The Bible tells Christians to be a praying people. In fact, the book of Revelation describes the prayers of believers as golden bowls full of incense rising up before God Himself. So prayers are an important part of the life of faith. It is not an optional activity. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 makes it clear. We are commanded to,
“Pray without ceasing…”
Therefore, we obey and pray. We pray for God’s blessing. We pray for God’s direction. We get into difficulties and we pray for relief. We pray for safety. We pray for assistance in our jobs. We pray for help in our relationships. We pray for stuff. Occasionally we might even pray for someone else… family members, other believers, the sick, or the needy. We obey and we pray.
But many of us are frustrated with what we consider the most important aspect of prayer… that is, getting God to answer our specific requests. But, I’ve been thinking. Is His answer the most significant aspect of our prayers, or is God interested in something else?
Prayer is not informing God of our needs. He knows everything without us asking.
“… for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Matthew 6:8
If He already knows what we need and already knows what we’re going to pray for, why does He command us to actually pray?
One reason the Lord tells us to pray is because it actually does us good to do it. We see this explained in Philippians 4:6,7.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The second reason the Lord wants us to actually put our prayers into words is it gives us the opportunity to use the most important word as part of our petition.
Not using this most important word may be the answer to why our prayers so often go unanswered. We see this in James 4:3.
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
In response to a verse like this we need to examine the motives of our prayers. What is the word that gets to the correct motive in our requests? What is this most important word? It is the word, “but.” Were you thinking of a different word?
Let’s think about our prayers. It is so easy to let them fall into a demanding style. We need this, want that, or even ask for something out of sheer compassion for others, but it’s still a request within the framework of our own perspectives. We think it would be good for the sick to get better, for a difficult circumstance to work out the way we think best, or for our most desired outcome. We start sounding like spoiled children in our petitions. I need. I want. We might even try to be polite with God and say, “Please do… Please give… Please be…” But we forget that most important word. Let’s look at how God’s perfect Son prayed regarding what He wanted.
…“Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Luke 22:42
Do you see the “but” in Christ’s prayer? He was quite literally surrendering to His Father’s will. Isn’t that the word we should always use in our own prayers? “…BUT not what I want, what You want is most important.”
Using this most important word answers the motivation question of James 4:3 because I put every request, every petition, and every supplication into the context of surrendering to the lordship of a sovereign God. We then pray, “God, I think I need this, BUT You do what I really need.” “Father, I want this, BUT You do what’s best for me.” “Lord, this is the way I think things should go, BUT You work things out the way they would best give you glory.
By adding the word “but” to our prayers we adjust our motives and place those prayers in the all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful hand of God. That’s not only surrender – it’s faith. And perhaps stating our faith and trust out loud in our prayers should be even more important than their actual answers.
When I add “but” to my prayer requests I am admitting that I trust God can and will work for His own good pleasure… and not according to my good pleasure. By praying using that most important word we are placing our total trust in the fact that God knows what He’s doing.
This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 1 John 5:14
We can know He hears us and know that we’ve surrendered our prayers to His will just by consistently using that most important word.
Father, I pray that the idea of “but” would permeate our prayers. We need, we want, but Father, most importantly, we surrender. Have Your will in our lives. Thank You, Father, for giving us the Holy Spirit who according to Romans 8:26,27 intercedes in our prayers according to Your will. Help us pray honestly for our needs and even for our desires while always, always, always adding, “But, not what I want… what You want is my highest motive.” Amen and Amen!
In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Think about it…