Praying According to God's Will
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, June 9, 2002
Copyright © 2002, P. G. Mathew
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us-whatever we ask-we know that we have what we asked of him.
1 John 5:14-15
In ancient Judaism, there was an understanding that God answered only the prayers of great people-patriarchs like Moses, Abraham, Elijah-and not the prayers of ordinary people. But Jesus taught us that God hears the prayers of every child of God. It is he who told us to pray always and not faint.
Prayer is the conversation between a child of God and his loving heavenly Father. It is the highest privilege of a Christian. However, in the church today there exists confusion about this matter of prayer. People often say, "I prayed but nothing happened. What is this prayer business all about?" In this study we want to look at what it means to pray according to the will of God and receive what we have asked for.
Context of Prayer
First, we want to examine the context of prayer. The Bible says God does not hear the prayers of unbelievers, whether Jews, Mohammedans, Hindus, or those who are Christians in name only. In Hebrews 11:6 we read that he who comes to God "must believe he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." "He" refers to God, who is holy and most-wise, not a god of human creation.
The God of the Bible hears the prayers of those who trust in him and walk in obedience to him. The psalmist wrote, "If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened" (Psalm 66:18). After the blind man of John 9 was healed by the Lord Jesus, he made this profound statement in reference to prayer. First, negatively speaking, he said, "We know that God does not listen to sinners" (John 9:31). Then, positively, he said, "He listens to the godly man. . . ." God does not listen to the prayers of a sinner, but he does hear the prayers of a godly person. Then the healed man explained further what characterizes the man whose prayer God hears: he is the one "who does God's will."
Not only does God not hear the prayers of unbelievers, but he also does not hear the prayers of Christians who are backsliders, whose hearts condemn them, as we read in 1 John 3. God says to his people who are sinning, "Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear" (Isaiah 59:2).
In 1 John 3:1 we read, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" That is the relationship we have with God: He has become our heavenly Father and we have become his children. In this relationship there is fellowship, which is expressed through prayer. All who are born of God have received the Holy Spirit of sonship so that, just as a child begins to breathe and cry when it is born, so you, if you are a true Christian, will cry out to God, saying, "Abba, Father," by the power of the Holy Spirit.
As our Father, God takes care of us. In fact, every need we have is taken care of by him in response to prayer. Some people ask, "Why should we pray at all? Isn't God sovereign, so he will do whatever he wants to anyway?" But though our sovereign God accomplishes all that he has ordained, he also ordains the means by which he accomplishes his purposes. For instance, no one can be saved without believing in Jesus Christ. So also God has ordained prayer as a means through which he blesses his people.
Thus, prayer is a necessary part of the Christian life. Jesus Christ himself, the Son of God, prayed daily. The prayer life of Jesus is especially emphasized in Luke's gospel. Throughout the Bible we read about God's people praying. For example, in Philippians 1:19 Paul wrote from prison that he expected to be released by means of the prayers of the Philippian saints. In other words, he knew God would accomplish his purpose in the world through their prayers. Prayer, therefore, is vital and necessary for Christians.
Without prayer we wither and faint. That is why we sometimes see Christians depressed, confused, miserable, unhappy, and murmuring. Their problem is prayerlessness.
Confidence in Prayer
The second point we notice in this passage is the confidence we have as children of God in approaching God. When we go to God in prayer, we must have confidence that he accepts our persons as well as our prayers.
In 1 John 5:13 we read, "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life." If we have eternal life, we have become children of God. That is the first thing we need to know because if we do not have that understanding, we cannot come to God in confidence. Because God is our heavenly Father, we are free to come to him as an earthly child goes to an earthly father. We can do so with confidence because, as God's children, we love him and he loves us. God is delighted to welcome us into his presence. In other words, as God's children, we have his ear anytime. What an amazing thought! God's ears are open to our prayers.
The children of the President of the United States enjoy this type of access to their father, even though he is a very busy man. If the White House received a call from one of the President's children, wouldn't he receive it right away? His ears are always open to their requests. I don't think the President's ears are open to our requests in this way.
