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Chapter 3: Willingness and Prayer


IN THIS CHAPTER, you will discover:  

·    That willingness is the key to understanding God's will.  

·    The impossibility of complete purity of motives.  

·    The importance of prayer in divine guidance.  

·    The significance of intercessory prayer.    

AS A RESULT, you will be able to:  

·    Prepare your heart for receiving God's will.  

·    Evaluate your motives with a balanced perspective.  

·    Pray that God will align your will with His.  

·    Intercede successfully in behalf of others.      

Never Give Up  

What if thy burdens oppress thee;

What though thy life may be drear;

Look on the side that is the brightest

Pray, and thy path will be clear.  

 - Fanny J. Crosby

Advance Acceptance

Key Scripture: "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God\'s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship" (Rom. 12:1).  

The Christian's primary biblical responsibility in knowing God\'s will is volitional, not intellectual. However, many Christians spend time and energy attempting to avoid the essential. It is impossible to think clearly about potential options until we first determine to follow God\'s leading. Therefore willingness is the first step toward understanding. You must be willing to accept God's will, even before He reveals it - giving Him a blank contract concerning your life, with your signature at the bottom.  

Sometimes people seek God's insight out of curiosity. With only intellec­tual interest, these inquirers have no intention of following through in salvation or obedience. On the other hand, some believers seek God's will only to determine if it agrees with their own. Christians who experience long‑term confusion over God's will are usually unwilling to commit them­selves to the insights God has already revealed. Often they believe that God's personal will for them could never be realized outside their prede­termined circumstances or geographical perimeters.  

Before we can determine God's will, we must first repent of our sins and be born again. Knowing God's will begins with knowing God through Christ. And knowing Christ can only come through a renewed mind and heart. This renewal starts as we offer our body as a living sacrifice (see Key Scripture). Moment by moment, the Holy Spirit is able to renew our will - the part of us that resolves, determines, and decides. Then God takes the responsibility for getting us to our destination. Moreover, our understanding deepens and our confidence increases. We suddenly realize that the entire decision‑making process is being guided by God, and whatever we do is a reflection of His will. The benefits of a renewed mind extend to all areas of life, inspiring health and vitality, enjoyment of our present situation, and clear thought about steps of faith.  

Accepting God's will in advance put great leaders in Scripture in an attitude of yieldedness, giving Him free access to their hearts and minds. Each was willing to do whatever the Lord asked and to go wherever He led. It appears that their willingness was one of God's primary reasons for assigning them such extraordinary tasks. Individuals like Noah (Gen. 6:9ff.), Abraham (Gen. 12:1ff.), and Esther (Est. 4:6ff.) proved a great spiritual truth: If you are willing to do God's will, you will do it.    

A Light Unto My Path   “

"The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out" (Prov. 18:15).  

"Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe" (Prov. 29:25).  

"He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught" (Isa. 50:4).  

Life Application: Paul tells us the value of having a humble attitude in Philippians 2:6-8. But, how does having a proud attitude hinder receiving guidance from Christ?

What About Motives?

Key Scripture: "All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord" (Prov. 16:2).  

Jessie looked up from the library books that described the life cycle of the butterfly. She had spent several hours preparing a large chart, two transparencies, and a worksheet. Since Jessie liked art, she had especially enjoyed illustrating the physical differences between butterflies and moths. She could not wait to share these with her class the next day. The young teacher smiled as she remembered their excitement when she had proposed an "insect watch" in the woods behind the school for the following Thursday.  

How Jessie enjoyed teaching! She loved the children, and it was obvious that they loved her. They were always hanging around after school or during lunch when she had playground duty. She enjoyed teaching her students new things, sharing stories from her own childhood, and telling them silly riddles and jokes. With children she could really be herself - open and vulnerable. Many of them confided, "Miss O'Connor, you make learning fun!"  

But after hearing her pastor speak on godly motives, Jessie began to question the purity of her reasons for teaching. She wondered, "Maybe it is selfishness - perhaps my ego needs con­stant stroking. Am I really 'onstage' all the time? Is school replac­ing something I'm not receiving in other relationships?" Unfortu­nately, the more Jessie investigated her motives, the more con­vinced she became that they were selfish. As a result, she became depressed - feeling that she was out of God's will. Her teaching suffered because her joy had left.  

