MY PRAYER VS GOD'S WILL
††††††††††† I ran out of money before I ran out of month.
††††††††††† Like my father used to tell the cashier when he'd hand her the money to pay a bill, "Don't worry about it; there's plenty more where that went".
††††††††††† I sat at my desk puzzling over a check book which refused to balance. I worried and prayed and worried some more. Nothing in the world felt more important to me than the financial problems I was facing. They overshadowed everything.
††††††††††† Patricia, my youngest daughter, burst in with a shout of joy. Her name had just been announced on television. Her entry in the WNFT Channel 47 Kid's Club coloring contest had been selected. She had won a five-minute shopping spree at a local toy store!
††††††††††† Leaving bills, checkbook and yellow scribble pad neglected on the desk, we called the television station to confirm the news. It was true! She ended up with eight shopping baskets full of goodies and a brand new scooter too. She had more toys than she'd ever owned before, and piles to share with all her friends, and boxes full to take to the poor kids at the rescue mission where she worked as a volunteer once a week!
††††††††††† What happened to that pile of bills I was so worried about?
††††††††††† I can't remember!
††††††††††† We made out somehow. But the only thing I vividly remember about that day is my daughter's joy.
That incident reminds me of how prayer and the will of God works.
††††††††††† I will have an overwhelming problem. One which fills the horizon and blocks my view of everything else. One that I pray and worry over ad nausum. Nothing is more important to me than that problem.
††††††††††† Then here comes the will of God!
††††††††††† Usually it has nothing to do with the thing I thought was so important just a few minutes before. It does not solve the problem which concerned me. But God brings about some happy circumstance which pushes my "major concern" into the background.
††††††††††† He has not answered my specific prayers about the problem.
††††††††††† He has eclipsed them.
††††††††††† What used to be important isn't anymore. It's still there; but it has faded to insignificant in the light of God's will.
††††††††††† Usually, but not always immediately, God's will involves a very happy thing. He is on our side. For some reason he likes us. He wants good stuff for us.
††††††††††† What God wills to give us is exactly what we would have chosen ourselves if only we'd known the whole story.
††††††††††† Francois de Fenelon, author of Christian Perfection, said,
††††††††††† †"When you cease to be eager for anything save the glory of God, and the fulfillment of his good pleasure, your peace will be as deep as the ocean... The indecision of your mind, which cannot be steadfast (even) when things are settled, causes you a great deal of utterly useless trouble, and hinders you in God's ways. You do not go on, you simply go round and round in a circle of unprofitable fancies.
††††††††††† † "The moment that you think of nothing save God's will you will cease to fear, and there will be no hindrance in your way".
††††††††††† Unfortunately, the person we† usually hear talking about God's will is someone trying to recruit us to traipse off to a mission in Bangladesh or a college in Cleveland.
††††††††††† Also in my experience,† the people who talk with me much about praying for God's will have been trying to discourage me from doing something or the other that I wanted to do.
††††††††††† "You've got to be careful, John," they say. "It's so easy to miss God's will."
††††††††††† You'd have to be a bull-headed ninny and work hard at it to thwart the will of the Creator of the Universe!
††††††††††† Isaiah said, "And a highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The Way of Holiness. The unclean shall not pass over it. But He shall be with them,: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not go astray in it."
-- Isaiah 35: 8 KJV
††††††††††† No need to be timid. God has given you a life to live with joy. Take a bath. Roll in the leaves. Run. Study. Marry. Pray. Witness. Enjoy. All sorts of good stuff is God's will for you.
††††††††††† Sure you will make mistakes. Who doesn't? The only critter that can't ever fall down is a worm. But a Christian's goofs are not fatal soul-destroying ones. The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord:
††††††††††† "The Lord delights in the way of the man whose steps he has made firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand... The Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones!"
†--- Psalm 34:23-28 NIV
††††††††††† Even if you're such a klutz that you need a keeper, you will not miss God's will.
††††††††††† Relax. You've got a Keeper.
