The Bible is filled with the prayers of God’s people in search for His heart and will for their lives. Many of the same principles for intercessory prayer apply in the area of petitioning God. That is, at the heart of our supplication must be for the desire for God’s perfect will to be accomplished even when it is not our will or desires.
A petition prayer (or supplication) is nothing more than a prayer for one’s self. But like intercessory prayer, it is still a prayer for God’s heart and will to be accomplished in and through one’s life. Thus, we are not praying for a variance to the mysterious, but in accordance with what we know to be the truth of God for His people. The very basis for all prayer is the Word of God for the will of God.
There is a secret will of God, with which we often fear that our prayers may be at variance. It is not with this will of God, but His will as revealed in His Word, that we have to do in prayer. Our notions of what the secret will may have decreed, and of how it might render the answers to our prayers impossible, are mostly very erroneous… In the Word the Father has revealed in general promises the great principles of His will with His people. Thus, the child need only to take the promises of the Word and apply them to the special circumstances in His life to which it has reference. (Meaning) Whatever the believer asks within the limits of God’s revealed will, he can know to be according to the will of God. In His Word, God has given us the revelation of his will and plan for us, with His people, and with the world – with the most precious promises of grace and power with which through His people he will carry out His plans and do His work. Murray
The key to the one who petitions is to pray in accordance with the will of Scripture and not to get lost in the weeds of life. This doesn’t mean we refrain from bringing everything to God in prayer, but that in everything we are seeking how God is at work in us and through us and that those circumstances or conditions might accomplish is Divine will. Meaning – that even our petitions, while important to us, are never just for us but for His greater will and glory. God is affording circumstances and relationships, both positive and negative – to flow into a person’s life to work His will for both earthly and eternal purposes. In bringing us to pray, God is launching us into opportunities to usher us into dependence and compliance with His will, work, and Word.
But oh how quickly we succumb to the daily throes of life and to the wear and tear of the daily grind because of our small, self-centric thinking. Sometimes in desperation, but more often than not, just in simple impatience, we short-circuit and misunderstand the praying process to require the sovereign God to abandon His sacred will for our here and now. Simply put, we expect God to be less than God to attend to our wants, whims, and wishes. And as a result, we sell out to our earthly satisfaction seemingly oblivious to God’s eternal priorities unsuspecting that we are actually to real losers as we either miss out on what God is doing or we sell out to an emasculated view of God. In either case, we are not the better for it.
The petitioning of God must never begin with our problems or priorities but with our surrender and seeking of His Word and will for our lives no matter our circumstances. He is the starting and finishing point, anything less would be incredulous at best. Our petitioning must be nothing less than our earnest seeking for the reality of the sovereign will of God. We are seeking alignment and acceptance of His design. And as difficult and challenging as this might seem from our perspective of expecting God to bandage our wounds and provide our wants – can we really be so shallow as to treat the Almighty with such contempt when so much more is at stake than our earthly satisfaction. To actually believe such nonsense requires we completely disregard the God’s intention of the Cross.
Yet should we take a moment to consider prayer in light of the Cross we will quickly discover that not even all of Jesus’ prayers were answered according to his desires – but the Father’s will. In Gethsemane, Jesus requested of the Father that this “cup” of suffering be taken from Him. Then, while on the Cross, Jesus cried out, “My God…” only to be forsaken. Why? The answer is in the Gospel. God treated Jesus (who knew no sin) as we deserve (who know sin intimately) – so that when we believe in Him… God can treat us as Jesus deserved. This is the heart of 2 Corinthians 5:14-21. Timothy Keller writes:
Sinners deserve to have their prayers go unanswered. Jesus was the only human being in history who deserved to have all His prayers answered because of his perfect life. Yet He was turned down as if he had cherished iniquity in His heart. Why?
