I used to be mystified by prayer.
I ask God for things He already knows I want. I ask Him to do things for which He already knows the outcome. And here’s the kicker: I can have anything I want. There’s just one huge caveat; my request has to be in accordance with His will (1 John 5:14–15).
And that’s where the mystification lies.
God’s will. How do I know it? How do I pray it? And what are the implications?
Through the years, I’ve had two equally strong — and negative — feelings about God’s will. The first is fear. When I pray for God’s will, I get a sense of uneasiness — the distinct feeling that “God’s will” is probably the opposite of my desires.
The prayer goes something like this: “Lord, I really desire a husband. I’ve wanted to be married for so long. Would you please bring me a godly man … [gulp] if it’s Your will?”
The inner monologue goes something like this:
Oh, great. I’ll bet God’s will is for me to stay single FOREVER … to be a missionary in some God-forsaken … er, I mean, of course God is there … but, you know, end up in a lonely, joyless existence with cats as my only friends. Suzanne, stop it! That faithless attitude won’t earn you any points with God. He knows you don’t really mean “if it’s Your will.” Quick! Be sincere. Or you really might end up single forever!
That’s feeling No. 1. The second is apathy.
Prayer: “Lord, I really desire a husband. I’ve wanted to be married for so long. Would you please bring me a godly man … [sigh] if it’s Your will?”
Inner monologue: Why am I even praying about this? God’s been hearing me pray for a husband for 10 years. God’s going to do what He’s going to do, so what’s the point in asking?
As you can see, there are many, many things wrong with both of my perceptions of God’s will. Obviously, to view God’s will as sinister or impersonal shows my lack of understanding of who God is and what He is about. Still, in moments where I want something so deeply it feels like a need, God’s will can seem threatening. And here’s why: I secretly believe my will will make me happier.
My Will or Yours?
My pastor once gave a sermon on the Lord’s Prayer. He preached on the line, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). “Many times,” he said, “we set out in life to accomplish our own will and drag God along. We view prayer as a way to tap into God as a resource.”
When I approach prayer that way, it’s hard to make sense of why God sometimes gives me what I desire and other times does not. To escape that frustration — or the feeling that I’m negotiating with God for what I want — I must choose one will to live my life for: mine or God’s.
Of course I want to choose God’s will, but everything in me and the influences around me seem to scream: “Your will is best. You know what’s best for you. You know what will satisfy you.” That’s the opposite of what the Bible says. It says God knows best. He knows things about me that I don’t even know about myself. Only He could come up with the best possible plan for my life — the plan that will satisfy me and bring Him glory.
Making God’s will your No. 1 priority requires some reprogramming — the kind we read about in Romans 12:2: “Do not conform 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.”
“Good, pleasing and perfect.” Until recently, I never really took note of this description of God’s will. Not only is God’s will good and perfect, which comes as no surprise, it is also pleasing — or pleasurable. God’s will is not some boring, lifeless path to be dreaded; it is a joyful adventure that could only be dreamed up by an infinite, loving God.
Where There’s a Will There’s a Way
So how do I embrace God’s will instead of feeling threatened by it? The first step is I need to desire it more than I desire my own way.
Jesus desired His Father’s will above all else. He regularly set aside His own will to take up the Father’s. “My food,” Jesus said, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). This statement reveals the satisfying and consuming nature of God’s will. Once you taste it, it’s life-consuming.
Have you ever had moments where an event or conversation or relationship seems God-ordained? At no other time do I feel so content and at peace than when I know that I have been used by God to fulfill a part of His will.
Desiring God’s will is the first step. Knowing God’s will is the second. One of my college professors wrote a book about Decision Making and the Will of God. The book’s premise was controversial. He made a case for the fact that a person could make many different decisions and still be in God’s will as long as he or she stuck to biblical principles.
In other words, there may not be a single, perfect choice that is God’s will when it comes to things like the person you marry or the career you choose. As long as multiple choices are biblically permissible, they may all be God’s will.
The point I took away from the book is that we spend too much time obsessing over the tiny details of God’s will when He reveals His greater will all over the place in His Word. Just search the word “will” in a concordance, and you’ll discover dozens of verses providing specifics about God’s will.
One example is 1 Thessalonians 4:3–4: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable.”
There you have it. Controlling my body and avoiding sexual immorality is God’s will for me. God’s will is not so elusive then. In fact, Paul says in Ephesians 1:9, “He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ.”
If I desire God’s will and I have a growing knowledge of it through the study of His Word, only one thing remains: I must choose God’s will. This is perhaps the hardest part. Like I said, sometimes my will seems far more appealing — even superior.
Father Knows Best
When my friend’s dad died a few days after Christmas last year following a three-month battle with cancer — and thousands of fervent prayers for healing — I couldn’t rejoice in God’s will. It was hard to see why He would allow such tragedy, and my old fear reflexes kicked in. What if something happens to one of my loved ones? Though it was nearly impossible to see the “good, pleasing and perfect” part, my friend and her family had to choose to believe that God’s will was somehow best.
It reminds me of Jesus at the Mount of Olives. He had known His purpose in God’s plan from the beginning of time, and yet as the suffering approached, He pleaded, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.” Even Jesus, the perfect God-man, struggled with the conflict between His will and God’s. But in the next breath came His resolution: “Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Why was He so dedicated to His Father’s will? Because He knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was best. He knew that God’s plan would ultimately rectify any short-term pain or loss. And He was correct. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God elevated His Son to the highest place of honor to be worshiped by all people (Philippians 2:9–11).
Hebrews 10:35–36 encourages believers: “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”
My feeling about God’s will comes down to where my confidence lies. Do I truly believe that I can put together a life for myself that will satisfy? Many have tried and failed. Or do I want to see God’s will be done in my life? I can’t have it both ways.
As I seek to desire His will the way Jesus did, discover the dreams He has for me and choose His plan over my own, I can say, “Not my will, but yours be done.” And I can mean it.
Copyright 2011 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.