“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”Luke 22:42 ESV
Near the end of September 2010, I remember a moment when I was on my knees crying out to God to save a little baby boy named Ewan. A good friend of mine had given birth to a baby with a very broken heart. The optimist in me wanted to believe that this child would be one of the few who would survive and live to tell all about it. In that time of prayer, as tears streamed down my face, I begged God to save this precious child. The words that spilled out of my mouth declared that if I believed what I was praying – if I had faith – that God would answer! As I took deep breaths, I would say the words, “Lord, I believe. I have faith. I know you will save this baby boy because of that faith! Because if I believe it, you will do it!”
After all, isn’t this what Matthew 21:22 says?
And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.Matthew 21:22 ESV
Unfortunately, my faith and belief did not save sweet little Ewan. He flew to heaven on October 4, 2010.
Have you prayed a prayer with this same thought? If you believe, you will receive! So, if He doesn’t answer your prayer the way you want Him to, that means you didn’t have enough faith. Does this sound familiar at all? This is just one of the many battles I have had over the years as a Christian. Over and over, I would hear about answered prayers and read blogs or books affirming my assumption that I just didn’t have enough faith and that is why Ewan did not live.
But what about all the other people praying along with me? Did they also not have enough faith?
What about you, dear sister, have you prayed and prayed; believing with all your heart that because you have faith God is going to answer you but He didn’t? Does this mean that your faith is weak? How about in this present moment – is there something you are praying for? Perhaps there is a friend with a terminal illness and you are praying with faith that God will heal her. Or perhaps you lost your job and there is a possibility on the horizon so you pray and pray believing because if you believe, you will receive! How about those bills that are piling up and your money is non-existent – but if you pray with BOLD FAITH, you will receive! Some rich uncle will call you tomorrow with the money that you need!
Is this what Matthew 21:22 actually means though? And what about that first verse I shared from Luke where Jesus is praying in the garden the night that he was to be taken in as a prisoner? Have you ever been in a place like I had been where you sit back, face in the palm of your hands, wondering what you did wrong because a prayer you prayed was not answered? How much more confusing can this get, right? I mean, it seems that scripture is telling us two different things!
Well, let’s do some peeling back and look at both of these verses in context. 1 John 5:14 helps gives us some clarity on Matthew 21:22:
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to His will he hears us.1 John 5:14 ESV (emphasis mine)
This verse doesn’t mean that we need to figure out the future for what God has planned for us. What it does mean is that what we ask for must be part of God’s will. Unfortunately, I found myself in a place of viewing God as a magic genie. If I pray and believe, He will grant me my wishes! Oh what a tangled web of frustration and confusion this can lead us into.
So, what does this mean? Should we stop praying altogether?
Absolutely not! God wants us to pray. Jesus even taught us how to pray. (Matthew 6:9-13). We need to pray. If we heed the instructions of the Lords’ Prayer, praying should remind us Who is sovereign over all. The prayer begins with God being treated with the highest honor and set apart as holy. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. (v.9) Then it continues with these words:
Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.Matthew 6:10 ESV (emphasis mine)
Your will be done.
There was a time when those four words would have invoked fear in me.
No Lord. I want control! If you could just listen to my words and act according to my plans, that would be great! And if you don’t, then that means you don’t love me and all this faith and belief I have poured into my prayers is for nothing.
When Ewan died, these are the words I could have easily uttered. Yes, it was sad and awful. However, God doesn’t promise us that things will be easy (John 16:33) but He does promise to be faithful. Do a quick search in your Bible about the faithfulness of God. You will be blown away, I promise! Also, God’s will is perfect. He knows far more than we could ever know. We learn this in the Old Testament:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV
It is comforting and good to know how faithful, gracious and merciful our Lord is. He is sovereign in all He does. When we don’t quite understand the heartache or prayers that were not answered in the way we requested, we do know that God is in control over all and He knows best. This is the sovereign will of God. We see this so clearly in the prayer that Jesus prayed in Gethsemane.
He knew what was coming. The reason He came to earth was about to be fulfilled and He still requested that the cup be taken from Him nevertheless, “not my will, but yours, be done”.
What if we approached our prayers from this same place as Jesus? Using the Lords’ prayer as our guide, what would happen if we submitted our request to the Lord and ended with “nevertheless Sovereign Lord, not my will, but yours, be done”.
Our prayers would then place God where He belongs – seated on the throne.
I love what John Piper says about God’s sovereign will:
“On the one hand, we need the assurance that God is in control and therefore is able to work all of my pain and loss together for my good and the good of all who love Him. On the other hand, we need to know that God empathizes with us and does not delight in sin or pain in and of themselves.”From Desiring God blog by John Piper
Unfortunately, we do not have a crystal ball or a magic lamp. There is no way to know the future. But one thing is for sure, when we pray, pray with faith. Pray with belief. Because God will answer our prayers according to HIS will and in so doing, He will remain where He belongs – high and lifted up, sovereign over the heavens and the earth, all glory and power be unto Him and Him alone.
This is where faith comes in. When we pray, we submit our requests and then we trust in His will. No matter the outcome, we will know that He is still in control and we can have faith in His plans even when it is difficult. We rejoice in knowing that God is faithful and just through it all.
While I wish that God would have given us Ewan for much longer than He did, I trust in His plan. During Ewan’s short life on earth, God was doing everything according to His sovereign plan. Sometimes I still wonder why but, oh! What comfort it brings to know my Heavenly Father knows so much more than I do and is faithful through it all.
Thy will be done.