Prayer is a channel through which Christians can call on God and interact with God, and it is the most crucial link through which Christians may establish a normal relationship with God. Prayer that is in line with God’s will can enable us to obtain God’s enlightenment and guidance, understand God’s will, and have a path of practice. In life, however, many brothers and sisters feel that, when we pray, all we need to think about is asking God for the things we want. We have no idea whether God listens to our prayers or not, and we feel dull and uninspired when we pray. If our prayers do not earn God’s praise, then we are unable to feel His presence, our spirits sink into darkness, we lose our normal relationship with God, and we are unable to obtain His enlightenment and guidance. So how then can we pray in line with God’s will and so that God will listen? Here below we share the three principles of practice of how to pray in line with God’s will.
First, let’s take a look at how the Lord Jesus prayed. Back then, the Lord Jesus knew that He was to be crucified and that His flesh would soon suffer great pain. He felt very distressed, and He prayed to God, saying, “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). The Lord Jesus prayed this way three times in the Garden of Gethsemane and He was able to grasp what God intended for Him; no matter how much pain He would suffer upon the cross, He was willing to obey completely. Afterward, in order to fulfill the will of the heavenly Father, He endured pain, mockery and verbal abuse until, finally, He was crucified upon the cross, thus accomplishing the work of redemption of the Age of Grace. We can see from the Lord Jesus’ prayer that He prayed to God with a wholly obedient heart and a seeking manner, and He grasped what God intended for Him. He made no demands in His prayer to God, nor did He make His own choices; He merely prayed to be able to do His heavenly Father’s will and to do as God willed. The Lord Jesus was Christ, He was God Himself, and yet He prayed to God the Father and sought the will of God the Father from the standpoint of a created being. From this we can see that the Lord was so humble and that He possessed a sense of reason.
Now, let’s take a look at how we pray to God. We often pray like this: “O Lord! My family has encountered some difficulties. Please bring peace back to my family.” “O Lord! I’ve become sick and I believe that You will surely make me well again.” “O Lord! My business is not going well, and I believe that You will surely protect me and bless me….” “O Lord! My son cannot find a good woman. Please aid him and bless him….” When we pray to God, we always use the words “ask,” “make,” and “surely”; this is the tone we use when we pray, asking God to bless us, to arrange this or prepare that for us. So, are our prayers in line with God’s will? What does God think of our praying in this way? God words say, “I have discovered a problem that all people share: When something happens to them, they come before God to pray, but, to them, prayer is one thing, and the matter at hand is another. They believe they should not speak of what is happening to them in prayer. You seldom pray genuinely, and there are some who do not even know how. Actually, to pray is mainly to say what is in your heart, as if you were speaking as you normally do. However, there are people who forget their place as soon as they begin to pray; they insist that God grant them something, heedless of whether it accords with His will, and, as a result, their prayers wither in the praying. When you pray, whatever it is you are asking for in your heart, whatever it is you long for; or, perhaps, there is an issue you wish to address, but into which you have no insight, and you are asking that God give you wisdom or strength, or that He enlighten you—whatever your request, you must be sensible in phrasing it. If you are not, and kneel down and say, ‘God, give me strength; let me see my nature; I beg You to work; I beg You for this and that; I beg You to make me such-and-such….’ That ‘beg’ of yours has a coercive quality; it is an attempt to put pressure on God, to compel Him to do what you want—whose terms you have unilaterally decided in advance, no less. As the Holy Spirit sees it, what effect could such a prayer have, when you have already set the terms and decided what you want to do?” (“The Significance of Prayer and Its Practice”). We can see from God’s words that, from the outside, our prayers appear to be us worshiping God and beseeching Him, but in truth our constant “asking” for things is impure and it is making demands of God. By praying in this way, we are also constantly asking God for things in return, asking God to satisfy our extravagant desires, strong-arming God into doing as we desire—this is not how a created being worships God. We can see that we have no sense of reason, much less a seeking, obedient heart, and so this kind of unreasonable praying is not in line with God’s will.
God says, “One should pray with a seeking, submissive heart. When something has befallen you, for instance, and you are not sure how to handle it, you might say, ‘God! I do not know what to do about this. I wish to satisfy You in this matter, and to seek Your will. May Your will be done. I wish only to do as You will, not as I will. You know that all human will is contrary to Yours, and resists You, and does not accord with the truth. I ask that You enlighten me, give me guidance in this matter, and let me not offend You….’ That is the appropriate tone for a prayer. If you merely say, ‘God, I ask that You help me, guide me, furnish me with the right environment and the right people, and let me do my work well…,’ then, after your prayer, you will still not have grasped God’s will, as you will have been asking God to act according to your own will” (“The Significance of Prayer and Its Practice”). God is the Creator and we human beings are merely His creations; we are unqualified to make any demands of Him or to lay conditions on Him. When we pray to God, therefore, we must possess a sense of reason and we should take our proper place as created beings. We should magnify God, not make our own choices, demands or plans. We should pray to God in a seeking, obedient manner, wait for God’s will to be revealed to us and act as God desires—only praying in this way is in line with God’s will. For example, when we get sick, we should not constantly pray to God asking Him to heal us or asking Him to take our sickness away. Instead, we should pray to God with a seeking, obedient heart, and say, “O God! I know all things are in Your hands and that my getting sick now has Your good will behind it. I know that I am a sinner and that there are lessons I should learn in this sickness that has now befallen me. It’s just that I am ignorant, and I do not understand Your will. But I wish to seek the truth within Your words, submit to this situation, await Your enlightenment and guidance, and be able to act as You will….” By praying and seeking in such a reasonable way, God will listen, and He will enlighten and guide us with regard to the difficulties, confusion and problems that beset us, thus enabling us to understand His will and have a path of practice, and our relationship with God will also draw closer.
