You hear a lot said, these days, about the power of faith. Faith, they say, makes all things possible. The words of Jesus and of Paul are quoted such as:
"With God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26).
Ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove, and nothing shall be impossible unto you" (Matt. 7:20).
"My God shall supply all your need..." (Phil. 4:19).
"Ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you" (John 15:7).
Are the above Scriptures unqualified promises with no strings attached? Is poverty inexcusable since riches can be had for the asking? Are the sick to be censured for lack of faith? Is it improper to add the words "If it be Thy will" to our petitions?
The above questions must be answered if we are to pray as we ought.
Let us consider the statement, "With God all things are possible."
Are there no conditions whatsoever to the truth of that statement? We believe there are. What young believer has not pondered the question, "Can God make a rock so large that He cannot lift it?" Perhaps you will say that it is not a fair question because one possibility cancels out the other. We agree that it is an unreasonable question, but we contend that it does prove that Christ’s statement is a qualified one. In other words, all things are possible if consistent with other possibilities. The statement does not apply to things that are intrinsically contradictory.
Let us consider the verse about removing a mountain by faith. It concludes by saying, "nothing shall be impossible unto you." We have seen too many "mountains" removed to doubt the truth of this statement. Faith moves mountains. Is this, then, a promise that blankets every circumstance? Is it an open invitation to ask for and receive everything for which our mind could wish? Is this an unconditional... no strings attached ... promise? We do not believe that it is.
If it were we could ask that the Minnesota Vikings win the Super bowl. We could ask that everybody in the world be a millionaire. We could ask that none of our loved ones die. A "no conditions" approach to this promise would guarantee that, given enough faith, all the above things would happen!
You are probably saying, "Don't be foolish! God doesn't answer that kind of praying." I agree. God doesn't answer that kind of praying. But to admit that He doesn't answer that kind of praying is to admit that the promise, "nothing shall be impossible unto you," is a qualified statement. There are some things for which we should not pray!
Now let us consider Paul's declaration, "My God shall supply all your need."
This is a glorious promise, but it is qualified by the word "need." There is a vast difference between a man's wants and a man's needs.
Who wouldn't want a $150,000 home? Who wouldn't want a $5000 a week income? Who wouldn't want a healthy body? Who wouldn't want success and fame? Who wouldn't want to be good looking?
Can we use Paul's statement to justify asking for these things? I think not. God has promised to supply our needs, but our idea of what our needs are may not coincide with what God considers to be our needs! We can ask, but we are going to have to trust God to know what is good for us. We are going to have to add the words, "If it be Thy will," to our prayer.
"Ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you" (John 15:7) is another glorious promise. But it is also a qualified statement. It is preceded by the words, "If ye abide in me and my words abide in you ..." Conditions!
Let's take two instances in which men of faith asked what they willed and it was not done unto them.
Jesus prayed, "Remove this cup from me." Here is a case where Jesus' will was not God's will. Can anyone say that Jesus lacked faith? Why, then, wasn't His prayer answered? Jesus' prayer was not answered because it was God's will to save men through the death of His Son. Was it wrong of Jesus to shun the cup? Was His faith weak because His whole being resisted the curse of "becoming sin for us”? Never! He was neither wrong nor weak. In fact, He was strong, for He submitted His own will to the will of His Father.
As son of man He preferred not to suffer.
As Son of God He preferred not to be made sin.
As Son of man and God He preferred not to die.
But, above all, He preferred to do His Father's will, and this was the secret of His perfect praying. We can learn this secret, too!
Naturally, we would prefer to be rich than poor.
Naturally, we would rather be healthy than sick.
Naturally, we would rather stay at home than go overseas as a missionary.
Naturally, we would rather live than die.
But as children of God, we should prefer to do the Father's will above all else so that
we can say, with Jesus, "Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done."
What was true of Jesus was true of Paul.
A thorn in the flesh ... a messenger of Satan buffeted him. It was something he prayed for God to remove. What greater man of faith was there than Paul? "Ask what ye will" was what his Lord had told him to do. So, he asked. Three times he asked, and three times God answered, "My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness."
Why didn't God answer Paul's prayer? Paul tells us, "Lest I be exalted above measure." It wasn't God's will to take away the thorn. So Paul accepted God's will above his own and said, "Gladly will I suffer."
All of which proves one thing. Every prayer we pray ... every promise we claim ... should be according to the will of God. Any prayer that violates His will or fails to fulfill it, is inappropriate and a misuse of God's promises. "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," must ever be our priority in prayer.
This makes the understanding of God's will of primary importance.
We know two things that are always God's will. When we pray for them, we do not have to say "If it be Thy will." They are:
1. Hallowed be Thy Name
2. Thy Kingdom come
We know that it would be wrong to pray for anything that would violate these two expressions of God's will. In other words, "Ask anything in My Name" cannot be applied to asking for personal glory. I cannot ask that my own name be hallowed and at the same time honestly be seeking God's glory.
