Prayers God Answers: Prayers Prayed According to the Will of God

We’ve been considering the necessary ingredients for prayers God answers.  We considered in our last post the essential ingredient of relationship: God answers the prayers of his children.  We turn now to a second essential ingredient: Praying according to the will of God.

Let’s begin with Jesus (you can always do worse than begin with Jesus).  Jesus teaches us that we should pray according to God’s will.  He does so in the model prayer he provides to his disciples, The Lord’s Prayer:

10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matt. 6:10 ESV)

Of all the million and ten things that Jesus could have encouraged his disciples to pray for, he encourages them to pray for the will of God to be done on the earth.  He doesn’t encourage them to pray for their finances, for their 401k, for global conflicts, for their pets, for their physical health, for the weather, or for a thousand other things that loom largely in many of our prayers.  Now, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with praying for these things.  But Jesus doesn’t say anything about praying for these things.

He does teach we should pray for God’s will to be done.  Not only does he tell us we should pray this way, he also prays this way.  One of the most poignant prayers ever prayed is that offered by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  As Christ took upon himself the weight of our sins, he prayed:

“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” ….

42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (Matt. 26:39, 42 ESV)

It wasn’t fun to suffer for the sins of the world!  Even the sinless Son of God didn’t want to painfully and shamefully die.  He didn’t enjoy it.  And if it were possible not to undergo the suffering and death he was about to suffer, he would have gladly chosen an alternate path.  Yet, what Christ wanted more than what he wanted is to see the will of God done.  “Not my will, but thy will be done….”  Christ didn’t just preach it; he practiced it.

How is it possible (or desirable) to seek God’s will rather than our own?  I mean…we want what we want.  How can we rather want what God wants? Ironically, this may be the best path to getting what we want.  Consider this teaching of Jesus:

31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  (Matt. 6:31-33 ESV)

Don’t worry; don’t be anxious.  Certainly relevant commands for our own day.  Advances in science and technology haven’t reduced the spiritual problems with which we labor.  Worry and anxiety are contemporary challenges.  The solution to these concerns?  Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.  Note that the kingdom is what Jesus teaches us to pray for in parallel to the will of God (“your kingdom come, your will be done…”).  In other words: the way you get freed from anxiety and worry is to start focusing on the will of God.  Seeking God’s purposes, not our own desires, liberates us from anxiety and worry.

What’s more, when we do this “all these things will be added to you.”  Counter-intuitively, the best path to getting the stuff you need is to forget about that stuff.  Focus instead on the plan, purpose, and will of God first, then you will receive your heart’s desire.  Or…perhaps the desire of your heart thereby becomes conformed to the will of God….

A Conundrum Considered:

God answers prayers that are prayed according to his will.  In one sense this is obvious: if anything were contrary to God’s sovereign will, it would not come to pass.  God’s will will be done (We speak here of what is called God’s decretive will, as opposed to his permissive will, or his will of disposition – another topic and post to deal with this!!!).

So, if God is going to do his will anyway, why pray at all? If God is going to do his will, then why should I even bother to pray?  There is more than one way to answer this.  We should pray because God tells us we should.  We should pray because, somehow, mysteriously, God has so ordained things that his decretive will includes true and authentic responses to our requests.  But even more than these answers, it is important to recognize one of the primary purposes of prayer:

We don’t pray primarily so God will do stuff for us; we pray so that we will be more like our Father.  We seek to pray according to God’s will so that our will will come to be conformed to his will.  We pray so that we might become increasingly transformed into the likeness of our heavenly father.