Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. –1 John 3:21-22
If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that yesterday, after speaking of the danger of taking a verse out of context, I proceeded to take the first of these two verses out of context and write on what it does not say. Verse 21, we can clearly see now, does not talk primarily (if at all) about our confidence in salvation before God. It talks of our confidence to stand before God and ask for blessings.
I won’t apologize for my writing yesterday, since those words did correspond well with Romans 8:1, but I thought I should point out my sneakiness.
As I sit here in my office at school, I look to my left and see a movie poster for T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, one of my favorite plays of all time. In this play, set in 1170, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas a Beckett, has been causing trouble for King Henry II of England. Beckett knows that his life is in peril at the hands of the king’s minions; thus, he wonders how to respond. After being visited by four tempters, Beckett stands firm, refusing to do the wrong thing, or even for the right thing for the wrong reason. “Now is my way clear; now is the meaning plain,” he says, as the last tempter falls away.
Thomas a Beckett did not ask God to send four knights who would plunge their swords into his flesh before the high altar in Canterbury Cathedral. Does that mean that he could not stand with confidence before God and ask for deliverance? Yes and no.
Beckett received something far better than what he wanted. His momentary pains, horrible as they must have been, passed into martyrdom. No sane person, I think, prays for martyrdom. But then no person–sane or otherwise–has the clarity of vision to know what to ask for. I believe that John indicates here that the efficacy of our prayers relates to the purity of our hearts. If my heart were completely pure, standing completely unblemished before God, then it would see the absolute purest vision and ask for it. My heart, however, is only moderately pure–redeemed but still flawed by sin’s residual effects. I can stand with some confidence before God and ask, but I realize that at times the obstacle of sin will prevent me from asking for (or even recognizing) what is best for me.
Therefore, uncondemned, I can stand confident before God, confident in His willingness to deliver things sometimes greater than what I have the vision to request.