Has anyone ever felt inadequate when approaching Jehovah in prayer? I have. Jehovah knows my thoughts. He knows all the things I’ve done. He knows the deepest parts of me that still struggles with the thoughts that 40-years of worldly living brings. Sometimes those thoughts can cause us anguish, they can cause us to hold back when we approach Jehovah in prayer. After all, I should be grateful for the life he gave me, how can I ask for more from him when I feel like I give so little in return?
By holding back when approaching Jehovah we can allow this fear to affect our prayers, and our relationship with him. So, how can we overcome this fear? Well, John gives us a good example in 1 John 4:18. There we read:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts fear out, because fear restrains us. Indeed, the one who is fearful has not been made perfect in love.1 John 4:18
What did John mean by “perfect love casts fear out”? To understand, we need to know the context of the scripture. Let’s look at the preceding verse, 1 John 4:17. There, John says “In this way love has been made perfect in us, so that we may have freeness of speech in the day of judgement”. Here John is talking about Freeness of speech, and in this case specifically the freeness of speech we display toward Jehovah. There is a direct relationship between the love we have for him and our freeness of speech when we approach him in prayer.
This may make us wonder if we need “perfect love” to cast out this fear, what hope do we have as imperfect sinners? Are we fated to always be fearful, or restrained in our prayers to Jehovah? No. As used in the bible, the word “perfect” does not always mean absolute perfection, such as that displayed by Jehovah. It is often used in a relative sense. An example of this can be found in Mathew Chapter 5, verses 46-48. Here Jesus is giving his sermon on the mount. It reads:
For if you love those loving you, what reward do you have? Are not also the tax collectors doing the same thing? And if you greet your brothers only, what extraordinary thing are you doing? Are not also the people of the nations doing the same thing? You must accordingly be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.Mathew 5:46-48
Notice what Jesus said at the end there: “You must accordingly be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect”. Was Jesus telling us we needed to be as perfect as Jehovah? No, for he well knows our limitations. He used it here as a relative example, to explain that if we only loved those who love us then our love would be imperfect, or lacking. To perfect our love we need to love not just those who love us, but to love our enemies too.
In this sense we’re not perfecting our love in the same sense that Jehovah is perfect, but we’re perfecting our love in that we’re loving whole heartedly, not just those it is easy to love. Similarly, when John was using the term “perfect love” it was in reference to loving Jehovah whole heartedly, having a love that is fully developed. As Christians we are aware of our imperfections and sinfulness. However, with “perfect love” for God we will not be hampered, fearful or “hold back” in our prayers. We would not fear that Jehovah will condemn or reject us. Rather, we will be free in speech in expressing our deepest feelings and in asking for forgiveness of our sins. Having a “perfect love” for God would allow us to feel assured that our petitions are favorably heard by him.
Now that we know what “perfect love” is, how can we be “made perfect in love” and rid ourselves of the fear of condemnation or rejection? John gives us the answer earlier in first John. In 1 John 2:5, he says “Whoever does observe his (God’s) word, in this person the love of God has truly been made perfect. By this we know that we are in union with him”. To observe God’s word, we would need to be familiar with it. This is one more reason that our personal bible study is so important. We must know what God’s word is in order to observe it, and by observing it we will make our love for Jehovah “perfect”.
In this way, if Jehovah loved us yet when we were sinners, how much more will he love us when we are doing our best to perfect our love and observe his will.