Sometimes an obsessive concern over motives causes us to doubt our gifts and talents. We thus mistakenly equate our willingness with pure motives. But waiting or striving for pure motives may hamper the Lord\'s leading. Since perfect motives are difficult for believers to achieve psy­chologically, it is important to stop focusing on motives and to begin concentrating on the Lord. We must become active in God's service and give full attention to developing our gifts. Some pointers appear below:  

  • Do what is already known to be God's will.
  • Accept any other alternatives He might show.
  • Commit on the basis of the insight He has provided.
  • Estimate capabilities by the light of personal faith.
  • Don't hold back any gifts while waiting for perfect motives.
  • Pursue gifts earnestly. 

When Christ leads us to do something, Satan will suggest that our motives are selfish. He often immobilizes Christians, especially those with a sensitive conscience, when he whispers, "Since you have selfish motives, this must not be God's will." At this point, beware of unwhole­some introspection; rather, consider your willingness - not your motiva­tions - in following God's direction.  

Believers sometimes develop two other problems concerning willingness. First, they declare certain areas off‑limits to God. They may be open to certain alternatives but closed to others. Have you declined to follow the Lord in an area that you feel capable of handling? Perhaps as a home­maker you feel so confident that you would never ask God to help with your household budget. As a businessman, is God allowed in your board meetings? As a parent, do you feel that the Lord is not interested in your child's relationship with his teacher? Perhaps you think: I'll take care of the small things, and God can take care of the crises.  

Second, they have reservations concerning God's will. Often believers really think they are open to God's will, but deep inside have reservations. Since it is extremely hard to recognize your own resistance, this mental roadblock is especially subtle. Have you professed to follow God but pulled away at an unusual turn in the road? Perhaps pride has crept in, making you believe that your motives are perfectly pure. But when calam­ity comes, you revert to old patterns.  

It is safe to assume that there is always some unwillingness - either conscious or unconscious - to deal with. But God does not reject us for resisting. Even mature Christians confront personal unwillingness, espe­cially before making a major decision. Since we cannot change our will through our own strength, we will discover that prayer is the only practical solution.  

A Light Unto My Path

"Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul" (Ps. 1 43:8).   “

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground" (Ps. 143:10).   “

The lamp of the LORD searches the spirit of a man; it searches out his inmost being" (Prov. 20:27).     

Life Application: What motivates you to follow God's will? Would you do it if you had to give up something special to you? Have you ever given up something and received something better in return?

The Unique Role of Prayer

Key Scripture: "He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea" (Ps. 102:17).  

Scripture speaks of two broad roles that prayer should play in the lives of believers. The first is prayer's effect on the believer. Our single greatest need as Christians is to remain in a relationship of trust with Christ in which He guides and encourages us. Furthermore, prayer has a redemp­tive influence on our disposition and outlook. As we become attuned to God\'s desires for us, our attitude becomes more Christ-like.  

Second is prayer's effect on God. Scripture consistently testifies that prayer has a much greater influence than we might imagine. God pur­posely links some of His activities in our lives to our prayers. Moreover, taking the responsibility to pray produces individual spiritual growth, as well as a valued sense of partnership in what God is doing. Graciously He extends to us the possibility of exerting influence through our petitions.  

One of the most important prayer concerns of single Christians is asking God about the possibility of marriage. Many fear that God does not want them to waste time praying over such a self‑centered matter. Perhaps, they conclude, their prayers should be more ministry‑centered. But Jesus Himself urged believers to pray for daily bread - those everyday matters that concern us greatly (Matt. 6:11). And Paul exhorted the Philippians: "In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (4:6).  

Once single believers are convinced that they may pray for a mate, a second troubling question arises: "How bold and persistent should I be with my request?" If you have petitioned God for months or years without an answer, you may have resigned yourself to accepting your singleness. Yet Jesus encouraged His followers to be persistent in prayer - to continue until they received a clear answer. Perseverance was the subject of two parables: one concerned a friend who asked for bread (Luke 11:5‑8) and the other an unjust judge (18:1‑8).  

