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What to Pray for, 2: To Be Filled with the Knowledge of God’s Will (Col. 1:9-12)

A prayer like this must be seen against the truth of our Lord’s person and work. A thousand years before he came, he said through his lesser son, David: “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do your will, O my God: yea, your law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:7-8). These words are applied specifically to our Lord Jesus Christ in Hebrews 10:7-9). We were created to do God’s will, to obey his word. These two things are clearly parallel. To do God’s will is to obey his word. To his dishonor and the tragedy of our race, we rebelled. We decided to do our own will. We brought misery and judgment upon ourselves. But the Son of God, wondrously beyond our ability to comprehend, agreed with his Father to become our Head and Surety, to stand in the place, to give the obedience we would not give. He delighted to do his Father’s will. He obeyed his Father’s word. And thus, this prayer represents our restoration to the purpose of our creation, and now the purpose of our redemption. Instead of being stubborn, we are made meek by the Holy Spirit. Like our Lord Jesus, we delight do our Father’s will. Yet, since we are weak and have “another law in our members,” we must pray day and night for the grace to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. This is all our understanding and wisdom, to walk as our Savior walked.

God’s Word Is His Will (Deut. 29:29)

His Secret Will Not Our Business

When we are directed to pray to be filled with the knowledge of his will, we can quickly become unsettled. What is God’s will for me? Should I choose this or that? Some use the language of “being in or out of God’s will,” like trying to find buried treasure and avoid quicksand. Others speak as if there is a will of God for us that if we do not find, we will lose out in some way – like a Christian horoscope. But our mistakes cannot alter God’s will or disrupt his purposes. Our wise and loving Father will not allow our bad decisions to ruin us or mess up his plans for our lives. His will is so fixed, good, and perfect that it includes our mistakes and sins, which we freely make, without any external constraint or determinism. Ungodly men work and God works in the same event. They mean evil, while he intends and works good (Gen. 50:20). His children and he work in the same event; what we do foolishly, he turns for good and chastens our foolishness. Rather than looking for God’s will, we should turn to his word. The “secret” things belong to him (Deut. 29:29). These are things like the government of the world, if we shall marry and whom, or who will win the next election. We must leave these to him. What we must seek and do is his revealed will in Scripture. This will require all our faith and time, energy and humility. Let us leave to him the government and shepherding of our lives. Let us be devoted to obeying his word. 

God’s Will to Be Done (1 John 2:17)

When Paul prays and directs us by his example to pray to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, he is not praying for secret knowledge, private directions, or mystical illumination. To know God’s will is to know his word and to obey him. It is not to follow the doctrines and commandments of men, for Christ alone is Lord of the conscience. To be filled with God’s will is to love his word, know his word, and be directed by his word. It is to submit to our Father’s word as his will for our lives – personally and collectively. It is to live before an open Bible, to hide his word in our hearts, and to meditate upon it day and night. It is the reason we pray “thy will be done.” We pray that all men everywhere will dedicate themselves to obeying the Lord.

This is our path in this world – to know and do God’s will as revealed in his word (Heb. 10:36). There is no second tier will in God, no hidden agenda or secret plans we must find. “To the law and the testimony. If they speak not according to this word, there is no future in them” (Isa. 8:20). “Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:11). To be filled with the knowledge of his will is therefore to pray for a mind to know his word, a heart submissive to his word, and a life directed by his word. We turn to his word to find his will. This is the way our Savior walked, and we are to follow his example (1 Pet. 2:21; 1 John 2:6). God’s children love to obey him. We obey not out of fear of punishment but from joy in our Father.

Filled with All Wisdom

No Stability Unless Filled with Knowledge of God’s Will

We see what happens when men live by their own wisdom. Individual souls, families, and societies begin to break down. The Lord’s common grace and regard for his children preserves order for a time, but foolishness is a weight no man or nation can carry forever. Foolishness is what the Bible calls it when men live according to their own thoughts and desires (Prov. 28:26). Men are fools when they do not live by God’s word (Ps. 14:1). As believers, our prayer is for the Lord to fill us with the knowledge of his will. Our sincere desire is to know him and be led by him. It is also our childlike plea to be broken of our willfulness and made meek before him. He does this by giving us the love of his truth and teaching us to apply his word to our lives. This requires wisdom that we do not have.