…God treated Jesus as we deserve – He took our penalty – so that, when we believe in Him, God can treat us as Jesus deserved. More specifically, Jesus’ prayers were given the rejection that we sinners merit so that our prayers could have the reception that he merits. Prayer – 238
Therefore, in true prayer, no matter the form of intercession or petition, if it aligns with the heart and will of God, He is inclined to answer it. Such prayers are those prayers intent on the sovereignty of God no matter our wants or circumstances. We are not praying for our desired results but for the acceptance and participation of His good, pleasing, and perfect will. We are praying that we might participate in what He is doing even when by earthly standards it might be difficult and even perilous to us. We are inquiring of the Lord those necessary Spirit-qualities that afford us to be steadfast, immoveable, and always abounding the in the work of the Lord knowing that our labor will not be in vain (1 Cr. 15:52).
A great example of this reality comes from a story about Andrew Murray. In 1895, Andrew Murray was suffering from a terribly painful back, the result of an injury he had incurred years before. He was staying with friends in England for their support. One morning while he was eating his breakfast, his hostess told him of a woman who had come to visit who was in great distress and wanted to know if he had any advice for her. Murray promptly handed her a paper he had been writing and said, “Just give her this advice I’m writing down for myself. It may be the very help she is seeking.” This is what was written:
In time of trouble, say, “First, God has brought me here. It is by His will I am in this strait place; in that I will rest.” Next, say, “He will keep me here in His love and give me grace in this trial to behave as His child.” Then say, “He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow.” And last, say, “In His good time He can bring me out again. How, and when, He knows.” Therefore say, “I am here (1) by God’s appointment, (2) in His keeping, (3) under His training, and 4) for His time.” Ray Stedman
So just what are the fundamentals of supplication? While there are numerous examples in Scripture to lend us insight, I believe God stated it best in Isaiah 66 as He dealt with His people Israel.
These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word. Is. 66:2
Three qualifying essentials are required as we seek the heart of the Father through prayer. First, we must possess a genuine sense of humility. We must see ourselves rightly, neither too highly or too lowly, but appropriately before God if we are to ever experience God at the table of supplication. Humility sees self in light of one’s spiritually depraved condition. It responds clearly to the reality that no man is equivalent to God and then accepts one’s plight as a sinner in need of a Savior. Such revelation thrusts an individual into a position of desperation – God I am nothing and can never be anything a part from You!
Second, petition requires a broken and contrite spirit (see Ps. 51). God cannot delight in a man’s abilities or human goodness; He can only delight in a broken and contrite heart – a heart that sees itself in light of the grace, glory, and goodness of God. Isaiah provides us with a glimpse of such contriteness when in chapter 6 he is crushed and poured out exclaiming, “Woe is me… I am unclean…” Isaiah saw his true reality as a man as he stood in the presence of the holy, holy, holy God. Broken. Stripped. Exposed. Shattered. Ruined. HUMBLED! What happened? Isaiah saw his true reality before the reality of God – and he recognized that he did not and could not measure up. So he threw himself on the mercy of God and discovered grace through faith.
Finally, prayer requires our absolute awe and fear of God and His Word. Prayer begins in the Word. Psalm 1 invites us to not walk, stand, or sit in the counsel of the wicked, but to delight in the uncompromising truth of God’s Word. We are to become saturated through immersion, nourished through rumination, and intoxicated through indulgence. God’s Word is to serve as the springboard into every dynamic of the Spirit-life. As we tremble before the awesomeness of God through His Word, as we meditate on His truth day and night, God will meet us at the point of truth to expose our lives to the light of His Word to place His figure on any hurtful way in our lives ushering us into confession, adoration, petition, and ultimately, intercession. Through mediation, God brings His Word to life in prayers that are expressed according to His will bidding us to respond in both personal and public worship. To the point that there can be no true sense of worship apart from earnest, according-to-God’s-will prayers that were birth in the heart fixated on God and His Word.
So come! Pray! Seek to participate with God. Come boldly. Come intently. Come expectantly. Come with every desire and ambition to participate in what God is doing and can do. Don’t be surprise when He shows up and acts like God. And don’t be surprised if He shows up in a manner different from what you might do if you were God. But always remember that He is God – and you’re not. He is sovereign – and you’re not. He is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent – and you’re not! And His will is always perfect – even when it doesn’t make sense to us.