Have you ever prayed for something that didn't happen? You poured out your soul before God, begging him to come through, and your prayers seemed to go unanswered? I think that's the experience of a lot of Christians. There are some today who would even teach that if you have enough faith and you pray, God will do whatever you say—that God wants you healthy and wealthy, and that faith is the key that unlocks all those dreams. If you pray with this expectation, then you're crushed when your loved one isn't healed and they die, or the business collapses and you lose everything—when your prayer just isn't answered the way you want it to be. So, what does it mean to pray in accordance with God’s will?
I used to think that prayer was all about getting God to do my will. I’m the nephew of world-renowned prosperity preacher Benny Hinn. I traveled around the world with him to all of these big crusades. I grew up enthralled with what’s called the prosperity gospel. Uncle Benny flew in a private plane, and we were the sort of pastors and ministers who stayed in the nicest hotels, drove Bentleys, and shopped at Gucci.
So, prayer in my mind was, "Okay, God, I decree that you do this. I declare in Jesus's name that you are going to bless. I declare that job promotion. I declare wealth and health and healing in Jesus’s name." And I thought that was a guarantee. We would say that we were anointed and had power and authority, because Jesus died, and through the atonement, all these things were unlocked. All I needed to do was name it and claim it. So I was claiming Bentleys and Hummers in Jesus's name."
And we were getting riches in Jesus's name. But a lot of other people who were naming and claiming continued on in poverty, continued on with cancer, and continued on without Jesus answering their prayers. That was the twisted part of the Ponzi scheme of prosperity gospel theology. The guy at the top of the pyramid who was “winning” would stand up and say, “Look at how this works in my life." And he’d also say, "Give your best offering, and God will do the same for you too." Well, unless you're at the top of the pyramid, it doesn't work.
So, where does that leave us with prayer? When I first got saved out of the prosperity movement, I began to be humbled by the doctrine of God's sovereignty. I began to see that I can’t play God. He’s not the magic genie whose lamp I can rub with my faith or offerings or decrees. I can’t tell him what to do. I'm the human, the finite servant, who comes and says, "God, what do you want me to do?" And then I must do it. My life exists for his glory. He doesn't exist for mine. Biblically speaking, prayer is not about me getting God to do my will, it’s about God preparing my heart to submit to his.
Prosperity preachers like to quote Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” They think it means, “Give money, and have faith, and get excited about God, and make sure to show up to our healing crusades and do all that we tell you. And then he's going to give you what you want.”
But that’s not what that passage means. What the psalmist is telling you is that when you delight yourself in the Lord and live for his glory—as you pour out your heart in devotion to him—then your desires belong to him too. When you're so enthralled with him and he is everything to you, your affections will be from him and for him. And he will now put the things in your heart and mind that he wants you to do.
That begs the question, “Am I delighting myself in the Lord? How am I delighted in him?” The more I’m following the revealed will of God, the more I’m going to be praying prayers that are in accordance with his will. And when I ask in accordance with his will, he will answer.
When I pray, “God, make me more like Jesus. I want to be transformed into the image of the Son. I want to grow more in my faith. I want opportunities to share the gospel," these are the types of prayers that God just loves to answer for willing vessels. He loves to give to those who say, "God, I'm here to do your will."
Just consider the prayers Paul prays in the Bible. You won’t find one that’s self-centered and indulgent. Paul prays, “Open a door for the gospel.” He prays prayers of thanksgiving: “I thank God for your faithfulness. I thank God for your endurance. I thank God for this person and that (and he names them by name). Paul even prays prayers of gratitude for suffering.
This doesn't mean we can't pray for healing. Paul prayed for the thorn in his flesh. But God didn’t answer that prayer the way Paul wanted him to. In 2 Corinthians 12:7, God says, “My power is going to be shown through your weakness.” So, Paul models for us how we are to pray for things that are outside of our immediate scope of need or want. It's not, "God, give me a promotion. God, help my 401k. God, get my kids into that private school. God, please help Phoenix Seminary accept my application."
Those are all fine prayers. But when's the last time you prayed for a gospel door to be opened? When you do, very often then next thing you know you’re in the checkout line at the grocery store and there’s the opportunity. Or when did you last pray, "God, will you help me grow?" And then that professor or pastor or friend pulls you aside and says, “Hey, I want to challenge you on something." And you respond, "Man, I don't want to hear that right now; who are you to judge me?" But in reality, God is answering your prayer for growth.
Over the last year, I’ve experienced this in a significant way. I've been to Phoenix Children's Hospital a lot since we moved here. I'm thankful for their work there. Our two-year-old son, Timothy, has cancer. As I sat in the waiting room with Timothy last Christmas, I found myself praying, “Lord, heal my Son but whatever happens, be glorified through this.” One day in December, I prayed that prayer and then looked across the waiting room and saw two moms. One with a child who had chemo on Christmas Eve, and the other with a child who had chemo scheduled on Christmas Day. It’s humbling to realize that we all want healing but God may want something bigger for us. So, we pray for healing, and we pray that people will see the hope of eternity in us even and pray, “Thy will be done.”
Costi Hinn is executive pastor of Discipleship at Redeemer Bible Church in Gilbert, Arizona, He’s also the author of God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel as well as the forthcoming More Than a Healer: Not the Jesus You Want but the Jesus You Need.