In this, the second in a five-part series on prayer, author and speaker Jerry Bridges expounds on the importance of praying according to God’s will. Bridges has been a staff member with The Navigators for more than 50 years.
*To read part one, go here.
Prayer is not to serve our own purposes. It’s true that our purposes are often served by prayer, but the primary purpose of prayer is to further the Kingdom of God. A prayer not only must be prayed in the name of Jesus Christ—our first principle, discussed in the January edition—but prayer must also be according to the will of God. 1 John 5:14-15 says: “And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.”
I’ve often thought that we look upon God as a divine bellhop. “God, I need this,” and “God, would You do that?” But if prayer is first and fundamentally for the purpose of glorifying God, then our requests must be according to God’s will and not according to our own. We have to work at making our will subject to the will of God, and when we do, we will begin to see results in prayer.
How do we know the will of God in a particular prayer request? Let me give you some suggestions. First of all, is your request according to the Word of God? I’m not asking if you have a particular verse that you’re claiming. I’m asking if your request is according to the character of God as revealed in the Scripture. Is it according to the principles of the Christian life? We’ve talked about how the purpose of prayer is first of all to glorify God; and second, that our joy might be full. But sometimes we get this sort of out of focus and we make the purpose of prayer that we might be glorified, that we might be a success.
For example, I am praying for three men I know to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. I would be honored if the Lord were to use me as the instrument to bring these men to Christ. But it could be that God has someone else in mind—someone whose personality may match up with theirs a little better, someone whose presentation may get through to them a little better. So, I have to be careful to pray that they come to know Christ, not that I will lead them to Christ. Do you see the difference? What am I really after? I want them to come to know Jesus Christ as Savior. I want Jesus Christ to reign in their lives. And when that prayer is answered, then my joy will be full, regardless of the instrument that God uses.
Second, will your request glorify God? I was talking to a friend recently who is going through some difficult times. And I said, “You know, sometimes God wants us to fail.” Now God never wants us to be a failure. But sometimes God wants us to fail because it is through a time of failing that God can get our attention, that He can teach us some very valuable spiritual lessons. I asked my friend, “Are you willing, if it glorifies God, to fail in this particular instance?” See, we’ve really got to search our hearts. Do we want God to glorify Himself, or do we want Him to make us successful and comfortable in life?
On a recent trip, I happened to be reading a book that had a lot to say about suffering and tribulation. The writer brought out how God uses trials and suffering and tribulation in our lives to cause us to look forward to the glory that we shall have later on. And I asked myself: Am I really looking forward to the glory that’s to be mine when Jesus Christ shall return? Romans 8 says that the creation itself is waiting, on tiptoe, for the glorious liberty of the children of God, because at that point creation itself will be released from its bondage. The Bible says that creation has been subjected to futility, to a curse, because of our sin. And it’s waiting for its release from this bondage. So I ask myself: Am I standing on tiptoe waiting for my glorification, anticipating it? I have to honestly answer, No, I’m not.
And so, as I pray, I ask the Lord to give me a spirit of expectation of the inheritance that is to be mine when He comes, when I will share in His glory. But right now, through prayer, I seek to glorify Him.
Third, does the Spirit give you freedom to ask the request you have petitioned? Sometimes we find ourselves praying a particular prayer, and there’s no promise in the Bible to match it. There are times, though, when God gives us an unusual freedom to pray a prayer. And when He does, we know that it is according to His will, and we can really bear down.
Years ago, when our son Dan played in the local park and recreation soccer league. I went out and cheered for him, but I never felt any freedom to pray that the Lord would help Dan’s team to win because there may have been a Christian on the other team who was praying the same thing. One year when the league was short of coaches, they were late getting the practice season started. Finally, one week before their first game, they had their first practice on a Friday afternoon. The coach instructed them to report back to the field at 1 o’clock Sunday afternoon.
I realize that Christians have differing standards on how they observe the Lord’s Day. But in our family, practicing soccer is not included in our standards. We have fun on Sundays. We do things together, but as I prayed about the situation, I just did not feel that soccer practice was consistent with the pattern of observing Sunday that we were seeking to develop in our family.
I had just finished a study on obedience and faith, and I felt the Lord was giving me an opportunity to apply what I was learning. And one of the things I had learned was that faith is obeying God and trusting Him for the consequences. So I felt that in this situation, God wanted me to obey Him and trust Him for the consequences. It was difficult because my boy was putting the pressure on. “Dad, if I don’t go and practice, I may not make the team.” “Dad, the coach will think I’m not interested.” And so I said, “Dan, no. You know what our convictions are regarding Sunday. We’re going to obey the Lord as we understand what He wants us to do, and we’ll trust Him for the results.” It just so happened that on Sunday about 12:30, the skies opened up and it poured down rain, and nobody practiced soccer.
As I prayed about the situation, I thought: Lord, I wonder if this is an opportunity not only for me, but for my 10-year-old son to learn something about the way You work. And so I began to pray, “Lord, give Dan and his team a good season.” Because I felt that there was a spiritual principle here and an opportunity to teach a 10-year-old something about the way God works, I had real freedom in praying that prayer. God answered. They were 8-1 for the whole season. And Dan was one of the three or four best players on the team. Prior to this year, he had been strictly mediocre.
At the end of the season, I sat down with Dan and I reminded him of the decision that we had made regarding practice on that particular Sunday. I told him how I had been praying throughout the season, and I said: “Dan, this is how God works. When you obey Him, and you trust Him for the consequences, He always comes through.”
The reason I had freedom in praying that Dan would have a good season is that God’s glory was at stake. Do you think that God was going to have the Bridges family obey Him, and then at the end of the season say with dejection, “We obeyed God and this is what happened?” There are two points to be made here. First of all, there are times when God gives you the freedom, the confidence to really bear down on something that’s not expressly given to you in Scripture. There’s nothing in the Scripture about winning a soccer game. And second, when God’s glory is at stake, you can really bear down in prayer on whatever situation is before you.
You can count on Him coming through with overwhelming victory. ©2013 Jerry Bridges
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Look for Part 3 of this series in next month’s Decision, as we consider what it means to pray in faith.