Should We Pray “If It’s Your Will?”

We can learn to pray by following Jesus’s example, as long as we don’t misapply it

Should We Pray “If It’s Your Will?”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). Yet after making his bold request, Jesus quickly confirms he will obey his Father and do his will (Luke 22:42, Matthew 26:39).

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.It’s right to pray “if it’s your will” as long as this reminds us of God’s sovereignty. Click To Tweet

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.

Do We Need to Rethink How We Pray?

Whether we pray often or seldom, we have likely fallen into unexamined habits

Do We Need to Rethink How We Pray?How do you begin your prayers?

What is your common salutation? It might be “Heavenly Father . . .” or perhaps “Father God . . . ” or maybe “Dear God . . . ”  (How about, “Hey, God. It’s me again.”) The Lord’s Prayer opens with “Our Father in heaven,” which is a good model to follow (Matthew 6:9). Some people open with “Dear Jesus . . . ” Have you ever addressed your prayers to the Holy Spirit? He is part of the triune God, after all.

When you finish praying, how do you conclude?

Some traditions end with “In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.” This aligns with what Jesus taught us (John 14:13). Other traditions take their cue from Matthew 28:19 and wrap up with “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.” Some use the shortcut of just “Amen.” (What about just saying “Bye” or “Catch you later,” which is how we talk to other people. Prayer, after all, is conversation.)

What does amen mean, anyway?

The Amplified Bible suggests it implies “So be it” or May it be so.” Saying one of these declarations to end our prayers may get us out of the rut of concluding with a rote “Amen,” but it usually confounds anyone listening to us.Try praying to specific parts of the godhead according to their character or role. Click To Tweet

And what should we say in the middle portion of our prayers?

Sometimes I direct my communications with God to specific parts of the godhead according to the character or role of each. For example, I can praise Father for creating me, Jesus for saving me, and Holy Spirit for guiding me. Or I can ask Papa to bless me, the Son to be with me, and the Spirit to inspire me. Doing this helps me see God in fresh, new ways; it enables me to better connect and be more real in my communications with God.

But what if I error and address the wrong aspect of God? It’s happened, but I don’t think it matters to God because Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all the same God, the great three in one (consider 1 John 5:7).

The point is to stop praying words out of habit and think about why we say what we say when we talk to God. He deserves our full attention, so we should avoid using thoughtless words.

So be it.

Embracing the Rhythm of Daily Prayers

Talking to God on a regular basis is key to life and faith; don’t live without it

Embracing the Rhythm of Daily PrayersThe Bible talks about praying in the morning, at noon, and in the evening (Psalm 55:17 and Daniel 6:10). Though never a biblical requirement, the idea of praying each day at 9:00 a.m., noon, and 3:00 p.m. became a regular practice for devout followers of God in both the Old and New Testaments.

In the centuries that followed, Christians upped the number to seven, praying at seven prescribed times throughout each day. I never liked the practice of the “Seven Hours of Prayer.” The idea that I needed to pray at specific times felt too rigid. And when I have seen monks follow this, I perceived their prayers as rote recitations and ritualistic, far removed from the personal relationship that I crave with the godhead.

Yet over time I have formed my own practice of daily prayers:

Before I Rise: I see no point in getting out of bed if I haven’t invited God to spend the day with me. I share with him my plans and schedule, giving him permission to alter them. I confess my weaknesses and share my concerns. I ask for his blessing on what I will do and for favor with people I will interact with. Then I rise and embrace the day.

Morning Prayers: As I exercise each day (at least Sunday through Friday—I take Saturdays off), I pray for God’s blessing on family and friends. I also pray for his blessing on future generations. I follow a couple guides that itemizes godly traits and practices. I focus on one item per day for each person on my list. After a couple months I’ve covered everything and start again with the first item. Of course I also interject specific prayers based on what that person has told me and as the Holy Spirit prompts me.

At the Start of Work: Before my wife heads off to work, I say a prayer of blessing for her, her work, and her day. Then she does the same for me. What a difference that makes on our perspective and our work for the day.

Meals: A common Christian practice is to pray before each meal, following the example of Jesus. I like this in concept but have trouble implementing it with sincerity. I don’t want to mumble a prayer from rote memory or speed through an obligatory invocation as I salivate for food. I’m so vexed by my inability to give God a fresh, meaningful mealtime prayer, that I skip the attempt when I eat alone. (I wonder if I should revisit this decision.) Only when in groups do I embrace this practice.

Bedtime: Some people lay down each night, fall asleep, and wake up in the morning refreshed. I do not. I need God at night just as much as I do during the day. I ask him to bless my slumber and to corral my dreams. I think the command to hold every thought captive applies to our nighttime dreams as much as to our daytime thoughts. I need God’s help with both. See 2 Corinthians 10:5.