To an infinitely greater degree, our heavenly Father cares for us and is delighted to hear from us and grant our petitions. I hope we will recognize this truth.
In 1 John 5:15 John begins, "And we know. . . ." The Greek word used here is oidamen. There are two words for "know" in Greek. One is oidamen and the other is gin˘sk˘, which refers to gaining knowledge through reading, research, and so on. But oidamen refers to knowing something with certainty. It is a certainty created in us by the Spirit of God. It is used two times in this verse: "We know that he hears us-whatever we ask. . . ." and "we know that we have what we asked of him." That is double confidence. In other words, we have Spirit-produced certitude because we are God's children.
Some people are confused at this point. They will say, "I prayed for all these things but did not get anything." That brings up the third point, which is the condition for prayer.
Condition for Prayer
In 1 John 5:14 we read, "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us."
This is where people get confused in reference to prayer. For prayer to be effectual, it must be in accordance with God's will. In other words, God will not hear any prayer that is outside or contrary to his revealed will. For example, when the prophet Nathan came to David and said, "Your son is going to die" (2 Samuel 12:14), David prayed with fasting for seven days. Yet nothing happened and the child died. God did not hear David's prayer because it was outside of and contrary to God's will, which had already been revealed through Nathan.
How many people think that prayer is persuading God to do our will or trying to make God change his mind! But that is not what prayer is. Prayer means asking God to do his will which we have embraced. In other words, when we make God's will to be our will, our will will be done because it is his will, and his will is done always. If we can understand this truth, we can avoid much confusion and begin to pray aright.
Prayer is saying to our heavenly Father, "Thy will be done." Prayer is saying to God, "Not my will but thine be done." True prayer promotes God's glory.
Aligning Our Will with God's
When people are young in their Christian lives, they learn submission to God's will through prayer. Young believers do not always know how to pray according to the will of God because that is something people learn as time goes on and as they increase in their knowledge of the word of God. Young Christians may pray all kinds of prayers, which God will look at and then edit, canceling some and adjusting others, saying "Yes" to some and "No" to others. Sometimes such young believers may get confused and ask, "Why didn't God do everything we asked of him?" At this point these people must realize that true prayer is an exercise in learning to submit to God's will.
Through prayer, then, we learn to discern God's will and submit to it. This happens especially when he refuses to grant us certain requests. Why doesn't God grant us everything we ask? Because some things we ask for are not his will. But if we do not understand this principle, we will become depressed and confused and go about murmuring, turning our backs on God because he didn't do what we wanted him to do. I hope that we will grow in God so that, instead of murmuring, we would learn to embrace God's will and say, "Thank you, God, for not granting me what I asked for. I now realize it is not your will and therefore it was not good for me."
Suppose you do not have any money. Then you would have to pray. Suppose you have no transportation. Then you would have to seek God. Some people have everything and they are counting ways to sin with the gifts God has given them. So if you pray for more money and God doesn't give it to you, perhaps he knows the extra money will be harmful to you. Suppose you pray for a new car, and he says, "No, you drive the old thing." When we see things this way, we will understand why God doesn't grant us everything we ask for. He only grants what he has ordained.
The condition for effectual prayer, therefore, is that there should be no conflict between God's will and ours. We must learn to say, "To me to live is Christ and to die is gain." We must deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow him. We must say truly, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." We must realize that the will of God alone is good, pleasing, and perfect, so that when our will conflicts with his will and he refuses to grant our petition, we can say, "Thank you, God, for not giving me what I asked for because what I requested was not your will. It was not good or perfect or pleasing."
Before our conversion, we did only the will of our flesh and minds, as Paul writes in Ephesians 2:3. We had nothing to do with the will of God. But now as children of God, we are to understand and do the will of God, as we read in Ephesians 5:17 and 6:6.
Jesus Christ, the Man of Prayer
Jesus Christ was the man of prayer who always did God's will, so we must study his example if we want to learn to pray according to God's will. For example, in John 4:34 Jesus said, "My food," meaning his strength, his pleasure, his joy, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work." As we just said, that is the context of prayer. In other words, Jesus was saying, "My delight, my strength, my joy, my passion is to know the will of God, to do the will of God, and to finish the will of God-not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me." Thus, when Jesus prayed, he prayed according to God's will and what he prayed for, he received.
