A big question in the Christian life is whether or not praying things like “if it’s your will” is a cop-out. Some advocates of “bold” prayer, like Steven Furtick in his book Sun Stand Still, suggest that if you’re praying like that, you’re doing it wrong. Your prayers are too small.
I understand why some complain about a lack of boldness in prayer—and I agree, there is a definite weakness in the prayers of many of us, notably my own. My heart is often too fickle to really believe God will answer, so I don’t sincerely ask. But what’s the solution? Is it to create big hairy audacious goals and demand that God move heaven and earth to allow you to accomplish them? This seems to be the thinking behind the solutions offered to believers struggling to pray boldly.
The problem, though, is that those who complain about a lack of boldness in prayer aren’t really talking about boldness at all. Instead, they’re advocating arrogant presumption upon God. It’s what J.C. Ryle calls in A Call to Prayer, “an unfitting familiarity” in prayer, something never to be praised.
Instead, we ought to pursue what Ryle calls “a holy boldness, which is exceedingly to be desired.” This is not arrogant presumption, but the pattern of the saints of old. Ryle writes:
I mean such boldness as that of Moses, when he pleads with God not to destroy Israel “Why,” says he, “should the Egyptians speak and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains? Turn from your fierce anger.” Exodus 32:12. I mean such boldness as that of Joshua, when the children of Israel were defeated before men of Ai: “What,” says he, “will you do unto your great name?” Joshua 7:9. This is the boldness for which Luther was remarkable. One who heard him praying said, “What a confidence was in his very expressions. With such a reverence he sued, as one begging of God — and yet with such hope and assurance, as if he spoke with a loving father or friend. This is the boldness which distinguished Bruce, a great Scottish divine of the seventeenth century. His prayers were said to be “like bolts shot up into Heaven.” Here also I fear we sadly come short. We do not sufficiently realize the believer’s privileges. We do not plead as often as we might, “Lord, are we not your own people? Is it not for your glory that we should be sanctified? Is it not for your honor that your gospel should increase?”
This is what I want to see in my own life—a confidence in my prayers, that even as I plead, it is with hope and assurance. To have prayers that are like “bolts shot up into Heaven.” There is no presumption in that; rather there is an appropriate confidence and trust in the One whom we seek in prayer, and a desire to see his name made great in our world. It’s the kind of boldness that sets aside our agendas in favor of God’s.
That is holy boldness in prayer. Though I may fall short, Lord, let me pray in that way.