During the Night: When I wake up in the middle of the night, my intent is to pray until I fall back to sleep. It usually doesn’t take much. Note that I don’t pray that I’ll fall back asleep; I pray for other people and situations. Also prayer seems more imperative in the middle of the night, around 2:30 to 3:00.

Always: Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17). While Brother Lawrence could approach this, I cannot. But I do look for opportunities to pray throughout the day. Read about my efforts to pray without ceasingShould you pursue seven daily times of prayer? Click To Tweet

These are my seven daily times of prayer. I’m sure my practice will continue to change over time. While I don’t expect anyone to follow my daily prayer practice, I do encourage everyone to develop their own.

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Submit to God; Resist the Devil

James offers a solution to those who face disappointment with their life

Submit to God; Resist the DevilI like the words of James in the Bible. His concise writing packs a lot of practical teaching into five succinct chapters. In chapter four he opens with a string of negative outcomes that often plague people. He lists fights, quarrels, envy, covetousness, and the kicker of all disappointments: unanswered prayers. Ouch.

Why do we suffer from such things? The cause is spiritual adultery, of being so friendly with worldly pursuits that we become estranged from God. Double ouch. God wants our full attention, undivided.

What’s the solution? James’s two-part answer, both direct and succinct, says to submit to God and resist the devil. But are these dual initiatives for us to pursue or opposite sides of the same coin? By submitting to God do we automatically become empowered to resist evil? Perhaps by turning our back to sin, we effectively submit to God. Yet it matters not if we resist first, submit first, or do both. The main thrust of James’s instruction is to effectively focus our actions on God and turn from worldly pursuits.

Submission is not a popular concept in today’s society. Neither is resisting temptation. With our self-sufficient, do-it-myself mindset, no one wants to acquiesce to another, to defer our desires to another person’s wellbeing. Yet the Bible teaches us to do just that. James says to submit to God. So does Job (Job 22:21), as well as the wisdom literature (Psalms 81:11 and Proverbs 3:6). Plus Peter tells us to submit to the elders (1 Peter 5:5), and Paul teaches us to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21) and to authorities (Romans 13:5). And there is more.The Bible teaches us to submit to God and others. Click To Tweet

How do we do this submitting to God and resisting the devil? James says we need to be close to God, wash our hands (figuratively speaking), purify our hearts, repent (grieve, mourn, and wail), and humbly approach God. Then he will lift us up.

Implicitly our disagreements will cease, our materialism will end, and we will enjoy answered prayer. It starts when we submit to God and resist temptation.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is James 4-5, and today’s post is on James 4:1-10.]

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Jeremiah Teaches Us About the Lament

Sometimes our laments blame God for our pain, when we are the source of our troubles

Jeremiah Teaches Us About the LamentA lament is an expression of grief, sorrow, pain, regret, despair…you get the picture. Lament occurs when life overwhelms our hearts and steals our tomorrows. Many of the Psalms are laments. Though lamenting is biblical, our church services seldom includes the lament. We need to understand the lament and reclaim it.

Jeremiah’s short book of Lamentations contains six laments. Those who don’t identify with the lament breeze past them or even skip this book. For others these six dirges touch at a heart level and express an unfathomable angst in their souls.

Look at the strong themes of hopelessness in just one verse, Lamentations 1:20:

Distress: We feel anxiety and strain; we suffer in our situation.

Torment: We are harassed; we experience physical pain or mental anguish.

Brokenhearted: We are desolate; we grieve over loss.

Violence: The threat of physical force surrounds us.

Death: The end of life confronts us.

While the source of lament may spring from external sources, it can also result from our own choices. In this particular case, the cause for lament is self-inflicted. It is rebellion. Though the author, Jeremiah, carries this weight on his shoulders, his words serve to reflect the plight of the nation. The entire populace laments, but they are the cause: they rebelled against God.Don’t criticize God if your rebellious spirit is at fault. Click To Tweet.

Sometimes our own actions take us down a wrong path, one where the likely outcome is distress, torment, broken heartedness, violence, and death. We cry out to God in the midst of this, but he is not at fault; our rebellious spirit is the cause.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Lamentations 1-3, and today’s post is on Lamentations 1:20.]

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Sometimes God Tells Us Not To Pray

The Bible is full of surprising verses that we will do well to explore

Sometimes God Tells Us Not To PraySometimes I see things that surprise me when I read the Bible – things I think shouldn’t be there. One example is when God tells Jeremiah to not pray for the people of Judah. Wait, isn’t Judah part of God’s chosen people? Yes, they are. Yet God shocks Jeremiah – and us – when he says to not pray for their well-being.

