We are trying not so much to make God listen to us as to make ourselves listen to Him; we are trying not to persuade God to do what we want, but to find out what he wants us to do. It so often happens that in prayer we are really saying, “Thy will be changed,” when we ought to be saying, “Thy will be done.” The first object of prayer is not so much to speak to God as to listen to Him.
Every true prayer has its background and its foreground. The foreground of prayer is the intense, immediate desire for a certain blessing which seems to be absolutely necessary for the soul to have; the background of prayer is the quiet, earnest desire that the will of God, whatever it may be, should be done. What a picture is the perfect prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane! In front burns the strong desire to escape death and to live; but behind there stands, calm and strong, the craving of the whole life for the doing of the will of God… Leave out the foreground, let there be no expression of the will of him who prays, and there is left a pure submission which is almost fatalism. Leave out the background, let there be no acceptance of the will of God, and the prayer is only an expression of self-will, a petulant claiming of the uncorrected choice of him who prays. Only when the two are there together, the special desire resting on the universal submission, the universal submission opening into the special desire is the picture perfect and the prayer complete.
Don’t pray to escape trouble. Don’t pray to be comfortable in your emotions. Pray to do the will of God in every situation. Nothing else is worth praying for (Samuel Shoemaker).
The prevailing idea seems to be, that I come to God and ask Him for something that I want, and that I expect Him to give me that which I have asked. But this is a most dishonouring and degading conception. The popular belief reduces God to a servant, our servant: doing our bidding, performing our pleasure, granting our desires. No, prayer is a coming to God, telling Him my need, committing my way unto the Lord, and leaving Him to deal with it as seemeth Him best.
We need to learn how wrong it is to think of prayer as a way of getting something from God. People often think of prayer as a way of talking God into doing what they want Him to do. This is what lies behind “name it and claim it” Christianity, the idea that I can influence God by offering the right kind of prayer. But that attitude ultimately leads to hell. As C. S. Lewis once observed, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.” Besides, why would anyone want to change God’s mind? The Bible says that His will is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Imagine what a mess our lives would be in if God always did what we wanted Him to do! For unlike God’s will, our own wills are evil, displeasing, and imperfect.
For us as sinful men and women, prayer is not designed to align God with our will, but to align our will with God. Prayer is not to make God more like us but to make us more like God. It should firm up the muscles of our faith.
Nothing lies beyond the reach of prayer except that which lies outside the will of God.
He has told us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). And if we have ever prayed that prayer and meant it – even once – we have ourselves shut the door on thousands of things for which we might foolishly ask.