14 March 2018

The “Not what I want” prayer.

Sometimes we don’t pray for what we want.

The “Not what I want” prayer isn’t a popular prayer. Downright rare sometimes. Because when we pray, we’re intentionally asking God for what we want. Why would we tell him to not give us what we want? Did we suddenly forget the point of prayer?

Why pray “Not what I want”? ’Cause we’re mimicking Jesus. When he has us pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done,” Mt 6.10 and when he himself prayed this at Gethsemane:

Mark 14.35-36 KWL
35 Jesus went a little ahead, fell to the ground, and was praying this:
“If it’s possible, have this hour pass by!”
36 He said, Abbá! Father, you can do anything: Take this cup from me.
But not what I want. What you want.”

Y’notice Jesus did tell the Father what he wanted: He didn’t want to suffer. He wanted “the cup” to pass him by. He didn’t wanna be crucified; what kind of madman would wanna be crucified? Yet at the same time he knew his purpose in this world was to do as the Father sent him to do. Jn 5.19, 8.28 At the time his will didn’t match the Father’s, but he determined he would make his will match the Father’s. Even if it meant suffering.

There’s our example.

That’s why it’s not a popular prayer. Few of us Christians are willing to commit ourselves to God so radically. Of the few who do, we’re totally willing to die for God… not realizing when it really does come time to die for him, perfect fear will cast out zeal. Note Simon Peter. At 9 p.m., totally ready to die for Jesus; Lk 22.23 and 3 a.m., totally lying about him to slave girls. Lk 22.56 Who, as slaves and as girls in that culture, couldn’t even testify against him in court! A few hours can change an awful lot.

But this is why our willingness to follow God absolutely anywhere, can’t be based on zeal. It’s gotta be based on our regular surrender and submission to God’s will. We gotta regularly pray, along with Jesus, “Not what I want. What you want.”

So… what’s he want?

Of course you realize if we’re gonna pray to surrender to God’s will, it makes sense to actually learn God’s will. And not just presume we know it already, and project our own personal beliefs upon him, as if we already think alike. We do not.

Yep, it’s gotta be the Father’s actual will. Not just the areas where we already agree, where the Holy Spirit doesn’t even need to correct or convict us about. And that should tip us off to where our starting point is when it comes to studying God’s will: Where do we already part ways or butt heads? Where do we already struggle with God’s will. Work on that first.

Look at what Jesus teaches. Tell the Holy Spirit, “Not what I want; what you want.” Mean it. Do it.

When you feel the Spirit’s correction in your conscience, listen. Don’t demand that he force you to obey—that he override your will, or force circumstances till they physically stop you from going your own way. If he has to intervene ’cause you lack the self-control to listen and obey, you might really hate how he chooses to intervene. God is kinder than any human you know, but even so, he has no qualms about destroying everything you love when he deems it necessary. So don’t make him go to such extremes. You make the effort. Live up to what you prayed. Listen. Obey.

“Not what I want” is part of what Richard Foster calls “the prayer of relinquishment” in his book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. There are five steps to that prayer, and this is the second: The “prayer of surrender,” when we know what we want, but we know we want God more. We’re willing to say, along with Jesus, “I want your will to be done, not mine.” Even if our will sounds good; even if we think our will is exactly what God’s will looks like. And maybe it is—but it’s the wrong time, or other things gotta be done first, or we’re doing it for selfish reasons. Regardless, we’ve gotta be willing to give up whatever is in our minds to do—all for the sake of God’s best.

And the more we mean it, and put into practice how we’re gonna obey it, the more of his will that God’s willing to show us. Watch and see.