“Thy Will” vs. “My Will”

Praying Like Jesus

By Sherry Thomas and Bethany Lockett

In the early years of my marriage, conflict was frequent. Something as inconsequential as which direction the forks were placed in the dishwasher would result in a serious argument.

I would pray over our disagreements, often asking God to help my husband see that I was right. “Lord, please change my husband.” My heart attitude toward prayer was about controlling my circumstances and proving that I really had my family’s best interest at heart.

As time went on, I just felt more overwhelmed. This finally forced me to see past the immediate circumstances and change the way I prayed. In desperation, I began to pray, “Lord, please change me.”

In Matthew, we get a peek into Jesus’ understanding and practice of prayer. 

Jesus’ prayer life is shockingly different from that of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day. Although they were commended by others for their beautiful, passionate, and public prayers, Jesus denounced them for praying only to receive the admiration of others in Matthew 6.  

His rebukes came to fulfillment in Matthew 23, known as the passage of the “Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees.” Jesus did not hold back on His opinion of their practices, saying “You snakes! You brood of vipers.” He condemned them for being like a cup which is cleaned only on the outside and a tomb, which looks beautiful and white but is full of death on the inside.  

Jesus was less concerned with the method of their prayer (both private and public prayers are appropriate) and more concerned with their motivation. He criticized their self-focused approach, believing “righteous” actions could control their own hearts and circumstances. 

In contrast, Scripture tells us Jesus routinely woke up early in the morning to pray. He also prayed after full days of serving and teaching, during times of severe trial, and throughout the day to give thanks. His prayers expressed and empowered His desire to submit to the Father completely.    

Jesus introduced the true motivation for prayer in the first section of “The Lord’s Prayer” and modeled its impact throughout His life and ministry.  

A model of motivation

Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be thy name – Matthew 6:9

There should always be a direct correlation between the One receiving our prayers and what we say. While my name does not actually hint at my character or attributes, every single one of God’s names declares who He is.

So, how does the name you use for God affect your prayers?   

In this prayer, Jesus taught the people to acknowledge: 

  1. God is Father (the Good Father loves you)  
  2. He is in Heaven (He has unlimited resources)  
  3. His name is Holy (He is the only One worthy of worship)  

Acknowledging different attributes or qualities of God tends to change the tone of our prayers, rearrange priorities, and sometimes change requests altogether. At times it can prevent us from asking God for something that is contrary to His nature. 

There are many names for God throughout the Bible. Jesus frequently used the name “Father” (Greek: Patḗr or Aramaic: Abba). Similarly in the Old Testament, there are many names for God that reveal His character. In the Psalms He is called El Shaddai (meaning Lord God Almighty) or Jehovah Jireh (The Lord will provide).  

One of my favorite names for God is “El Roi” (The God who sees me). He is the God who clearly sees me and chose to love me anyway. With my focus on El Roi, I confidently approach Him for daily guidance and in times of struggle.  

These contemplations in prayer release me from the fear of failure and feelings of insecurity. They remind me to submit my desires and my life to Him because He is good, and His ways are perfect. 

When we remember God’s attributes and His names, we adopt an attitude of worship within our prayers. By remembering His character, God ultimately works to re-shape our own. 

Positioning our hearts

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6:10

While it’s tempting to assume Jesus lived a perfect life solely because He is fully God, we must remember He became man and was tempted and struggled just like we do. His temptations, pains, and trials were no less severe than ours – the difference was He was determined and intentional in accomplishing God’s will. He always sought unity with the Father, and He accomplished this through prayer. 

We have to ask ourselves, are we praying to prove we are right or to manipulate God into seeing our way? Or are we ready to be changed by God and submit to His will over our own?  

