According To His Will
1 John 5:14
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”
Here is what we did last week. Throughout their time with Jesus, the disciples had witnessed him pray on many occasions at many times and in different ways. And they had discovered something remarkable; they had related the work of God that was happening with his prayer life. They had understood that when Jesus prayed, great work of God was happening. So, one of those days, they asked him: “Lord, teach us to pray…” (Luke 11:1) What they meant was this: “Lord, no one has ever prayed so intimately and effectively and powerfully like you. We’ve prayed, but now we see that we don’t really know much about prayer. We want to learn to pray. We want to pray like that. We want to pray just like you.” We too have come to realize that our prayer life and our prayers aren’t what they should be. They lack the grace and effectiveness and power that the Bible tells us we must have as Christians. The Bible tells us that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” [… has great power and it is working (ESV)] (James 5:16b) Yes, some of us pray (I say some of us, because not all of us pray and that’s a sad fact) and God graciously answers some of our prayers. But when we honestly examine ourselves we see how short we fall of righteous prayer; and we also see how much we too need to learn to pray. So like the disciples, we lift our hearts to God during our prayer series to ask the Lord: “Lord, teach us to pray.” This is our foremost prayer at the moment: “Lord, teach us to pray.” “Lord, teach me to pray because I need to learn to pray. I want to learn to pray. I want my prayers to make a difference in my life, in this world, and especially in heaven. Amen.”
There was a woman called Anna, a prophetess. When her husband died seven years into their marriage, she went to the temple of God in Jerusalem and stayed there until she was eighty-four years old. The Bible tells us what she did at the temple all these years. “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” (Luke 2:36-37) And God answered her prayers by sending the Messiah as the redeemer of Jerusalem. Here we see many elements that characterize Anna’s prayer; elements that we need to eventually learn one by one and implement one by one, if we are to grow into effective and powerful prayer servants. We see the selflessness of Anna’s prayer. (She didn’t pray for another husband but prayed according to the will of God. That is essential.) We see the persistence of her prayer. (She did not give up praying for the Messiah even when year after year the godless Romans were ravaging her nation and tearing apart the very fabric of spiritual life). We see the content of her prayer. (Anna single-mindedly prayed for the coming of the Messiah). Of course there are other characteristics of her prayer as well: Such as, she prayed by faith, trusting that God heard her prayers and would accomplish his will. Anna prayed with hope that God’s promise would eventually be fulfilled. My point is this: There are many aspects or elements of prayer we Christians need to learn as we mature in our prayer life. For example, how many of us are actively praying for the second coming of the Lord and the coming of his Kingdom? Not many! How many know how to pray according to the will of God? Not many! Therefore, it is necessary to address as many aspects of prayer that we can one by one and in depth until they become so ingrained in our very understanding of prayer that they become like second nature or like breath to us. Then we will be able to powerfully and effectively pray as God actively does his work in and through our life and prayers.
Where shall we start? We can start with identifying prayer in the best way we can. Prayer is the most wonderful act a Christian can do in the spiritual realm. In other words, there is no act as holy and precious to God and to you as prayer is. Prayer is also a most mysterious thing! In other words, prayer is truly a mystery. I do not mean that prayer cannot be grasped. What I mean is that few people really come to know the essence of true prayer, and thereby accomplish much for God in prayer. For example, the power of prayer is not in how much or how long a person prays, but the real power of prayer comes to the person who knows the principles of prayer and acts upon them. Only that kind of prayer is of true value to God and accomplishes much; as in Anna’s prayer. She didn’t pray with many words. She prayed according to the principles of prayer— principles we should learn and implement as students in Jesus’ school of prayer.
The first question we ask is why pray? What is the use of prayer, especially when God knows all things, and is powerful enough to do his work without our prayers? Why does God wait until we pray before he works? These are very interesting questions. There are other questions as well. Is prayer contrary to the will of God? We know that God does everything according to his will. Yet he tells us: “Knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Mark 7:7) If it is his will that the door be opened, why doesn’t he just open it himself? Why does he wait until we knock? We have other questions as well. If opening the door is in accordance with God’s righteousness, shouldn’t God still open the door if we do not knock? Why doesn’t he anyway? Will God really let his will be restrained by our not knocking? If God is Almighty, then why is his will to open the door governed or directed by our knocking, that is, by our prayer? By asking all these questions, we can see how prayer is wondrously mysterious. But through the mystery of prayer, we can clearly see a most profound principle of prayer working. And here is the principle that is crucial to us to understand and accept: That God’s people, you and me, must pray before God himself will do his work. In other words, God’s will is to be accomplished through the prayers of those who belong to him, you and I. Our prayers are to accomplish the will of God. God will not fulfill his will all by himself. He will do his glorious work only when his people show their agreement in prayer. “If two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:19) where “anything” is in accordance with the will of God.