Constant petitioning may seem brazen and irreverent to some Christians. But there are some vital benefits that come through long‑term persistence in prayer. Through such importunity, our desires become clarified - giving God a wonderful opportunity to act on our behalf. He can either change our desire or deepen our conviction. Moreover, long‑term persistence in prayer makes us aware that we need the help of God - the source of all our solutions.  

The question of prayer versus personal initiative is one that Christians wrestle with in every area of their lives. Perhaps you have heard of unemployed believers who are waiting for God to place a job in their lap. Any attempt at a job search, they believe, would be taking matters into their own hands. This type of thinking sometimes unwittingly enters into the planning of Christian activities and programs. People who plan such activities excuse their poor planning by saying: '”We will let the Lord take care of the details." The New Testament, however, presents a different perspective on the maker of personal initiative; it seeks to balance serious prayer and responsible action.  

Abusing the Privilege  

Unfortunately, praying for marriage (or some equally important subject) can become obsessive, robbing us of fellowship with Christ and diverting our attention from other important prayers.  

Chris, who was in his mid‑thirties, confessed to his counse­lor that he was continually depressed over being unmarried. More­over, he admitted, "I spend a lot of time walking around my yard getting angry with God over my predicament." While respecting his honesty, the counselor realized that Chris's prayer life was more harmful than helpful. His ongoing argument with God simply nurtured his frustration with his singleness. Furthermore, it did nothing to strengthen his contentment in Christ or to help him gain a healthy perspective in the matter.  

Wade and Betsy had a similar experience in praying about their infertility. Wade confided to their counselor, "”We prayed con­stantly over a long period of time. After a while, our prayer life deteriorated to an attempt to manipulate God. Our adoration and intercession were merely preliminary measures to get to the real issue. Finally, we realized that we had allowed this persistent prayer to consume all other areas of our lives."  

Once Wade and Betsy decided to stop praying regularly for a child, they were able to communicate once again with God. As a result, He gave them more insight into their particular crisis­ and improved their decision‑making ability concerning it.  

Our prayer life should be primarily Christ‑centered. If you find that your prayers are working against you and hurting your relationship with God, stop praying for the crisis, at least for a time. The following minor adjust­ments in your prayer routine may solve your problem:  

  • Strengthen your joy in Christ by giving half your prayer time to praise and thanksgiving.  
  • Spend much time praying for the requests of others.  
  • Concern yourself with needs other than your immediate problem.  
  • Limit prayer for your problem to two or three minutes a day.  
  • Be persistent, yet succinct, in your prayers.  

Whether in daily devotions or special times of prayer, be assured that God wants us to bring our petitions before Him. The biblical message could hardly be clearer on this point. Scripture also continually warns against rushing into major decisions without praying first for guidance. The story of Israel and the Gibeonites in Joshua 9 shows the problems that can develop when God has not been consulted. Instead of praying for guid­ance, the Israelites decided to help the Gibeonites solely on outward circumstances. Unfortunately, many Christians today make the same mistake as they allow themselves to be swayed by circumstances.  

For some time the division that Michael headed for a large construction firm had been under federal investigation. Several employees were suspected of embezzling. Many assumed that Michael must have been involved, for how could this have gone on without his participation? But Michael protested his inno­cence, particularly to his fellow workers who knew him to be a scrupulous and honest Christian.  

As the months wore on, Michael became increasingly concerned that he might somehow be implicated in the matter. This would surely mean a famished reputation and very possibly a jail sentence. Finally his depression led him to suicide. He never knew that several hours before he took his life all charges against his division had been dropped. The event was a dramatic reminder of how unbelievably distorted our concept of circum­stances can be (One of a Kind, p. 103).  

Difficulties in Praying  

Christians who do seek God before making important decisions may still run into difficulty. Many complain that they cannot seem to enter into God's presence. Wandering thoughts lead them away from the task of prayer. If this happens to you, curb these distractions by doing the following:  

Reject thoughts that you know come from the enemy. You can recognize them by their content, for they are the works of the sinful nature (Gal. 5:19‑21).  

Banish thoughts of daily tasks and responsibilities. You have come to commune with God, not to worry that the house isn\'t dusted or the car isn\'t washed (Luke 10:41‑42).  