††††††††††† If you get off the track, don't worry. He will set you straight; he's good at that.
††††††††††† "This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength... Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it'".
-- Isaiah 30:15-21
††††††††††† When we pray, "Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven" we are praying for good stuff. When we pray for God's will to be done in our lives or in a specific situation, we are praying for a happy result. We are not pitting the good we want against some harsh dictate from Heaven and then surrendering against overwhelming force.
Where did we ever get a sad idea like that?
††††††††††† As a member of a large extended family here in north Florida, I have spent a great amount of time in hospital corridors with clusters of friends, uncles, aunts and cousins awaiting news about some other relative who's been in a saw mill accident, train wreck, car crash, or fallen ill.
††††††††††† Inevitably, when the news is bad, when the person is pronounced incurable or dies, someone in the group always says piously, "It must be God's will."
††††††††††† I hardly ever heard that phrase used in any other situation.
††††††††††† I grew up thinking that God only willed bad stuff in hospital corridors.
††††††††††† Every so often the picture that comes unbidden to my mind when I think about God's will is a visit to the dentist; sure, the man wishes me no ill, he's doing some long-range good for me, but just the same I'm afraid that he's going to hurt me.
††††††††††† What a sad and limited view of God.
††††††††††† We don't need to be scared of God. God's will does sometimes involve pain, but usually it involves joy -- both immediate and long-range.
††††††††††† Remember the lines of scripture you hear in every† Christmas pageant: "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy... Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!" the angels announce.
††††††††††† The view that God's will always involves something bad comes in part I think from the high drama of Christ's prayer in Gethsemane and in part from a passage found in John's first letter (5:13-14 which we'll look at later).
††††††††††† Knowing that he faced crucifixion, Jesus prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." And a second time he prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done." (Matthew 26:39-42)
††††††††††† Saving us hurt him.
††††††††††† He knew it would.
††††††††††† Jesus knew exactly what he was getting into.
††††††††††† No doubt God's will in offering us the free gift of salvation cost him excruciating pain.
††††††††††† He did it anyhow.
††††††††††† And a servant is no better than his master; God's will does sometimes bring us intense and immediate pain.
††††††††††† How can we deal with that?
††††††††††† "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross... Consider him who endured... so that you will not grow weary and lose heart".
--Hebrews 12:2-3 NIV
††††††††††† God's will does indeed sometimes involve present suffering. There are indeed times when he takes your mind off petty troubles by sending a bigger trouble.
††††††††††† Sometimes God's will does hurt -- but it's worth it.
††††††††††† St. Peter advises, "Those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good".
-- I Peter 4:19 NIV
The happy will of God
††††††††††† While pain and suffering may be involved, the general tone of Scripture is that God's will involves happy stuff. Verse after verse links happy words, pleasure† and joyous events with the will of God.
††††††††††† Look at just three instances from Paul's writings:
††††††††††† "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing and perfect will."
-- Romans 12:2 NIV
††††††††††† "Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea... so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.
-- Romans 15:31-32 NIV
††††††††††† "Be joyful always. Pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
-- I Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV
††††††††††† Praying for God's will to be done does not mean that you give up in exasperation. God is not a dentist. His good will is not something to fear:
††††††††††† "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry 'Abba, Father'...† the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will."
-- Romans 8:15-27 NIV
Does God will train wrecks?
††††††††††† Even knowing that God's will is best and that he wills good, pleasant, happy outcomes to the issues I pray about, I still sometimes feel cheated and tricked.
††††††††††† On the one hand I read all those promises that if I ask anything God will give it; then on the other hand I read a passage like this:
††††††††††† "This is the assurance 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.
-- I John 5:13-15 NIV
††††††††††† Has God given himself a loophole to wiggle out of the Gospel's promises?
††††††††††† Is the deal this: that I can ask whatever I want, but he really does not intend to give it unless it is something that he wants?
††††††††††† If he's going to do whatever he pleases anyhow, then why did he invite me to ask in the first place? If I am not going to get what I request unless I ask what he wants me to ask, then I might as forget the whole thing.
