Our wills are naturally selfish. We love to have our own way. It’s not easy to submit to the will of another, unless there’s some strong motive that impels us to submission. The carrying out of our wills in a selfish way only leads to more selfishness and to a stronger inclination to have our own way. It’s this selfish inclination in the will that makes it necessary for God to demand submission from us. His will is never selfish, but always benevolent. The cheerful doing of it always leads to an increase of benevolence in us. Therefore, when God demands us to submit our wills to him, he’s doing that which is best for us. The more consideration for others and true benevolence is developed within us, the more our natures are purified and exalted and the more we are able to fulfill the purpose of our creation.
Submitting to God is often the hardest of all tasks, yet it’s the most necessary if we’re to be exalted to fellowship with God and enjoy the highest development of our faculties and powers. Selfishness always tends to degrade. It’s ignoble---exercise tends to dwarf and blight the finest things in our characters. The adoption of a submissive attitude toward God and his will, paves the way for the natural development of those qualities within us which are most worth developing, and which ennoble us most when they’re developed. The more our souls run out God-ward, the more like him we become; and the more like him we become, the happier and more useful we are. Unselfish devotion to benevolent service toward God and toward our fellow man enriches the heart and life as nothing else can do, and leads the way to happiness, peace, and contentment, which make one truly blessed.
Submission to God is the one necessary thing in order to enjoy the Christian life. The more fully we’re submitted to his will, the more cheerfully we can carry it out, and the sweeter and richer will be the joy of doing it. Reluctant submission to God is not real submission. Reluctant obedience is never real obedience. It’s only when the heart responds to God willingly and cheerfully that the power of such service to make one happy is realized. We must conquer our reluctant wills. “The essence of sacrifice of self is the sacrifice of the will. Unwilling offerings are a contradiction, and in fact, there are no such things. The quality of unwillingness destroys the character of the offering and robs it of all sacredness. Reluctant Christianity is not Christianity.”
True nobility of both the inner and the outer life comes from submission to, and cooperation with, God. The nature of our relations with God depends upon the extent of our submission to him. This is well illustrated in the relation of husband and wife. When two marry, and there’s no merging of the wills and purposes, but each retains his or her individuality, standing apart from the other in wish and desire, in choosing and willing, their union can never be a happy one. They must yield themselves to each other. There must be a merging of their wills into each other, a combining of their purposes, a consideration of each other, a sacrificing of the individual will. The husband and wife who really love each other can enjoy each other’s society and draw near to each other in spirit and affection. This makes their union a blessed reality, and a source of more true joy than any other natural relation. Those who thus enjoy each other are the ones who have sacrificed self and lost sight of selfish considerations; each desires to please the other and each finds his or her happiness in the happiness of the other.
In the Scriptures, Christ is represented as being the husband of the church, and the church is taught to submit to him as a wife should submit to her husband. The wife submits to her husband because she loves him---if she submits from any other reason she must be unhappy in her submission. The submission, that comes from love, and is the willing response of love, is the source of the deepest and truest happiness that can come from human sources. So the submission to God, which is acceptable to him, and which reacts in blessedness to the soul who submits, must be based upon love. The secret of such submission is thus stated by John, “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us.” (1 John 4:16) So he exclaims in the next breath, “God is love.” Only the truly submitted heart can fathom the love of God, or can love God with that self-enriching love, which inspires devotion and causes us to delight in God. The fervor of love softens the will and makes it flexible. When we love, it is easy to obey; it is easy to submit. All the irksomeness and compulsion is taken out of religion when the heart is full of love toward God. The more we love, the easier it is to serve, and the more joyful is that service.