Even though they fast and give burnt offerings, God says he will ignore them. He plans to punish them for all the wrong they have done. Therefore it is a waste of time to pray for them.

I get this. One time I committed to pray for the leadership of a small, struggling church. They were good people who loved God and wanted to make a difference in their community. I prayed for them each morning for several months. Then one day, in mid-prayer, God told me to stop. He didn’t explain why; he just said to not pray for them anymore.God told me to stop praying for this church, so I stopped. Click To Tweet

I was perplexed.

Then a friend shared his experience. He was speaking at this church, giving them their Sunday message. In the middle of his lesson God spoke to him. God said “Don’t come back here; if you do it will be sin.” Gulp.

That’s blunt. But it helped confirm that I had heard correctly. Even though neither of us understood why, we obeyed. For whatever reason God didn’t want us to invest anymore effort on this church. I still don’t know why.

What I do know is that it’s useless to pray for things when God says not to. For now that is all I need to know.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Jeremiah 14-16, and today’s post is on Jeremiah 14:11-12.]

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Why Does God Sometimes Say “No?”

We must trust that God always has our best interest in mind regardless of what happens

Why Does God Sometimes Say “No?”I recently prayed for a friend who was interviewing for a job. I have prayed for her interviews many times in the past only to not receive the answer we wanted. Sometimes she was summarily removed from consideration at the very beginning of the process, but often she would make it to the final round only to be edged out by another candidate.

This time the position was a perfect match; the situation, ideal. I prayed in faith with confident expectation. I knew this was it: the right job, in the right place, at the right time. I assumed God would finally say “Yes.” How could he not? This was exactly what my friend had been waiting for.

She progressed through the interview process; all indications aligned. It got down to two people, a fifty-fifty chance, but with God on our side, I was sure it was a slam-dunk. But slam-dunks don’t always work out, and neither did this job opening. The final answer was “No.”

Devastated for my friend, with my faith a bit deflated, I vented to a wise friend. He tactfully reminded me what I already knew but had forgotten in the emotion of the moment. Here is what he shared:

Protection From Unseen Danger: It could very well be that a landmine of troubles surrounded this job: internal strife from coworkers, personal attacks from patrons, a hostile work environment, poor working conditions, or any number of potentially devastating hazards. Maybe my friend didn’t get this job because God was lovingly shielding her from harm.

A Better Opportunity Ahead: It could be that God has an even better job awaiting my friend, one even more ideal: better pay, closer to home, superior hours, more fulfilling, or a better work environment. Maybe my friend didn’t get this job because God was lovingly guiding her to an even better one, a job she wouldn’t be looking for if she had received this one.

The Other Person Needed the Job More: It’s not all about us. God isn’t our personal wish-granter. He has other children he cares for, too. It’s quite possible the other person also prayed for this job. What if his need was more pressing, his situation more urgent? Maybe my friend didn’t get this job because God was lovingly caring for another of his children whose situation was more dire.We will never know the reasons why sometimes God says 'No.' Click To Tweet

In this life it is likely we will never know the reasons why sometimes God says “No.” Yet we must move forward, despite profound disappointment, confident that God wants the very best for us and will provide it at exactly the right time. After all, that’s what the Bible says: that all things work together for good (Romans 8:28).

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How to Hear From God

Supernatural conversations with the divine can happen – for those ready to listen

How to Hear From GodFor much of my life I believed what well-meaning people taught me. They said I could talk to God through prayer, and he would talk to me through the Bible. Though both methods provided one-way communication, when paired they effected dialogue – sort of.

They were right but they didn’t mention actual supernatural communication, the kind that happens in the Bible. While I believed this degree of interaction with the Almighty is possible and still happens today, I assumed it only materialized with select people and occurred in limited instances.

A friend who talks with God daily asked if I, too, wanted to hear directly from God on a regular basis.

I think it was a rhetorical question, but I said “yes” just to be sure. This is the advice he gave me to get started:

  • Block out an hour of time with no interruptions.
  • Ask God to speak to you and be ready to listen.
  • Jot a question on a piece a paper, and then verbally ask God that question.
  • Write down everything that comes to mind.

After thirty minutes I had three pages of notes and clear direction to deal with my question, but I wasn’t sure if those were God’s words or my thoughts.

I tried again a week later. This time I suspected some of what I wrote came directly from God. After more practice I was able to distinguish my thoughts from God’s words, which he places in my mind. Though I occasionally hear a few words aloud, mostly God plants his words in my mind.

Over time we began having conversations. We’ve been doing this for the past ten years. When I ask a question or share a thought, I generally hear from him right away – assuming I’m really ready to listen.

