In 1 Kings 8, King Solomon leads corporate prayer at the dedication of the Temple, and what’s notable about his prayer is that he simply pleads for what the Lord has already promised. He uses language like “keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him” (vs 25) and “let your word that you promised your servant David my father come true” (vs 26). To ‘plead the promises’ as such, brings we who pray, close to the will of God.
Undoubtedly, this ought to be the practice and heart of every Christian who asks God, according to his will. When we do, we know that “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). So, what does it mean to pray according to God’s will? It means to pray according to the intentions of his heart. And though some of God’s will is a secret, what we do know is what he has revealed to us in his word. Though not exhaustively, but clearly, God has revealed to us his promises, his character, his warnings and his threats. All of God’s self-disclosure, and ultimately the revelation of himself in his Son, is the ground from which we can boldly approach the throne of grace.
Because we do not see God or hear his voice, it would be foolish to presume to know the will of God apart from divine revelation in Scripture, and then pray to God with the expectation of divine approval. Wise men don’t come before a king to make their requests, blithely ignorant of his sympathies (Proverbs 16:1-14). And yet we know, that our God is ever attentive to the requests of his children. But we only know this because of his word.
The best prayers then are those most conformed to the heart of God. Which means, that they are saturated in Scripture, baptized in the word of God. O. Palmer Robertson in surely right when he says that “the more closely a prayer is framed according to the wording of the Lord himself, the more certain will be God’s answer to that prayer. He has proven himself faithful to his word across the centuries. Not one word he has spoken has ever fallen to the ground. He delights in his own truth ‘re-presented’ to him in the form of the prayers of his people. He will hear and he will answer according to his Word.”
This, of course, has implications for how we read Scripture. If our prayers should be filled with God’s word and as closely conformed to God’s word as possible, then certainly our reading of God’s word should likewise be as prayerful as possible. We must read the Bible in spiritual submission to God’s word. And in humbly bowing ourselves under God’s word, we request only that which our King has desired. To pray therefore, that God would “give us the desires of our heart and make all our plans succeed” (Psalm 20:4), is not a theology of name-it-and-claim-it, but is the prayer of one whose will is conformed to the will of God. When we know God’s word and believe it, then increasingly we will pray in accordance with his will.
It is not coincidental that the language of our liturgy and our prayer book is steeped in the words of God, and as a pattern for our own prayers we can scarce do better. As Thomas Cranmer prays in his Collect for the 2nd Sunday in Advent: Blessed Lord, you have caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning: grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that, encouraged and supported by your holy Word, we may embrace and always hold fast to the joyful hope of ever lasting life, which you have given to us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.