When I lived in Africa, I met a woman who ignored her dying child. We were ministering to people in the mission hospital when we happened upon a woman in the children’s ward. Her infant was hooked up to half a dozen machines and had a dozen tubes protruding from the small body. The doctors had told us that there was nothing that could be done to save the child. So they were making it comfortable as it passed. We asked why there were no family there to comfort the child. The doctor pointed to a woman halfway across the room, sitting on the floor with her back to her baby. We asked why she stayed so far away from her child in its last hours. The missionary doctor said that she believed that if she showed the gods that she did not care about her dying child, she would sway their mind about taking the life of her son. She thought that by her religious piety she could change the mind of the gods she believed in.
The reason I bring up that story is that I believe a lot of us approach our relationship with God the same way. We are entering a season at our church of prayer and fasting. I think a lot of us come from backgrounds that tell us that if we do something we will get something. If we pray enough, God will give us what we want. If we fast enough and show God how spiritual we really are, then maybe He will be so impressed by us that he will give us that new car, or that spouse, or that better paying job. We often use God to try and accomplish our will.
Yet Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, changes the purpose of prayer. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” (Matthew 6:9-10). Jesus, God Himself, submits His prayers to the will of his Father. We see this again in Luke 22 when Jesus prays in the garden before His capture and subsequent crucifixion. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done,” (Luke 22:42). Even in His redemptive death, He put to death His own will to submit to the will of His Father. Jesus’ times of prayer and fasting were not to convince His father to give him what He wanted; it was to align His life with the will of His Father.
It is not wrong to bring our requests to God. There are a multitude of passages that talk about bringing our requests to God in prayer. But even in that, the purpose of prayer is to bring our will into alignment with His. In fact, that is the whole reason we are entering into this time of prayer and fasting. It is not to show God how spiritual we are. It is not to convince God to give us what we want. It is to draw near to God and ask Him what He wants of us. In our families. In our workplaces. In our communities. We are to align our will to His and say, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”