The Will-of-God Prayer
“And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us.” (I John 5:14)
In its simplest form prayer is best defined as “asking” However if we look at all the Bible has to say about prayer, we recognize that though asking is part of the foundation, it is not the whole. Prayer is more than making requests. For example, we learn from the apostle James that prayer can be self-serving. He tells us that we can ask with a wrong motivation and as a result we do not get from God what we request (James 4:2-3).
In some cases, we hear of people talk about prayer simply in terms of having enough faith. As if faith is the only condition to be met in order to see answered prayer. It is true that Jesus said, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14), but it is not the only thing He said. We must take into account all the Scripture has to say on a matter rather than build our doctrine on the basis of one or two texts. This kind of oversimplification can lead to harmful errors. The Bible shows us that there are conditions that modify these general statements.
Prayer is not to be self-serving, but rather God-serving. John tells us that “if we ask anything according to His will He hears us” – implying that God does not “hear” our prayer that lies out of the scope of His will. (In this regard, I think I am as grateful for prayers He did not answer as the ones He did.) Here is what the Bible is telling us: God does not incline His ear to our self-serving prayers. It is what I call the “will-of-God” prayers that He hears.
We have two sources for discovering the will of God. One is the infallible Scriptures. Therefore, it is the expressed will of God. I can have confidence when I am praying in alignment with the Scriptures. Dare I say, we must be familiar enough with the Bible to know how to pray with confidence. Ignorance is sometimes the cause of unanswered prayer.
The other source for knowing the will of God is the Holy Spirit. God has given us His Spirit to guide us in all of truth (John 16:13). Sometimes we face situations that are outside the direct scope of the Scripture itself. I don’t always have a verse to turn to that shows me what the will of God is. I must learn how to listen to the “still small voice” of the Holy Spirit allowing Him to fashion my prayer and aligning it with the will of God. Paul tells us, “For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us, with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26).
If I am praying in alignment with the will of God, I am like a man aiming his rifle on a target. Rather than the man who prays “hoping” he hits upon God’s will – he is like a man with a shotgun “threw up buckshot” hoping it hits something.
At times we do not know what to pray. We recognize a need, or a situation that needs the intervention of God, but we can’t formulate the words to pray and we may be at a loss to know the will of the Father. We need help and it is the Spirit that can help us. I believe that we can be relatively certain we are praying accurately if we are praying in the Spirit.
When I say, “praying in the Spirit,” I am speaking in the broad sense. When I come in prayer it should not merely reciting things, I think God should consider. It should first be a coming into a real relationship with the Holy Spirit where He consciously guides my prayer. This ties into why God desires us to pray. The Bible tells us He knows our need before we even ask (Matt. 6:8). Some have responded to that by asking the question “Why pray then?”. The answer lies in the fact that He wants intimacy with us. He wants us to be leaning into Him in order that we might know His heart, and out of that intimate relationship, pray in the empowerment of His Spirit.
In my own personal experience praying in the Spirit sometimes involves praying in tongues (I Cor. 14:14-15), but not always. I have found myself at times praying in English, with an awesome awareness that it was not “me” praying, but the Spirit through me. At those times there was a boldness to my request and a confidence that God would respond. It was as if I had entered another realm and was praying beyond my intellectual capacity.
Paul tells us in Romans 8:26 that “We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings to deep for words.” We need to recognize this need for the Spirit working in us to guide and empower our prayer. Otherwise, we are functioning in our prayer life like a man trying to row across the Atlantic Ocean. Rather than the man in the sailboat, who has the wind of the Spirit filling its sail.