“If we ask anything according to His will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). If we know the will of God in a matter, then we can pray with the confidence Jesus talked about when he said, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24). But how do we know when we are praying according to the will of God?
One common answer often given, though not always clearly formulated, is that God reveals His will to our minds and then we know how to pray. There is Scriptural support for this concept the experience of God’s prophets and in everyday believers. And there is a very objective way of discovering God’s will offered in Scripture. It is the Scriptures themselves. The Scriptures give us specific information as to what God’s will is and so give us specific areas in which we may confidently pray with a certainty of being answered.
For example, we may confidently pray for God to bring conviction of sin to a straying believer, because, assuming they are saved, the Scriptures teach us that they cannot ultimately fall away in sin. Hebrews 12 assures us that the believer will be disciplined and restored. We may also, likewise, pray confidently for the growth of believers as the apostle Paul did (see, for example, Colossians 1:9-12). God has predestined us to become “conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Romans 8:29). We may also pray for laborers for the harvest knowing that God will answer (Luke 10:2). You may confidently ask for forgiveness (1 John 1:9), for wisdom in times of suffering (James 1:5), and so on.
When we know God’s will, not just what He desires or expects of us, but what He says He will do, then we can pray with assurance of a positive answer. This is not to say that we cannot pray for others’ salvation, for healing, for whatever our desires may be. But we cannot presumptuously demand God respond to our desires in these areas since we do not know His will (unless He has personally revealed to our spirits that He is going to answer these prayers).
In such cases we may ask God, if He wills, to answer our prayers. This is what Jesus did (Matthew 26:39). Jesus knew the Father’s will was for the Messiah to suffer, but He expressed his desire that it pass from him. Nevertheless, he yielded to the Father’s will.
Praying, “If it be your will” is our way of submitting to God’s sovereignty. He still wants to hear us express our feelings to Him. He delights in the prayers of His saints. But perhaps we get overly discouraged at the lack of answers to our prayers because we are not spending enough time praying for the things God has said He will do.