Saturday after Epiphany
Today’s first reading offers a strange relationship between our petition and God’s providence. Here is what John says, “We have this confidence in Him that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in regard to whatever we ask, we know that what we have asked Him for is ours.” This text seems like an appropriate clarification on Jesus’ “Ask and you shall receive,” but it also adds something to our side of the equation. I not only read this and see John calling us to rely on prayer, but I sense him pushing us to discernment, particularly in three ways.
First, I should be pursuing and discerning the Lord’s will for me so that I may stand in greater confidence. This form of discernment is more familiar to us. This is the discernment of engaged couples, seminarians, postulants (baby sisters), and job seekers. This is the discernment that builds off of the phrase, “God has a plan and purpose for you.” This is good, but I think John asks us to go deeper.
Second, I need to try and understand the character and will of God, to the best of my fallible, human ability. This level of discernment humbly recognizes that God had a will long before I ever existed. The eternal God has me in His plan, but I’m only needed in it because He chose to create me. This means that there is a discernible will and plan that is much larger than I. This is important for me to pursue because it keeps my humility in check (see John the Baptist’s “I must decrease”), and it directly relates to prayer. Scripture commands me to pray for others. If I am to stand in confidence regarding those prayers, I need to discern God’s character beyond my own call. The Gospel is accessible to me, and is meant for me, but it is far bigger than I alone.
Finally, discernment is necessary in the following verses. “If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.” These verses get tricky if: I don’t seek to understand God’s will; or I don’t try to get to know His character. That ignorance can either make me blind to who my brothers and sisters are or make me as legalistic as the Pharisees in judging the severity of sin. Not to mention, without discernment, how do I figure out what to do in the case of a deadly sin?
This entire section of 1 John calls me to get to know God, intimately, deeply, and in a way that I can stand in confidence. Now in my language of discern and pursue I might make us sound a little too active. Whether it is quieting yourself enough to pray in a posture of listening or letting the words of scripture transform your worldview, the Lord wishes to impart His will to you.
He is the bridegroom and we are the bride, let us enter into an exchange of wills with Him, so that we may stand confident in His love and His vows.