Thinking It Through: Learning to Pray the Father's Will
By Neale Goetsch
Recently, as I prepared a series of Bible studies on prayer, I found my heart and attitude toward approaching the Father deeply challenged. It started when I read John 12, where several Greeks asked Philip for an introduction to Jesus. (1) Jesus’s response to their request shook me up. He didn’t focus on expanding opportunities; instead, He said, “‘My soul is troubled.’” (2) Jesus’s earlier declaration, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” was about to be displayed at Calvary. (3) His death weighed heavily on His heart. While it was the reason He had come, it was not the ultimate purpose of the cross. God’s purpose, and the Son’s longing, was that the cross would bring glory to the Father as many sons, those from all nations, are themselves brought to glory. (4) Our Savior repeated that preeminent longing in many of His prayers, and it determined the requests that came from His heart and mouth. I’m learning that my prayers must also begin with God Himself—His glory, not my needs, circumstances, or desires.
I’m not suggesting that every prayer must start with a recitation of who God is and what He is like, but every day must begin with a fresh commitment to seek Him and His glory. Sometimes, an urgent cry like Peter’s in Matthew 14:30—“Lord, save me!”— is all we have time for. But during longer prayers of request and intercession, it’s good for us to consider why we are asking for something. Is it just for us or for God’s glory? If Jesus questioned what he should say, as in John 12:27, we must do the same.
John encourages us: “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” (5) Of course, Jesus knew His Father’s will and what would bring Him glory. But how can we know that, when we pray, we are praying according to His will? “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” Paul asked, adding, “Even so no one knows [comprehends] the things of God except the Spirit of God.” (6) What joy it is to have God’s own Spirit as our Helper in prayer! (7)
Prayer is a two-way conversation with God, who has revealed Himself, His will, and His purposes and promises in His Word. Our part is to respond to what God already said. Our prayers take the form of adoration, thanksgiving, confession, personal petition, and intercession. We have an opportunity to respond every time we open the Bible and throughout the day as God’s Spirit brings His Word to our minds.
An interesting example of prayerful response occurs in Matthew 11. Addressing the unbelief of those who saw His “mighty works,” Jesus interrupts Himself to answer His Father, thanking Him for His work in the hearts of the childlike. (8) Talking to someone His listeners couldn’t see may have seemed strange to them, but Jesus is the ultimate example of what it means to “pray without ceasing” and to allow the Word to “dwell in [us] richly in all wisdom.” (9) May God’s Spirit similarly interrupt our thoughts throughout each day.
David’s response to all God had done and promised was, “Do as You have said.” (10) We know we are praying in God’s will when we remind Him of His promises. And what better way to pray for ourselves, for missionaries, and for those to whom we minister than to use the words of prayers we find in the Bible? (11)
“Lord, teach us to pray.” (12) ■
Neale Goetsch serves in Other Overseas Service.
(1) Vv. 20–21.
(2) John 12:27.
(3) John 3:16.
(4) Hebrews 2:10.
(5) I John 5:14,15.
(6) 1 Corinthians 2:11.
(7) Romans 8:14–17.
(8) Matthew 11:25–26; note: the Greek word αποκρινομαι is correctly translated “answered.”
(9) 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Colossians 3:16.
(10) 2 Samuel 7:25.
(11) E.g., Ephesians 1:15–23; 3:14–21; Colossians 1:9–14.
(12) Luke 11:1.