Deliberately choose to concentrate on Jesus. Praise and magnify Him as you celebrate His goodness. Then be still and listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit (Ps. 46:10‑11).  

After doing these three things, you still may ask, "How can I know God's voice?" It's not always easy, but you may be helped by knowing that the Holy Spirit's counsel will always line up with Scripture. He will never tell you to do anything that the Bible declares is wrong. Furthermore, God always speaks words of encouragement and hope. These help to build your faith (Ps. 63:7‑8). The Holy Spirit's conviction is always specific and has a definite solution. On the other hand, the enemy will condemn you with indefinite and vague sins that usually offer no way out. He tends to work in the realm of your imagination - making you ask "What if?" and "If Only…" (2 Cor. 10:5).  

Prayer is a precious spiritual resource available to all Christians. Since God has no office hours, He is on call twenty‑four hours a day. And help is available immediately because the Holy Spirit is never overbooked. You will not be put on hold when you call J‑E‑S‑U‑S. It's a free call - the toll has been prepaid.  

A Light Unto My Path

"Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me" (Ps. 69:16).  

"Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always" (Ps. 1 05:4).

"When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted" (Ps. 138:3).

Life Application: Take time right now to pray. Be mindful not to use this time to complain, but instead to strengthen your relationship with God. Praise Him first for his goodness, then focus on the needs of others.

Praying for Guidance

Key Scripture: "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5).  

Jesus, who was fully God and fully man, experienced emotional difficulty in yielding to God\'s will in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:37‑44). Dealing with His dilemma through prayer, He asked for the strength and willingness to do His Father\'s will. As a result, Jesus' motivation was strengthened, and He became more determined than ever to face the cross. Just as Jesus spoke honestly concerning His feelings to His Father, we have the same freedom to come before Him with honesty and positive expectation. We must ask God to exchange our will for His desire.  

Jesus gave us an example through his own prayer life, which is recorded in Scripture. Our Lord prayed:  

  • Early in the morning (Mark 1:35).
  • All night (Luke 6:12).
  • Alone (Matt. 14:23).
  • With others (Luke 9:28).
  • Before eating (Luke 24:30).
  • When unusually busy (Luke 5:15‑16).
  • Before making important decisions (Luke 6:12‑13).
  • At crucial moments (Luke 3:21).
  • Before beginning an evangelistic tour (Mark 1:35, 38).
  • In times of crisis (Matt. 27:46).
  • For Himself (John 17:1‑5).
  • For His disciples (John 17:6‑19).
  • For all believers (John 17:20‑26).
  • For an individual by name (Luke 22:31‑32).
  • For His enemies (Luke 23:34).
  • With thanksgiving (John 11:41‑42).
  • Earnestly (Heb. 5:7).
  • Importunately (Matt. 26:42, 44).
  • When facing death (Luke 23:46).  

The Model Prayer

At their request, Jesus gave his disciples a model prayer (Matt. 6:9‑13), which includes the following integral parts:  

Our Father in heaven. God gives Christians, His adopted children, the right to call Him Father (Eph. 1:3‑5).  

Hallowed be your name. The name of God is holy (Ex.20:7) and powerful (Ps. 20:1).  

Your kingdom come. Believers long for the day when Christ\'s kingdom will be established on the earth (Rev. 11:15).  

Give us today our daily bread. Christians are told not to worry about daily provisions (Matt. 6:25).  

Forgive us our debts. Forgiveness from God is dependent on our attitude of forgiveness to those around us (Matt. 6:14‑15).  

Deliver us from the evil one. Divine protection is a very real promise of God (Ps. 91:14‑15).  

To remember the important ingredients in prayer, note the following two acrostics:  

Praise God for who He is (Ps. 95:1‑7).

Review your past blessings (Ps. 103:2‑5).

Ask forgiveness for personal sin (1 John 1:9).

Yield your body and mind to God's will (Rom. 12:1‑2).

Entreat God on behalf of others (Eph. 1:16‑19).

Recognize God's personal interest in you (Ps. 139:4‑5).  


Adoration (Ps. 47:6‑7).

Confession (Ps. 51 :3‑4).

Thanksgiving (Ps. 118:1).

Supplication (Ps. 143:1).  