Self-surrender is the heart of all true religion. Paul told the secret when he said of a certain church, that they “first gave their own selves.” Then they could endure persecutions. They could bear with patience the things, which came upon them, and still be full of joy. The yoke of God was not galling to them. The sufferings that came upon them were not hard to be borne. They were overrunning with love. Their hearts were knit together with bonds stronger than death. They could be exceedingly joyful in all their tribulations, because they had first given themselves. Oh, the barrenness and unhappiness, in the lives of many persons, because they are trying to give service, when they haven’t given themselves! They are trying to serve God, but at the same time they’re serving themselves. They try to combine these two services, and what an unsatisfying, irksome service they find it! How often their will is contrary to God’s will! How often their will breaks out to claim its own way! This conflict of wills shuts out from their lives the blessed sense of God’s nearness and approval, which is granted to those who have first given themselves; who have yielded their all without reservation to God; who have surrendered themselves, and their wills, and now find a continuous inspiration to service in the delight of their own hearts in serving. A religion, which is not based on self-surrender is a mere form. It is of no more value than the religion of the pagan, for it is the same kind of a religion that he has. True religion is love---love flowing out in devotion, and service, and self-surrender. The forms of religion are nothing without the real inner substance. If we have the form, without the inner content, we are poor indeed; but if we are thoroughly submitted to God, we have the inner content of religion, no matter in what form it manifests itself.
The attitude of our wills toward God is thus beautifully expressed by one writer, “A man’s will, should be an echo, not a voice; the echo of God, not the voice of self. It should be silent as some sweet instrument is silent till the owner’s hand touches the keys.” It is self-surrender that tunes all the strings of our hearts to a unison of purpose, and makes them responsive to the touch of the Divine Musician. And when we are attuned to God’s will through self-surrender, our hearts will be filled with his melodies; there will be celestial harmonies in our lives; our hearts will join with the angels in their chorus of praise, and we shall be raised up together with Christ and made to sit in heavenly places with him. Self-surrender is the key that unlocks all the riches of our own natures, and causes them to bud and blossom and produce rich fragrance. Every noble thing in us is made nobler, by submission; every beauty is rendered more beautiful---a thousand new beauties and riches are brought into the life that was not there before. Self-surrender empties our hearts and makes them ready to receive divine treasures. Love, joy, faith, peace, contentment, and all the blessed fruition of righteousness have their roots sunk deep in self-surrender.
Many people seem to think that surrender to God impoverishes men, and that it is a wholly one-sided thing, but God asks that we be emptied of self only that he may fill us and that he may give himself to us in the fullest measure of our capacity and willingness to receive him. If we hold to anything of self, or of the world, it’s because we’re not willing to be filled with God and don’t believe that he will be to us more than all else beside. All lack of submission, shuts our God from that part of our nature, which is not submitted, and prevents him from having control of that part of the will, which remains un-submitted.
Open the door of thy heart wide. Unlock its every chamber. Hand over the key to God. Entreat him to come in, and fill you to your fullest capacity. Empty your heart of self, all selfish plans, purposes, desires, reluctance of the will and every hesitation to obey. Give him your all. Let not one thing be kept back. When all is his, the floods of his grace will flow into your soul till you will wonder why you ever hesitated to yield your all to him. He yields his all to us. He withholds no good thing when we are yielded to him fully. So the yielding is mutual, although he gives more than we, because he is greater than we. He asks the surrender of our wills only that he may guide us into paths wherein we never could walk without his guidance---paths of peace beneath the sunny skies of his love. Cheerful self-surrender has a wonderful power to banish the gloom and the clouds of human life. The un-surrendered life is like the mountain whose top is ever veiled in clouds.
It has been said, “Peace is: to will as God wills.” We all desire peace, but this is the secret of peace. When we have said, “Not my will be done,” the conflict of wills has ceased. Then we can will as God wills, and his peace which passeth all understanding will fill our hearts; then in the quiet, joyous eventide, the dew of heaven will fall upon our souls, refreshing and blessing them, and calm content will overspread our life like the quiet of the evening twilight.
True happiness is predicted on perfect conformity to God’s will by our wills, both in our characters and in our conduct. The surrendered life is necessarily a happy life, for it possesses the elements of true happiness within itself. The un-surrendered life is an unsatisfied life, always filling itself with evanescent joys, which fade away as soon as they are grasped and leave nothing of satisfaction and contentment behind. “The one misery of man is self-will; the one secret of blessedness is a conquest over our own wills. To yield them up to God is rest and peace.” Self-surrender “means that our wills are brought into harmony with his, and that means that the one poison drop is squeezed out of our lives, and that sweetness and joy are infused into them, for what disturbs us in this world is not trouble, but our opposition to trouble. The source of all that frets, and irritates, and wears away our lives, is not in external things, but is the resistance of our wills to the will of God expressed by external things.”