Let’s now read a parable spoken by the Lord Jesus in the Bible: The parable of the Pharisee and the publican. The Lord Jesus said, “Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank you, that I am not as other men are, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote on his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:10–14). We can see from the Lord’s parable that He detested the Pharisee’s prayer and that He extolled the publican’s prayer. This was because, when the Pharisee prayed to God, he just flaunted all the good things he had done and all the rules he had followed. He did not, however, acknowledge any sin he had committed at all and neither did he truly repent to God, but instead he always wanted to conceal his own sins and show a false front to others. The Pharisee always spoke words that were pleasant and disguised in order to fawn on God and to take credit, to get God’s blessings in return, and to exalt himself whilst belittling others. He wanted others to see that he loved God more than anyone else, and thereby made others look up to him and idolize him, when in fact he was nothing but a hypocrite. It is evident, therefore, that the Pharisee simply did not possess a God-fearing heart, and that his heart was filled with deceit and not honest at all. Therefore, no matter how pleasant his words sounded when he prayed, God did not commend his prayer, much less listen to it. As for the publican, although he took money from the common people unlawfully, he was aware of his sins and so was able to come before God to sincerely repent and confess. With a pious heart, he spoke openly to God about what was in his heart and he spoke truthfully. He regretted his past evil deeds, and he asked God to take mercy on him and forgive him. The publican’s prayer was sincere and earnest, and therefore God commended him.
If we compare the Pharisee’s prayer with the publican’s prayer, which way of praying better represents how we ourselves pray? We often come before God and say, “O Lord! You were crucified to redeem us, and You suffered so much pain for us. I will do my best to love You and satisfy You…. In order to preach Your gospel, I have been arrested and imprisoned, I have done so much and suffered much pain, and I have supported and helped many brothers and sisters….” “O Lord! I wish to dedicate my all to You. I wish to spend my life expending myself for You and serving You faithfully….” and so on. This kind of praying seems to be filled with resolution, so that others can see how much we love God and how faithful we are to God. In life, however, our love of status, our love of fame and fortune and our love of vanity eclipse our love of God, and we can often tell lies and cheat others for the sake of personal profit. We are unable to put God’s words into practice and, even if we give things up and expend ourselves for God, it is just done to gain blessings and to gain a glorious crown—it is not done to sincerely pay a price for God’s sake. We just talk about our best side to God and hide our sins; this is clearly us trying to cheat God by using pleasant-sounding words and it is really us trying to make God aware of how much we love Him so that we can gain rewards and blessings from Him. And so, there is no difference at all between praying in this way and the way the Pharisee prayed. In essence, this way of praying is to speak falsely, boastfully and emptily in order to flatter and fool God, therefore how can praying in this way be in line with God’s will and be heard by God? The Lord Jesus said, “But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23–24). And God’s word says, “The minimum that God requires of man is that man be able to open his heart to Him. If man gives his true heart to God and speaks what is truly in his heart, then God is willing to work in him. What God desires is not the twisted heart of man, but a pure and honest heart. If man does not speak from his heart to God, then God will not move his heart or work in him. Therefore, the crux of prayer is to speak to God from your heart, telling Him your shortcomings or rebellious disposition, laying yourself completely open before Him; only then will God be interested in your prayers, or else He will hide His face from you” (“Concerning the Practice of Prayer”). God requires that we pray to Him with an honest heart, that we tell Him what is in our hearts and that we speak truthfully. He wants us to be able to confide in Him about our practical difficulties and problems, and He wants us to not hold back and be completely open with Him about the things we have done that are at odds with His teachings and which He loathes. He wants us to be able to truly reflect on ourselves, repent to Him and practice in accordance with His teachings. When God sees that we pray to Him and seek with an honest heart, He will listen to our prayers and will enlighten and guide us with regard to the issues we encounter so that we may come to understand His will and have a path to follow. When our work bears fruit, for example, we can’t help but engage in boastful talk before our brothers and sisters about how much work we have done, how busy we have been, and how great the results are, and so on. We do this so as to make our brothers and sisters hold us in high esteem and look to us; we do not do it to lead our brothers and sisters before God, but to lead them before ourselves, and this is something God most detests. At times like these, we have to come before God and emulate the publican to pray and repent to God, and say, “O God! In my sermons lately, all I ever talk about is how I suffer and expend myself for You and, without me being aware of it, my brothers and sisters have all begun to look up to me. O God! I am wrong to do this, and I wish to repent to You. I ask only that You guide me so that, in my future sermons and work, I may deliberately exalt You and lead my brothers and sisters before You….” When we are pure and open about our own corruption in this way and we seek God’s guidance, God will then lead us, and He will enable us to know our own shortcomings, understand His will, minister to our brothers and sisters in accordance with His requirements, and lead them before God. Just as the Bible says, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God gives: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever” (1 Peter 4:11). When we understand what God requires of us, we can then repent sincerely to Him, and focus on exalting God and bearing testimony to Him in the future. By doing this, our work and sermons become more and more in line with God’s will, and this is the effect achieved by praying to God with a true heart.
