Lately, I’ve been a lot of thought to the subject of prayer. The same questions seem to continue to come to the top. How can we pray? Can we really come to God with our requests? How do we exercise faith to believe that He will grant our requests, while at the same time, understanding that His and only His will be done?
In fact, I have noticed that more often than not when I pray for things, it is when I attach the disclaimer or caveat if you will, that only His will be done, I find my faith taking a dive. It seems very difficult to be specific in our prayers when we know we should really only be asking for His will in each matter that we bring before Him.
This is what I have been pondering for some time and even though I wrote a book on prayer, it seemed like the answer to this query has simply eluded me. So, I began to pray about it. What did He want me to learn? What is the method that we are to use during prayer? I know verses and sections of Scripture that speak about prayer just like you do. But ask yourself if you really feel comfortable bringing specific requests before Him that you do not know what His response will be. How do you deal with that?
Well, it was actually that question that seemed to bring the answer to me. Here is what I have learned. The Lord seemed to remind me of the situation with respect to my sister, just prior to her death. I was still living in California and received a phone call from her son-in-law stating that my sister was in the hospital and it didn’t look good, so the doctors were suggesting that friends and relatives make their visits.
The whole thing took me up short, as one might expect. As far as I was concerned, prior to this, my sister was going to live a long life. I was not expecting this bit of news and it simply wasn’t sinking in.
I did however, make arrangements and flew back to Georgia to be with her. When I got to the hospital, I saw my sister and could not believe it. She was in a coma and if not for the machines she was hooked up to, would have died before that. It really freaked me out to say the least.
At that point, I did what most people would do. I began storming the gates of heaven with my requests to raise my sister up and to restore her to health. With each passing day, my prayers became more emphatic. I know that I did not pray the part about “if it be His will,” but merely kept asking for God to raise her back up. This went on for several days, until one day, I woke up to start a new day and immediately began petitioning the Lord the same prayers I had been sending His way; that He would raise my sister to health and bring her back to us.
Unfortunately, on this particular day, all I could do was say the words. There was absolutely no faith involved whatsoever, as there had been in days past. Previously, I had not considered that God might choose to not raise her up and even take her home. Now, on this day, I was having to do just that.
I must admit it was a very weird feeling. I knew that I could not continue asking Him to do something He had apparently decided He was not going to do. In fact, to continue praying the way I had been praying with this new awareness would only mean rebellion on my part.
The truth was sinking in and it felt as though God was saying to me, “No, I am not going to raise her up. No, I am not going to restore her health. I am going to take her home to me.” This was very difficult for me. It’s not as if I heard God’s voice. It was merely a realization that He was unwilling to answer my prayer in the affirmative. I was now having to deal with the fact that my sister was going to die.
It took me a while to deal with it and agree to it (as if my disagreeing with it would have held God up!). After finally accepting it as His response, I submitted myself and my wants to Him at that point.
When I had first started praying for my sister, I did not really know what He wanted to occur. I had no knowledge of His plan where she was concerned. Was He going to heal her or was He going to take her home to be with Him? I truly did not know what His plan was, so I began praying based on the desires of my heart.
I have realized that there is nothing wrong with this at all. Authentic Christians should not fret about needing to know His will first, before we begin praying. We should ask for the things that come from our heart as long as the things we ask for are not already against His will. We should not pray that God will give us wealth, for instance. Paul tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil in 1 Timothy 6:10. We should not pray to have a romantic relationship with someone whom we know is not a Christian. We can and should pray for their salvation, but too many times, Christians think that they will “change that person” and they will become a Christian. Too often than not, the person who changes is the Christian and not for the better.
There are many things we should not pray for and the Bible outlines those things for us. However, in those cases where we do not actually know what God is going to do and the thing itself is not forbidden in God’s Word, then I believe authentic Christians are completely free to pray their heart. As we pray, I believe God will reveal His intents and purposes and once He does that, we should change our prayers accordingly to fit His plans and desires. To not do that is to, at that point, be in rebellion to Him.
Let’s look at Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (cf. Luke 22:39-46). We see right from the start that Jesus was in severe emotional agony. He no sooner asks the disciples who were with Him to watch and pray than He moves off from them a few feet to enter into His own prayer battle. He admits that His soul was sorrowful unto death. I cannot imagine that type of emotional pain and trauma. I believe that Jesus experienced that because He already knew what the Father’s will was for Him. What Jesus experienced was the beginnings of a behemoth of an emotional struggle.