Intercessory Prayer  

Because our lives are intertwined with others, many of our prayers for personal guidance relate to other people and their problems. One of our greatest privileges as Christians is to intercede in prayer for others (1 Tim. 2:1). It is the most constructive answer to your involvement in the lives of others. And this privilege can be exercised whenever adversity strikes. To be successful in intercessory prayer:  

  • Praise God for the opportunity to cooperate with Him (2 Cor. 9:12).  
  • Ask for cleansing of any unconfessed sin (Ps. 66:17‑19).  
  • Request the direction and power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26‑27).  
  • Forget about personal desires and burdens (Prov. 3:5‑6).  
  • Deal aggressively with Satan (James 4:7).  
  • Thank God for the opportunity to pray (Phil. 4:6).  
  • Wait before the Lord for direction (Ps. 37:5‑9).  
  • Remind yourself that everything is for God's glory (Rom. 11:36).  
  • Keep a Bible available for confirmation or leading (Ps. 119:133).     

Personal Retreat  

There should be a definite correlation between the difficulty of our deci­sion and the time we spend in prayer. Therefore, when contemplating crucial issues such as marriage or a career, we should spend ample time praying for the Lord\'s perspective. Jesus in Gethsemane, Hannah in the sanctuary, and Moses in the wilderness proved the benefits that come from extended prayer over a pressing need. As a rule, however, many Christians fail to pray at this level very often. Although there are no guarantees of a spouse, a job, or a decision for college, a retreat will facilitate your cooperation with the grace of the Lord.  

Set aside a generous portion of time - an afternoon, a full day, or a weekend. Plan your retreat with a view toward two goals - (1) expressing your desires to God, and (2) giving Him room for redemptive work within you. The following guidelines should prove helpful:

  • Read Scripture, focusing on God's grace and sufficiency.
  • Follow with prayer, thanking Him for past provisions.
  • Focus on your relationship, job, or other personal concern.
  • Thank Him for the confidence you have in Him for the future.
  • Pray that He will guide your decision about marriage, vocation, etc.
  • Pray that He will give you the mind of Christ.
  • Ask for strength and courage to take the needed steps of faith.
  • Ask for balance in your thinking.
  • Reflect on your relationship or vocation and its future.
  • List the pros and cons and reflect on the list.
  • Note carefully if one impression stands out.
  • Allow ample time for silent reflection.  

Look for substantial certainty, not perfect assurance; then go ahead in that confidence, even if some apprehensions emerge. The lasting ben­efits of a personal prayer retreat are an increased closeness to Christ and openness to His answers.  

A Light Unto My Path  

"I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart" (Ps. 40:8). 

"The Lord will keep you from all harm - He will watch over your life\" (Ps. 121:7).  

"My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will" (Matt. 26:39).  

Life Application: Ask someone how you can pray for them today, then earnestly intercede for them.

Take the quiz

Quiz Instructions

Test your knowledge by taking this short quiz which covers what you just read. Select the correct response based on the lessons and concepts.

1. Willingness is the first step toward understanding our __________.



2. Our primary biblical responsibility is intellectual.



3. One of the conditions necessary for God's promise of guidance is to present our bodies as living sacrifices.



4. The most essential condition for knowing God's will is to accept __________.



5. Renewing our mind means to yield constantly to the Holy Spirit.



6. One should imagine all the alternatives that could be logical options in a decision.



7. Perfect purity of motives is __________ possible.



8. Satan immobilizes Christians through __________.



9. Our motives are the primary concern in doing God's will.



10. God can work even our mistakes into His plan.



11. Through prayer, God allows us to take __________ for His work in a mature and wholesome way.



12. The__________ were tricked because they trusted in circumstances rather than divine guidance.



13. If we lack understanding of God's will, we have a responsibility to ask Him to clarify it.



14. We should spend a few minutes a day asking God to guide __________ daily decisions.



15. Importunate means "stubbornly or unreasonably __________ in request or demand."



16. Jesus said to Peter, "The spirit is willing, but the __________ is weak."



17. Jesus had a __________ will different from God's.



18. Praying for __________ is more important in decision making.



19. We must pray until we are absolutely sure about God's will.



20. There __________ a definite relationship between the dimension of the decision and our ability to concentrate in prayer.


Is not

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