Praying According to God's Will
Prayer is an important part of the Christian life. Jesus said, "…men ought always to pray." But prayer, to be effectual, must be of a certain kind; it must possess certain characteristics in order to render it acceptable to God. Without these characteristics, it may as well have no existence.
We read of some whose prayers were an abomination to God. That was because their prayers were not of the right sort. In these people were elements that were displeasing to God, so that he could not accept their prayers. Nor could he answer them.
There is a kind of prayer, however, which God delights to hear. It comes up as sweet incense to him. The incense that was offered on the golden altar in the holy place of the temple was a type of the prayers of God's people. And so, prayer of the right sort is a sweet fragrance to God.
The God who invites us to pray, and who takes pleasure in our prayer, is the God who delights to answer prayer. It is he who, by his Spirit, inspires within our hearts the disposition to pray. Prayer in God's will, means prayer in the manner and with the attitude of heart that is according to God's will, also prayer for the things that are according to his will.
We shall do well in considering this question if we first view this subject in its NEGATIVE aspect. There are certain kinds of prayer that are not in God's will. There are certain things called prayer which rather merit another name and which rise to God, not as incense, but as something, which is displeasing.
There is, first, the dictatorial prayer. It brings its desires to God and tries to get God to accept them. Its language is, "I want! I want!" Perhaps it is not so expressed, but that is the cry of the heart. It is not considering what God wants, it is thinking of self, and self-looms so large that God is left out of the question. It not only knows what it wants, and desires it very much, but sometimes it demands it peremptorily.
Such prayer lacks submission. It lacks consideration of God's rights. Its own imperious will to have its desires gratified, stands out above everything else. Not only does it voice its desires, but would dictate to God just how he shall answer. It wants things thus and so, and no other way. It argues with God in order to convince him that its plans should be carried out and its desires ought to be granted, because its way is best.
But God is on his sovereign throne and he will take no dictation from us. When we approach him in this way, we cannot pray in his will. Selfish desire speaks so loudly, that we can hear nothing else. We ask to know nothing else but the gratification of our own desires.
Then there is the grumbling prayer. This, that, or the other has no been going right. God is blamed for not answering prayer. Throughout the prayer there is an attitude of dissatisfaction. There is a frown in it. They are displeased, and consciously or unconsciously, they throw the blame for existing circumstances, which displease them, upon God. It is better never to open our mouths in prayer, than to pray such a prayer. Again, there is the complaining prayer.
It is a petulant recital of the faults of others. So many people are like children who run to their parents with complaints about their playmates. They whine, and whimper, and feel themselves very much aggrieved, and want to pour it all out into God's ear. God wants us to put away childish things and approach him like right-minded, sensible, intelligent, grown-up individuals. It is bad enough to be pitying ourselves, and whining, and complaining in our hearts—to say nothing of pouring it out to God.
Then, too, there is the resentful prayer—the prayer that comes from a heart which within, is saying, "I have prayed—and you have not answered. I have cried—and you have not helped." It is not satisfied with the manner in which God answers, or with the time when he answers. It is a disgruntled prayer that is full of rebellion. It is dishonoring to God, and is hateful to him. Such prayers can only stir his wrath.
Perhaps the most common of all prayers that are unacceptable is the doubting prayer; not the prayer that is merely uncertain of God's will because it has not yet been learned—but the prayer that questions him, that doubts his fidelity, or his willingness to hear and answer. It is the prayer which puts a question mark after his promises. It distrusts God. It cannot believe that all his promises are yes and amen to it, that his storehouse is wide open, that his loving heart yearns to pour out blessings. It is full of uncertainty and hesitation. It is not sure of its ground. It is full of fear and trembling. It is the very opposite of that expectant, hopeful, confident prayer that faith inspires.
There are prayers which are insults to God. Who has not heard the pompous prayer? It is very evident that such a prayer is only a prayer of the lips. It is a hypocritical prayer, and no such prayer was ever answered, neither is there any expectation that it will be answered. Such a prayer: is a "pompous form." It has no more of real prayer substance than solid material in the inflated balloon. But this is not the only form of hypocritical prayer.
People ask for what they do not really desire, and for that which they do not expect to be granted. Some deliver prayers to an audience, with the audience, not God, in mind. Some prayers are like that recorded of the Pharisee, who recognized God by addressing him and then spent the remainder of the time in glorifying self.
