PRAYER: 'By God's will ...'
By John R.W. Stott
January 10, 2017
Paul's reference to the will of God, in relation to prayer (Rom. 15:32) is very significant. He has prayed earlier that 'now at last by God's will the way may be opened' for him to come to Rome (1:10). Here he again prays that 'by God's will' he may come to them. His use of this qualifying clause throws light on both the purpose and the character of prayer, on why and how Christians should pray.
The purpose of prayer is emphatically not to bend God's will to ours, but rather to align our will to his. The promise that our prayers will be answered is conditional on our asking 'according to his will' (1 Jn. 5:14). Consequently every prayer we pray should be a variation on the theme, 'Your will be done' (Mt. 6:10).
What about the character of prayer? Some people tell us, in spite of Paul's earlier statement that 'we do not know what we ought to pray for' (Rom. 8:26), that we should always be precise, specific and confident in what we pray for, and that to add 'if it be your will' is a cop-out and incompatible with faith. In response, we need to distinguish between the general and the particular will of God. Since God has revealed his general will for all his people in Scripture (e.g. that we should control ourselves and become like Christ), we should indeed pray with definiteness and assurance about these things.
But God's particular will for each of us (e.g. regarding a life work and a life partner) has not been revealed in Scripture, so that, in praying for guidance, it is right to add 'by God's will'. If Jesus himself did this in the garden of Gethsemane ('Not my will, but yours be done'; Lk. 22:42), and if Paul did it twice in his letter to the Romans, we should do it too. It is not unbelief, but a proper humility.
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