In John 5:30 Jesus said, "By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me." Not only is Jesus the Son of God, but he is also the servant who does the will of his God and Father. In John 6:38 Jesus said, "For I have come down from heaven not to do my will, but to do the will of him who sent me." In John 8:29-30 Jesus said, "The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him."
How to Pray According to the Will of God
How, then, should we pray according to the will of God?
Our prayer should be centered in the word of God, because the will of God is found in God's word. How many people look to their own subjectivity for guidance, thinking that is how they can discern God's will? Such people are always listening to themselves and have nothing to do with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scripture.
God did not save us to leave us to listen to our own subjectivity. That was what we did in our old life. Before we were Christians, we all by nature did the will of our flesh and mind all the time. In fact, we didn't have any freedom to do anything else. We were ruled entirely by own our lust and desires.
Now as Christians we are ruled by God's word and Spirit. So if we want to pray according to God's will, we must be word-centered. In John 15:7 Jesus said in reference to prayer, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you."
We must realize that a word-centered life is not a life of darkness and secret sin. We recently heard about a married man, a pastor, with several children who used the Internet to look for thirteen-year-old girls to have sex with. He thought no one would find him out, but when he went to meet with the thirteen-year-old he met on the Internet, there was a policewoman instead, and this man was arrested. He had been practicing secret sin instead of living a word-centered life.
If you say, "God is not answering my prayer. I am confused," I want to ask you: What do you do secretly? Do you practice secret sin, or are you making an effort to abide in Christ and to have his word abide in you? If the latter is true, then you are living in the context in which you can ask whatever you will in prayer and it will be granted unto you.
In 1 John 3:21-22 we read, "Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God." When we sin, our hearts condemn us, and we have no confidence to approach God. But then John says, "If our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him." That is the context in which we receive our requests.
Why are many of our prayers are not heard? Because we are living in sin. We always justify ourselves, saying, "Oh, I wept, I cried, I fasted seven days, yet God did not grant me my request." But we do not want to live in obedience to God, and whenever someone confronts us, we become unhappy. We can be arrogant, stubborn, and unrepentant, yet when we pray about for all kinds of things, we get angry when our prayers are not answered.
Colossians 3:16 tells us, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." That means God's word must rule our lives. So the first condition for effectual prayer is to live a word-centered life. We must study the Bible carefully, especially the promises of God. In 2 Corinthians 1 Paul says the promises of God are not "Yes" and "No," but "in him it has always been 'Yes.' For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ" (vv. 19-20).
We must be in right relationship. Not only must we love God and keep his word, but we must also love the brethren, the people of God. Matthew 5:23-24 tells us that when we come to worship and remember that someone has something against us, we must get out and take care of the problem because God will not hear our prayers until we have done so. In Mark 11:24 we read, "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."
We cannot receive anything in prayer when we are not in right relationship with either God or his people. Have you ever thought about that? Have you ever said, "Maybe my prayer wasn't fulfilled because I hated my brothers. I was bitter towards them. I did not forgive them. I did not confront them when I saw them doing things that are evil."
We must pray without doubting. James 1:6-8 tells us that when we pray, we must not doubt. God is true and faithful to his promises. We must believe and not doubt that he will listen to our prayers as we pray in accordance with his will.
We must be in agreement with God's will and God's people. In Matthew 18:19-20 we read, "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." This is symphony prayer. It is husband and wife agreeing and believing together; it is the church coming together in agreement and praying.
We must pray with right motives. As the pastor of the Jerusalem church, James probably had people coming to him and saying, "You know, I don't know about this prayer business. I have been praying for all kinds of things, but get nothing. Why do you still tell us to pray?" Pastor James probably wrote the fourth chapter of his epistle to tell them they had a problem with their motivation. So in James 4:3 we read, "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." When we don't receive certain answers to prayer, God may be telling us, "You are into self-glorying and temporal things. You have no interest in God's glory and purpose. Your mind is far away from the interests of the kingdom of God. That is why you do not receive what you are asking for."
