Should We Qualify Our Prayers with “If It Be Your Will”?
To my great distress, I sometimes hear people say, in their zeal for fervency and efficacy in prayer, that we should never qualify our prayer requests with the words “if it be Your will.” Some will even say that to attach those words, those conditional terms, to our prayers is an act of unbelief. We are told today that in the boldness of faith we are to “name it and claim it.” I suppose I should be more measured in my response to this trend, but I can’t think of anything more foreign to the teaching of Christ. We come to the presence of God in boldness, but never in arrogance. Yes, we can name and claim those things God has clearly promised in Scripture. For instance, we can claim the certainty of forgiveness if we confess our sins before Him, because He promises that. But when it comes to getting a raise, purchasing a home, or finding healing from a disease, God hasn’t made those kind of specific promises anywhere in Scripture, so we are not free to name and claim those things.
When we come before God, we must remember two simple facts—who He is and who we are. We must remember that we’re talking to the King, the Sovereign One, the Creator, but we are only creatures. If we will keep those facts in mind, we will pray politely. We will say, “By Your leave,” “As You wish,” “If You please,” and so on. That’s the way we go before God. To say that it is a manifestation of unbelief or a weakness of faith to say to God “if it be Your will” is to slander the very Lord of the Lord’s Prayer.
It was Jesus, after all, who, in His moment of greatest passion, prayed regarding the will of God. In his Gospel, Luke tells us that immediately following the Last Supper:
Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. When He came to the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:39–44)
It is important to see what Jesus prays here. He says, “Not My will, but Yours, be done.” Jesus was not saying, “I don’t want to be obedient” or “I refuse to submit.” Jesus was saying: “Father, if there’s any other way, all things being equal, I would rather not have to do it this way. What You have set before Me is more ghastly than I can contemplate. I’m entering into My grand passion and I’m terrified, but if this is what You want, this is what I’ll do. Not My will, but Your will, be done, because My will is to do Your will.
I also want you to notice what happened after Jesus prayed. Luke tells us that an angel came to Him and strengthened Him. The angel was the messenger of God. He came from heaven with the Father’s answer to Jesus’ prayer. That answer was this: “You must drink the cup.
This is what it means to pray that the will of God would be done. It is the highest expression of faith to submit to the sovereignty of God. The real prayer of faith is the prayer that trusts God no matter whether the answer is yes or no. It takes no faith to “claim,” like a robber, something that is not ours to claim. We are to come to God and tell Him what we want, but we must trust Him to give the answer that is best for us. That is what Jesus did.
Because Luke tells us that the Father sent an angel to strengthen His Son, I would expect Jesus’ agony of soul to have been alleviated. It appears, however, that with the coming of the strength from the angel came an increase in the agony of Christ, an increase so profound that He began to sweat so profusely that it was “like great drops of blood.” In a sermon on Luke 22:44, Jonathan Edwards said that this increase in Jesus’ agony was due to a full realization of the will of God for Him in His passion. He had come to the garden with the fear that He would have to drink the cup. Once He knew it was indeed God’s will that He drink it, He had a new fear—that He would not be able to do it. In other words, Jesus now was in agony that He not come short of complete and perfect obedience to the will of God.
But He did it. He drank the cup to the last drop. And in that moment, Jesus didn’t give us words to show us how to pray; He gave us His life as an example of praying that the will of God would be done on earth as it is in heaven.
This excerpt is adapted from The Prayer of the Lord by R.C. Sproul.