George Ophoff was part of the first Editorial Staff of the SB, and a long-time writer for the magazine.
“Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
In everything let your requests be known. In everything, in every circumstance, in adversity and prosperity, in sickness and health, fruitful and unfruitful seasons, in every kind of distress, let your requests be known.
Seemingly the apostle leaves his readers in the dark as to what requests may be made known unto God. Yet the text contains more than one clue as to what he had before his mind. It must be a request that has to do with a real need, and that, when made, will bring to the soul a peace that surpasseth all understanding. This at once eliminates a host of requests that we are so prone to make. Will a request for, let us say, a return of prosperity be followed by peace in our hearts; or a request for health, rain, sunshine, crops, and what not? If you put the making known of all such requests to a test, you will discover that, after having made the request ever so often, you will still be without peace. Though a man who is sick pray day and night for recovery, he, through such a prayer, will never attain to peace. Though a man pray ever so fervently for the removal of his present financial depression, he, through this prayer, will never attain to peace. Though a man pray ever so often that the house or the houses he is in danger of losing may be retained by him, he will never, through such a prayer, attain to peace. All such prayers gender dissatisfaction and remorse, yea, blank despair, especially if the course of events continues to run contrary to the prayer. The fact that such prayers do not bring peace is in itself the evidence that they are forbidden prayers.
What prayer, then, will be followed by peace in our hearts, the peace that surpasseth all understanding? The answer: the prayer that, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves, His will be done, His counsel realized; the prayer that we may receive grace to praise Him for His ways with us, whatever these ways may be; grace, and spiritual power to confess His name, to fight the good fight, to work out our salvation with fear and trembling; grace, to humble ourselves under His mighty hand; grace, to believe that through whatever circumstances He may set up about us, He works our salvation unto His glory; grace, therefore, to believe that all things of whatever character are for us.
That such should be our request in whatever circumstances we are led by Him is evident enough from the model prayers of Scripture. The Lord’s Prayer, as to the whole of its content, is a request that God be God, a prayer for His counsel, a prayer that His kingdom may come, may come in our hearts. Wrote the apostle with a view to this evil day: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil….” In other words, let your request in this evil day be that you may be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might, that your loins may be girded about with the truth, that you may have on the breastplate of righteousness, that your feet may be shod with the preparation of the gospel. Let us ask for power, the apostle would say, to take the shield of faith, wherewith we shall be able to quench the fiery darts of the wicked; to take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. The apostle actually wrote (Eph. 6), after admonishing his brethren to put on the whole armor of God, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”
That such should be our request is evident from the fact that the apostle’s admonition, “Praying always…,” immediately follows the admonition of his to put on the whole armor of God. This last warning should at once constitute the content of our requests. Not prosperity, fine houses, and big cars, but grace to stand is what we are so sorely in need of today. We can do without the former, but not without the latter. It is for this grace that we should so earnestly, fervently, and continually pray. You say, the kingdom of God is suffering! It is going to pieces from lack of funds! I know that that is what they are dinning into your ears, to get you to pray for prosperity. But know well, brother, that the kingdom of God cannot possibly come to ruin, that this kingdom always comes, comes also through oppression and reverses. I can appeal to the whole history of the Christian church from Adam to the present day in support of this statement. Take the first two centuries of our Christian era. They were centuries of persecution, and the kingdom came. The church also needs periods of quiet for study and the development of the truth. What we mean to bring out is that the kingdom always comes. And the Lord will see to it that each one of us has his daily bread as long as He has use for us here on this earth. And daily bread means daily bread, bread that comes to us from the Lord, either through our own efforts or through the channel of another.
It is plain, now, what the contents of a prayer worked in us by the Spirit will be. The two elements comprising this prayer are, concisely stated,praise—the declaration that God is God and that the petitioner wills that God be God in His own life, and, secondly, the making known unto God of our request for grace. Rightly considered, also the making known of this request is equal to the declaration that God is God, that your deep and ardent desire is that He reign, reign in your life, and by His grace glorify Himself in and through you unto your salvation and His very own supreme glory and honor.
It can easily be seen that through such a prayer the Spirit will gender in us that peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Consider that to praise God, to declare that He is God, to praise Him that for Christ’s sake He is your God, to praise Him for causing in His abounding mercy all things to work for your good and for the good of all His people, to request Him to glorify Himself in and through you by giving you grace is to pray as only a child of God can pray. Such a prayer in itself is the evidence that you are a sheep of Christ, one of God’s children, set in heaven with Him. The very act of praying this prayer strengthens in you the conviction that you are His priceless possession. Convinced of this you will find that these things will, must cease to terrorize you. A great calm will steal over your soul. Your heart will fill with that peace of God. The moments we can praise him from the heart, and declare that what He wills we, too, will, whatever it may be, are the happiest moments in our life, irrespective of what our outward circumstances may be. When this praise dies upon our lips, we are truly miserable, and we have no peace.
But this is not all. Such a request, such a prayer will be heard, for it is a prayer worked by the Spirit. It is the only kind of a prayer that may leave our lips. It is the only kind of a prayer that God promises to hear. All other prayers are out of the flesh and will not be heard, but will work our spiritual deterioration. It is this true prayer that the apostle John had in mind when he wrote, “And whatsoever we ask we will receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” His commandments, the thing pleasing in His sight, is to praise Him from the heart in our prayer and in our life as He wills to be praised, and to make known to Him our request that He glorify Himself in and through us unto our salvation and His glory. Therefore, whatsoever we ask we will receive from Him, in this life grace and power, and in the life to come absolutely all things, Himself included. The right kind of a prayer, then, will, must be heard because He promised. Hence we will receive grace and power. Our faith will be strengthened, our hope enlivened, and the flame of our love fed by His grace. So fed, so strengthened, so enlivened, we will consciously dwell in Him, hide in Him, and abide in Him, and we will have peace and joy unspeakable.
