by: Jared Etheridge
I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer lately, and more specifically, how prayer should work when we want or need something. If you are at all like me, the idea of asking God for things might be frustrating. Maybe prayer doesn’t seem to “work” too well for you, and it seems like too many prayers go unanswered, or you don’t get what the answer you were hoping for. I knew of the verse in James 4:2, “You have not because you ask not,” so I would pray for things, but when I didn’t get what I wanted I would wonder, Why doesn’t this work? What am I doing wrong? Doesn’t God want to give me "the desires of my heart?” (Psalm 37:4). Had I kept reading, I would have seen the verse that follows James 4:2;
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
So clearly, God doesn’t always give us what we ask for, especially regarding our earthly desires. So, what do we need to do to make prayer “work” for us? How can we know how to be in the will of God regarding prayer?
I heard a sermon by Jon Courson recently that touched on this, and I want to share what I learned.
1. Pray for God's will above your own. The best thing to do in any and every situation, especially an unfavorable one, is to seek God’s will. Rather than trying to give Him suggestions or downright telling Him what you want to be done, praying for His will first gets our heads and hearts in the right place, acknowledging His Lordship and direction in our lives. Instead of being stiff-necked and hard-nosed, desiring our own way, we become eager, willing vessels, ready to be used by God to work out His master plan. There is a perfect illustration of this in 2 Chronicles 20 when Judah was going to be attacked by the Ammonites. Judah’s military was seriously outnumbered. Rather than instructing God, King Jehoshaphat simply prayed, “Lord, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” Even though his situation looked hopeless, Jehoshaphat turned to the Lord, and He delivered them.
2. Praise and give thanks. If you are trying to pray for God’s will, it's good to have an idea of what praying in His will should be like. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 states it pretty simply:
“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
Giving thanks to God in every situation is a way of showing that we have put our trust in Him. It’s letting go of our anxiety and need for control and saying, “God’s got this,” but that can be so hard to do when everything looks bleak. What is there to give thanks for? Well, that is the perfect question to ask, taking our focus off of the negative and searching for the positive. God wants us to look for how he could be working what seems like a negative circumstance into something for our good (Romans 8:28).
3. Holiness. Before heading out to face the enemy, Jehoshaphat called for singers to go before the army, praising the beauty of holiness and saying:
“Praise the Lord, for his mercy endures forever." 2 Chronicles 20:21
This goes along with giving thanks. When our circumstance isn’t looking good, it’s easier for the lies of the enemy to establish a foothold, so we have to remind ourselves of God's character, His goodness, His holiness and His enduring mercy. Again, this is getting our hearts in the right place so that we can be ready to hear from and be used by God. We also need to choose holiness over the ways of the world. Sin clogs up our communication with God. If you read a bit further in John 4, you’ll see that God says being friendly of the world makes you His enemy. “Choosing the ways of the world, rather than the highway of holiness” (Isaiah 35) will make it impossible to determine God's will.
Keeping these three steps in mind while praying will help you on the road to understanding God's will for you. Read your Bible and pray every single day, and never underestimate the power of prayer.