We must pray in Jesus' name. In John 14:13, Jesus said, "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father." In John 15:16 we read, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit-fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name." In John 16:26 we read, "In that day you will ask in my name."
We hear about research done by doctors-double-blind tests in which people pray and sick people get better. Such prayers are simply psychology and utter foolishness because most of the people in these studies are praying to whatever god they think of. Such prayer is demonology and self-persuasion; it has nothing to do with true prayer. True prayer is that made to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Everything else is nonsense.
"To whom did you pray?" we may ask people in such studies. "Oh, I just prayed," they would say. This is not true prayer. To pray in Jesus' name means we must acknowledge who he is: first, that he is the eternal Son who took upon himself human nature, and, second, that he is the God-provided propitiation for our sins. Jesus Christ alone died on the cross for our sins; thus, we can come to God only in his name and merit, not in our own. When we come to him in this way, we say, "O God, I deserve nothing; I am nothing, but I come, O God the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son because you granted me faith to believe in him."
We must come to God in faith. In Matthew 21:22 Jesus said, "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."
We must pray for the things God is interested in. John says, "whatever we ask. . ." The word used is "items." If we examine our prayers, we will notice that the items we usually pray for are temporal, earthly things: "Bless us four and no more"; "Give me a wife"; "Give me a husband"; "Give us two children"; "Give me a job"; "Give me a promotion"; "Give us safety from here to there"; "Help me to take this test"; "Help me to get a good grade."
Such prayers are the exact opposite of the prayers of Jesus and of the apostles. Jesus told us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. He told us that pagans run after these things, but we are to seek first the kingdom of God, meaning we are to pray for God's plan and purpose, not ours. We need to recognize what God is doing in this world and pray for the success and progress of his plans and purposes.
What is the purpose of God that we should pray for? In Ephesians 1 we read that God has chosen us from before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless in his sight. Why does he want us to be holy? So that he can bless us with fellowship with himself. There is no greater pleasure than having communion with God. In his presence is fullness of joy; on his right hand are pleasures everlasting.
When we study the prayers of the apostles or the prayers of Jesus, we notice they have nothing to do with temporal things; rather, they have everything to do with spiritual matters. So Paul prays in Ephesians 1:15-19,
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
In Ephesians 3:14-21 Paul prays,
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Notice, these prayers have nothing to do with money, health, or grades. God takes care of all these things because we are his children.
When we analyze the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, we notice there is only one little request for temporal things: "Give us this day our daily bread." Every other request is about spiritual issues: "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," and so on.
Now we can understand how unspiritual our prayers are. We are so interested in our health, our welfare, our asthma, our clothing and all these other things that we get confused when we don't get what we prayed for. Suppose you prayed for a better job, but you were fired instead. You should go to God and find out what his purposes are for you. Ask God, "O God, may your purpose and plan succeed in this world."
What types of requests should we make in prayer? One request could be, "Lord, teach me to pray." Or we could pray, "Lord, I don't love my wife; give me love for my wife." Or we could pray, "Lord, I don't love your word; give me love for your word." We could pray, "O God, I lack wisdom; give me wisdom," or "Lord, I am afraid; give me courage."
God's will for us is to be sanctified, as we read in 1 Thessalonians 4:3. Thus, if we want to pray in the will of God, we would say, "O God, you know my heart is dirty. I can sit here and think all kinds of dirty things. I am full of lust, greed, and envy. But God, you said your will is our sanctification. O God, please sanctify me." PGM When we pray such prayers, we are praying according to God's will, and we know that God will grant what we have asked of him.
We must pray with expectation. If we don't expect God to do anything after we have prayed to him, we haven't exercised faith in him. We need to get away from ritualistic prayers that don't expect results. When we pray by faith according to God's will, we must expect God to give us what we ask for and, the truth is, he will. In fact, John makes this the profound statement in 1 John 5:15, "And if we know that he hears us-whatever we ask-we know that we have what we asked of him."
