Remember that prayer is always to be offered in submission to God’s will; that when we say, God hears prayer, we do not intend by that, that he always gives us literally what we ask for. We do mean, however, this, that he gives us what is best for us; and that if he does not give us the mercy we ask for in silver, he bestows it upon us in gold. If he does not take away the thorn in the flesh, yet he says, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee,’ and that comes to the same in the end. Lord Bolingbroke said to the Countess of Huntingdon, ‘I cannot understand, your ladyship, how you can make out earnest prayer to be consistent with submission to the divine will.’ ‘My lord,’ she said, ‘that is a matter of no difficulty. If I were a courtier of some generous king, and he gave me permission to ask any favour I pleased of him, I should be sure to put it thus, ‘Will your majesty be graciously pleased to grant me such-and-such a favour; but at the same time though I very much desire it, if it would in any way detract from your majesty’s honour, or if in your majesty’s judgment it should seem better that I did not have this favour, I shall be quite as content to go without it as to receive it.’ So you see I might earnestly offer a petition, and yet I might submissively leave it in the king’s hands.’ So with God. We never offer up prayer without inserting that clause, either in spirit or in words, ‘Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt; not my will but thine be done.’ We can only pray without an ‘if’ when we are quite sure that our will must be God’s will, because God’s will is fully our will.
For meditation: Prayer is not a weapon for forcing God to come into line with our demands, but a gracious means of communication by which we can seek his will and express our willingness to play our part in furthering it (1 John 5:14–15).