Praying God’s Will

Knowing God’s will is of such great importance that it could be at the top of the list at every prayer meeting. As we come to know God’s will with the wisdom and understanding of the Holy Spirit, we will have the power, given to us by God, to do the things that please him.

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When you start to see God as he really is, the eyes of your heart are opened to the truth of Colossians 1:17 that he holds everything together. He holds everything together from the stars in the heavens to the cells in our body. He holds each day in his all-powerful hands. He never takes a vacation. He is always working out his will on earth. This is what we come to understand about the Lord.

It doesn’t matter if you feel like your world is falling apart or if you are confused about why something is happening to you. Christ Jesus still holds the world and specifically your world together. He doesn’t let go because it is not in his nature to let go. He is always true to his word. He always fulfills his promises. His love and care for his creation, and yes that means you, is unconditional because he can be nothing other than unconditional love.

But the Lord is not just holding your life together. He has a great plan for your life. It doesn’t matter what stage of life you are in whether you are just beginning or you are closer to the end. The Lord is working all things together for good for you and for all his people. The best good for your life is for God’s will to be done in it. This is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

This is also what the apostle Paul had come to understand as a Christ-follower. There is no better life, there is no greater thing than to live according to the will of God. So when he was told about the faith of the Colossian believers, that’s the first place he went. He prayed that they would know and live out the will of God.

Knowing God’s will is of such great importance that it could be at the top of the list at every prayer meeting. As we come to know God’s will with the wisdom and understanding of the Holy Spirit, we will have the power, given to us by God, to do the things that please him. And more than that, we will find great joy and pleasure in doing them no matter what challenges and problems we face because anything we do outside the will of God is worthless but whatever we do by the will of God is glorious.

So let’s take a closer look at the words from our spiritual life passage, Colossians 1:9-14. Paul starts out by telling them, “from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you.” Just think for a moment about the things that you never stop doing. Whatever makes it on your list is going to be something that is very important. The first thing I thought about was eating. I don’t stop eating. Maybe for a period of time once in a while I will go without eating, but I consider eating to be an important part of my daily routine. Sleeping makes the cut also. That’s pretty important. Kissing Michelle and telling her I love her is at the top of my list. I’ve got to hug Julianna and tell her I love her too. And I spend time with the Lord every day in his word and in prayer. But very few things make it in my prayers unceasingly. What exactly makes the apostle Paul’s list of unceasing prayer?

To Fully Know God’s Will

This is a fantastic prayer! His exact words are, “that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will.” (Col. 1:9) Notice that he doesn’t just ask for this church family to have a little knowledge of God’s will but to be filled – all the way up to the top, as much as they can hold. Because no human being can know all there is to know about God and his will. We just couldn’t take it. But to know as much as is possible for us to know is like praying for the greatest blessing ever and as much as we can hold.

Why is this the greatest blessing? Because God’s will is so awesome. But sometimes we don’t understand what God’s will is all about, so we’re not sure if we really want to know it. God’s will is not what he demands of us. The will of God is not some kind of cosmic scene playing out where God is the dictator pronouncing judgments, dilly, dilly. God’s will is what is pleasing to him. So if we know God’s will then we know what pleases God.

But it’s not just that we know about what pleases God. To know God’s will as Paul is praying is to understand it and to experience it. In other words, his prayer is for them to experience the things that please God, and that means to take part in it with their lives. How does that work? Well, there are a couple of parts to it.

The first part is to know what pleases God in “all spiritual wisdom”. When Paul says spiritual in the Bible it always means by the Holy Spirit. There are good spirits whom we call angels. They are God’s messengers. There are evil spirits who are led in their wicked ways by Satan. Then there is the Holy Spirit. To be spiritual in the Bible does not mean to be mystical or to be discerning or to be interested in “spiritual” stuff. To be spiritual is to be led by the Holy Spirit who is God.

It’s important to first get that right because just like there are different kinds of spirits there are also different kinds of wisdom. There is the wisdom that is from God on the one hand, and on the other there is what the Bible calls the wisdom of the world. You have to understand that one of these things is not like the other. Wisdom from God lets us see things from his perspective and gives us practical ability to live out God’s will in the real world. It is different from worldly wisdom. It’s not the kind of thing you pick up on the street.

Listen to how the apostle Paul differentiates between the two. “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:20-21) Now this is pretty deep stuff, but in a nutshell, the Bible says that human wisdom is foolish because it never leads you to know God. Think about it, if God is the greatest, most awesome and glorious Creator of everything (which he is), and human wisdom says, “Whatever, we can do with God”, then human wisdom is absolutely garbage.

Gandhi was considered one of the greatest men of the 20th century. He was called “Mahatma” which means “great soul.” His influence is perhaps unparralled among the so-called great people of his time. Yet he believed Jesus was a good man – not God come to earth as a man. He believed Jesus was a moral teacher, and Gandhi even went so far as to put Jesus’ “principles” into practice, but he never went so far as to believe that Jesus is God come to earth as a human being.

But Jesus wasn’t a good man. He was God-man. Gandhi worked to “be the change you want to see”, but Jesus taught that he is the only way that the human heart can be brought to life and be changed. Human wisdom says I can change. Human wisdom says, I can reach up to God and know him. Spiritual wisdom, God’s wisdom, says no human being in their own wisdom can ever know God and nothing ever changes under the sun, but in the Son of God, by faith through God’s grace we become new creations. Spiritual wisdom says human wisdom is not able to know God. God can only be known as he reveals himself, and in Jesus’ (the God-Man) death and resurrection he revealed himself and his perfect will.

