“I’ve been praying about it, and I just really feel like this is what God wants me to do…”
Have you ever heard someone say something like this? If so, how did you respond? If you’re anything like me, maybe you thought, “Wow, this person must have a really strong prayer life! They have such a close relationship to God that they can just go to Him whenever they are unsure in life and He will show them which way to go. I wish I had that kind of prayer life.”
But, even though prayer is an important part of decision-making, and even though the child of God can rightfully follow a sense of calling or direction in his or her life, I think hearing people say things like the statement above is one of the things that has often led me to pray with the wrong mindset. It made me think that if I had a strong enough prayer life, if I only prayed often enough, long enough, hard enough, good enough, etc., God would somehow reveal some secret knowledge about His plan for my life. When facing difficult decisions, I would ask God to guide me, to show me what I should do, expecting to suddenly have this revelation that others claimed to have experienced. But, praying like this usually only left me frustrated or confused.
So, how are we to pray for guidance? To answer this question, let’s look at how Christ taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer. The third petition He teaches us to pray is, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Based on this petition, here are three guidelines for how we are to pray:
#1 – Concerned with God’s will of command, not His will of decree
There are two ways in which we speak of God’s one will: first, there is the will of His eternal decrees, His sovereign decision in eternity for how and when all things will happen. Secondly, there is the will of God’s command, that is, His decision for how His creatures are to rightly live before Him. Since the will of God’s decrees is sovereign and everything will happen exactly as God has determined in eternity, it is especially the will of God’s command that we must be concerned with when we pray, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”
So, when we pray for guidance, we are not to pray expecting God to reveal to us His eternal decrees so that we can know what decision we must make. We shouldn’t worry about “stepping out of His plan” or making sure we remain living according to His will of decrees, because His plan is sovereign and there is no decision that we could make that would cause us to “miss” God’s plan for us.
Instead, we must make decisions based on the will of God’s commands. When we pray for guidance, what we should really be praying for is wisdom to subject our decisions to God’s commandments. Instead of trying to figure out whether a certain choice is along the lines of God’s eternal decrees, we should ask ourselves whether it would cause us to sin or put us in a position that would tempt us to sin, or whether it would put us in a position where we can best love and serve God and our neighbor.
#2 – Practically, not abstractly
When we pray for guidance, it is easy to fall into the habit of making abstract requests and vaguely asking God to guide us or show us His will, but never going deeper than that. But the petition “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” is a very practical request to renounce our will and obey God’s commandments. And if we want to obey God’s commandments, we have to know them! We can’t just pray the words of the third petition and leave it at that – we also have to study God’s Word and grow in knowledge of His commandments so that we can understand how to obey them.
#3 – Driven by submission, not our own desires
In a way, this aspect ties in with my last post, which stressed the importance of putting God, not ourselves, first in our prayers. When we pray, we often want to immediately express our desires and requests, but Christ teaches that we are to first humble ourselves and submit to His will. It is only when we have renounced our own sinful wills and desires that we can truly pray “Thy will be done” and submit ourselves to all of God’s commands, even the command to submit willingly and thankfully to His unfolding plan in our lives.