Does God grant prayers for things outside His will?

By Steven Masood on 01/12/2023
Does God grant prayers for things outside His will?

Although a Muslim friend asked me this question to answer in the light of the Bible, this is a question that Christian scholars have debated since the early church. Some say, “No, everything that happens is God’s will.” So, if a prayer is answered, the answer must be within God’s will. Those who hold this position may cite Romans 9:18-21 which describes God as a potter and us as the clay. Since God shapes the clay, the final form of the vessel must be according to His will. Nothing can thwart God’s will. While this view has a great deal of truth, it is not complete or entirely correct for several reasons. First, the potter and clay example in Romans 9 references an Old Testament Scripture in Jeremiah 18, where the clay becomes spoiled in the potter’s hand, so he reshapes it into something else. The final form was not what the potter initially intended. Secondly, it is a mistake to say that every time something wrong happens, God ordained it. Though God uses some things as punishment, a lesson, or a blessing, to say he is involved as the main force behind every action is not biblical. For example, is it God’s will for someone to murder a child? Is it not more correct to say that God allows people the free choice to do what is evil or wrong? Finally, there are many Scriptures where God expresses sorrow over what people choose to do.

This brings us to the second view of whether God grants things outside His will. According to this understanding, while things happen outside God’s will (For example, we can say that all sin is outside His will), He is so powerful and wise that nothing can thwart God’s plan. In Isaiah, chapter 5, we read that God cultivated Israel like a vineyard, yet it yielded sour grapes. In Genesis, chapter 9, God expressed regret for having made man and placed him upon the earth (this is before Noah’s flood). In Matthew, chapters 5 and 19, Jesus teaches that it is not God’s intention ever to have a divorce, but He allowed it because of the hardness of human hearts. In 1st Samuel, chapter 8, God granted Israel a king, despite the fact it was not what He desired. However, none of these examples of God’s frustration thwarted His overall plan. Nothing could deter God from redeeming humanity from sin and bondage through Jesus Christ.

So, does God grant something that is outside of His will? Yes, sometimes He does. However, we must remember that when we insist on having our way, the results may not be to our liking. In speaking of the Israelites, the Psalmist writes, “In the desert, they gave in to their craving; in the wasteland, they put God to the test. So, he gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease upon them” (Psalm 106:14-15 NIV).

There is another aspect to this discussion. Why do we ask this question at all? A true believer should not ask for anything outside God’s will. We should always preface our prayers and requests with, “If it is according to your will.” We should seek to align our wills with God’s will. In other words, among other things, we should pray for the salvation of others (even for our enemies), the healing of the sick, and the eradication of sin not only in our own lives but also in others.

No matter how we answer whether God grants things outside of His will, we can agree that God always loves and is always holy. If we strive to be those two things, loving and holy, then we will be in God’s will, and our prayers will be effective. 1st Peter 3:12 says: “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

1st John 4:9-12 states: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we should also love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us.”

This question is profound and thought-provoking about the very nature of God, but maybe we should be asking, “Am I praying and living a life of love according to God’s will?” If so, it makes this question unnecessary.

As for my Muslim friend, who asked the question, it is noteworthy to check his ‘faith in prayer’ before anything and to whom they may be praying. Prayer’s power resides not in its action but to whom one prays. We can take the wrong road thinking of it as the right road, yet we will be lost. Muslims pray to Allah, claiming him to be the God of Abraham rather than to God through Jesus, the Christ. In the light of the Bible, we know that one can come to God through Jesus because he alone is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).