I remember the day I proposed to my wife. We had been dating for over a year and we both knew we were going to get married. All of our friends knew it was only a matter of time before the engagement. All that was left to do was ask.
Finally, the day arrived. I wrote a little fable/allegory about our relationship and bound it in wooden covers. I determined to read the story to her and drop to my knee when I turned the last page to reveal the engagement ring. (Corney, I know—at least it was unique.)
I spent the morning browsing second hand bookstores to calm my nerves and provide sufficient back-story for my plan. (“Look at the interesting book I found!”) After walking to her apartment, I put my intentions into action and began to read her the book. My mind was swirling. I had to wipe little beads of sweat off my forehead. I could feel my heart pounding in my throat. All sorts of completely irrational fears cycled through my mind: What if she thinks the story’s lame? What if she’s changed her mind? What if she says no?
Well, she said yes . . . a little over 14 years ago.
I still can’t explain those odd fears. To my rational mind, our marriage was a done deal. We had talked about it and were both on the same page. It was my heart that got nervous. This is where my story intersects John’s letter. To my rational mind, I know I’m “from the truth” (to use John’s language). What happens, though, when my irrational heart overrides my mind?
. . .
The human heart is a fickle thing. Jeremiah called it “devious” and “perverse” (17:9, NRSV). Despite our mind’s best intentions, irrational fears and worries can take hold of the best of us. No where is this more serious than with respect to our salvation itself. What do we do when our heart challenges our mind to question our salvation? (I wrote, “when,” not “if,” following John’s lead in v. 20.) What sort of assurance can we find? John provided a twofold answer in v. 20 (NRSV):
- “God is greater than our hearts.”
- “He knows everything.”
Our hearts can become myopic, only focusing on one thing. The smallest detail of a person can become an unquenchable obsession when the heart runs wild. One little though, such as, “are you sure . . .” can send us into spirals of doubt. Fortunately, God is greater than our hearts in that he knows everything. We may be shortsighted but God is not. We can run to him with our irrational heart-fears and ask him to deepen our faith. The next time you question your faith, run to God in prayer for assurance. He is the best antidote for fear.
. . .
Speaking of prayer, John moved immediately in this direction. Once our hearts are settled, we are freed up to engage God in prayer. It’s a matter of focus. As long as our fears run loose, we focus on ourselves: my salvation, my assurance, my protection, my safety. Once we allow God to calm our hearts, we can turn our attention beyond ourselves to his Kingdom.
This hardly needs saying, but just in case: please don’t read the first part of v. 22 in isolation (“we receive from him whatever we ask”). Boldness before God in prayer isn’t carte blanche to indulge in our wildest mammon-driven fantasies. The verse goes on to remind us that we receive whatever we ask precisely because (NRSV):
- “We obey his commandments.”
- We “do what pleases him.”
This is a common theme in the Christian life. As we align ourselves more and more with God’s Kingdom-values, we being to receive what we ask for in prayer, because we’re desiring the same things God desires. The Psalmist reminds us,
The steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
(Psalm 103:17-18 NRSV)
. . .
I don’t know whether you question your salvation very often. If you do, these verses are tailor-made to suit your situation. If you don’t, the heart can still be a sinister force in every other area of the Christian life. It’s best to run to the One who is greater so we can be freed up to pray the work of the Kingdom into existence.