In the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night Jesus sought His Father in severe distress, Jesus asked for an alternative solution to the cross. Three times He asked to avoid the wrath of God; however, each time He asked, He also reaffirmed His commitment to do the will of His Father. With those prayers, Jesus walked confidently to the cross, and three days later walked victoriously away from the grave. Jesus illustrated that submission to the Father’s will is rewarded with peace that far outweighs our pain. The same is true for us. While circumstances don’t always change, anxiety can be replaced with peace. 

In our vulnerable moments, God welcomes our cries and tears. And when we offer those requests with a heart of submission, God gives us the peace and strength to endure our circumstances. Surrounded by betrayal and insults, Christ walked to the cross with peace and resolution. Through His sacrifice, we too can face the trials of this world with courage when we submit to the will of our Heavenly Father in prayer.   

As I reflect on our marriage, I see the ways the Lord has drawn me closer to Him. He used Bible Study Fellowship to help me understand that His Word was a far better guide than my feelings, experience, or worldly wisdom. I realized that I had to let go of my need to control every situation and submit to God’s will for our lives. Today, our marriage is stronger, and we continue to see the deep impact of diligent prayer in every area of our lives. 

Sherry Thomas

Guest Contributor

Sherry Thomas was a child when she believed in the salvation offered by Jesus Christ, but it was as an adult that she understood the importance of growing in her relationship with Him through Bible study and prayer. She joined Bible Study Fellowship more than 10 years ago after the Lord called her out of a corporate job to become a stay-at-home mom. Sherry is happily married to her husband Jacob, who was an International Controller for Bible Study Fellowship. Today, Sherry homeschools their five children and the whole family participates in BSF classes in Lubbock, TX. She also enjoys serving in women’s and young adult ministries in their community.

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106 Comments

  1. Thanks Sherry for sharing your story..
    Its a timely message for me..
    GOD BLESS

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  2. This was a beautiful summation of the power of prayer and the proper attitude to have when praying. Thank you Sherry for sharing your insight.

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  3. Beautiful

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  4. Such wisdom can only come from God. Thank you for sharing what can help me and many others as we seek to pray in God’s will

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  5. I appreciate the reference to see God as I see Him for me, all my life it was just God, now studying and becoming a believer, I see Jesus as God as well.

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  6. How I wished I knew and read about prayer and your blog earlier in my marriage. It would have saved me tears and painful words between my husband and me. Still, I thank God that even if this knowledge is late , I learned about it to share with others in their marriage. God bless you, Sherry.

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  7. Grateful for Sherry’s honest and personal story of moving closer to God’s direction in her life through prayer, worship, and Bible study with others through BSF. The peace growing within is God in us .

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  8. Thank you for sharing your story. How encouraging it is to know we all have our struggles but GOD is with us through them all. HE is faithful.

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  9. I praise God he taught you early about control issues, it took me a lot longer to learn but when I finally saw the truth it made me a little more gentle person, but it was a slow process. it didn’t happen overnight.

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  10. Thank you so much for sharing! That was a blessing.

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  11. Your statement that “while circumstances don’t always change, anxiety can be replaced with peace” spoke to me in a strong way and I intend to share your article with a loved one who is suffering with anxiety. I, too am homeschooling (2 grandchildren) and working part-time, I would love it if you would share more about this in the future!

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  12. Beautiful and well said ! Thank you !

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  13. Thank you. Your “peace outweighs our pain” and “God welcomes our cries and tears” touched my heart.

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  14. Beautiful story of God’s redemptive grace.

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  15. I am encouraged and motivated to introspect that is changing my prayer focus where it has always been praying for a change of heart in my wife and my children. El Roi He is God who sees me. I have just began praying that God changes my heart too.

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  16. Thanks for sharing your story it is such a great encouragement.

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  17. EXCELLENT! EXCELLENT! Excellent!

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  18. Sherry, Thank you for this beautiful blog. God has given you a wonderful gift of expressing your thoughts in a beautiful way. I love the family portrait. The kids have grown so much since you moved from Dallas. We miss you but are so happy to see you serving the Lord. Love, Mary Ellen

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  19. BSF blessed my life 11 years in a row. Now I am confined to a wheelchair in a
    care facility. I would love to do the lessons. again .
    How do I get to do this . I am 80 years old. And live in Abbotsford BC Canada.