We know we possess what we requested of God in prayer! I hope that we will learn to pray in accordance with the will of God and prove our God to be a prayer-answering God. This is the blessing of praying according to God's will. I hope we will learn to seek first the kingdom of God and pray for the concerns of the kingdom rather than our own concerns. As we do so, I guarantee that God will give us food and everything else, even without our asking. As we immerse ourselves in God's purposes and interests, he will take care of everything we need.
Prayer Within the Will of God
Imagine a diagram with two concentric circles. The large outside circle represents the will of God, and the smaller inside circle represents prayer according to the will of God-it is prayer within the will of God. Romans 8:26-27 speaks about the Holy Spirit interceding in behalf of us kata Theon-according to God, meaning according to the will of God.
But most of our prayers are tangential to the will of God. They may touch briefly on the will of God, but most are outside of God's will. When we analyze our prayers and compare them with the prayers of Jesus in the gospels or the prayers of the apostles, we discover that the apostolic prayers are very spiritual in nature. They speak about the kingdom of God and its interests, and rarely do we see prayers in terms of temporal things, such as money, jobs, or health.
The prayers of Moses were similar to those of the apostles. In Exodus 33:18 we find Moses on the mountain of God, and his prayer is reduced to one request, to the one thing needful: "Now show me your glory," Moses prayed.
The Mystery of Suffering
The final point is the consequence of prayer. But before I speak about what our prayer does, we want to speak about a certain mystery that exists in prayer.
Have you ever prayed, "God, I recognize there is a lot of sin and dross and worldliness in me. Please give me pain and trouble because I understand that the fire of suffering will remove the dross of my worldliness. I realize that I am a worldly person who loves this world very much. I understand that is not a good thing, and I understand that pain and suffering will do me good. O God, please send me suffering"?
I don't pray that prayer and I don't think many of us do. But even though we do not pray this prayer, out of his great generosity, God gives us suffering, pain, and trouble. This is the element of mystery, and it is not ours to ask why. It is God's will, and if it is God's will, Romans 12:2 says it is good, perfect, and pleasing.
In James 1:17 we read, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." What is God's purpose for us? To save us from our sins. In Matthew 1:21 we read that his name is Jesus, "because he will save his people from their sins." Why does he have to do that? Fellowship with God demands the condition called holiness. "Be ye holy, because I am holy," God tells his people throughout the Scriptures. In order to have fellowship with the one true triune God, we need holiness. God said, "Fine, I will make people holy through my Son." This is God's plan of salvation. The Son executed God's plan of salvation and the Holy Spirit applies his redemption to us, and he does so effectually. So God's purpose is to make us holy and blameless, and he will accomplish that purpose.
Although we are saved, we still have sin in us. Every Christian does, and sometimes we hear of that sin erupting suddenly. The problem is, it is not all of a sudden. There are usually many situations in which the sin can be dealt with, but it was not, and suddenly it erupts violently. Who made it to erupt? God. God will say, "I am going to do something that when you hear of it, your ears will tingle."
We all have sin dwelling in us. King David, a man after God's own heart, committed adultery and murdered because of the sin dwelling in him. We are all potential adulterers and murderers and worse. God understands that and says, "Fine. But I have purposed from all eternity to save you, and this salvation will consist in saving you from your sin. Therefore, all that I do with reference to your life will have the particular telos, end, of making you holy, blameless, and glorious." The Bible tells us that when he comes, we will appear with him in glory. He is going to work in us to bring us to that glory.
The Purpose of Suffering
Let us examine some scriptures about this element of mystery in our Christian life. It is not something we automatically ask for. We may pray, "O God, I have been studying the word of God and I found out how suffering helps God's people and makes them humble. God, I pray you would bring suffering especially to my wife," or to my husband or child or some other person, "because that person really needs it." Oh, no. We don't pray for suffering, but it happens and is ordained by God to accomplish his purposes.
In Acts 9 we read about the conversion of Paul. In verse 15 we find this idea of suffering: "But the Lord said to Ananias, 'Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings, and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.'" Here we see that, in God's eternal counsel, suffering is all figured in for the apostle Paul.
In Acts 20:22 Paul himself says, "And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there." Some theologians say that Paul was wrong in going to Jerusalem. But notice his words: "[C]ompelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace."
