A “Let’s Talk” reader posted an interesting question on my blog last week. “When you pray ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done,’ is whatever happens then God’s will, and our part is to submit to His apparent will?” she wanted to know. “Or is it more like, ‘Here I am, send me?’ Is that a passive prayer of acceptance, or an active prayer of ‘Sign me up!’?”
My reader’s question is a bit tough to address because of course I believe in submitting to God’s will and accepting His plans for me. But I also need to say that although I firmly believe in God’s sovereignty, I firmly do not believe that everything that happens is God’s will. Evil is never God’s will. He is light and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). He does not will child abuse, oppression, deception, rape, murder, or any kind of injustice. It is entirely contrary to His character. Can He redeem it? Of course! But does He will it? Never.
So if we are praying about a situation that involves any kind of evil, but the evil persists, in order to see God’s kingdom come and His will be done, we must continue to pray until either the situation changes or He tells us to stop or change the way we are praying.
Similarly, if our prayer is about something dear to us—the welfare of a child, a close friend’s health, a prodigal family member, a painful relationship—we can be sure that our concern is also dear to God. He invites us to cast our cares on Him because He cares about us (1 Peter 5:7). He tells us not to worry about anything, but to pray about everything (Philippians 4:6). So if we pray and the troubling circumstance doesn’t change, we should continue praying—unless He tells us to stop or change the way we are praying.
The Value of Persistence
God places high value on persevering prayer. Jesus teaches this in Luke 11 when He tells the disciples to “keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you” (v. 9, NLT). He says it again when He tells His disciples the parable of the persistent widow “to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1, NIV). We see it in the example of Elijah who prayed for rain seven times—even though the first six prayers didn’t bring about so much as even a tiny cloud (1 Kings 18). We see it in Job who for chapter after chapter keeps making his case with God until finally He shows up. We see it in Abraham who haggles with God over Sodom and Gomorrah until he is assured that his nephew will be saved (Genesis 18). We see it in David, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Zechariah who all cry out, “How long, Lord?” And in Daniel who fasts and prays for three weeks, not knowing until the angel showed up, why God had seemed to delay (Daniel 10). It seems that persevering prayer is the scriptural norm.
So what’s the bit about “Until He tells us to stop or change the way we are praying?” As most of my readers know, I believe that prayer is a two-way conversation. If it’s just monologue, we’re missing out on a lot—including the Holy Spirit’s help in knowing how to pray. God meant for prayer to be one of the primary ways we develop our relationship with Him. So He intends for us to tell Him what’s on our hearts and minds—but also intends for us to listen to what’s on His.
“Stop Praying for Physical Healing”
Several years into my husband’s battle with multiple sclerosis, I sensed the Lord inviting me to pray for his healing—until he was healed or He told me to stop. But my prayer was more than simply repeating, “please heal David.” Each time I went to God it seemed like something new was unfolding with how He wanted to take care of us, what He wanted to show us, and how He was working in our lives, even though we weren’t seeing physical improvements. My relationship with God grew and deepened more during those two or three years than it had during the sum of my Christian life up to that point.
But one day when I talked to God about my husband, I sensed Him saying clearly that I was to stop praying for David’s physical healing and focus instead on praying for his spiritual, emotional, and relational healing. I cried buckets when I heard Him say that—but it made sense to me based on the months of conversations we’d shared. So I stopped praying for physical healing, and prayed for my husband to become whole in other ways. Some of the things God did in answer to those prayers astounded me.
If I had just prayed two or three times and then passively accepted that my husband was going to die, I would have missed out on the incredible care Abba wanted to give my family and me during those hard years . It made sense for me to keep that request before God even though ultimately it wasn’t answered the way I’d hoped.
So I suppose if I have to give an answer, I’d say that I don’t really believe in passive prayer, per se. Should we accept His answers after He makes them clear? Absolutely! Should we submit our wills to what He reveals? Of course! God does sometimes choose to let me in on what He’s doing, so I’d rather keep the conversation going than assume prematurely that whatever happens (or doesn’t) is His plan.
Thanks so much for the great question! If others of you have a thought to share or a question about prayer you’ve been pondering, I’d love to hear from you.