    Reply
    • Hi Lillian! We’re so glad you have been blessed by BSF. We would love to have you stay involved. There are a number of ways to do so. First, you can join a BSF Online group through zoom at https://www.bsfonline.org/. You can also use the BSF app to do lessons by downloading it from any major app store or you can try a WordGo app group (a BSF product) at https://www.wordgo.org/. Finally, you can purchase a lesson book if you want to do your lessons on paper without attending a group at the BSF store: https://store.mybsf.org/. Thank you!

      Reply
  20. Such a timely, thoughtful message. Thank you for sharing.

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  21. Thank you for your words of encouragement. I needed to hear this. May God bless you and your family.

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  22. Sherry, thank you for this incredible submission about your life lessons in letting God’s will be done. I was just like you were in my marriage. I thought being self-righteousness in the sight of God was good. I was self-wrong. Now that I am God-centered, I am transformed into an humble, obedient servant. Now, I see the salvation of the Lord. I walk in His grace, mercy, and peace. It is a delight to do His will!!!!! I am grateful for how BSF has helped me to draw closer to the Lord.

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  23. This is an excellent article and a great reminder about prayer. The statement, “Jesus illustrated that submission to the Father’s will is rewarded with peace that far outweighs our pain” really spoke to me. Thank you for this article and for sharing your life with us.

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  24. Sherry! Your husband, Jacob, is a true blessing from God to our Lubbock Men’s Class. His experience and leadership have had a significant impact on me, as well as our class. Praise God that your family is in Lubbock!

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  25. Just what I needed to hear from the Lord Jesus today through my Christian Friend who is part of the body of Christ in BSF!! Thank you for sharing! I praise our loving Lord and Savior for helping me to spend the time to be uplifted! May God continue to grow us all in Him! Love a Fellow member of the Body of Christ!

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  26. His will vs my will …
    my will teaches me something about myself … it is a tool that God uses in my sanctification process.
    Ultimately, it is always God’s will that prevails (as long as I am a follower of Jesus) whatever my “missing the mark” is … God works it together for my good and His glory! The End.

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    • Thank you Mary Jane for the beautiful submission. I pray that with every word I type that my strength will be greater and that I stop being a victim.

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  27. Thank you for sharing with such love and transparency. Your encouragement comes when needed. Amazing that the Creator of the Universe wants to know us and communicate with us!

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  28. Needed this to strengthen prayers

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  29. Is there a BSF group in Greensboro, NC?

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    • Hello Ruth! We would love for you to join BSF. There are several classes in the Greensboro area. Use the “Find a Group” Feature to search for and join a class near you: https://join.bsfinternational.org/.

      Thank you!

      Reply
  30. Beautifully spoken and such an encouragement. Thank you for these reminders. What a sweet privilege it is to come to our Heavenly Father in prayers.
    Bless you for your living testimony of His faithfulness.

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  31. Thank you Sherry for your transparency. As I was convicted while reading. God’s words of love and encouragement.

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  32. Thank you Sherry, Twice in one week I have been schooled in the Lord’s Prayer as a pattern for my own prayers. The Lord is so good to His believers. He knew I needed to hear it again. Your words of wisdom come right from the Father’s heart.

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  33. Thankyou so much for sharing this! Life has many hardships and struggles, but when we give up that control and ask Jesus for help, a peace does come with our obedience.

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  34. Thank you, I needed that – every word!
    Thank you for letting God use you to speak His love & heart to me/us!!

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    • Hi Sherry. Such a blessing to hear these words of encouragement today. God bless you and your beautiful family.

      Reply
  35. GREAT post Sherry . Ever so needed ! Thank you L-RD !

    Reply

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