Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Difference Between "If You Will" and "If You Can"

There is a big difference in the Bible between those two things. One is pleasing to God; the other is not. In the last 50 or so years, it's become popular to say that including in our requests to God "If it is your will" somehow conveys a lack of faith. But nothing could be further from the truth. Two stories in the Bible--one about a leper, and the other about a boy's father--serve to illustrate this.

In Mark 1:40-45, a leper came to Jesus, imploring him and kneeling before him to say, "If you will, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, Mark says, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I will; be clean." And at once the man was clean of leprosy.

In Mark 9:22-24, the disciples had not been able to help a boy tormented by spirits. Jesus saw the crowd gathered and took things in hand. The boy's father told Jesus that for a long time, since the boy's childhood, this spirit had been trying to destroy him. "But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us," finished the poor father. "'If you can!'," returned our Lord. "All things are possible for one who believes." Immediately, Mark says, the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!"

The leper believed that Jesus could. This was pleasing to the Lord, and earned the leper no rebuke. But the father of the boy did not know if Jesus could. This is what earned him Jesus' rebuke in the form of repeating his faithless words back to him.

There are some things we ask God for that we know are his will to do. We know it's His will for His name to be hallowed, for His kingdom to come, for His church to forgive. We know it's His will for us to be sanctified in His word of truth and for believers to have love for one another. Those things are prayed "in accordance with His will," that is, in accord with what He has definitely declared, in his word, that He is going to cause to happen. We can pray in faith that those things will happen.

For other requests, such as for healing, for a specific new job, for a husband or wife, we cannot know His will. We make our requests for those specific things we want, because that's what he wants us to do; the faith that pleases him is our knowing that He can do whatever is his will to do. And it pleases Him when we express it in just that way, trusting him for how he will, in His compassion, answer.

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