It’s fighting against circumstances, which makes them hard to bear. Self-surrender smoothes our way, lightens our burdens, fills our hearts with a song of joy, and gives us courage for the battles of life. Where obedience is free, and not reluctant, constant, not irregular, spontaneous, not constrained, we never feel that we have a “hard row to hoe,” for God’s sustaining grace and the joys of his salvation give much strength of soul and such buoyancy of spirit that life’s conflicts are all won, and our lives are kept sweetly victorious.
The submitted will is not weakened because of that submission. We don’t have to be passive and feeble in order to submit to God. Submission frees the will from the bondage of sin, and it can then, act normally. The submitted will is: the will acting with God instead of against him. The un-submitted will, acts against him. The submitted will is an active, vital, powerful will, acting in conjunction with God’s will and directed by his will. Submission doesn’t mean the destruction of our will; it only means that our strength will be turned into the right channels, so that we shall desire God’s will. The cooperating will loses none of its strength through submission. It joins its strength with God’s strength, and being directed by him into the most effective channels, it can accomplish what would be impossible for it to accomplish without being surrendered. Our wills should speak, after God’s will speaks. If our wills speak first, they may bring us into many miseries and troubles and be the cause of many failures and sins. We must let God speak, and then when he speaks, echo the same thing. Thus shall we be workers together with God in the accomplishment of his grand and glorious purpose.
People like to have their own way, and often think that if they surrender to God they can’t have their own way anymore. However, when we have chosen God’s will as our will, we always have our own way when God has his way. Some are afraid to submit to God’s will lest they should have to give up their own cherished plans or ambitions; lest they should not be able to choose for themselves. But we can always choose for ourselves if we choose what is best, for God’s will is that which is best. If we don’t choose God’s will, but choose some other way, we’re choosing less than the best for ourselves. Therefore, we are robbing ourselves of that which is best for us, and we thereby lose the joy and peace that are the fruits of choosing his will.
Some fear to take God’s will, because they distrust God’s fidelity to them, and feel that they can choose best for themselves. This is doubting God’s wisdom and love, for God is wiser than we---his tender love for us will cause him to choose what is best for us, just as a loving parent will choose for his child that which is best for it. We must submit to God in faith. A submission that is full of doubts concerning God’s faithfulness and love is always a hesitating submission, and that very hesitation robs it of the joyfulness that comes from confident, trusting submission.
When we are fully submitted, he sometimes lets us choose our own course. The author has had a number of such experiences, one of which will be mentioned. There was a time when two courses were open, and a choice must be made between the two. To follow either would be doing the Lord’s service, but which would please the Lord to follow was not clear, though earnest prayer was made to know the will of the Lord. For a time there seemed to be no answer. Then one day God said, “You can do just as you choose; you can go ahead as you are or you can take up the other line of work.” This proved a great source of comfort and inspiration to my soul. To feel that God saw in me sincerity enough to do his will to let me choose for myself what sort of work I should do, inspired my heart to faithfulness and to devotion to him, as perhaps nothing else could have done.
In order for God to allow us the privilege of choosing for ourselves in such matters, the will must be wholly surrendered to his will. But what a blessed sense of soul-rest and what enriching of the nature come through this self-surrender! All the blessedness of which we are capable comes to us through the channel of the submitted will, but any drawing back from God’s will, closes the channel and robs us of the blessedness that he would otherwise send.
GOD’S WILL CONCERNING SUFFERING
It has been said that nature is exceedingly cruel. Wherever we turn we are confronted with the mystery of suffering. The human race has their part in a common suffering, of which Paul speaks in the eighth chapter of Romans. “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (read verses seventeen to twenty-two). Why is it that there should be so much of suffering in the creation of the merciful and loving God? Perhaps we shall never understand it in its fullness until we “know even as we are known,” but all of us are confronted with the fact that so long as we live in this world, we must have a part in its suffering.