Wise men and women are not born but made by God’s grace and Spirit. Some of the poorest and weakest men and women have much wisdom, for they devote themselves to obeying God’s word and loving others, without grumbling or complaining, and without bitterness about their circumstances. Some of the smartest in this world have not a kernel of wisdom, for all their knowledge puffs them up with pride, disdain for others, and blindness so that they are willful and arrogant. Thus, we must pray for wisdom because unless we are filled with the knowledge of God’s will, we are blinder than moles, unstable in our ways, blown by every idea, doubt, circumstance, and trouble that crosses our path. Wisdom is the chief thing, Scripture says. Wisdom is not something beyond the Bible – it is the Spirit-given grace to take a truth of God’s word and shine its light upon our path. To pray this aright, we must have childlike hearts, deeply convicted of our helplessness unless the Lord is our strength, rudderless unless he guides us, and corrupt unless he cleanses us.

See World in Light of His Truth (Ps. 36:6)

This prayer for knowledge in wisdom teaches us also that bare knowledge is insufficient, even the truest and clearest knowledge. Wisdom is the humble, childlike diffusion of the knowledge of God into our lives, relationships, and callings so that it guides, motivates, and transforms us. The true knowledge of God transforms our thoughts and affections. It enables us to discern God’s genuine will from counterfeits (Rom. 12:2). For example, at the very heart of our faith is the hope of everlasting life. “Whoever believes in Jesus Christ will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). All believers know this, but very few move past the bare knowledge to a wise application of it. Personal trials like poverty, pain, and persecution are all greatly alleviated in their worst effects by the remembrance of our everlasting life with God in Christ. This will not last, faith says, and the Lord has good purposes in sending me these trials. I will trust him and wait upon him. You can know the fact of everlasting life, but Christ has become this wisdom to you when you allow this great hope to give you an honest realism about this life and a holy pursuit of the life to come. Those who have applied the truth of everlasting life never believe the promises of politicians and preachers about building God’s kingdom on earth.

Wisdom is when we see the world and live in the world by the light of his truth. Wisdom teaches us that God’s will is not only best because it is inevitable, but because his will is good, just, and loving. Wisdom is our Lord standing before Pilate’s raw power. Yes, the Lord told him, you have power, but you would have none unless it were given you from my Father. Pilate was typical of the Roman ruling class of that day – skeptical, “might makes right” politics, and extreme ambition. Our Lord stood fearless before him, and he stood patiently and humbly before him. He knew the truth, and he allowed that truth to direct his words and attitudes, even to control his spirit under extreme provocation.

By the Teaching of the Spirit (Eph. 1:17)

If we know ourselves even a little, we know the difficulty of being patient under provocation, not returning evil for evil, and keeping up heavenly thoughts in the midst of our earthly responsibilities. This is especially true for American Christianity, which has for centuries now practically equated its faith with prosperity, social activism, rights, and making the world a better place. Remove the controlling influence of God’s word from this environment, and you have a recipe for “kingdom now” theology and practice. It is one thing to serve the Lord wherever he has called you, but he has never called us to “build the kingdom of God on earth.” Never has he told us to equate particular cultural expressions of Christianity with his kingdom, for they are decidedly not. His kingdom is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17), which is found in the dwellings and meetings of humble Christians, rarely in the palaces of the powerful. Where is our wisdom in this cultural milieu? We must pray to be filled with a wise knowledge of God’s will – filled with it. Not a little faith mixed with a great deal of worldliness but to have our thoughts and lives controlled by his word. We are unable to do this ourselves, which is the reason he gives us his Holy Spirit. The Spirit describes himself as “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph. 1:17). This is intimately tied to believing prayer. We do not know what to pray for. Our thoughts and emotions are unreliable guides. In prayer, we humbly recognize this. We ask him to give us what we lack in ourselves and what he has promised. As we pray, the Spirit intercedes for us, teaches us, and gives us the heavenly wisdom (James 3:17-18). 

