Living in Alignment-Aligning our Prayers
John 15:1-815 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 REMAIN in me, as I also REMAIN in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must REMAIN in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you REMAIN in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you REMAIN in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not REMAIN in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you REMAIN in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Look again at verses 7 and 8, 7 If you REMAIN in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
What these verses tell me is that God wants your prayers to be answered. That is encouraging to me. God wants me to be successful when I pray. I believe bearing fruit, in this context, means having your prayers answered. Verse 8 says that God is glorified when our prayers are answered. It also says that we show we are disciples of Christ when our prayers are answered. Fruit-bearing involves fruitful praying. How can we be sure we are aiming our prayers in a way that will bear fruit?
First and foremost, we have to be aligned with God. He is the Vine, and we are the branches. Those two things are connected. A Vine-branch relationship involves a connection. The branch does not live disconnected from the Vine. So, in order to have your prayers answered, you are going to have to stay connected to God. I’m not suggesting that God can’t do something in response to someone who is disconnected from Him. He is God and can do whatever, whenever He so chooses. I’m not addressing the prayer life of unbelievers, I’m talking about the prayer life of people who claim that in their lives, He is the Vine, and they are a branch. Proper alignment with God is key in having fruitful prayers that reveal God’s glory.
When we pray, we have to be in alignment with God and we need to know what the target is and where the target is! We need to know how to set up our prayers for maximum effectiveness before releasing them. If our faith represents the arrows we are shooting and God’s will, represents the target we intend to hit, what do we need to know to be properly aligned for successful praying?
Look at James 4:1-4–4 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.
These few sentences describe someone whose focus is on things that begin inside of them. Listen, prayers that originate solely with ourselves aren’t going to be properly aligned. In these verses there is an urge, there is a fleshly desire, there is a preoccupation with self that causes this person to act on ungodly desires and in an ungodly way. They see something they want, and they are willing to do anything to get it. How do I know that? Because James says they will kill to get it. If you are willing to kill someone for something you want, you are willing to do anything to get it. This person sees something they want, and so they start some drama in order to get it. They “throw their weight around.” They run their mouth. They “quarrel and fight.”
No right-minded person thinks those are good approaches. If the person was thinking clearly, I doubt they would approve of their own agenda or behavior, but because they are following their selfish desires, because they are being led by their fleshly impulses, their words and actions will demonstrate an allegiance to self at all costs. I kind of picture a toddler having a temper tantrum when I read this passage. This person is strong-willed and won’t stop until they get their way.
Going on in verse 2: You do not have because you do not ask God.
There is no asking going on in verse 1 or 2a. There is no asking of God or anyone. There is just self-dependence, arrogance, and pride. There is an impulsive reach, just a grabbing, just a taking. This isn’t someone who is connected to the Vine. They don’t have a Source for their desires other than themselves. They live to just continue to grab, grab, grab for whatever they want. What they want may not even be good for them, but it’s what THEY want. They aren’t asking God because they aren’t interested in what God wants them to have. They are interested in what they want to have.
Listen, you won’t have a fruitful prayer life if you aren’t concerned with what God wants for your life. Going after what you want limits you to what you can see and know, and even what you know you don’t really know because our wisdom is flawed. You can’t see everything God can see, and there is no way you can know what God knows. You might walk into a room and see a Hostess Twinkie on the counter, and think, “That twinkie is mine. Ain’t nobody looking, and I’m gonna throw that twinkie down my throat in one bite.” All the while, you don’t know there is a huge, decadent chocolate cake on the other side of the wall, and it has had all of the calories supernaturally removed from it. You could eat the whole cake and not have any negative impact from doing so. (Oh, if only this wasn’t JUST an illustration.) But, no, you wanted what you wanted based on what you saw, but God knew if you had let Him direct you beyond what you saw to what He could see, something greater, something more satisfying, something epic was waiting. When a desire begins to form, we need to present it to God for evaluation at that moment. We need to pray about it and ask, “God are You in this or is it all me? If it’s You, can you help me receive X?”
3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
This verse reads to me as a person who is never satisfied. That isn’t a fun way to live, never being satisfied. Selfish greed is their motive. When they do ask for help or favor, they aren’t properly aligned in their hearts with things that God can bless. This person wants something from God so that they can continue their pursuit of sinful pleasure. God isn’t going to bless you with something that isn’t good for you.
There is nothing wrong with pleasure, as long as it is pleasure, that God can bless.
We had a great time in the Dominican Republic last November. We had never taken a trip like it as a family. It was an all-inclusive experience at a very nice place. We were blessed with God’s help in the travel process, and the weather, which I guess is wonderful all of the time, was incredible. Even though it was in the mid 80’s every day, it was never hot. There were restaurants galore to choose from, and you could eat whatever you wanted and have as much of it as you wanted. There was a lot of high-end shopping to enjoy, so we splurged and bought a deck of cards. There were maybe six pools plus a water park filled with pools and slides. You could bowl and play miniature golf. Every night there was a variety show to go watch. The beach was amazing. You could sit in the shade under a palm tree and someone would come by and ask if they could bring you something to drink. And y’all, my husband got me a Spa package. I had never been to a Spa before. It wasn’t just a “Spa,” it was a “Spahhhhh!” I don’t have time to describe how incredible that was.