Now we can even define prayer I think. Prayer is an act of the believer working together (side by side) with God— with the will of God. Prayer is like a union of the believer’s own thought with the will of God. So, the prayer which a Christian utters here on earth is the voicing of the Lord’s will in heaven. Let me make this clear. Prayer is not the expressing of our wishes to God in order for him to acquiesce or to give in to our wishes and satisfy our selfish desires. Prayer is not forcing God to change his will and do what he is not willing to do. Never! We can say that prayer is simply speaking out the will of God with our heart or our mouth. When we stand before God to pray, we simply ask the Lord’s will to be done! Therefore, it is necessary for us to understand that prayer does not change what God has already determined to do. It really never changes anything. It merely achieves what God has already decided to do. It is an invitation to work with him to accomplish what he wants to do, in your life or in others, whether in the world or in heaven. This is the glorious mystery of prayer, the wondrous reality that God will accomplish his will if we pray. But here is another truth: That if we do not pray, nothing will happen! God will let many of his resolutions go suspended for lack of prayer— when his people do not cooperate with him through prayer.
Christians are familiar with these words of our Lord Jesus, not fully grasping their meaning: “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” But these words were immediately followed by Jesus’ teaching on prayer: “If two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18-19) God is really serious about prayer and praying men and women. He is adamant about this: that he wants us to pray so that his will and consequently his work may be accomplished— effectively and powerfully.
We have seen and understood the necessity of prayer. This, then, is why we pray. We pray so that God might accomplish his will and do his work. If we don’t pray, the will of God will not be done, neither will his work. We have also defined simply what prayer is: Prayer is voicing with our heart or our mouth the will of God: It is working together (side by side) with the will of God.
The apostle John also tells us the same thing about prayer; He says: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14) John deeply understood what prayer is. In his words, we see his attitude of prayer and consequently we also see the attitude by which we too must pray. We must pray with confidence. And we must earnestly ask for anything according to his will. There is something else we learn from these words: We must also believe that “he hears us”. This is the confidence of prayer. We will thoroughly explore these elements of prayer at a later time, the attitude of prayer and the confidence of prayer. But for now let us dwell a little on these words: “If we ask anything according to his will.” We want to dwell on them because it is necessary to understand why and how we must pray asking according to the will of God.
The person who prays— who really prays— is not only one who often comes to God in prayer, but also one whose will often enters into God’s will. What I’m saying is that as we learn to pray, we learn the importance of entering into God’s own thoughts, and making them our own. This is another important principle of prayer. Let me explain by talking about the kinds of prayer we could have. There is a kind of prayer which originates or comes entirely from our own need— what we think we need— and from what we think we ought to have. Even though God sometimes hears such prayers from us, God himself often gets little or nothing out of them. Furthermore, we often suffer as a result of what we had asked for in prayer. They don’t serve his purpose at all. Consider this verse from the Psalms (106:15). It says: “So he gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease upon them.” Apparently, as Israel cried out to God to gratify their desire, he did answer them by giving them what they asked for, but at the same time, with the result that they were greatly weakened before him. So, yes, God at times will hear and respond to our wants and personal needs and desires, but what happens is that God’s own needs and wants and desires aren’t fulfilled. This kind of prayer really does not have any real value.
But there is another kind of prayer— a prayer that comes out of God’s own need and desire. That prayer is of God and it is initiated by God himself and comes from him, rather than coming from our own need and desire. And this kind of prayer of course, is most valuable. But to have this kind of prayer, the person who prays, you or I, must not only come before God often enough, but also we must allow our will to enter into God’s will. Our thoughts must enter into God’s thoughts. This kind of prayer grows on the person who makes it a habit to live in the Lord’s presence. That person is given to know God’s will and God’s thoughts as well. That person is given the blessing of understanding the will of God, such that God’s will and God’s thoughts naturally become his or her own desires and wants, and they express them in and through prayer. How urgent it is for us then to learn this kind of prayer— the prayer that is initiated from God and comes from God and is expressed by us as we labor in prayer. Although we are spiritually immature, and often weak, we should still come to God and allow the Holy Spirit to bring our will into God’s will and our thoughts into God’s thoughts. And as we touch a little bit of his will and thought we will also come to understand a little bit more about how God works and what he requires of us. Gradually then, the will and thought of God, which God graciously allows us to enter into, becomes in us our prayer. And our prayer will be of great value because it is the prayer according to the will of God. It is what God would have us pray for.
