We can learn to pray by following Jesus’s example, as long as we don’t misapply it
When it comes to praying, there is no better teacher than Jesus. Perhaps that’s why many of his followers memorize the prayer he taught his disciples and why many churches include this prayer in their church services.
We commonly call this The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). This prayer serves as our model.
Another one of Jesus’s instructive prayers occurs in John’s biography of Jesus. In the most lengthy of Jesus’s prayers in the Bible, we see three themes.
First, Jesus prays that his death will glorify his father. Next, he prays for his disciples. And last, he prays for his future followers: us (John 17). This final section of his prayer shows us what Jesus expects of us, which should inform how we pray.
A third prayer of Jesus stands as his most passionate. As he prepares himself to become the ultimate sacrifice, he asks his father for a reprieve, perhaps thinking of when God kept Abraham from sacrificing Isaac by providing an alternate option (Genesis 22:1-19).
Most translations of the Bible (32 times out of 56) use the phrase “if you are willing” in recording the opening to this prayer of Jesus.
Should we do the same?
Yes. By including this phrase, we follow Jesus’s example by acknowledging God’s sovereignty, that is, his supreme authority and power over us and everything that is.
We admit his plan is far better than our wishes and narrow perspective. We concede he is in control and we are not. Affirming God’s will in this way, confirms his character.
Yet, this phrase can also give our faith an out, an escape hatch. If we make an audacious request of God and then tack on an “if it’s your will” at the end, we provide ourselves a feeble rationalization should God not answer our request the way we hope.
For example, if we pray for a miraculous healing, but it doesn’t occur, we can shrug and say, “I guess it wasn’t God’s will.” This helps stave off disappointment. It also keeps our faith intact.
Taken to an unhealthy extreme, this phrase can even remove faith completely from our prayers, along with the expectation of the answer we long for. Praying “if it’s your will” could turn our prayers into weak, meaningless requests of an all-powerful God. May it never be.
It is right for us to pray “if it’s your will” as long as this reminds us of God’s sovereignty and character. But if this phrase effectively removes faith and expectation from our prayers and renders them powerless, then it might be wise to avoid it.
The key is that God wants us to pray. He wants us to talk to him. The words we say aren’t as important as our intent behind them.
May our prayers always serve to connect us to our Father.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.