As Christians, we hear this command a lot: “Pray.” When bad things happen, what do we do? We pray. When we don’t know what to do, we pray. When we need something done fast, we pray as hard as we can and get others to do the same.
We treat prayer as though the more we do it, the more God will hear us and do what we want.
But have we perhaps considered that it’s not always about what we want?
All the time, I hear people say, “Expect God to work.” I absolutely agree. He is all-powerful, He is sovereign, He loves us unconditionally, and desires the best for us.
But that doesn’t mean that we expect Him to accomplish everything we want.
In my life, I’ve found this. While I could pray this:
“God, I want _____ thing, and because I know you can do all things, please give _____ to me.”
I’ve started praying like this:
“God, you know that I want _____ thing. If that’s Your will for me, I pray that You would allow it, but if not, I pray that Your will would prevail.”
So do I expect God to work? Absolutely. But I don’t expect Him to only work in the ways that I might expect.
So what should we expect when we pray?
Expect God to hear us when we pray, no matter what.
We don’t need to use high and mighty words; we need to tell Him what is on our minds. He desires for us to know Him as He knows us. He has created us and wants us to have a relationship with us; not because we are great, but because He is.
1 John 5:14
“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”
Expect God to accomplish His will.
When we pray for only what we want, we can miss out on finding joy in God’s bigger, greater plan. And in looking at the big picture, do we want what will benefit us temporarily, or what will benefit God’s Kingdom eternally?
That seems like a vague rhetorical question, and I know that we all want to say, “I want what will benefit God’s Kingdom!” but it’s not an easy thing to say. It’s hard to desire God’s will when what we want just seems so good. Really. I have a hard time letting go of what I want and grabbing hold of what He wants at times.
However, I have discovered that the more I read the Bible, get to know God, and love Him more and more, the more my desires seem petty. Oh yes, there is still some appeal. But when I see how God led the Israelites through the Red Sea, I am awed at how great His power is.
When I see how He worked out Joseph’s imprisonment for the good of Egypt, and when I see how Jesus was crucified for us, enduring the pain of Hell, I see that even in our excruciating circumstances, God still works. Maybe not always in the ways that feel comfortable to us, but in the ways that He knows are best.
“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”
Expect God to act out of His love for us.
God is not a tyrant, nor is He unjust. When we pray for His will to be done, we’re not asking for some Great Cosmic Mystery to unfold, but a wise plan from our loving Father. He doesn’t “send” anyone to Hell; their sin does. His desire is to save all who would come to Him.
2 Peter 3:9
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
When we prioritize His will over our wants, we’re surrendering our desires to God in favor of something infinitely greater than us. We’re not happy-sapping ourselves; we’re allowing ourselves to be filled with joy because God truly is at work and He truly does have a plan.
So what should we expect from God? We should expect Him to answer our prayers with His infinite wisdom, whether we agree with the answer or not. We should expect Him to work in His own way in situations that seem impossible. We should expect Him to work in ways that are genuinely best for us.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”