There are also hypocritical prayers, prayed by people who seem to be very good and who have no idea of being hypocrites. One prays, "O Lord, save my neighbors," yet makes no effort to do anything toward their salvation. He desires them to be saved; yet he goes on his way very complacently, having no compunction of conscience, because he does nothing to evangelize them. Another prays, "O Lord, save the heathen. O Lord, raise up missionaries to go," but in his heart he says, "But don't take John or Mary; leave my children with me. I have other plans for them. Send somebody else's children as missionaries." Another prays, "O Lord send forth labors into they vineyard," but his heart says, "Don't send me or any of my children." One prays for God to provide the means to carry on the Lord's work, but his heart says, "Let others give it. Let me keep what I have."
Congregations pray for God to send them ministers, when they have no disposition to submit to their leadership, if God should send them. Perhaps they have already proved this by their conduct toward those who have in the past labored with them.
Some pray, "O Lord, bless our pastors; help them to build up the work here and lead us aright." At the same time, they will not surrender to be led by them, and perhaps murmur at them and find fault with them. All these are examples of hypocritical prayers, and all such prayers are an affront to God.
Leaving the negative, let us look at the POSITIVE side of the subject.
Prayer according to God's will, first, is sincere prayer. There is nothing Pharisaical or hypocritical about it. It is the yearning of the heart, which is moved by right motives and animated with a deep sincerity. Every word is the honest sentiment of the heart. It is not mere lip service; it is not mere form.
It is always characterized by humility, for humility is always a characteristic of godly sincerity.
It is also the prayer of simplicity. Its language is not stilted or pompous, for there is little thought of effect. It is the simple cry of the child to its Father.
The prayer that is prayed according to God's will is always a submissive prayer. It does not press its own desires. The language of the heart is, "May Your will be done." It does not argue with God. It does not choose the way he shall answer; in fact, it has no requirements for him. It trusts in divine wisdom, counts God faithful, hopes all things and believes all things. It is the prayer of confidence, not the prayer of doubt. It believes God, and is ready to write, "This is true," and set its seal to all of God's promises.
Prayer that is prayed according to God's will, always puts God and his desires and purposes first. We have a wonderful example of what prayer should be in what is commonly known as the Lord's Prayer. In it are clearly shown the components of holy prayer. It is many times, repeated, by those who have no conception of its content.
Note how it runs: "Our Father in Heaven, hallowed by your name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done in earth, as it is in Heaven."
First, there is consideration of its object. The heart looks up to God, recognizes its relation to him, and love bursts out with the cry, "Our Father!" There is a drawing near to the throne. Not a selfish personal desire, nor the thought of self, but the thought of God fills the soul, and filial love runs out of him in a warm, rich current.
After this loving contemplation of God, inspired by love and the natural fruits of love, the heart cries out, "Hallowed be your name." First love, then, worship—reverential devotion, a sense of God's greatness and worthiness, and a desire that it will be recognized, by all.
Then, close upon the worship of the praying heart comes the desire that all other hearts will worship him, expressed in the words, "Your kingdom come." The heart that loves and worships, reaches out to embrace the world, and bring it to Christ; to have the world know him and adore him as it does.
Then the heart breaks out, "Your will be done." In glad submission, it asks not its own will; it casts away its own plans, purposes, and desires, and bows submissive to God's will. And not only so, in its desire, it brings all the world into submission to him. It crowns him Lord of all. It sets his throne above all. It must do all this before it is ready to think of self.
After all this is done, it humbly brings its own requests, but it presents them only after it has bowed in submission and said, "Your will be done."
After it has loved and worshiped and submitted, it can pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." However, after it has made its requisitions upon God's storehouse, it speedily forgets self and bursts out again, into glorious praise, "For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever." As soon as its desires are expressed, they are forgotten, and God again fills the vision. This is the natural order of the prayer that is according to the will of God.
One great component of acceptable prayer, is aspiration. It is expressed in the Lord's Prayer by, "Hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done." The praying soul does not merely come as a beggar, asking for the things it needs—but true prayer draws out the heart to God and makes it aspire to great things for itself—not great things in a selfish way, but it aspires to be truly noble, to be Godlike.
Such prayer is the flight of the soul up to God. It enkindles lofty purposes and noble ambitions, and every time we pray thus, we draw nearer to Heaven, there to abide.