This is my experience, while others who talk to God have other experiences, but the point is having regular, genuine communication with God. It is possible, and it does happen today – even with ordinary followers of Jesus, like me.

Yes, God does speak to me through the Bible, but that’s not the only way.The Holy Spirit gives us the spoken words of God. Click To Tweet

Paul wrote to the Ephesian church that “the sword of the Spirit is the word of God,” Ephesians 6:17. Christians who have a limited view of Holy Spirit power in our world today think Paul means the written Word of God (even though the New Testament didn’t exist when Paul wrote those words). I think a better understanding is that the sword of the Spirit is the spoken word of God, courtesy of his Holy Spirit.

If you want to hear more from God, just ask – and then listen, really listen.

How does God speak to you? What can you do to hear more?

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Are You One of God’s Chosen People?

Isaiah tells the people that God will choose them again, but did he ever stop?

Are You One of God’s Chosen People?One phrase jumps out from today’s passage in Isaiah’s prophecy to God’s people: “once again he will choose Israel,” (Isaiah 14:1, NIV). God, through Isaiah, gives his people hope for a better tomorrow.

At this particular time, however, God’s people are discouraged; they feel he has abandoned them. They have no reason to celebrate; they have no cause for joy. God, it seems, has turned his back on them; it feels like he has left.

In reality he’s giving them a timeout, a deserved punishment to get their attention over their repeated disobedience. He wants to remind them of who he is and how they should act.

Yet they despair. They call out for him, desperate for a response.

But God delays.

Yet as he tarries he offers them hope for a better tomorrow. He promises he will choose them once again.

He chose them in the past, and he will choose them in the future. And though they don’t realize it, he chooses them now. But they don’t see it; they don’t feel chosen.We are God’s chosen people: yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Click To Tweet

We all have times when God feels distant, when it’s hard to pray, when his voice remains silent, when faith falters. Some people call these the dry times or their desert experience. Yet God will choose us again.

The reality is that God never un-chose us. We remain chosen by him – even when we don’t feel like it. We are his chosen people. May we remember to act like it.

Do you feel chosen by God? Are you in a desert place waiting for him to choose you again? 

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Isaiah 14-17, and today’s post is on Isaiah 14:1.]

Can I Pray For You?

We never know who has a deep need for prayer and how much our words could mean

Can I Pray For You?I volunteer at a parachurch organization that helps people in need and shows them the love of Jesus. After the participants had left, I poked my head into a classroom to wave goodbye to one of the leaders. Not her usual happy self, I stepped in and asked how things had gone.

She had a rough session that morning. Discouragement spilled forth as she shared the ordeal. One of the couples had opened up, revealing more of their situation than they had ever shared with anyone else in the program. Though skilled at what she does, with lots of experience dealing with participants’ struggles and years of life’s wisdom on top of that, she was at a loss. Their circumstance seemed unresolvable, a hopeful solution, illusive. She didn’t know how to guide them. Overwhelmed, their burden weighed heavy on her usually capable shoulders. As she shared their condition, I, too, felt the gravity of the situation and saw no way to help.

Can I pray for you? I asked.

“Sure,” she answered with little enthusiasm. “Prayer would be good.” Then she continued gathering her things.

I hadn’t communicated clearly. I tried again. “May I pray for you now?”

Her eyes brightened. “Yes!” A hint of her usual smile returned. “I’d really like that.”

Despite her eagerness, I sensed a bit of discomfort, too. I didn’t know enough of her faith practices to understand how she expected this to occur. Some people become unnerved with direct one-on-one prayer. One man shuddered at the idea of me actually praying out loud for him and asked that I do so silently. When was the last time someone prayed for you? Or you prayed for them? Click To Tweet

I awkwardly extended my hand. Unsure, one of her hands met mine. As I thanked God for her tender heart, her other hand joined in. She clasped my hand tightly. Her grip grew more firm as my prayer unfolded.

I prayed the words the Holy Spirit gave me. When I said them all, I knew not to add any of my own. What had been said was all that was needed. “Amen.”

She opened her now misty eyes, and the rest of her smile returned.

“Thank you,” she said with sincerity. “It’s been a long time since someone has prayed for me.”

I was glad I was the one to end the drought and, at the same time, sad that there was one in the first place. This woman is a regular attendee at her church, a senior saint, a pillar. Yet people in her community had not been praying for her, at least not out loud and in her presence.

Instead of being proud for my actions, I was resolute. I pledged to be more intentional in praying for others, to make sure those in my circles don’t have the same lament.

How can you expand your prayer practices to intercede for others? Is God calling you to be more intentional?