In Acts 21:12-13 we read, "When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, 'Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready, not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.'"
In John 21 we read about Peter, who cursed and denied Jesus Christ three times. After Christ died and rose again, he came to restore Peter and asked him three times, "Do you love me?" Of course, Peter answered each time, "I do love you." In John 21:18 Jesus told Peter, "I tell you the truth. . . ." What does that mean? It means that what Jesus was going to tell Peter was determined, real, trustworthy, unchanging truth. No question about it coming to pass. Jesus continued, "When you were younger, you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Then John says, "Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, 'Follow me.'" Here, then, we see that in the will of God, crucifixion was included for Peter. In God's will Paul also experienced so much suffering that we find lists of his troubles in different places in 2 Corinthians. Eventually Paul was beheaded and Peter crucified.
Do you think Peter told Jesus, "You know that I am a person who denied you three times. Please give me some suffering"? No. For a Christian, suffering is all figured in. God is committed to our salvation, which is to make us holy, and that process includes suffering.
In 1 Peter 4:19 Peter writes to God's people, "So, then, those who suffer according to God's will. . ." Here again we see that we don't pray for suffering, but it is figured in. We may not like it, and we can fast and pray and try to get out of it. But God is not going to change his purpose. He is going to give us certain suffering. So Peter writes, "Those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good." There is a suffering according to God's will.
We don't pray for the death of our children, but sometimes they die. We may pray, "O God, spare them and heal them," and that is a proper prayer. But suppose, after all the prayer, the child dies. Unless we understand that God ordains suffering, we will be in deep confusion. We will question God, asking, "Why did you do this? How could you do that?" and experience much anguish. We must realize that there is a suffering that is according to the will of God.
In Philippians 1:29 Paul, speaking from his own experience, declares what God's will is for all of us. He begins, "For it has been granted to you. . . ." Something has been granted to us. This is called a gift. Usually when we speak about charismatic gifts, we are talking about the nine gifts of the Spirit, such as the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, prophecy, miracles, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues, gifts of healing, and so on. But here, Paul uses the word echaristhŕ, meaning "it has been granted to you as a gift."
What is the gift? Paul says, "not only to believe on him. . . ." So, it has been granted to us on behalf of Christ to believe on him. We want to stop there, don't we? How we love salvation! How easy it is to pray, "O God, I thank you for giving me faith to trust in Jesus Christ." That is one charismatic gift we are very thankful for. But God gives us something else. This charismatic gift is two-pronged. There is the gift of faith, so that we can believe in Jesus Christ and be saved. But God also gives us the gift of being able to suffer for him. Both are charismata, divine gifts. So Paul writes, "For it is has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him. . . ."
Why did God include suffering? In Romans 8:28 Paul writes, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Life is not all suffering, and, in fact, in this country there is very little suffering. For many people in other parts of the world every day is a struggle just to exist. Yet there is suffering even here, so we ask, "Why does God include this suffering in the Christian life?" Romans 8:28 tells us that all things work together for our good. What is that good? That we might be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ so that we can have fellowship with God. All things work together for good. So as we grow spiritually, we come to realize the important role suffering plays in our spiritual life, even though we don't like it. We may not like suffering, but God doesn't pay any attention to whether we like it or not. Suffering brings about good in our lives.
We must understand, therefore, that there is a certain mystery in prayer, which is this element of suffering that we do not ask for. Yes, when we experience suffering, we may pray, "O God, please remove it." But God will say, "No. I am not going to remove it until its work is done."
The Christian life is full of meaning, and even suffering brings about a certain glorious end. Therefore God allows the suffering to go on until his time comes.
The Consequence of Prayer
What, then, is the use of praying in the will of God? In Mark 11:24 we read, "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." We must understand that this is speaking about what you ask for in accordance with the will of God. Here we find the Greek verb elabete, "received" used in the aorist tense. "and it will be yours"-in the Greek the verb is estai, meaning "it will be." Here we see the past tense, elabete, and the future tense, estai, in reference to the answer to prayer. In other words, Jesus is saying, "When you pray according to my will, you must believe that you received what you prayed for and you will have it."