Intercession is a very needful thing in our prayer, because we constantly need divine help. We need to draw upon the divine storehouse of grace, and love and strength. There must be a constant impartation; so necessarily, we must ask in order to receive. But this is only one of the components of prayer, and should be only a fractional part of our prayer; while contemplation of God, love toward him, worship, reverence, and a pouring out of our aspirations—the reaching out of the soul to encompass more of God—should be the large part of all prayer.
We are taught importunity in prayer, but there is a vast difference between asking earnestly with importunity in submission to God's will, and the prayer of selfish desire. We may pray earnestly and continually for a thing; we may desire it until desire fills all the soul with agonized yearning—without there being one element of selfishness in it.
But, wherever selfishness enters, and we press our own desires upon God, without regard to his desire—we rob prayer of all acceptability. We cannot help having desires, but we must beware lest these desires lead up to put our wills ahead of God's will. This is why many prayers are not answered, and often we may be pleading for something that God has refused because we ask amiss. "To make a prayer out of my rebellion against his will, is surely the greatest abuse of prayer that can be conceived."
Praying in the will of God does not mean dictating to God, or trying to get him to put our plans into effect—but it leaves all means and methods to his choosing, all to be done according to his will and judgment. We often resist God in our very payers, by dictating to him.
Not all desires that arise in us, are our own desires. We are told that God works in us, both to will and to do of his own good pleasure. One way that he does this is to create desires in us that run parallel to his will. The submitted soul desires what God desires for him, because his own desires are begotten by the Spirit of God and are the manifestations of God's will. It is natural for the holy soul to desire the same things that God desires. He has no selfish interests to serve; therefore, his desires are not selfish. The benevolence of his own heart corresponds to God's benevolence, and there is unison of desire.
Many times our prayers are inspired of God because God desires to give something. Because of the desire he has to give us something, or to do something for us—he draws out our desire for that thing, and leads us to pray for it that our faith may reach out after it to him and thus provide a channel through which God's gift may come to us. He always grants such desires, though not always in the way we expect them to be granted. Often when we pray, we have an idea in our mind how prayer will be answered, and God surprises us by answering it in an unexpected way. These surprises often leave the soul in amazed wonder at the exceeding goodness of God and at the greatness of his wisdom.
There may be a selfish element in prayer, manifested either in the thing asked for, or our in the manner of asking. We may desire a thing for selfish reasons, or the thing desired may be perfectly legitimate and the reason we desire it be unselfish, but we may ask it in a selfish manner. This we may do by attempting to dictate to him the manner for the answer or the time of the answer or the form of the answer.
But when we pray unselfishly, both as to the thing asked and in the manner of asking—we may be sure that God hears and that according to his good pleasure he will answer in his own way and time. So we can come to him with confidence, knowing that his ears are open to our cry and that his love will not withhold from us any good thing.
Whenever we pray according to the will of God, the Holy Spirit prays with us. "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." (Romans 8:26, 27).
Ah, yes, you have know that groaning which could not be uttered—that intense desire which words could not express, that longing which reached out and grasped hold of God. That was not a mere human thing. It was the intercession of the divine Spirit—God's own Spirit yearning for us. When the Spirit makes intercession for us in this way, we may be sure that the prayer is according to the will of God, for the Spirit "makes intercession according to the will of God."
Not only does the Holy Spirit pray for us when we pray according to the will of God, but Jesus, our beloved Savior, also joins in the intercession. "It is Christ who died, yes, rather that is risen again, who is even at the right had of God, who also makes intercession for us" (Romans 8:34). This thought should inspire our faith, cause it to mount up on joyful wings, and with glad hands to lay hold upon the promises of God and make them ours, rejoicing in them and counting them as rich treasures—treasures that are all our own.
Prayer and works go together. Therefore, when we pray according to the will of God, there should be a willingness and a determination actively to use our powers fully to cooperate with him in the carrying out of his purpose. We should throw our will into the carrying out of God's purpose. We should will his purposes in ourselves, and in whatever we know to be God's designs.
It is not enough to pray—and then leave all else to God. True, there are many things quite out of our reach, things wherein we cannot cooperate with God, so as to bring about an answer. But God often acts through human instrumentality. So, by praying, believing, and laboring submissively, (according to God's will) his purpose will be wrought in us, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done," will be answered in us and through us.
It is our great privilege to know the will of God, to abide in it, and to do it. It is our privilege to walk with him in the sweet fellowship of love, confidence, and communion, which will enrich the soul, beautify the life, and bring to full fruition, all the blessed fruitfulness of divine grace in the human heart, will, and affections.