††††††††††† That's the way my friend Phil felt.
††††††††††† Phil had gone to meet his girlfriend's train. Something went wrong and the train did not stop when it reached the end of the tracks. The engine and several cars smashed into the terminal building. Many people were killed. Phil's girl was severely injured. Standing with a bundle of flowers still clutched in his hands, he saw her mangled form carried out. In the hospital, he hung by her bedside for days begging God to spare her life.
††††††††††† She died.
††††††††††† "I'll never pray again," Phil told me. "Why should I? He took her even though I prayed. He pays no attention. Praying is a waste of breath."
††††††††††† Poor Phil.
††††††††††† What horrible pain.
††††††††††† Most of the times I've ever heard anyone question, "Why doesn't God answer my prayers?" that question has been born out of pain.
††††††††††† I have no answer to that pain.
††††††††††† My own pain causes me to ask the same question.
††††††††††† One of the greatest Baptist preachers of a former age, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, wrestled with this same pain as he prayed about the impending death of someone he cared about; Spurgeon said:
††††††††††† † Many times Jesus and His people pull against one another in prayer. You bend your knee in prayer and say, 'Father, I will that Thy saints be with me where I am;' Christ says, 'Father, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am.'"
††††††††††† † Thus the disciple is at cross-purposes with his Lord.
††††††††††† † The soul cannot be in both places; the beloved one cannot be with Christ and with you too. Now, which pleader shall win the day? If you had your choice; if the King should step from His throne, and say, "Here are two supplicants praying in opposition to one another, which shall be answered?" Oh! I am sure, though it were agony, you would start from your feet, and say, "Jesus, not my will, but Thine be done." You would give up your prayer for your loved one's life, if you could realize the thought that Christ is praying in the opposite direction -- "Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am."
††††††††††† † Lord, Thou Shalt have them. By faith we let them go.
God's will rubs off on us when we pray.
††††††††††† Long ago, I dated a beautiful young lady from Australia. Nothing came of it. She had better taste. But I recall an odd phenomena: any time I talked with her -- after a few minutes, I'd pick up her distinctive accent and begin to talk like her.
††††††††††† Closer to home, whenever I'd go back to the farm and visit my grandparents, before long I'd start saying things like, "I reckon, I'll help Aunt Annie tote in her suitcase then sit a spell in the rocker."
††††††††††† I think it's true of anyone, that whenever we have close contact with a strong personality, we begin to form a close association with that person and pick up that person's speech and character patterns.
††††††††††† Praying brings a Christian into conscious contact with God. Being Christian means being re-alined with God. Opening the door to Christ does let him inside us...
††††††††††† And contact with him changes us.
††††††††††† Stroke a knife blade with a magnet and the blade becomes magnetic. Stroke a screwdriver and it also becomes magnetic. A paperclip does the same thing. Each tool retains its individuality -- the knife still cuts, the clip still holds paper -- but something is added.
††††††††††† Prayer rubs us against God.
††††††††††† Our internal alinement changes. The magnetic attraction of Christ draws us to some things and pushes us away from others. We retain our individuality; we are still totally ourselves ... but with a new polarity.
††††††††††† Contact with God makes you -- yes, you -- godly.
††††††††††† His will and your will begin to dovetail, to blend.
††††††††††† The good which you want and the good which God wills mesh.
††††††††††† You are praying, asking anything you desire, with newer, deeper, stronger desires. And you are asking according to the will of God because that will is not at cross-purposes and at odds with your will.
††††††††††† Love lines you up.
††††††††††† French mystic Marie Guyon observed that when two harps stand in the same room, if you pluck a string on one, that same musical note begins to sound from the other one.
††††††††††† That's praying in the will of God.
††††††††††† Good vibes!
You have been reading Chapter Thirteen of the book Why Donít I Get What I Pray For? by John W. Cowart †(IVP, 1993)
Click here for Chapter Fourteen