We understand some of the uses of pain in the physical world. Pain is nature’s safeguard. This was illustrated just a few moments ago. The end of my finger began to tingle with pain. My attention was attracted; I began to examine it and found that in some way I had cut it. The pain that I felt was nature’s call for help. If we run a splinter in our flesh, nature, by means of the pain that follows, not only calls our attention to the injury, but demands the removal of the intruder. If we did not feel the pain when our flesh was burned, or cut, or bruised, our life might be endangered many times. So pain is our safeguard in the physical realm. It is no less so, in the mental and spiritual realms. Without the sense of discomfort that comes to the conscience as a result of wrongdoing, we should have no safeguard against wrong-doing. And so, after all, pain and suffering are God’s blessings given to us in his mercy.
Seeing that such is the case, we need not be surprised to find suffering classed as one of God’s gifts to us. We read, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29). God’s gifts are all blessings, and so, whether we can understand it or not, suffering is God’s gift to us---the manifestation of his merciful kindness. To be sure, not all the suffering in the world is according to God’s will, for much of it is unnecessary and is the penalty of a broken law. Yet who can say that even this suffering does not work out a benevolent purpose? In 1 Pet. 4:19, we read of “them that suffer according to the will of God.” In chap. 3:17, we read, “It is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing than for evil-doing.” These texts make it plain that it is God’s will that people suffer. From a physical standpoint, we note that it is impossible for suffering to be avoided, because in order to have the capacity for physical joy, we must also have the capacity for suffering. If our sensory nerves respond to favorable influences, they cannot avoid responding to unfavorable ones. It is so throughout the whole scope of life.
The possibility of pleasure carries with it the possibility of pain; so the Christian, even when he is doing the will of God, will suffer. He will suffer spiritual conflicts with the powers of evil; he will suffer under the power of temptation---sometimes very sorely---and he will have mental conflicts with doubts, fears, and perplexities; he will have physical temptations. We sometimes ask why this continual warfare must be. It is one of God’s mysteries, but we know that out of this conflict the spirit rises to higher heights, to nobler attainments, and to finer achievements than would be possible under other conditions. The most of us have things in our dispositions that must be overcome. We should like to remake ourselves, or to have God remake us! But we must war against these tendencies, master our dispositions, and conquer ourselves. It is this conquering of self that makes us kings. The blood of Jesus Christ is the antidote for sin; yet these things of which we have been speaking are not sin, but natural dispositions and traits---things inherently in us. These things, grace does not obliterate, though its high tide often overflows them.
The Christian has also to meet the opposition of evil persons. Jesus said to his disciples, “Ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake.” The call to Christian service in any capacity is a call to suffering. Jesus appeared to Saul in order to show him what great things he must suffer in the new life to which he was called. This suffering Paul explains to us, “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake which is the church” (Col. 1:24). Satan hates Christ and is constantly warring against him, but since he can not reach Christ directly, he attacks him through his followers. He stirs up the hatred of evil men who have righteousness and love iniquity, and causes them to persecute the children of God, and he makes bitter enmity in the hearts of these evil-doers against, not only God’s children, but against the Christ who is in their hearts. When Christ was in the world he suffered many things of the people, and had he continued in the world in the flesh, he would have suffered many more things ere this. Since he has left the world, the remainder of that suffering falls, not upon him directly, but upon us. As the stripes fell upon his physical body then, so now they fall upon his spiritual body, and we, making up that body, suffer with him that which remains of his suffering.
But it is not only his suffering in which we share. There is something else that goes with it, and this something else, which is the fruit of the suffering, is a divinely blessed thing. We read, “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation” (2 Cor. 1:5-7).
