We all have prayers that are birthed from our desires. But what if our desires do not correspond to God’s plan? Are we still allowed to pray to God for them?
Matthew 26:39 gives us a unique window into Jesus’s prayer life, especially since this prayer takes place in the garden of Gethsemane just hours before being (wrongfully) arrested, and soon after, crucified. Here is what it says.
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
As we can see, Jesus is asking God if there is another way. Jesus’s desire was to forgo the cross if at all possible. And that is reasonable! Who would want to go through what Jesus did?
We don’t have to do the comparison game here. Instead, we can gather that an important facet of prayer involves giving God our desires.
When we give God our desires, we are expressing a vulnerable part of our soul that holds our dreams, fears, and aspirations.
Sure, God already knows this. It is no secret from Him. However, by praying it, we are becoming aware of His knowledge of us and we are opening it up for dialogue.
So, what is a biblical understanding of praying for the desires of our heart?
A few points of consideration.
1) Prayer helps re-form our fallible desires.
In essence, our desires are broken. The emotions that come from desires are not bad, but sometimes our desires are susceptible to being corrupted. They are fallible. The restoration process we undergo as a follower of Christ includes the re-wiring of our desires. As we align ourselves with God our desires become more aligned to His. The synergy creates for a radically different prayer life!
Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
Notice that taking delight in the LORD precedes receiving the desires of our hearts. As we make God the anchor of our delight, we will have desires that shift and look more like His. So, are we to pray for our desires? Yes! But let us also make a habit of praying for our desires to be re-formed.
2) Prayer can act as a safeguard when we don’t know what to do with our desires.
Let’s admit that we can not always discern when our desires align with God’s will. So, it is good to learn from Jesus and have a safeguard that protects us. Going back to what Jesus said in the garden: “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). This phrase is holy. It is a safeguard against all the unknowns. We can only pray within the constraints of our own knowledge and discernment. So, that is exactly what we should do! Then, with a heart of surrender and faith, we can conclude our prayer with “yet not as I will, but as you will, God.”
3) Prayer reminds me that God wants to hear my desires.
It begs the question: what do we think about God that we even would ask if we should pray for our desires? Do we think God is stingy or holding out on us? During the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, Jesus makes this point.
9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)
We are never going to be a better parent than God is as our Father.
No matter how much we love our kids, God loves us more (and them more!). The point is that God wants us to bring our desires to Him. It doesn’t mean that we will always get what we ask or what we want. But it does mean that our desires will not be left to deflate. They will either be granted or transformed. But in the hands of God, our desires are active agents in our discipleship journey!