True prayer is prayer that is always obedient to God. But prayer without obedience is no prayer at all; that is, it doesn’t have an abiding connection with God. Therefore, since obedience is so important in prayer, it is vital that we understand it. Here are three ideas of what obedience to God is, so that we can better obey Him and therefore pray with true prayer.
1. Obedience to God is loving God and our neighbors. When we love God we will obey Him. Thus our obedience is proof of our love for Him. In fact, when we obey Him we are loving Him (Jn. 14:21). E. M. Bounds said, “Obedience…is faith in action, and is the outflow as it is the very test of love.”
The best way we can love Him is by being involved with people and by loving them as He has loved them. Jesus said in John 15:12-13, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Hence, to love God and our neighbors are the two greatest commandments (Matt. 22:40). It is the way we can best obey Him and how we lay the groundwork for true prayer.
2. Obedience to God is abiding in Him. When we obey God we abide in Him. In 1 John 3:24 it says, “Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and he in Him…”
I think the best way we can begin to abide is by studying and meditating on His Word—so as to get to know Him and His will. But abiding is not complete without doing His will in obedience. This is the whole idea of Bible study—that we will end up doing His will. Then, in the end, we will be more like Him and be united with Him as a branch is to a vine (Jn. 15:1-5). This is a picture of abiding.
So we are saying that abiding is not complete without obedience; we can’t be united to the Vine (Jesus) without pleasing Him in our obedience. Conversely, we cannot obey Him (from a willing heart) without abiding in Him (1 Jn. 3:24). Hence, both abiding and obedience are inseparable; both are part of the other. And when they are working together true prayer is possible (1 Jn. 3:22; Jn. 15:7).
3. Obedience to God is yielding to Him. The most basic part of obedience to God is to yield (or surrender) to Him. And this must happen before we can abide in Him and love Him.
Yielding holds these three ideas:
(1) Yielding means to give up my self-will and my selfish desires. We cannot do what God wants us to do if we do not give up what we want to do.
(2) Yielding means to give my life to God. The process of giving up my very life to Him is very hard. It is a personal sacrifice. But it is a sacrifice of love, love that is motivated by His love to us (Rom. 12:1). And when I give up my life to Him, which includes my will and all my rights, I really have no reason to feel hopeless, because I am giving myself to God, and He has a purpose for me.
(3) Yielding means to resist evil and selfishness. When we give up our self-will and give God our lives, we must at the same time resist the devil and all the evil forces. This is important because when we give God our lives, He requires all our service and worship. There will be no place for the devil; he must go! And when we do resist him, he will flee from us and God will open His arms of love to us (Ja. 4:7-8).
The result of our yielding to God is that He will help us to obey Him and to pray—He will renew our mind so that we have a continuing desire to obey Him (Rom. 12:2).