“We are not setting out in prayer to change the mind or will of God, but simply to make known to Him our “wants and our desires.” We do so while simultaneously settling in our hearts that it is God’s will –and not our own– that we ultimately long to see fulfilled.”
Should Christians pray for things that are hidden in the secret will of God? The apostle John writes, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15). So, given John’s statement that when we “ask anything according to [God’s] will he hears us,” shouldn’t we only pray in accordance with those things we know to be true from God’s revealed will in the Scriptures?
For example, should we pray that God heals someone from a particular infirmity, or is it only appropriate to pray that an individual suffer well as a child of God, with patience, endurance, and hope in the resurrection to come? Should we ask God to regenerate the heart of a specific individual that they might become a new creation in Christ, or ought we simply ask God to make us faithful ambassadors of Christ, taking every opportunity we have to point people to the truth of the gospel? The difference is that God has not promised to heal specific individuals of their suffering in this life, nor has he told us who his elect are throughout the world. So is it wrong for us to pray for those things which God has not made clear?
Surely if a man asked God to help him keep his adulterous relationships a secret from his wife, or to make him a more savvy thieves, he is not praying in accord with God’s will. However, God’s character and nature does help shape our prayers so that they will be consistent with His revealed will–even though they may not come to pass in the way in which we ask because His eternal plan is concealed in his secret will.
There are various kinds of prayers all throughout the Bible: Prayers of adoration and praise, prayers of confession and repentance, prayers of rejoicing and thanksgiving, imprecatory prayers, and prayers of intercession and supplication. A Christian’s time before the Lord in prayer should include different kinds of prayer, but the question at hand deals specifically with supplication (i.e. intercessory prayer).
Matthew Henry helpfully explained the nature of such intercessory prayer when he wrote:
[W]e must not think in our prayers to prescribe to him, or by our opportunity to move him. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and knows what he will do. But thus we open our wants and our desires, and then refer ourselves to his wisdom and goodness; and hereby we give honour to him as our protector and benefactor, and take the way which he himself hath appointed, of fetching in mercy from him, and by faith plead his promise with him, and if we are sincere herein, we are, through his grace, qualified according to the tenor of the new covenant to receive his favours, and are to be assured that we do, and shall receive them.
We are not setting out in prayer to change the mind or will of God, but simply to make known to Him our “wants and our desires.” We do so while simultaneously settling in our hearts that it is God’s will–and not our own–that we ultimately long to see fulfilled. We are reminded of this when we remember Jesus’ prayer in the Garden as He faced the death of the cross: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus knew there was no other way, and yet desired to be delivered from the inevitable. Likewise we may pray, “Father, while I know my prognosis is terminal, if you are willing, would you heal my body? Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Or, “Father, my neighbor is so far from you and scoffs at the name of Jesus. He will not hear the Gospel, but would you be pleased to send the Holy Spirit to arrest his heart and give me the opportunity to share the truth with him? Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”