There is nothing sweeter than the consolation that Christ gives, and this consolation can come only after suffering. The offense of the cross has not ceased. Satan has not gone out of business. It is God’s will that we still be here in this world suffering the things consequent upon this life, and our present environment. But out of it all shall come a richness of experience, a strength of soul, a likeness to Christ, a holy disposition, and an unshaken fidelity that will prepare us for the eternal blessedness that awaits us, and will thus assure our holiness throughout all the ages. We have already pointed out that God’s purpose in this world, primarily, is not so much to make us happy as to make us holy; but being holy, we are happy as a natural consequence. And so he lets us suffer those things that develop Christian character and assure our holiness. The things that we suffer in the process are God’s will for us. We should not lament nor murmur, but should willingly suffer the will of God, knowing that it will work out for us a “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
Sometimes we suffer for doing well. We are often misunderstood. Holiness is never popular with evildoers, but we are told that “If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God” (1 Pet. 2:20). The Christian can rejoice in tribulation. Like the early Christians, he can rejoice that he is counted worthy to suffer affliction for the name of Christ, for he remembers the promise that has been made to him. We have the promise, “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:12). Almost anyone would be willing to reign with him, but are we willing to go with him through Gethsemane and take the rugged way to Calvary? Are we willing to be crucified with him and then to bear the reproach of the cross and the opposition of evil men and demons, and to suffer the various things that may come upon us in this life? The reigning will be glorious. We shall be crowned with crowns of righteousness at his right hand. We shall sit with him in the throne. How glorious all this is to anticipate, but the suffering must come first. The humiliation must come before the exaltation, the labor before the reward, the suffering before the consolation. So let us suffer what we must, needs suffer, with patience, looking forward to the hope that is set before us.
God has certain things he desires to accomplish in us. These things can only be accomplished through suffering. He wills to accomplish them through the only possible means; so here is the result: “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish , strengthen, settle you” (1 Pet. 5:10). Suffering is the gateway into these things. We need to be settled, established, and made to be vigorous, virile Christians, and this is God’s way of making us such.
Some of the finest paintings that have ever been made have been painted by half-starved artists in the midst of the direst poverty, in garrets or cellars. Most of the great achievements of the world have been wrought by men whose lives have been full of suffering. The strength that has made their achievements possible has come through suffering, through patient endurance, through loyally striving against obstacles.
The grandest views are seen after the toilsome and perhaps dangerous scaling to the summits of the mountain-peaks. The mightiest triumphs come after the sorest conflicts. The story is told of a young lady who had a beautiful voice, who had studied under eminent teachers until she had perfected her technique, and was ready to appear before the public. She entered confidently upon her life’s work, but as she sang to the great audiences she failed to meet with the response from them that she had expected. After many determined efforts to succeed that ended in sore disappointment, she went back to her former teacher and asked him what the reason was the she could not move her audiences. He replied, “You have never suffered.” He knew that it took suffering to put into the voice, that quality, which appeals to the heart of the hearers. So God knows that it takes suffering to put into our voices, and hearts, and minds, the quality that he desires in them. He lets us suffer, but in the end, compensates us for it all. Looking back over our lives from eternity, we shall value the things, which we had suffered, far more than the things which had then seemed most desirable, for the “peaceable fruits of righteousness” wrought in us are, in the main, the fruits of pain.
PRAYING ACCORDING TO GOD’S WILL
Prayer is an important part of the Christian life. Jesus said, “…men ought always to pray.” But prayer, to be effectual, must be of a certain kind; it must possess certain characteristics in order to render it acceptable to God. Without these characteristics it may as well have no existence. We read of some whose prayers were, an abomination to God. That was because their prayers were not of the right sort. In these people were elements that were displeasing to God, so that he could not accept their prayers. Nor answer them. There is a kind of prayer, however, which God delights to hear. It comes up as sweet incense to him. The incense that was offered on the golden altar in the holy place of the temple was a type of the prayers of God’s people. And so, prayer of the right sort is a sweet fragrance to God.
The God who invites us to pray, and who takes pleasure in our prayer, is the God who delights to answer prayer. It is he who, by his Spirit, inspires within our hearts the disposition to pray. Prayer in God’s will means prayer in the manner and with the attitude of heart that is according to God’s will, also prayer for the things that are according to his will. We shall do well in considering this question if we first view this subject in its negative aspect. There are certain kinds of prayer that are not in God’s will. There are certain things called prayer which rather merit another name and which rise to God, not as incense, but as something, which is displeasing.