I also believe that though He prayed His desire, He always followed it up with the words, “not mine, but thy will be done.” He knew what God the Father had in store for Him and it was for that reason He came to this earth as God the Son incarnate. He could no sooner shrink from that than He could not fulfill other aspects of the Father’s will. However, in His humanity, He naturally wanted to shrink from it even though He did not have a sin nature as we have a sin nature. He was being severely pulled in two different directions and to give into His desires would mean that He would be rebelling against the Father.
I believe this is why it took Him three times of concerted prayer before He was able to finally say “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done,” (Luke 22:42). At this point, He had given it up, let it go, and received in full the Father’s will for Him. He had done absolutely nothing wrong up to that point either by praying His desires because it appears that He understood what the Father’s will was and though He verbalized His desires, He was always willing to submit to the Father’s will.
I believe that it was because He knew what the Father’s will was that Jesus added the caveat on the end that stated without equivocation He wanted only the Father’s will. All too often, that is not the case with us. We want His will, but we don’t know what it is in specific instances. So what do we do?
I believe that at these times in our life, we pray for our wants and our desires. God knows that we ultimately want His will (and hopefully you do). But when we pray, it is very difficult to pray for His will in faith, when we do not know what it is that He wants to accomplish. Because of that, I am coming round to understand that it is fine to pray for our desires until such a time as He either brings the prayer of our desires to fruition, or somehow indicates to us that He the answer is “no.” At that point, we must adjust our prayer because we now have new information, new revelation, if you will. We cannot continue to ask Him for something that He has essentially said “no” to us on. That is nothing more than a rebellious, idolatrous attitude.
Look what happened with Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20. God told him through the prophet Isaiah that he was going to take him out of this life and he should get his things in order. This bothered Hezekiah and so he immediately began to entreat the Lord that He would extend his life. Hezekiah begged God with crying and tears. The Lord relented and sent Isaiah back to tell Hezekiah that He would give him 15 more years of living.
Unfortunately, it would have been far better had Hezekiah simply received the first word of the Lord humbly. The additional 15 years proved to be terrible for both Hezekiah, his son, and Israel. The problem was that Hezekiah had received this information about his upcoming death directly from God through the prophet. It is not as if he did not know and was simply asking God that his life would be made longer. He knew. God told him. Yet, he didn’t like that and essentially rebelled against God by complaining about it and wanting more time.
It was as if Hezekiah was saying, “God, you really don’t know everything. You need to give me more time so that I might enjoy the fruit of my labors here on earth.” This is wrong and what transpired after God granted Hezekiah’s request proved that God did know everything.
When I gained insight into the fact that God had determined to take my sister home (and that happened in the next few days), I gave up my wish list. I set my desires aside and accepted His will in the matter. That request of mine regarding my sister had been answered. There was now no question as to God’s plan. My sister would be going home to be with her God, Lord, and Savior and to be able to worship Him in Person in just a few days. I had no sense that the Lord was willing to negotiate that point with me, so I let that go.
In the process of letting it go, I did change my prayer. I accepted and agreed with Him that if He had determined that this was her time to go, then that’s what must occur. At the same time, I asked Him if He would be willing to allow my sister (who had been in a coma since I arrived to the hospital) to open her eyes so that we could connect one more time before she left this realm.
On the day that she died, I walked into her room with her husband and son and the nurse was there just finishing up some tests and checking the equipment. She was looking in my sister’s eyes and she did this by holding up one of her eyelids at a time and shining a small flashlight in each eye. I noticed not only was there no pupil dilation, but her eyes were looking way down into the bottoms of her eyelids. I asked the nurse what that meant – duh! – and she informed me there was little to no brain activity. The machines were doing her breathing and keeping things going for her.
The nurse left and we just looked at my sister. I suggested we pray and we did. As we did, I gently lifted one of her eyelids and noticed that her eye was looking straight out at me. I thought this was strange considering I had just seen both of her eyes looking down.
I kept praying but with my eyes open and after a few seconds, my sister’s eyelids began to flutter. Then, to my astonishment, both eyes opened and her eyes were focusing on me. I looked closely and noticed that her pupils were also focusing by dilating. In fact, she was staring very hard at me and there were even “frown” lines on her forehead. I was amazed!
At that point, I had actually forgotten that I had requested that the Lord would allow her to open her eyes so we could connect again. Remembering that came later. Late that night, after we had left the hospital, the hospital called to tell us there had been a “change.” We drove down to find that my sister had passed from this life to the next.
