My mom has had a life-altering disease for 8 years. For 8 years she has endured intense pain, three surgeries, vicious medications, and a completely changed diet. And for 8 years, countless people have prayed for her. While we have seen God’s faithfulness in so many details and days of good health, she hasn’t experienced complete healing as we’d hoped. It's incredibly hard. Exhausting. I’ve felt kicked in the heart countless times by seeing her in pain and not being able to to fix it.
So, I’ll be the first to say that praying for God's will to be done is hard. While I fully believe in his authority and ability to heal, I do not know if and when it is in his plan. That’s complicated, for obvious reasons.
Asking for God’s will is even hard in the small stuff, because it requires a lot more trust and humility than just asking for what I want. It forces me to admit I may have to do or experience something uncomfortable, painful, or even just plain annoying. It also forces me outside of myself: outside of my own mind.
There’s a Greek word I want to share with you. It’s a verb that’s used almost 200 times in the Bible: thelo.
Thelo: to will, have in mind, purpose, intend, desire, wish, take delight or pleasure in
In many instances, this word describes the desires and will of our Holy God and his Son. A few examples: God wills that people know the truth and become saved. And when Jesus was on the earth, his will brought about many physical healings.
The word also refers to humans desiring and wishing for things. We also ‘thelo.’ But ever since sin broke our relationship with the Lord, our desires haven’t always been congruent with his. We want things that might not be the best for us, make requests at the wrong times, tend to focus on comfort instead of heart change, and struggle to see beyond our earthly limitations.
And of course, it makes sense. We can't see the whole picture: we can only see the past and the present. So then, it is truly in our best interest to line up our desires with God’s. He is the eternal King without flaw. He holds purpose in each plan. And his vision envelops all time and space.
Even Jesus had to verbally submit to God’s will before he was crucified: “Not my will but yours be done.” And oh, how thankful I am that he did!
How can we know?
The struggle is, how do we know what God’s will is? Through my life, that question has brought me much confusion, hard thinking, and a tough conclusion: we cannot always know. To seek it in certain situations we can look at who we know God to be, what he values, and how he’s worked in the past. But ultimately, we get to pray about it. We get to lay down all our calculations, anxious desires, and stubbornness, and ask for God’s will to be done.
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:14-15
But we don’t have to stop there: we can also pray to understand the purpose of God’s will, cope with things we’re not happy about, grow from situations, and trust our Lord more deeply because of it all! I believe these results are a large reason God allows pain into our lives. It does more than hurt us: it promotes growth.
A good balance
Here’s a scene from Matthew that I absolutely love:
And a leper came to Him [Jesus] and bowed down before Him, and said, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Matthew 8:2-3
I. Just. Love that. "If you are willing, you can make me clean." The leper said it more concisely than I can, but here’s my interpretation: it’s like saying “God, I believe you have power and authority to move mountains. But only fill this specific request of mine if it is in your will.” What a mature and humble statement! This is the passage that led me to the word thelo.
So, yeah. I don’t know what God’s will is for my mom’s health. My role will continue to be encouraging her and praying for her faithfully: but maybe with more of a motive to understand, submit to, and embrace God’s will than before.
I think we could all use some more of that in our lives.
Hello! I'm Anna, a college student living in the Midwest. I'm a strong believer in uncontrollable laughter, powerful words, and a morning cup of coffee. I pray these posts will encourage you to live a full life with and for God: unhindered. Follow me on social media for post updates!