must focus if I hope to accomplish “anything in Christ’s name” and “bearing much fruit.”

Finally, in John 15:17, Jesus concluded authority in prayer by repeating, once again, the new commandment which will prove my faith and ultimately, my ability to have genuine authority in prayer. ”These things I command you, that you love one another.”
Life Group Discussion Questions:
  • Have you ever heard someone, probably a child, ask for something that seemed impossible? What funny things have you heard children say in prayer?
  • In what ways do we experience the same emotions that the disciples did when Jesus “left” them? (He did not desert them but left the earth.)
  • What does the fact that Jesus talked about prayer in his last moments tell us about prayer?
  • Can a person without personal repentant faith pray the way that Jesus described in John 14:12-14? Why or why not?
  • How might abiding in Christ, as described in John 15, change our desires to align further with God’s desires?
  • What is our authority in prayers "in Jesus' name" based upon?
  • What are some practical steps we can take to make praying with authority in Jesus’ name more “normal” for us?
  • Why is it that we need to pray for God's help to forgive others?
  • How does bitterness against others clutter our lives, or distract us from spiritual growth?

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