We see the same idea in 1 John 5:15: "And if we know that he hears us-whatever we ask-we know that we have what we asked of him." Both times here John uses the word oidamen for "know," meaning there is a certitude created within us by the Holy Spirit. It is not speaking about knowledge based on research. So John writes, "whatever we ask-we know that we have what we ask of him." The Greek word for "have" is echomen, meaning that we possess it.
When we pray according to the will of God, we will have a Spirit-created conviction within us that our prayers are heard and we will receive what we asked for. This is done by faith; it is not yet sight, but by faith I already have it.
In reference to certain spiritual requests, we can have our requests granted immediately. For instance, suppose we open the Bible and pray, "O God, give us wisdom to know your word." We can receive wisdom from God right then. Suppose a husband prays, "Lord, help me to forgive my wife." He can receive that grace to forgive right away. Suppose we pray, "O Lord, I am an envious person. Help me, O Lord, not to envy," or "O Lord, I am a timid person. I am fearful. Give me courage that I may declare your word." In Psalm 51:10 David prayed, "Create in me a pure heart, O God." God hears such spiritual requests and grants them right away. In John 1:16 we read, "From the fullness of his grace we have received one blessing after another." He is the vine and we are the branches. When we pray according to God's will, especially about spiritual matters, God's grace will come to us.
But there are certain prayers, especially requests about temporal issues, that we see fulfilled in three ways: either soon or later or after our lifetime. As we read in Mark 11:24, "Believe that you have received it, and it shall be yours." That is a future idea. For instance, parents should pray for their children's eternal salvation. It is the greatest prayer we can pray on behalf of our children. Some people have prayed for their children's salvation and have seen the result almost right away. Some have seen it much later, years later. Some children have come to be saved after the death of their praying parents.
Suppose a person is married but has no children. Such a man or woman should start praying. For instance, in the gospel of Luke we read about a man, Zechariah, and his wife, Elizabeth, who were upper class people from priestly families. They prayed all their lives for children and their prayers were heard right away. But God waited until, in the fullness of time, he granted them a son in their old age. I am sure Zechariah and Elizabeth had given up all hope of having children. In Luke 1 we read about Zechariah as an old man, praying in the temple and performing his duties as a priest. All of a sudden an angel appeared to him and said, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard." In verse 23 Luke tells us "he returned home," and the next line reads, "After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant." God answered their prayers. They had been praying for years and gave up when they got old. They didn't have any assurance that they would have any children. But God provided for them in his time.
In Luke 2 we find another man, Simeon, who was one of the just and godly people in the New Testament. We are not told that he was a prophet or a member of the Sanhedrin. He was probably an ordinary man, a common fellow. But Simeon had one spiritual request that he brought before God: He was waiting for the consolation of Israel. God heard his prayer and told him, "Simeon, I heard your prayer. You will not die before you see salvation in the person of Jesus Christ."
In Luke 2:27-29 we read, "Moved by the Spirit, [Simeon] went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 'Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.'" In other words, Simeon was saying, "I am ready now to die." Have you ever prayed that prayer: "O Lord, I want to die"? But here was someone who wanted to die. If you asked Simeon, "Why do you want to die?" he would reply, "For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.'"
So when we pray according to the will of God, certain requests, especially spiritual requests, are granted right away. The Spirit of God gives us the conviction, the certitude within, and if we are Christians of any standing, we know that God heard our prayers. I remember praying once in New Jersey with a Westinghouse engineer. We knelt down and prayed about an urgent matter. Then I stood up and said, "It is heard. It is done." This is the Spirit-produced confidence we can have.
We have this confidence by faith, and then by sight we see our requests granted, whether in this life or even after our lifetime. God grants the requests we pray in the will of God.
Having prayed according to the will of God, we can then live in expectation. It is like when we order something and then, after ordering, wait for the package to come. Every day we look for it, and finally it comes. This is the charismatic, Pentecostal, biblical understanding of prayer: We pray according to God's will, he hears our prayer, we wait in expectation of its coming, and it comes. May God help us to pray in this way every day of our lives. Amen.
Copyright © 2002, P. G. Mathew
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