Let’s now take a look at Solomon’s prayer. Just after Solomon became king, he prayed to Jehovah God: “And now, O Jehovah my God, You have made Your servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in. And Your servant is in the middle of Your people which You have chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give therefore Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this Your so great a people?” (1 Kings 3:7–9). The Lord was well pleased with Solomon for making such a request, and God said to him: “Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked for yourself long life; neither have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies; but have asked for yourself understanding to discern judgment; Behold, I have done according to your words: see, I have given you a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like you before you, neither after you shall any arise like to you. And I have also given you that which you have not asked, both riches, and honor: so that there shall not be any among the kings like to you all your days” (1 Kings 3:11–13). From Solomon’s prayer and the promise made by Jehovah God, we can see that God shows incredible kindness to and bestows blessings upon those who show consideration to His will. When Solomon prayed to God, he did not make any request for the sake of his own fleshly interests, asking God to bestow on him greater wealth, or to grant him long life or good health. Instead, he asked God to bestow wisdom upon him, so that he could rule well over God’s people so that the Israelites may better be able to worship God and obey God, and this kind of prayer made God well pleased. God therefore blessed Solomon, and not only did Solomon obtain wisdom and intelligence, but God even bestowed on him the riches and honor which he had not prayed for.
When we compare the way Solomon prayed and beseeched God with what we pray to God every day, we see that most of the time we pray to God saying, “O Lord! Please make my business go well and flourish.” “O Lord! Please let my son do well in his exams and get into a good college, and my daughter marry a good man.” “O Lord! Please may You protect my family from sickness and disaster, and bless us with peace and happiness.” “O Lord! Please heal me of my sickness.” We see that we only pray for the sake of our own fleshly interests, and we beseech God for things to eat, things to wear, and so that we may enjoy many blessings. Very rarely do we pray out of consideration for God’s wishes or to do His will, nor do we desire to satisfy God or love God, but instead we just pray to use God to fulfill our needs, constantly asking God for grace and blessings in return. We never understand God’s heart, much less can we treat as urgent that which God treats as urgent or think as God thinks. When God does bless us, we give Him our thanks and our praise, but when God does not assent to what we ask of Him, we then complain and blame God.
The Lord Jesus said, “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things. But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:31–33). From these verses we can see what to pray for from God that He will accept. God does not want us to always be praying for physical things like food and clothing, for God prepared these things for us long ago and we do not need to worry about them. All we have to do is submit to God’s orchestrations and arrangements; it is totally meaningless to pray to God asking for these physical things, and it is of no benefit at all to our life progression. God hopes that we will pray for the sake of pursuing the truth and gaining life, for God’s gospel to spread throughout the world, that God’s will may be carried out on earth, and for us to be able to do our church work well so as to satisfy God’s will. We may also pray to God asking Him to give us the responsibility of ministering to the Lord and that we may be granted God’s guidance when we are supporting and helping our brothers and sisters, and we may also pray to understand more truths within God’s words. When we encounter persecution and adversity in the course of preaching the gospel, we should pray to God to give us faith and strength to spread the gospel of the heavenly kingdom, to not be constrained by the forces of darkness, and to not capitulate no matter how painful or difficult things get. When we are working and giving sermons, we should be considerate of God’s will and pray to God asking Him to enlighten and guide us to understand His words, pray that we may be able to fellowship about His will and His requirements, to enable our brothers and sisters to be able to put God’s words into practice and experience His words, and to lead them before God to magnify God. When we reveal our arrogant and self-righteous corrupt disposition in our interactions with other people, we should pray not to live by our corrupt dispositions. When our wild ambitions and desires creep into our speech and actions, we should pray to forsake our flesh, to practice the truth and to be honest people. When we are slipshod in our service to the Lord, we should pray to accomplish God’s commissions with all our heart and mind. When disaster strikes, whether natural or man-made, we can pray to God to give us faith and strength, to not blame or misunderstand God, but to be able to submit to God’s orchestrations and arrangements, and to stand witness for God…. By praying often to God and beseeching Him in these ways, God will hear our prayers and will lead us to understand the truth and to understand His will, He will give us the path of practice, and our lives will mature. This is an important principle of practice for Christians to pray to God in line with His will.
The above are the three principles of practice of how Christians can pray in line with God’s will. As long as we frequently train ourselves and practice these three principles, I trust that we will be able to obtain the enlightenment and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to understand and gain more truths, we will be able to establish a normal relationship with God, and God will hear our prayers!