Jun 27, 2013
A few years ago a man in our church had just been installed as an elder. But a week later his company said they were relocating to Texas, which meant our brand new elder would need to move.
I knew what I wanted — that God would work a miracle so he and his family could stay in San Jose.
But I did not know what God wanted.
So how should I pray?
Pray Only About What I Want
One approach would be to pray only about what I wanted —
Father, please have this man be able to stay in San Jose. He’s our brand-new elder, he and his wife have a crucial role in our church, and it would be huge loss to have them move.
But if that’s all I pray, then I’m in danger of doing what James warns against —
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:3)
So how can we tell if we are asking wrongly? One clue is that we start to trust in what we want, more than in God Himself, to satisfy us. Another clue is that we start to worry that God won’t do what we want.
So, because we know this approach is not helpful, we often take a different approach —
Pray Only About What God Wants
I did not know God’s will regarding our new elder. But I did know that God wills to glorify His name, build His church, and do whatever will bring me the most joy in Him.
So another approach is to pray only about what I know God wants —
Father, I don’t know what your will is concerning our elder. But I do pray that you would do whatever will glorify Your name, whatever will most build Your church (whether it’s in San Jose or in Texas), and whatever will bring me the most joy in You.
That’s a good way to pray. But if this is all I pray, there are two dangers.
One is that I am not being honest with God about the true desires of my heart.
The other is that I might not receive something God wants to give me, because I am not asking God for anything specific. That’s another warning from James —
You do not have, because you do not ask. (James 4:2)
So I tried another approach. I call it the two-step prayer.
Step One — ask God to do whatever will most glorify Him, most build His church, and most satisfy me in Him.
Part of this is asking God to change my heart so I want His glory more than mine, I want His will for my church whatever that may be, and I trust Him to satisfy me more than any particular answer to prayer.
I can’t remember my exact words — but I probably prayed something like this —
Father, I come to You in Jesus’ name. I confess that I’m worried about this elder leaving. I want this elder to stay more than I want Your glory. Which means I’m not delighting in You as my all-satisfying Treasure.
Forgive me through Jesus. Change my heart. Help me see that Your glory is my greatest joy. And help me see that since You will do what brings you the most glory, whatever You do will therefore bring me the most joy.
So I pray — do whatever will bring You the most glory. Do whatever will build Your church. Do whatever will bring me the greatest joy in You.
I prayed along those lines until my heart was changed, and I was not worried about what might happen, because I was content with whatever God chose to do.
Step Two — ask God to do what I think will most glorify Him, most build his church, and most satisfy me in Him.
God has called me to pastor a church in San Jose. And He wants me to pray for what I think will be best for this church.
So I also prayed something like this —
Father, You have called me to pastor Mercy Hill Church. So I pray that You would work a miracle and have this elder be able to stay.
This is what he wants. This is what he believes will be best for his family. This is what I believe will be best for this flock.
I know You can just say the word, and he will stay in San Jose. So that’s what I pray. I ask that You would have him stay here.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
So what did God do? He moved this man to Texas.
I was sad, but content, because I knew this would most glorify Christ, which meant it would most satisfy me. I also knew that, because I had prayed earnestly for what I thought was best, and He had not given it to me, He was giving me and the church something even better.
Benefits Of The Two-Step Prayer
Since then I’ve prayed this two-step prayer dozens of times. Here are the benefits I’ve experienced —
- It helps me be honest with God about the true state of my heart.
- It helps me trust God as my Treasure, more than any particular answer to prayer.
- It helps me long for God and His glory more than anything else.
- It helps me ask for what I think will be best, while keeping my heart set on God as my all-satisfying Treasure.
- It helps me pray earnestly for what I think is best, while trusting that God will do what really is best.
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