It was not God’s will to heal my sister, to raise her up, or to bring her back to us. In spite of saying “no” to that request, He was willing to answer one of my prayers in the affirmative. He allowed her to open her eyes, in response to a prayer that seemed kind of inconsequential at the time. Yet, to this day, I look back knowing that He answered that prayer.
All of this to say that I now firmly believe that there are many sections of Scripture that teach us about prayer. Unless the Lord gives me different understanding, it seems reasonable to me that Christians should pray for their heart’s desires if we do not know what His specific will is in any particular circumstance. If we do not know, then I believe we are free to request what we think is best. He will either answer that prayer with a “yes,” or with a “no.” If He says “no,” then we must be prepared to accept that as His will. If we do not, then He is absolutely not the Lord of our life, is He?
By accepting a “no,” and adjusting our prayers accordingly, we are essentially doing what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. We are praying with an attitude that says, “Lord, for now, I am going to pray in this manner because I do not know what your will is right here and right now. Should you show me that what I’m praying for You will not do, then I will adjust the way I pray to align myself with your known will at the time. In this way, I am essentially praying with an attitude that says ‘not my will, but thy will be done‘.”
It is imperative that Christians pray, but I think all too often, we don’t pray because we don’t know what His will is for us. We are all too often too tentative in our prayers. There is nothing wrong with praying for specific things if we do not know exactly what He is planning on doing. Once we learn, our prayers need to be adjusted and tweaked so that they are in line with the new information He has provided.
Do not allow the unknown to keep you from bringing your prayers to the throne. Do not believe that you have to know His will before you can pray. In all likelihood, it is in praying that we come to learn what His will is in any given situation. This could be for a job, a home, another car to replace the one that just died, or any other things that you can think of that affect your life.
You may start out praying that God will give you a new car to replace the dead one in your drive way. As you pray, it seems that the Lord is directing you to a good used one instead for a great deal less money. To continue to ask for a brand new car is wrong at that point. Your prayers must be adjusted to ask that He lead you to the used car of His choosing.
You may be praying for God to provide you with a spouse. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that and I believe that God will do that for you. However, as He provides additional information, you may have to adjust your praying. Just because you think you found someone does not mean that you have found God’s choice for your life. What is He trying to say? How is He directing your path?
I believe that it is imperative that God’s authentic children pray to Him about all things. It’s not that God needs our prayers. It’s that He wants our prayers so that He will work in and through us to accomplish His will in this life.
Have you ever wanted to pray for someone’s healing but weren’t sure that God “wanted” them healed? Pray for their healing anyway and put all your faith in it! If He is not going to heal them, I believe He will let you know, maybe as He did me, when I realized I could no longer pray for my sister’s own healing. At that point, I adjusted my prayers to fit His known will.
Do not allow the enemy of our souls to tell you that you have to know God’s will before you can start praying and if you don’t know it, you have to choose the middle of the road with great faith believing that “not my will, but His be done.” The attitude we should always bring to prayer is that we will adjust the direction of our prayers first based on our desires and then as He provides more information to us, we will align ourselves with Him based on that aspect of His revealed will.
I believe that this is how Jesus knew who to heal, which demon to cast out, and when to feed the multitudes. I really believe that true prayer is an honest conversation with God. We start out speaking on our terms and then as the conversation continues, God interjects His plans, and we then have the choice to either adjust our prayers to align themselves with His will, or we continue on our own path toward rebellion.
I truly hope this brief article has made sense to you. God is not our Genie at all. We do not come to Him with a wish list of things we want that we believe will make our life better. We come to Him with needs and serious wants and it is when we do not know His specific will in each situation that we are free to ask for the desires of our heart. As time progresses, He may opt to point out to us that the way we’re praying is not what He plans to do. At that point, for the authentic Christian who is committed to making and keeping Him Lord of our life, it is a matter of working through any emotional baggage that would keep us from submitting to Him, so that we can adopt His will in place of ours.
Next time you find yourself confused over how to pray, just start praying. Pray for what makes sense to you at that moment. Pray for the things that live in your heart. Pray with faith believing that He will respond to you. Once He gives you more information, you will then know if you can continue praying in that vein or whether you need to change the direction of your prayers to coincide with His will. I believe if we do this, He will be faithful and will clearly reveal to us what His will is in each situation.
Pray, pray, pray.
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