Living By Faith Blog


Biblical, battle-tested, real-life help for "living by faith in the Son of God" (Galatians 2:20). — Steve Fuller

How To Pray When You Know Your Wants But Don’t Know God’s Will

Prayer on everystockphoto by ninjaneil902How Should I Pray?

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.

Comments?  Questions?

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(Picture is from everystockphoto by ninjaneil902.)

Category: Help with Prayer


11 Responses

  1. John Graham says:

    I found this helpful and a useful pattern to follow in the future for myself. I think we all have this conundrum to agonise over, knowing what we want but not what God wants. And I must congratulate you on your honesty here – I laughed aloud with joy when you told us God had moved your Elder to Texas. I am deeply suspicious, or is that cynical, of preachers or pastors who always finish their story with a miraculous and happy ending because they prayed. And yes I know, your Elder going to Texas is equally the same just with a different twist.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi John,

      I am glad you found this pattern for prayer helpful — and I love how this story made you laugh.

      And you are right — my Elder going to Texas was equally the same just with a different twist. Well said.

      Steve Fuller

  2. Shawn Cox says:

    Thank you for your posting. You are very clear about praying for God’s will to be done . Often when we pray only about what we want instead of what God wants, we get into a lot of trouble because our prayers are based on pride and selfishness instead of God’s will. Praying this way also can hurt others as well. Praying God’s will not only helps ourselves but others to be happy as well.

  3. Jonika says:

    Hi, Steve!

    I am thankful for how clear, helpful, and timely your articles always seem to be. Thank you for your blog!

    I have a question about how you pray the two-step prayer.

    I am curious to know if you pray step one until your heart is changed, and then pray step two after your heart is changed? Or do you pray step one and two together daily in succession, allowing God to change step two as your heart is changed? Or both? Or neither?

    Thanks for your help!

    • Steve Fuller says:

      It is so good to hear from you, Jonika. And thank you for raising this important question.

      I’m not sure there’s just one right way to pray the two-step prayer. But it does seem that there’s wisdom in praying the first step at least until I feel my heart *start* to change, and I want God and His glory more than anything.

      The reason some degree of change is important is because if I’m still holding to what I want from God, more than I’m holding to Him and His glory, I’m not sure my prayer of the second step would be motivated rightly.

      Let me know if that helps —



  4. Lorraine says:

    I like the comment about being specific, you say:

    “The other is that I might not receive something God wants to give me, because I am not asking God for anything specific.” This being specific when we don’t know what is God’s will also helps us to be content with the answer when it does come. Whenever I’m in turmoil over God’s will I try to remember how many times a specific prayer has been answered & I try to pray for something specific to be attached to the answer wherever possible (and of course according to his will).

    In a recent example of this myself, a friend and my two children wanted to visit some travelling ministers but the cost looked high. I couldn’t work out if it was God’s will to visit the ministers at all let alone part with the money. I prayed that if it was God’s will that we go that the exact amount of money we needed would come along. That evening I also decided to put a number of items up for sale that I’d been unsuccessful in selling in the past. The next morning I had sold two items to the value of the fare and accommodation. I took this as an answer to the prayer and we all went down to see the people. So often God has answered prayers with a specific content (where the outcome has not already been decided from my end) and I need to remember this as I try to make decisions in my life.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Lorraine,

      Thank you for sharing the powerful testimony of God’s answer to your specific prayer. I hope many read it and are strengthened to pray.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  5. Mary says:

    Thank you Steve for writing this article. I wanted to leave a comment and question. They go hand in hand, my comment may be the question. I’m going through a LOT of heart break over the past few months, and I’ve been praying what feels like all day, for the return of the love of my life. I pray that God works in him, and then in me, for this grace and that grace, I pray in anger, I pray in sorrow, I pray with joy and thanksgiving, I pray I pray I pray. But it seems I’m being put on hold. This experience is making me draw closer to our Lord, and closer to the church, but it feels as if the closer I try to get, the further away God moves. Like I’m just praying to an empty Heaven. SO far, 2 unrelated prayers have been answered, and they weren’t anything dramatic or…. drastic. I had a bad dream once, and the other was to not hang out with some creep from my gym. Both were answered. But I don’t know how I did it. I’ve been praying for my ex to return to me for 4 months. And on top of the doubt and despair that is slowly taking over, I am afraid to ask God to hurry and work. I know God knows what I think, feel, what my heart holds etc. So…. what’s the deal? So, I guess that is my comment, and so my question then is, does me asking for God to hurry help? The longer I wait, the less I trust in Him and the less hope I have in Him answering my prayer, and the less purpose I see in my life for myself.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thank you for sharing your story, Mary.

      And I’m hoping you have some godly women at your church who could be praying with and for you about this. Christ-centered and loving fellowship is a wonderful way that God meets us.

      And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking God to hurry. In fact, I wrote a blog post on that topic which you could find a using the search tool.

      What I would encourage you to do is, while you are praying for your ex to return, to pray even more that you would be able to see Christ in all his glory so you would be completely content in Christ, whether your ex returns or not.

      If I’m wrong, please forgive me, but it sounds to me like you are seeing your ex’s return as essential to your future joy. But his return is not essential for your future joy. All you need for future joy is Christ himself.

      So keep seeking Christ, and at the same time pray that you are ex will return. But fight to set your heart on Christ more than on your ex.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  6. Jean says:

    Thank you for this!!
    I’ve had a situation for a while where I’m praying for a certain outcome but felt like I still wasn’t trusting God to work it out in his wisdom. This is so helpful because it allows me to express repentance for my worry and control, to trust him and bring my request to him while changing my heart to trust him with the outcome.
    So practical and helpful.

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