Filled with Spiritual Understanding

Ask Him to Open Our Eyes (Ps. 119:18)

“Spiritual understanding” also modifies the wisdom for which Paul prayed and for which we are to pray. What is “spiritual understanding?” Consider a family that is suffering many hardships due to prolonged illness of the husband and father. The family struggles to make ends meet, but the children do not hear complaining and fear, for the father and mother trust the Lord. Despite the many adversities they face, they endeavor to raise their children to love the Lord. This is spiritual understanding – when we see the Lord’s hand behind our troubles, trust him in the fiery furnace of personal trials, and carry our cross with joy. We pray for such a spirit, for it is holy beyond us. A godly man as I have described is not godly because he is good but because of God’s grace in his life. He has the Holy Spirit, who teaches him especially through affliction. Spiritual understanding is therefore the understanding that the Holy Spirit gives to us. He teaches us, for example, that when we are poor or oppressed, the Lord is increasing our appetite for heaven. We may be hated on earth, but we are citizens of heaven and have an everlasting inheritance waiting for us. When he does not give us the lifestyle we want, he is rebuking our idolatry and teaching us to make him our joy and portion. When we are ridiculed or despised, spiritual understanding makes us thankful to suffer, especially for Christ’s sake, and to love our enemies. We must all pray for this spiritual understanding. It does not come from within but from the Spirit of God. We must ask the Lord for it (Ps. 119:18).

We must all pray for this, for nothing is more common than for our troubles to consume us with worry and fear. Most respond to personal injuries by lashing out or sulking. All of us struggle with submitting meekly to God’s providences in our lives. How different our marriages would be if instead of responding to injuries and sins with indifference and cold hearts, we would instead humble ourselves and seek the light of the Holy Spirit in the word. Do we think that our spouses have messed up God’s will for our lives? Will we punish them verbally and emotionally for not being what we want them to be, disappointing us, for sinning against us? Spiritual understanding teaches wives to respect and honor even ungodly and foolish husbands, like Abigail did. Husbands, you are not the head in your home to dominate your wife and rule your home by your whims. Any slave owner might do this. You are given authority so that you can serve, die to yourself, and love your wife as Christ loved his. Only the Holy Spirit can give us the understanding to bury our hurts in the sovereignty of our Father and to cleanse our filthy pride in the wounds of our Savior’s cross. Then, with spiritual understanding, we can love one another in our homes and demonstrate the power of the gospel to our children.

Trust His Word as Sufficient (2 Tim. 3:17; Heb. 11:3)

This filling with the knowledge of God’s will is the fruit of the conviction that God’s word is sufficient for every need. How can a husband treat his wife like this if she is cold to him or so grieved by past sins that it seems she will never forgive him or live contentedly with him? The husband must believe that God’s word is true, that it is God’s will for him to love his wife as the Lord Jesus loves his wife. Or, if you have mean parents who never show an ounce of affection, where is the strength to obey and respect them? The Lord Jesus tells me to honor my parents, and this is my Father’s will. Therefore, his word is truer than our hurt feelings and disappointments. Or, how can we truly believe that God created the world by his voice in six days, about six thousand years ago? It is by faith we understand (Heb. 11:3). There is no understanding apart from God’s word. Thus, praying to be filled with the knowledge of his will leads us also to examine our commitment to his word. Do we really believe it is his will? Many prefer to look for his will in secret signs or heavenly portents or sudden impressions rather than trust his word. But our Lord did. Even on the cross. No one was more committed to doing the will of his Father (John 8:29), and he was committed unto death because he believed the Scriptures.

Pray for These Blessings (Heb. 4:14-16)

Knowing God’s will, walking wisely, and having spiritual understanding are our privileges as Christians. Like our Savior, “we delight to do the will of God.” We are not groping for obscure truth and hoping to find a little safe space in a troubled world. The Father has placed his complete Scriptures into our hands. He has given us his Spirit and will give us more of his gracious influences as we ask him. The Lord Jesus Christ has purchased these privileges for us by his precious blood. This is the reason we are to pray for them. We must take the Lord at his word and ask for these spiritual blessings. Our Father is not stingy with his wisdom (James 1:5). He will give and continue giving. He loves to give good gifts to his children (Matt. 7:11). If you are wandering far from home, return to the Father’s house. He is waiting to receive you with open arms. Even more, he will direct your steps into his will and give you understanding so that instead of making mistakes that make life difficult, you can walk in the peaceable path of righteousness (Ps. 119:165). Instead of harming relationships through willfulness or arrogance, he will give you the heavenly wisdom – pure, peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated (James 3:17-18). These are our inheritance in Jesus Christ, God’s promises to us and to our children. In their light, we face the future not uncertain and fearful and doubting, but confident, steady, and hopeful. The Father will hear and answer our prayers to be filled with his will and to walk wisely. He will give us understanding. He is faithful.


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