There is, first, the dictatorial prayer. It brings its desires to God and tries to get God to accept them. Its language is, “I want; I want.” Perhaps it is not so expressed, but that is the cry of the heart. It is not considering what God wants, it is thinking of self, and self-looms so large that God is left out of the question. It not only knows what it wants, and desires it very much, but sometimes it demands it peremptorily. Such prayer lacks submission. It lacks consideration of God’s rights. Its own imperious will, (to have its desires gratified) stands out above everything else. Not only does it, voice its desires, but would dictate to God just how he shall answer. It wants things thus and so, and no other way. It argues with God in order to convince him that its plans should be carried out and its desires ought to be granted, because its way is best. But God is on his throne and he will take no dictation from us. When we approach him in this way, we cannot pray in his will. Selfish desire speaks so loudly, that we can hear nothing else. We ask to know nothing else but the gratification of our own desires.
Then there is the grumbling prayer. This, that, or the other has no been going right. God is blamed for not answering prayer. Through the prayer there is an attitude of dissatisfaction. There is a frown in it. Things are not going to suit those who are praying; so they are displeased, and consciously or unconsciously, they throw the blame for existing circumstances, which displease them, upon God. Better never open our mouths in prayer, than to pray such a prayer. Again, there is the complaining prayer. It is a petulant recital of the faults of others. So many people are like children who run to their parents with complaints about their playmates. They whine, and sniff, and feel them selves very much aggrieved, and want to pour it all out into God’s ear. God wants us to put away childish things and approach him like right-minded, sensible, intelligent, grown-up individuals. It is bad enough to be pitying ourselves, and whining, and complaining in our hearts---to say nothing of pouring it out to God.
Then, too, there is the resentful prayer, the prayer that comes from a heart, which within, is saying, “I have prayed and thou hast not answered. I have cried and thou hast not helped.” It is not satisfied with the manner in which God answers, or with the time when he answers. It is a disgruntled prayer that is full of rebellion. It is dishonoring to God, and is hateful to him. Such prayers can only stir his wrath.
Perhaps the most common of all prayers that are unacceptable is the doubting prayer; not the prayer that is merely uncertain of God’s will because it has not yet been learned, but the prayer that questions him, that doubts his fidelity, or his willingness to hear and answer. It is the prayer that puts a question mark after his promises. It distrusts God. It cannot believe that all his promises are yea and amen to it, that his storehouse is wide open, that his loving heart yearns to pour out blessings. It is full of uncertainty and hesitation. It is not sure of its ground. It is full of fear and trembling. It is the very opposite of that expectant, hopeful, confident prayer that faith inspires.
There are prayers that are insults to God. Who has not heard the pompous prayer? It is very evident that such a prayer is only a prayer of the lips. It is a hypocritical prayer, and no such prayer was ever answered, neither is there any expectation that it will be answered. Such a prayer: is a “pompous form.” It has no more of real prayer substance than solid material in the inflated balloon. But this is not the only form of hypocritical prayer. People ask for what they do not really desire, and for that which they do not expect to be granted. Some deliver prayers to an audience, with the audience, not God, in mind. Some prayers are like that recorded of the Pharisee, who recognized God by addressing him and then spent the remainder of the time in glorifying self.
There are also hypocritical prayers, prayed by people who seem to be very good and who have no idea of being hypocrites. One prays, “O Lord, save my neighbors,” yet makes no effort to do anything toward their salvation. He desires them to be saved; yet he goes on his way very complacently, having no compunction of conscience, because he does nothing to lead them to Christ. Another prays, “O Lord, save the heathen. O Lord, raise up missionaries to go,” but in his heart he says, “But don’t take John or Mary; leave my children with me. I have other plans for them. Send somebody else’s children as missionaries.” Another prays, “O Lord send forth labors into they vineyard,” but his heart says, “Don’t send me or any of my children.” One prays for God to provide the means to carry on the Lord’s work, but his heart says, “Let others give it; Let me keep what I have.” Congregations pray for God to send them ministers, when they have no disposition to submit to their leadership, if God should send them. Perhaps they have already proved this by their conduct toward those who have in the past labored with them. Some pray, “O Lord, bless our pastors; help them to build up the work here and lead us aright.” At the same time, they will not surrender to be led by them, and perhaps murmur at them and find fault with them. All these are examples of hypocritical prayers, and all such prayers are an affront to God.