This grace, says the apostle, shall keep our hearts and minds. The picture is that of a guard, standing between our hearts and minds and the things that distress and terrorize, so that these things can no longer terrorize us. And we have peace.
You say that this view of prayer allows us to pray for so little that prayer must very nearly vanish from your life? No, read this article again, and be convinced that this view of prayer allows you to pray for so much that you never get through praying. I know you will not reject this view of prayer because it does not allow you to pray for a good job with a good salary, for money to pay for your debts and the like. You say, “Of course not; I am satisfied with my daily bread.” Exactly. And daily bread means daily bread.
But may we not talk to God about our crops and jobs? Of course. Say to Him, “Lord, I desire a good job, if it be to Thy glory.” This “for Thy glory” you shall have to add. A Christian is always interested solely in God’s glory. But if I am actually interested in God’s glory instead of in that good job, and if I desire only that His counsel promote His glory and my salvation, even though that counsel wills that I remain jobless and eat the rich man’s bread, it stands to reason that I will desire His counsel, and will decide to do without that good job, if He so wills. We will that His will be done. That is what we pray for, and that only.
Someone may now ask, “Is a sick man’s prayer for recovery a forbidden prayer? Are our prayers for rain and sunshine and harvest forbidden prayers? I do not understand.” Get then before your eye a prayer of a believer who is physically ill. What is his prayer? Is it this? “Lord, I pray Thee, my request, my petition is that Thou restore me to health, Amen.” Surely no. You would neither dare nor desire so to pray when ill. You instinctively recoil from such a prayer. It means that when you are ill, you instinctively recoil from petitioning the Lord to restore you to health. Likewise you instinctively recoil from praying, “Lord, grant us a harvest, Amen,” or, “Grant, Lord, that I may suffer no financial reverses, Amen.”
What is the believer’s prayer when ill? It is this, “Lord, could it be, restore me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” So the believer prays when ill.
I ask in all candor, what believer would want to ask for anything else but the counsel, the coming of the kingdom, the salvation of the church unto His supreme glory. Can you conceive of a child of God, who stands in his faith, saying to the Lord: “Lord, I do not want Thy counsel, Thy kingdom, my salvation and the salvation of Thy people unto Thy glory, but I pray that Thou grant me health, prosperity, crops, and the like”?
You may reply: “To be sure, the believer does not pray when ill, ‘Lord, restore me to health, Amen,’ but: ‘Lord, grant me health if it be Thy will; if not, prepare me for death and grant me grace to will my death.'”
Know well, that to pray thus is to pray not for health at all but solely for God’s will. This is simply a mater of plain logic.
This right and proper kind of prayer does not involve the petitioner in a contradiction; for his prayer is not, “Lord, grant me what Thou by Thyself hast decided to give me, but Lord, grant me not sickness.” Such a prayer destroys itself; for the petitioner first asks for whatever the counsel may hold for him, but concludes with asking the Lord not to grant him sickness. The point is that sickness may be the very thing that the counsel includes for him, so that the petitioner should also be able to desire sickness not for its own sake but as an instrument through which the Almighty is capable of working his salvation. The believer therefore prays, Lord, grant me whatever Thy counsel holds for me, be it health or sickness.
So the believer prays. So Christ prayed even when the weight of our sins and the wrath of God pressed out of Him the bloody sweat in the garden: “O, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” This is no request on the part of Christ to be allowed to cast off His people rather than be compelled to drink the cup. It is not even a petition that the cup be taken away. How could He have so requested or petitioned? Consider who He is that prays here: Our merciful High Priest, He whose meat and drink it is to do the will of the Father even in this dark hour.
The prayer He now utters breathes a great love and a marvelous obedience. It is a prayer pure and perfect, wholly untainted by sin, necessarily so as it was uttered by a sinless man. What is His sole request, His actual desire in this darkest hour of His career? “Father, have Me do what must be done to save My people unto Thy supreme glory. Father, not My will, My desire, but Thy will be done.” Not a trace of rebellion in this prayer. Someone may say: Christ here has a will, a desire of His own that seems to be at odds with the will of the Father; for He prays, Not My will but Thy will be done. Consider that the desire Christ is prepared to quell is not an actual desire that the cup be taken from Him, but a desire reposing upon the condition that it be possible for the Father to take from Him the cup. From the very nature of things, such a desire becomes actual only if the condition upon which it reposes be fulfilled. It was respecting this desire and not respecting the actual desire that the Father have Him do what He must do to save His people, that Christ prayed, Not my will or desire but Thy will be done.
The cross was striking terror to Christ’s soul. It had to because He came to bear our griefs and to carry our sorrows. Yet how in His great and mysterious agony He cleaves unto His people! For them He will drink the cup if He must; for He loves them unto death. He will do the will of the Father; for He is the obedient servant. Say that He shrank from the cross; but never say that it was His actual desire that the Father let the cross pass from Him. Even in the garden He had but one actual desire, the desire, namely, to do what he had to do to save His people unto the everlasting glory of the Father.