When we think about some of the great men and women of God who prayed and God had answered, we see clearly that they had truly entered into God’s will and thought and had prayed about it accordingly. Abraham entered into God’s own thoughts and will when he understood that God wanted to rescue Lot from the condemnation that would befall Sodom. And Abraham therefore prayed about it, and God graciously saved Lot from the disaster. When we think about Daniel’s life and read his story, we also see clearly that Daniel entered into God’s thought and understood the will of God for him and for Israel. What God wanted to do, became Daniel’s own desire as well, such that he prayed about it. And God answered his prayer, even though it took three weeks for the answer to come. But the struggle to pray according to the will of God was there, and he persisted. And there are countless other incidents where we can learn how men and women of God, when they prayed, God blessed them to enter into his will and thoughts such that they expressed God’s own desire in prayer. We need to have this kind of prayer, because it really touches the divine heart of our Lord and God. We really do not need more words! What we need is to touch more of the Lord’s mind. May the spirit of God lead us into the intent and desire of God’s own heart and mind.
Surely this kind of prayer will require from us time to learn. But as we begin an education in the school of prayer, we should not seek to have more words nor more thoughts. What we need is to come before God with peace and the calm assurance that God Almighty wants to teach us this kind of prayer. We can come before him as we are, in our weaknesses and ignorance, and meditate on his words. We can let our hearts listen to him and touch upon his own desire because his own desires are spelled out in almost every verse in the Bible. And praise God for the truth that it not only that we go out to meet God and touch upon his will, but it is that God himself is always waiting there for us— waiting to instruct us and bring us into his own will and thought. And as we come into the presence of God, we will begin to understand something of the will of God and his desires and needs and wants. The greatest wisdom comes from God himself when God himself reaches out to touch our hearts with his own will and thoughts. This way our thoughts enter into his thoughts and our will enters into his will. And form there, our prayers will go up to him unhindered by our own wants and desires that bear no real value, but we will pray with power and authority.
As we learn to come into God’s presence in prayer, God’s own will and his thoughts will begin to be reproduced in us and then this becomes our very own will and thoughts. This kind of prayer is most valuable and effective and very powerful. Last week we looked at Luke 11:1, and thought about the disciples who asked Jesus to teach them to pray. And when they had asked him to teach them to pray, Jesus proceeded to do this very thing. He said to them: “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10) These are not just three phrases for us to repeat. These words reveal to us the very will and thought of God. And these prayers are to be reproduced in us when God’s Holy Spirit brings our minds and heart to God. And as they become our will and our thoughts, the prayer that we would pray to God would be greatly valuable and extremely effective. And we thank God for the privilege he affords us to learn these very prayers in the school of prayer as you and I give our heart to it. (We will surely look at them at another time.)
But for now, let us know in our hearts that our God and Lord has so many works to do on earth. And his will for me and you and for the church and for the world is great, and very much part of his plan and will. When we know this and accept it realizing that God’s work on earth and in heaven is far more than precious and valuable than our own mundane needs and wants, we will have a sense to want to learn the kind of prayer that is not selfish and self centered and self oriented. How can we ever pray according to our own feelings and our own thoughts, when God has so much to do in this world! How can we ever pray according to our own wants and desires and the lusts of our flesh when God has called us to work with him to fulfill his own will in our life and in this world and the next! We should rather draw near to God and allow him to impress our hearts with what he himself desires to do so that we ourselves may pray accordingly in obedient faith. And God may expose our hearts to a variety of wills and a variety of burdens as well, desires that are by nature God-centered. But whatever the will of God or God’s desire is, when that will or desire is reproduced in a our heart, we are then able to make the Lord’s will our own will and pray it out. If, as we approach God in prayer, he impresses his will upon our hearts to spread the gospel, or his burden to teach his word, or his want to forgive another, or God’s desire that we serve and build the church and grow the kingdom, then this will become a burden in our hearts that we should not ignore nor rest until it is fully accomplished. We will come to know that our prayers are expressing the will of God. How precious and valuable are prayers like this! Such prayers indeed hallow the name of our God, they bring about his kingdom, and cause his will to prevail on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Next week, hopefully, we will take a deeper look at the prayer the Lord taught his disciples. Until then, may God help us to deeply know that there are two kinds of prayers, the kind that originates from our own will and need and want and desire, and then there is the prayer that originates from God’s own will and his need and his desire. This kind of prayer is the most valuable and precious of all prayers. This kind of prayer is powerful and effective. May we come to God today and ask his mercy to help us touch upon his will as we study the Bible and prayer, until God’s will and desire becomes our own, until our prayers are the very expression of God’s will. Amen.