Leaving the negative, let us look at the positive side of the subject. Prayer according to God’s will, first, is sincere prayer. There is nothing Pharisaical or hypocritical about it. It is the yearning of the heart, which is moved by right motives and animated with a deep sincerity. Every word is the honest sentiment of the heart. It is not mere lip service; it is not mere form. It is always characterized by humility, for humility is always a characteristic of godly sincerity. It is also the prayer of simplicity. Its language is not stilted or pompous, for there is little thought of effect. It is the simple cry of the child to its Father.
The prayer that is prayed according to God’s will is always a submissive prayer. It does not press its own desires. The language of the heart is, “Thy will be done.” It does not argue with God. It does not choose the way he shall answer; in fact, it has no requirements for him. It trusts in divine wisdom, counts God faithful, hopes all things and believes all things. It is the prayer of confidence, not the prayer of doubt. It believes God, and is ready to write, “This is true,” and set its seal to all of God’s promises.
Prayer that is prayed according to God’s will, always puts God and his desires and purposes first. We have a wonderful example of what prayer should be in what is commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer. In it are clearly shown the components of holy prayer. It is many times, repeated, by those who have no conception of its content. Note how it runs: “Our Father, which are in heaven, Hallowed by thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” First, there is consideration of its object. The heart looks up to God, recognizes its relation to him, and love bursts out with the cry, “Our Father!” There is a drawing near to the throne. Not a selfish personal desire, nor the thought of self, but the thought of God fills the soul, and filial love runs out of him in a warm, rich current. After this loving contemplation of God, inspired by love and the natural fruits of love, the heart cries out, “Hallowed be thy name.” First love, then, worship---reverential devotion, a sense of God’s greatness and worthiness, and a desire that it will be recognized, by all.
Then, hard upon the worship of the praying heart comes the desire that all other hearts will worship him, expressed in the words, “Thy kingdom come.” The heart that loves and worships, reaches out to embrace the world, and bring it to Christ; to have the world know him and adore him as it does. Then the heart breaks out, “Thy will be done.” In glad submission, it asks not its own will; it casts away its own plans, purposes, and desires, and bows submissive to God’s will. And not only so, in its desire, it brings all the world into submission to him. It crowns him Lord of all. It sets his throne above all. It must do all this before it is ready to think of self.
After all this is done, it humbly brings its own requests, but it presents them only after it has bowed in submission and said, “Thy will be done.” After it has loved and worshiped and submitted, it can pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” However, after it has made its requisitions upon God’s storehouse, it speedily forgets self and bursts out again, into glorious praise, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.” As soon as its desires are expressed, they are forgotten, and God again fills the vision. This is the natural order of the prayer that is according to the will of God.
One great component of acceptable prayer is aspiration. It is expressed in the Lord’s Prayer by “hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.” The praying soul does not merely come as a beggar, asking for the things it needs, but true prayer draws out the heart to God and makes it aspire to great things for itself---not great things in a selfish way, but it aspires to be truly noble, to be Godlike. Such prayer is the flight of the soul up to God. It enkindles lofty purposes and noble ambitions, and every time we pray thus, we draw nearer to heaven, there to abide. Intercession is a very needful thing in our prayer, because we constantly need divine help. We need to draw upon the divine storehouse of grace, and love, and strength. There must be a constant impartation; so necessarily, we must ask in order to receive. But this is only one of the components of prayer, and should be only a fractional part of our prayer; while contemplation of God, love toward him, worship, reverence, and a pouring out of our aspirations---the reaching out of the soul to encompass more of God---should be the large part of all prayer.
We are taught importunity in prayer, but there is a vast difference between asking earnestly with importunity in submission to God’s will, and the prayer of selfish desire. We may pray earnestly and continually for a thing; we may desire it until desire fills all the soul with agonized yearning, without there being one element of selfishness in it. But, wherever selfishness enters, and we press our own desires upon God, without regard to his desire, we rob prayer of all acceptability. We cannot help having desires, but we must beware lest these desires lead up to put our wills ahead of God’s will. This is why many prayers are not answered, and often we may be pleading for something that God has refused because we ask amiss. “To make a prayer out of my rebellion against his will, is surely the greatest abuse of prayer that can be conceived.” Praying in the will of God does not mean dictating to God, or trying to get him to put our plans into effect, but it leaves all means and methods to his choosing, all to be done according to his will and judgment. We often resist God in our very payers by planning for him and dictating to him.
