“How should I pray?”
I think this is a question that a lot of people, particularly Christians, struggle with. Can we tell God anything? Is there a certain ideal structure, like the Lord’s prayer, or not? How much praising and how much asking? Can we ask Him for things we want, or do we have to stick with ‘thy will be done’? When we ask, does it depend on how much faith we have, or on God alone? The variations on this query abound.
I myself have pondered this question at various times in the past, but never did I seek an answer to it so desperately as I did this year. There have been some things in 2016 that I really wanted, situations that I was deeply emotionally involved in and prayed earnestly for. At first I thought it was simply a matter of faith, since these things I wanted to happen seemed like good things God would not be opposed to. I based my thinking on James 1:6 (“But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”) and other verses in a similar vein, which seemed to indicate that ‘faith as small as a mustard seed’ was the key ingredient to ‘asking and it being given to you.’ Of course, I understood that God would never do something against his nature, but the things I prayed for were not. I thought He wanted them, too, and that they could bring Him glory. So I took this notion to heart like never before, passionately refusing to doubt and even thanking God in advance for answering my prayers.
But He didn’t.
And when the answer came, and it was ‘no,’ though I accepted his will being done, I cried tears of confusion over this question. If that wasn’t how I should pray, than how should I? I thought I was in God’s will and doing what He wanted me to do, growing in my faith and partnering with Him to bring Him more glory. But his plan turned out to be different than I had thought. So I wondered, should I even have bothered asking for what I wanted at all? Or just prayed for his will to be done? But then again, the Bible says to ask God for things, to tell Him our hearts desires, to have that faith to move mountains and pray in his name… I was at such a loss. And then I remembered Jesus praying on the Mount of Olives.
Luke 22:41 reads: “[Jesus]…knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.'” Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was a perfect human, who KNEW what his Father’s will was and the eternal plan of salvation, still asked for what He was feeling at the time. If Jesus can do it, we certainly can, too. It’s how it is framed that is important. Twice Jesus mentioned God’s will being done over his own, even while making his request. This tells me that as long as we ultimately desire God’s will to be done regardless of our wishes, we are free and encouraged to pour our hearts out with requests and feelings to the Lord. It’s one important way we connect with Him and build our relationship, after all. And it helps us practise being fully aware of our own desires, yet intentionally setting them as a lower priority than God’s perfect plan for his creation. This plan is certainly beyond our capacity to fully understand, but infinitely better than anything we could dream of, since He is GOOD. We learn and remember that it’s not all about us. And at the same time, if we do pursue God’s will, we will ultimately become the best versions of ourselves, because He’s the one who made us in the first place!
This verse is probably not the answer to every question about prayer in every situation, but when I read it, it brought me peace. I knew it was a message to me from God in that moment. It’s okay to ask for what I want, but I need to focus on God above all, and to let Him work in my heart so I truly desire his will above my own. So now, when I pray, I use Jesus’ model. And I rest in the assurance that God’s will is being done, and however much I do or don’t understand it at the time… it is good.