It was very pleasurable. We had worked hard and saved up to have that experience. It was certainly a break from the routine. We made sure our children knew God had provided the trip. It was wonderful to be spoiled for a week. But we can’t have that kind of experience on the regular. There are responsibilities to fulfill. There is a job to do. There is a calling on our lives. Fulfilling our life’s calling is what brings pleasure to God! Plus, we would be broke if we tried to go back next week. I’m just saying, God allowed us a week of pleasure, a week of pampering, a week of luxury to rejuvenate us and refuel us to come back to do what brings Him pleasure.
James isn’t talking about a trip to Punta Cana here, but is addressing a sinful, fleshly pursuit for pleasure. Sexual perversions, drug and alcohol addictions, food and gambling addictions, lust for more and more stuff which creates financial debt and never satisfies, stuff that is worldly, pointless and of no eternal value, those aren’t the focus of a Spirit-filled believer’s pursuits or prayer life. What is your motive for enjoying life? It will be revealed in the way you pray. If your motive is to please God in all things, you are going to be led to pray for things He can bless.
4 You adulterous people,[a] don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Are we as believers trying to be dually aligned? Do we try to have one foot in the world and one foot in the Kingdom of God? Are we trying to straddle the fence? Do we hear what God says on Sunday, but then try to line up with what our friends say Monday through Saturday? Do we believe we have to dress a certain way to fit in? Do we have to explore deviant and rebellious lifestyles to be included in the “in-crowd?” Do we have to drive a certain car, live in a certain neighborhood, belong to a certain club to gain friendship? Do we have to have the newest cellphone to be happy or a have a certain number of followers on social media to validate our existence? James calls that “friendship with the world.”
He also calls it “adulterous.” “Adultery” is the word to describe cheating on your spouse. As believers, we understand that we are in a special relationship with God, and when we pursue the things that God can’t bless, He says we are cheating on Him. Are you cheating on God? If so, you are out of alignment with Him, and it’s going to impact your prayer life.
The bottom line for James is that praying with the wrong motives, like wanting to be applauded by the world or wanting to chase unending pleasure that isn’t pleasure God can bless, means you are out of alignment with God, and when you are out of alignment, you won’t hit the right target with your prayers. What is the right target? The target for our prayers isn’t our internal desires, but the target is God’s will.
Go with me to I John 5:14-15-14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
When what we are praying for aligns with His will, every one of those prayers will be answered. Praying God’s will is a by-product of being in alignment with Him. It means shooting our faith at His target rather than any other target we would set up. It means desiring His way over our way in every situation.
It doesn’t mean we set aside every desire we have. It means that as we pray, we ask for discernment to know whether what we desire is something God can bless. Sin isn’t God’s will. So, if we are hoping to grow and progress in some area of sin, we aren’t living in accordance with His will. God has made His moral will clear in the Bible. The Ten Commandments aren’t difficult to understand. Read them in Exodus 20. We don’t have to guess how God wants us to treat others, how He wants us to use our bodies, or what kinds of activities we should engage in as believers. There is plenty of Scripture to guide us in such things. He puts His Holy Spirit inside of us to check us, to guide us, to whisper to us, “That’s not something you should watch.” “That’s not a place you should go.” “That’s not a joke you should tell.” “That’s not something you should post.” “That’s not an appropriate use of your body.” If we have been converted in our hearts, if we are Children of God, far more often than not, we will absolutely KNOW when we are sinning. We won’t have to guess what behaviors, attitudes and thoughts are inside or outside of the will of God. We’re gonna know.
II Peter 3:9 tells us that it is God’s will that everyone would be saved. When you pray for the salvation of your friends and loved ones, you are sending an arrow of faith to the right target. I believe God will be at work in the hearts of those we are covering in prayer.
In the prayer Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He said, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven,” and He meant it. Jesus prayed for the will of God to be expressed and experienced on earth. God has a Sovereign Will that He will accomplish with or without our help. He has a will for your life, however, that can only be accomplished with your participation. I can’t prove this, but I believe when Jesus prayed for God’s will to be accomplished on earth as it was in Heaven that He was praying a very personal prayer about God’s will being accomplished in His own life.
If you are truly aligned with God, you will want to submit to whatever God’s will is for your life because you will live convinced that it is best and is far better than anything you could script. We know Jesus was totally submitted to the Father because just before the Garden Arrest and the events that led to the Resurrection, Jesus prayed. He prayed about what was coming. He knew what He would endure. He knew how He would be betrayed and beaten and mocked and humiliated and hung on a cross to die as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. He knew all of that in advance. In that moment of intense prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done” even though it meant horrific consequences for Himself. Jesus was so aligned with the Father that He willingly gave His life when the time came to do so. I believe He could only do it because He was aligned with the Father. It was alignment with His Heavenly Father that gave Jesus the strength to pray the prayer He prayed, and it was that alignment that also gave Him the strength to pay the price He paid.
Praying the Scriptures is another way to pray according to the will of God. I posted an article about how to do that on the church Facebook page last Thursday. Scroll back and read it. Here is a great Scripture to pray, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” Psalm 143:10
Jesus said His “food” was to do the will of His Heavenly Father. Are we as focused on doing the will of God? Is accomplishing His will as important as daily food? How often is God’s will in our thoughts? Every time I eat, I am going to let that be a reminder to pray, “God, show me your will for me today.” (That means I’m going to be praying a lot more from now on.)
Alignment with God will cleanse your heart of the wrong motives, and alignment with God will create a desire to know and do the will of God. When those things happen, I believe the Spirit of God will transform your prayer life to the point where you are sending the right arrows at the right target and when that happens, your prayers will be fruitful, and God will gain greater glory in your life.