If we are going to know God’s will, “his good, pleasing and perfect will” as Paul talks about in Romans 12:2, then it will be by the wisdom of the Spirit and not the wisdom of the world.

The second part is to know what pleases God in “in all spiritual…understanding”. Spiritual understanding means understanding that has been given to us through the Holy Spirit. This is an extremely important distinction to  make because human understanding is clouded by the selfish human nature. Instead of wanting God’s will to be done, the selfish human nature wants God’s will to shift so that it conforms to our will. Jesus showed us how our will was meant to respond to God’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he was killed. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) Because it was God’s will for Jesus’ to die and so achieve salvation for sinful humanity, Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death. (Philippians 2:8)

So because we’re not like Jesus, we need to be led to the knowledge of God’s will by the Holy Spirit. The job of the Spirit is to lead us into all the truth – step by step. So when we talk about spiritual understanding it means that we understand what God says about life through the revelation of the Bible. The Holy Spirit leads us to understand how God wants us to think and to live because we know the truth of the scriptures. Without the Spirit leading us into all the truth, we wouldn’t understand how to live. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13)

Paul’s ongoing, incessant prayer is for the eyes of their hearts to be opened to see the truth of God’s will. His prayer is really just coming in line with what the Holy Spirit is already working on in us – to lead us out of the darkness of worldly wisdom and understanding and into the light of God’s wisdom and truth. However, Paul’s prayer doesn’t end with asking that they fully know God’s will.

To Be Fully Pleasing to God

Paul prays for them to know God’s will “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.” (Col. 1:10) If you are a new Christ-follower “the Christian walk” might be a new term for you. Christian’s used to ask each other, “How’s your walk?” meaning, how is your relationship with God and living as a Christian going? Well, nobody answers that question by saying that they are perfectly living out the Christian life. So when Paul says that what he is praying for is for them to live worthy of the Lord and to be fully pleasing to him, my first response and maybe yours is to say, “That’s impossible! Nobody can live in a way that is fully pleasing to God.”

So let’s define the words according to how Paul meant them because I think their meaning is easily lost in translation. To live in a worthy manner doesn’t mean perfection. It means to live for God’s honor and glory. Worthy here means to be esteemed. You can live your life for the esteem of people or you can live your life for the esteem of God, but you can’t do both. Jesus makes this really clear, “that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15)

Likewise, to be fully pleasing to God doesn’t mean perfection. It means that in every area of our life – home, work, school, church, vacation, with relatives and friends, etc. –  we are living in a way that pleases the Lord. We don’t act one way at church and another way at work or school or with our friends. Again, this is not saying that 100% perfection is the goal of the Christian life. What it does mean is that the Lord is at work transforming us to not only want to do his will but also then to actually live it out. First we need to know what pleases God, then we want to please God, then we do what pleases God.

This is certainly my story. I started out wanting to do God’s will and knowing what his will was, but for the first years of my life I was more concerned about the esteem of others. I cared more about what they thought of me than I did about doing what was pleasing to the Lord. But the Lord knew exactly what I needed, and what I needed was to be given a picture of what my life would be like if I lived to please myself or other people. It was a painful thing go through, but I’m so glad he did it. Don’t get me wrong, the Lord continues to show me the places where in my heart I don’t really want to please him. He’s continuing to work in me, and He’s continuing to work in you.

All of this is planned and orchestrated and worked out by the Lord. “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) The best thing for us is want to and to live for God’s pleasure. There is nothing more glorious, more thrilling, more satisfying than that. Paul gives us a little insight into how the Lord goes about doing it.

“Bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Col. 1:10)

It’s not just that as Christ-followers we do good works. Anyone can do good works, but what God is doing in us is to grow in the sacrificial, unconditional love nature of God as we do the things that please him. Our good works are not just good deeds but they have a quality of God which comes through us as we do them. Like fruit, the unconditional love of God is something that grows in us as we get to know him more. Now here’s the nugget that I’m really pumped about: as we grow in our love for God and other people more and more, we get to know God more. Because God is love, we can only know him fully as we love more fully. Therefore, to be fully pleasing to God is not just about helping old ladies across the street as good as that deed is. It is about knowing him and experiencing him in his character of love and grace as well as every other character trait that is his.

So many church people work in their own strength to try and be pleasing to God. They have on them a burden that comes from living in the world. The burden is that they are afraid God will reject them because they are not good enough. But this is not the message that our Father God wants us to hear. He wants us to know what is pleasing to him and then for us to want what is pleasing to him so that we can live in a way that is pleasing to him. This is all the work of God as Paul’s prayer shows in verse 11. “Being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.” (Col. 1:11) So you see that it is God’s power that works in us to live in a way that is pleasing to God.

I have become convicted in my heart that the Lord is far more powerful in our lives than we believe he can be. Because we don’t believe he can, then we don’t trust him to do. So I have a great peace, in the middle of lots of ups and downs of life, that the Lord is has placed in my heart. Here’s what I have been praying lately. It’s a simple prayer that brings out the power of our spiritual life passage from Colossians 1. I want to encourage you to pray along with me this prayer every day this week.

God, may the things that are pleasing to you be the thing that bring me the greatest pleasure too.

This is a prayer that I know God will answer with a “yes”! As He answers this prayer, we will have a greater and clearer vision of God himself, and our hearts and our lives would be drawn closer to him – not because we are being forced to, but because we want to. Nothing we desire, when we understand what pleases God, compares to knowing him and being with him and doing the things that please him.