Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. -Proverbs 3:5-6
This well-known passage is one of the many instances in the Bible in which we read of God’s promise to “direct our paths.” God makes it clear to us that He will guide us through this life’s journey and that His Word will be “a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path” (Psalm 119:105). Yet, how many of us do not struggle with making decisions about what we should do or where we should go in life? Certainly all of God’s people struggle with this from time to time, but this struggle is especially relevant to us as young people, who, after having most decisions made for us during the earlier years of our lives, suddenly find ourselves facing a wave of questions about our futures: Should I go to college? Where should I work? Am I going to get married? Maybe you feel like you know where God is leading you and who He is calling you to be. Or, maybe you had a plan and you thought you knew where God was leading you in life, but somehow things fell through and didn’t work out as you expected, and you were left confused or disappointed, uncertain about what the future might hold.
In these times of uncertainty, we must remember the words of Philippians 4:6, “Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” Undoubtedly, it is appropriate to pray to God and ask Him for guidance in our lives when we are unsure of what to do. However, when we do so, it is important that we pray in the right way and with the right attitude in mind.
I started to think more deeply about this topic a few weeks ago after listening to Rev. Cory Griess’ sermon “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.” Several of the points in this sermon, which dealt with the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer, made me realize that often, in praying to God for guidance, my mindset was not quite the same as the one in which Christ taught us to pray. So, I decided to write a series about some of the “traps” that we must be careful not to fall into whenever we pray, but especially when we pray for the Lord’s guidance. In this first post, I will focus on the trap of putting ourselves first in our prayers rather than focusing on God.
In the Lord’s prayer, the petition “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” is found at the beginning of the prayer, before any petition for our own needs or desires. In fact, the first three petitions that Christ taught us to pray are all focused not on ourselves, but on God. Clearly, Christ is teaching us here that when we pray, we are to put God first and make Him the primary focus of our prayers.
This can be difficult for us to remember when we find ourselves lost or confused about the choices we must make in life. It can be so much easier for us to immediately begin our prayers asking God to let us have our way or give us what we want, and then only at the end of our prayer remember to add an “if it be thy will” or a “nevertheless, thy will be done.” But Christ teaches us that we are to move this petition to the front of our prayers, to humble and submit ourselves to God’s will before we make any requests of our own.
In his sermon, Rev. Griess says that the purpose of prayer is to conform our will to God’s will, not to try to change God’s will. While Christ does teach us that we are to make requests in our prayers for both our spiritual and our physical needs, He also teaches us that before we make these requests, we must come to a proper understanding of the sovereign God to whom we are praying. Before making any requests, we must first make the confession that “He is God, and I am not.”