Not all desires that arise in us are our own desires. We are told that God works in us, both to will and to do of his own good pleasure. One way that he does this is to create desires in us that run parallel to his will. The submitted soul desires what God desires for him because his own desires are begotten by the Spirit of God and are the manifestations of God’s will. It is natural for the holy soul to desire the same things that God desires. He has no selfish interests to serve; therefore, his desires are not selfish. The benevolence of his own heart corresponds to God’s benevolence, and there is unison of desire. Many times our prayers are inspired of God because God desires to give something. Because of the desire he has to give us something, or to do something for us, he draws out our desire for that thing and leads us to pray for it that our faith may reach out after it to him and thus provide a channel through which God’s gift may come to us. He always grants such desires, though not always in the way we expect them to be granted. Often when we pray we have an idea in our mind how prayer will be answered, and God surprises us by answering it in an unexpected way. These surprises often leave the soul in amazed wonder at the exceeding goodness of God and at the greatness of his wisdom.
There may be a selfish element in prayer, manifested either in the thing asked for our in the manner of asking. We may desire a thing for selfish reasons, or the thing desired may be perfectly legitimate and the reason we desire it be unselfish, but we may ask it in a selfish manner. This we may do by planning the way for God to answer, or by attempting to dictate to him the manner for the answer or the time of the answer or the form of the answer.
But when we pray unselfishly, both as to the thing asked and in the manner of asking, we may be sure that God hears and that according to his good pleasure he will answer in his own way and time. So we can come to him with confidence, knowing that his ears are open to our cry and that his love will not withhold from us any good thing.
How good it is to pray for something that we earnestly desire, when some one else enters into prayer with us, and we can feel that union of desire, which inspires our desire with courage and faith! The heart that prays according to God’s will, never prays alone. There are always at least three voices that pray. This is what gives prayer its strength and makes it move the heart of God. This fact is overlooked in all too many cases, and in the overlooking of it, the heart is taken out of many a prayer, and this makes the soul weak and wavering, where it might be strong, courageous, and full of confiding trust. Whenever we pray according to the will of God, the Holy Spirit prays with us. “The Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26, 27). Ah, yes, you have know that groaning, which could not be uttered, that intense desire, which words could not express, that longing, which reached out and grasped hold of God. That was not a mere human thing. It was the intercession of the divine Spirit---God’s own yearning for us. It was the earthward side of God’s will for us. When the Spirit makes intercession for us in this way we may be sure that the prayer is according to the will of God, for the Spirit “maketh intercession according to the will of God.”
Not only does the Holy Spirit pray for us when we pray according to the will of God, but Jesus, our beloved Savior, also joins in the intercession. “It is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again, who is even at the right had of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Rom. 8:34). This thought should inspire our faith, cause it to mount up on joyful wings, and with glad hands to lay hold upon the promises of God and make them ours, rejoicing in them and counting them as rich treasures---treasures that are all our own.
Prayer and works go together. Therefore, when we pray according to the will of God, there should be a willingness and a determination actively to use our powers to help God answer and fully to cooperate with him in the carrying out of his purpose. We should throw our will into the carrying out of God’s purpose. We should will his purposes in ourselves, and in whatever we know to be God’s designs. It is not enough to pray and then leave all else to God. True, there are many things quite out of our reach, things wherein we can not cooperate with God, so as to bring about an answer, but there are also many things in which our cooperation does help him, for God often acts through human instrumentality. So, by praying, believing, and laboring submissively, (according to God’s will) his purpose will be wrought in us---“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done,” will be answered in us and through us.
It is our great privilege to know the will of God, to abide in it, and to do it. It is our privilege to walk with him in the sweet fellowship of love, confidence, and communion, which will enrich the soul, beautify the life, and bring to full fruition, all the blessed fruitfulness of divine grace in the human heart, will, and affections. [The End]
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