Praying According to God's Will
"And this is the boldness which we have toward Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us. And if we know that He heareth us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of Him." 1 John 5:14-15.
God works out His will through the willing and doing of His people. He works in them, all unconsciously to them, to will and to do. While they study His will in His Word, and take it up into their wills and lives and work it out, He is all the while working it out through them. It is a heart and life filled with the love of God's will that becomes the prepared instrument through which God can do His work.
It is with prayer as with work. As God has taken up into His eternal purpose the cooperation and the labor of His people, so their prayers also. These have their human origin in our desires as awakened by our need or by God's promises, and are yet God's own working in us. They cannot effect any change in the will of God, for they are God's will realizing itself through us, and their first condition is that they must be according to God's will. They may indeed, and do, effect a change to what appears to be God's will, in what is His will for a time, or as a preliminary to something higher; their real power consists in their being according to God's will, because God works out His will as much through our prayers as our works.
The question has often caused much difficulty: How can I know that my prayers are according to the will of God? The question lies at the very root of our prayer life, as well as of a life in the will of God. It is not easy to give an exhaustive answer. And yet it may be possible to give suggestions that will enable thoughtful Christians to find the answer that meets their own case. The Holy Spirit, where He is to reveal the will of God, where He is too to help us in prayer, must be our Teacher.
Let us, first of all, see that we understand the words, "According to His will," correctly. Many connect them exclusively with "anything": the thing asked must be according to His will. But there is something more important than this - not only the thing asked for, but the disposition and character of the asker must be according to God's will. In this last lies the real secret of power in prayer. Two Christians both ask for something according to the will of God. He gives it to one and not to another. And why? Because the asking of the one was different from the other. We must connect the words, "According to His will," with asking. That will include both that the thing asked and the spirit of the asking be in harmony with God's will.
That the latter is of primary importance is evident from our Lord's teaching of His disciples. He continually connected the answer to prayer with their state. They must forgive, they must be merciful, they must be humble, they must be believing, they must ask in His name, they must abide in Him in keeping His commandments, and His words abide in them; their life must be according to God's will. If they loved Him, and kept His commandments, He would pray the Father for them. Only the man whose life and conduct, whose heart and disposition, is according to God's will, can ask according to His will. So James speaks of the fervent, effectual prayer of the righteous man. And John says, "Whatever we ask we receive, because we kept His commandment." It is the life that prays; the prayer has power according to the life; a life according to God's will can ask according to God's will.
One great reason of this is that the man who lives according to God's will is able spiritually to discern what he may ask for. A Christian may take some promise of God's word, say, for the conversion of sinners, and begin and pray for someone in the mere power of human love, and without seeking at all to be led by the Spirit into the faith that enables him to pray successfully. It is simply a matter of human will; I would like the conversion of this friend. God wills that all should be saved; I will ask it. While there is no thought of that abiding in Christ through obedience to which the promise of an answer has been given.
This is not asking according to the will of God, in the deep consciousness of dependence on the Holy Spirit, in that true obedient abiding in Christ Jesus, which alone is truly asking in His Name. Doing is the only way to knowing the will of God, and therefore the only way of asking according to His will. As long as I only desire to know God's will with regard to certain things I desire or need, I may find it difficult to know it. A life yielded to and molded by the will of God will know what and how to pray. A heart seeking to be "filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding," and striving fervently "to stand perfect and complete in all the will of God," will be able joyfully to appropriate the promise, "This is the boldness we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us."
Let us try and learn the lessons. Boldness in prayer comes from the assurance that both the spirit of asking and the thing we ask are according to the will of God. . . . In all our prayers that we have learned from His Word, let us take time to realize that they are indeed according to God's loving, mighty will, and therefore sure to be heard. . . . Let us remember how essentially one our lives and our prayers are, and live wholly to do God's will - that will ensure our praying according to His will. . . . Let us pray first and wait for the things that God has clearly revealed to be His will, things that concern His love and kingdom and glory - that will give us liberty with the lesser things that concern our interests. . . . Only the Holy Spirit in the spirit of prayer can lead us into the will of God, - as we wait on Him even in the things we know to be according to God's will. He can give us Divine assurance in regard to things that no human reason could believe beforehand to be God's will. . . . Let our first desire in regard to every petition ever be: Lord, teach me how to pray only according to Your will.
God's will is at first a deep hidden mystery. He that lives to do that will as far as he knows it, may count upon being led deeper into it as the manifestation of a holy, mighty, infinite goodness. Let me give myself to it as to Infinite Love. God works out His will equally by the works and the prayers of His people. Yield yourself equally without reserve to that will in working as in praying, in praying as in working. The absolute joyful surrender of our life to that will, in full obedience and in perfect truth, gives boldness in doing and in asking. And this text, instead of being a stumbling-block, will give us new joy and confidence in prayer, because the prayer according to the will of God must prevail.