According to His Will
"It is the LORD's will—may He do what He thinks best." 1 Samuel 3:18
"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." Job 1:21
"We do not know what we should pray for as we ought" Romans 8:26
"The Lord's will be done!" Acts 21:14
"Going a little farther, He fell with His face to the ground and prayed: My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will." Matthew 26:39
One essential element of all true prayer, is its final reference of all requests to the will of God. Yet this quality of prayer is often forgotten or overlooked in our pleading. We often pray earnestly, pressing our very heart into the heavens—but it is for the doing of our own will that we ask, not for the doing of our Father's will. Yet nothing is clearer than that no prayer is acceptable to God which, after all its intensity and importunity—is not referred to God and left to His superior wisdom.
How can we know what is best for us?
How can we tell whether or not the thing we desire would prove a real blessing if we had it?
How do we know that it will be best for us to have the bitter cup which is held out toward our quivering lips, pass away?
Then there is another way of looking at it. Is it the true child spirit for us to insist on having our own way with God, to press our will without regard to His? Are we not God's creatures, His redeemed children? Is it not ours, then, in all things to learn obedience and submission to Him? Defiance can never get blessing, though it may wrest an answer from God.
There is an account of a mother whose son was very sick. She loved him deeply—more than she loved God, must we not say?—for she prayed, "My boy must not die, he must get well." In her pleading she had no submission to God, no sweet acquiescence to his will. She thought only of her own will, of what she wanted. She got her plea. Her child did not die—she would not let him die. She would not consent to trust in God's hands, the question whether her son should live or die.
He lived, but there was no blessing on his life. The mother who had prayed so rebelliously saw only sorrow in the answer she had wrested from God. Her son lived to be a curse to the world instead of a blessing, and to die as a criminal. It is a perilous thing to pray in this way for the life of a child. It is far better and safer to leave the question of life or death in the Father's hands.
The beloved disciple has given us this word: "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us." This, then, is the test of all praying—it must be according to God's will.
But how can we know what His will is?
There are certain classes of blessings which we know it is God's will to give us. This is true in general of spiritual blessings. But in things which concern this present life, we cannot be sure. Yet no prayer which is not according to God's will can be heard or answered. The least shade of self-will vitiates any prayer. Things that we know to be according to his revealed will in Scripture, we may press with all boldness. In such cases, our will is God's. We never can want to receive spiritual blessings, half so earnestly as he wants to give them to us.
But there are other things concerning which we cannot be certain—which we cannot know what the will of God may be. If you are very sick—you cannot be sure whether it may be the Father's purpose that you should recover or that you should die. If your child, or your mother, or some other loved one is in the shadow of death—you cannot be sure what the will of the Lord is, whether longer life or death. If you have some bodily affliction or infirmity, some burden of trial or pain, or something in your circumstances that it seems to you that you cannot bear, you may earnestly pray God to take it away—but you cannot be sure that it is your Father's will to remove it.
How, then, can you ask "according to His will"—when you cannot know what His will is? There is but one way: ask what you want, ask in a childlike, trustful, loving spirit—and then leave it all to your Father, ending your supplication with the refrain of our Lord's garden prayer, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will."
It follows, then, that the answers to many prayers do not come in the granting of the thing asked for—but in grace to do without it. We have a striking illustration of this in our Lord's pleadings in Gethsemane. The cup did not pass from Him, but the struggle died away in His heart and at the close he was at peace. He had not received what He had sought—but He had gained the victory. He had been victorious, not by prevailing with God—but by prevailing over Himself and bringing His own spirit into perfect acquiescence to His Father's will. Was not that better by far, than if the bitter cup had passed away?
So we learn that sometimes God answers our prayers, not by bringing His will down to ours—but by lifting our will up to His. Far oftener than we think, in matters which belong to this present earthly life, are prayers answered in this way. The things we seek are not given—but as we plead in the spirit of submission, divine grace is poured into our souls, and we grow strong so as to need no longer to cry for relief. We can now bear the heavy load, without asking now to have it lightened. We can now endure the sorrow, without beseeching God to spare us from it. We can now go on in quiet peace, without the new blessing which a little while ago we thought so essential to our happiness. We have not been saved from the battle we so shrank from entering—but we have fought it through, and have gained the victory.
We sometimes talk thoughtlessly and shallowly about answers to prayer. We tell people that if they go to God in trouble, that he will deliver them. But that is not the promise.
Take this one word from the Psalms for example: "Cast your burden upon the Lord and He shall sustain you." We quote this, however, for ourselves and for others as if it read, "Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will remove it, or bear it for you."
But the promise is, "and he shall sustain you." It is not an assurance . . .
that the bitter cup shall pass from us,
that your sick child shall recover,
that your property shall not be lost,
that your broken health shall be restored.
It is a pledge only that you shall be sustained, that you shall not faint under the burden, that if it is not lifted away, as most likely it will not be—you shall be helped to carry it.
God's ways may not bend to yours, but you will be enabled to walk with him. Your prayer may not bring God down to you—but instead it may lift you up to God. And is not that the better, the larger blessing?
The final result of all such prayers of submission, is peace.
Lying at our Father's feet, in our strong cryings and tears . . .
we learn obedience,
our sobbings end in praises,
our struggle ends in acquiescence,
our tears are dried,
and we rise victorious.
We may not get our own way—but we are glad, happy and peaceful in God's way.