Again, God's will is that all men be saved and become citizens of His kingdom. It is also His will that all citizens of His Kingdom be conformed to the image of His Son. Any prayer that defeats this predestined will of God cannot be claimed as one of those, "All things whatsoever ye ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." These promises are not unqualified. They must be applied within the context of God's will.
How, then, should we pray?
"Please save Joe Blow." (No need to qualify this with "If it be Thy will." We already know that it is His will to save all men. However, even this prayer may not be answered since Joe's will must agree with God's will if Joe is to be saved.)
"Please make me like Jesus." (No need to qualify this with, "If it be Thy will," since we know that God has predestined the believer to be conformed to the image of His Son. Christ's concern for God's will led Him through suffering and self-denial. It took Him to the cross. Do we honestly want to be like Jesus? Are we willing to face a cross that we might be Christlike? For our sakes He became poor that we might become rich. Are we willing to be poor for the sake of those who have yet to be "rich" with the understanding of His salvation? Are we willing to deny ourselves ... to leave father and mother for His sake ... that His will might be accomplished?
"Ye have not because ye ask not," said James. "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss that ye may consume it upon your lusts." How does this stack up with, "Ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you”? It only stacks up if our will is submissive to God's will. When we are willing to do God's will, then we can, with assurance, "Ask what we will," and it will be done because our will is compatible with God's will.
But don't expect answers to prayers that are selfish. Don't expect answers to prayers that do not hallow His Name or establish His kingdom. If our mustard seed faith is to move a mountain, then our prayer must be in keeping with God's will. Otherwise, we will find the mountain still standing there in the morning!
Now, what does this mean in terms of asking for the many things we all want? Is it wrong to ask for nice things? Hasn't God invited us to ask?
I would say that things people pray for fall into three categories:
1. Things we have no right to ask for because we know they are contrary to God's will.
2. Things we are not sure of, about which, when we pray, we should add the words, "If it be Thy will."
3. Things we are sure are God's will and for which we need not add the words, "If it be Thy will."
Things like vengeance, selfish living, carnal pleasures, sin, and vain glory are among the first. These are "No-no's"! We should not bother to ask for them.
Secondly, there are the marginal things about which we should pray, "If it be Thy will." Success in business, healing for the body, comfortable living, popularity, the hand of a beautiful girl in marriage ... these things are only legitimate objects of faith if they are compatible with the will of God.
The third category concerns things about which God has expressly declared to be His will. We have already stated that it is always His will that His Name be hallowed, and that His kingdom come. Consistent with this is His will that none should perish but that all should be saved.
Whenever we are seeking the salvation of the lost, it is not necessary to pray, "If it be Thy will."
But is divine healing and deliverance God's will? Do they fall in the second or in the third category?
We believe they fall in the second category, and that prayers for Healing and deliverance should be qualified with the words "If it be Thy will." Why? Because the lost cannot be reached without suffering and sacrifice, and conformity to the image of Christ sometimes is accomplished by the submission and discipline that sickness demands. God's kingdom and God's glory are more important than my ambitions, reputation or comfort... and there are times when we cannot have both.
So, divine healing and deliverance are not always God's will. A classic example is the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Half of the heroes of faith were delivered, and half were not. Those who were not delivered were no less men of faith than those who were.
We've mentioned Paul. He was not delivered from his thorn in the flesh, but by submitting to God's will, God's strength was made perfect in Paul's weakness.
We've mentioned Jesus. He was not delivered from the cross, but by submitting to God's will, He made possible the salvation of all men.
All this is not to say that God does not will to heal and to deliver. Please don't get me wrong. "By His stripes we are healed."
Jesus healed all who came to Him. Daniel was delivered from the lions den, and the three Hebrew children from the fiery furnace. God does heal and deliver, and we are absolutely right in praying for it.
We are only pointing out that God's will must take precedence over our will in these matters, and that His glory and His kingdom are far more important than our comfort and our wants. There is a cross of self-denial that goes with following Jesus.
Let me finish by saying that total joy and fulfillment can only be found in the center of God's will.
A man in the center of God's will can sing while suffering. A man in the center of God's will can pray, "Father forgive them," while hanging on a cross. A man in the center of God's will can say, "My God shall supply all your needs," while fettered to chains and with welts on his back while in a Roman jail. A man in the center of God's will can write, "I would that ye prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth," and at the same time be on a lonely island of Patmos, ostracized from society, hated by his enemies, and destitute of this world's goods!
To be in the center of God's will is to prosper. To be in the center of God's will is to be in health. Blessed is the man who has learned to pray ... "Hallowed be Thy Name ... Thy Kingdom come ... Thy will be done”!