Praying His Will and Crying Out Our Longings - The Ultimate Sign of Love and Faith
Updated: Jun 3
More than 25 years ago, I sat by the side of the oily, dusty road near Villahermosa, Mexico, and cried out to God to let my twin live. In the crushed car in the ditch, she was crumpled over the steering wheel. I had just been helped from the passenger side of the same car. “Please let her live. I don’t care if she’s a vegetable. I’ll take care of her the rest of my life,” I cried as my dad knelt beside me, clutching my hands. Maria died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
Prayer is not a crowbar
Prayer is not a crowbar that we can use to pray open heaven and rain down the blessings and answers we desperately want.
God will do what He will do. Years of praying – begging, sobbing, bargaining – have branded this understanding onto my consciousness.
But if this is true, then what’s the use of praying? Does it really make a difference to beg for safety for our children, plead for the restoration of health of a friend, cry out for reconciliation between a now separated couple, implore God to give wisdom to a young adult about their next steps?
In fact, if we study the scriptures, we see multiple instances where regular people, humans, flawed folks like you and me, moved God to act in a certain way.
Think of the verse in the book of James that refers to Elijah who prayed it would not rain – and it didn’t. And then he prayed it would rain – and it did. The related verse notes that the prayer of a righteous person is “powerful and effective ” (James 5:16).
There’s also the story of Abraham in the Old Testament working out a deal with God to spare a certain wicked city – and God actually getting into the bargaining with him (Genesis 18:16-33)!
These are just two examples from the Bible. There are others.
Prayer is not a toothpick
No, prayer is not a crowbar, but neither is it a toothpick, not good for much except a wee bit of picking and poking.
As weak and messed up as we are, it is possible for our prayers to cause God to act in certain ways.
Just pause and reflect on that for a moment.
Isn’t that amazing? Doesn’t that get you excited about prayer? It is possible for us to move God’s hand.
Now, of course, the next question is – what kinds of prayers cause God to act? Is there a certain way to pray? Perhaps if we beg extra hard and cry? If we pray long enough for one thing will it eventually come to be? Maybe if we stay on our very best behaviour for an especially long time?
There is no prayer formula
After decades of praying for many different people and situations – some of them for years, some of them with tears and sobs and lying flat on the ground, many of them done trying also to be especially good for an especially long streak – I can say with certainty there is no formula. There is no silver bullet. There is no secret code that just needs to be cracked and then you’ll get all prayers answered exactly as you wish every time.
Yes, I have seen many prayers answered in the way I and others around me desired and believed they should be (I found freedom from a destructive relationship with food; family members found much-needed jobs; various broken relationships were restored; the list goes on).
But I have also seen many prayers that have not yet been answered in the way I and others around me desired and believed they should be (a family member has not found complete healing from a sickness; a broken relationship is on the verge of divorce; an unbelieving friend continues to rail against God; the list goes on).
Holding a holy tension in our prayers
If we look to Jesus as the ultimate authority and model on how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13), we find a certain prayer position that at first glance almost seems contradictory:
First, He prayed for God’s will to be done on earth as it is heaven. Notice He didn’t determine what should be God’s will and then order God to act in accordance with that. He said, “Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
But after He prayed for God’s will to be done, He went on to ask for a specific thing, namely daily bread. Well, if He had asked for God’s will to be done, shouldn’t the prayer just stop there? Shouldn’t we all just be running around saying “God, your will be done, your will be done, your will be done” and leave it at that?
We trust Him enough to know that whatever He wills is best. But we also trust Him enough to bring our very personal, very vulnerable wants and needs and ask Him to fulfill them.
I would like to suggest that Jesus models a certain tension in His prayer that we should have in our prayers too.
On the one hand, we say, “Yes, God knows best, we want His will ultimately.” And that’s always first. And that always circles our entire prayer.
But on the other hand, Jesus shows that God wants us to express what we want and think we should have. He wants us to bring all of our desires and needs to Him in a faith-filled way, “Hey God, this is what I really want and really think should happen.”
Prayer as the ultimate act of faith and love
Both understandings show our faith in God. We trust Him enough to know that whatever He wills is best. But we also trust Him enough to bring our very personal, very vulnerable wants and needs and ask Him to fulfill them. We trust that He loves us enough that He will listen and consider them and that He may ultimately answer in the way we wish – or He may not.
Back to my moment by the roadside when my twin was dying. I don’t remember outright saying God your will be done, but I do know that after she died I was gifted with an incredible faith and ability to have peace with what had happened. I trusted that His will had been done.
Prayer is not a crowbar or a toothpick. Perhaps the best way to think of it is as a key that God has given us, the key to His heart. When we both trust His ultimate will and trust Him enough to leave our deepest longings in His hands, we show that we love Him and we show that we truly get that He loves us.
Prayer Photograph by Micah Strutzenberger 2022