Reflections on 3 John
It felt like God wasn’t listening.
Scripture is full of verses about God hearing and answering our prayers. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, 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 the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14–15).
There was a time in my life when I could easily digest these verses. But one day, everything changed: My wife and I had a miscarriage. When one of the purest and legitimate prayers of my life seemed to go unanswered, I felt like God came up short. I had never had my faith shaken so badly.
It’s hard to reconcile these seemingly unanswered prayers with passages that declare God’s faithfulness. It’s even more difficult when anger and grief cloud your thinking.
Making our requests with confidence doesn’t mean that God will grant every request. John states that “if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (5:14). He may not answer our prayers in the way that we expect, but he will do what is right within his power and will.
The problems we face are even deeper than our tragic circumstances. What about basic necessities? Praying for those seems like something we shouldn’t have to do. John proves otherwise when he prays: “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 2). John’s prayers for basic necessities suggest that we should pray about everything—regardless of how God answers our prayers.
It may seem that God comes up short at times, but maybe it’s because we don’t understand the entire picture—the picture that God sees. Since we ultimately belong to God, our feelings or understanding isn’t what matters most. What matters is our belief. This is the context of John’s comment about prayer: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:14).
But how can we believe when horrible things happen, like losing a child? John hints at the answer: “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). We may be connected to God, but the world is not.
We can’t make sense of everything in this fallen world, but we can take hope that over time we will have more understanding. John says: “We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). In Jesus, we can find eternal life and hope. In Christ, God is expanding our understanding of precisely what it means to be heard by him.
The way God answers our prayers may not make sense to us now, or ever. In a broken world, we’ll experience pain. Living in fellowship with God means trusting that he hears us, no matter how he answers our prayers. It means patiently waiting for the day when it all finally makes sense.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN BIBLE STUDY MAGAZINE MAR–APR ‘11
BIBLICAL REFERENCES FROM ESV