Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Prayer Versus a Wish

Sometimes you want things to work out for someone a certain way, and the appropriate statement seems to have become, "I'll pray for that to work out in that certain way."  However, you don't know if it is God's will.  You don't know that you are praying in God's will.

A good and scriptural alternative to saying you'll pray for something to occur, which you aren't sure will occur, is to say, "I hope the best for you in that endeavor," or, "I am wishing that it will turn out that way for you."  That doesn't mean you now must pray for it, when you don't think you should pray for it, because it isn't something you know is God's will.  God hasn't promised it.  It's not wrong to want, but you don't know you'll get it.

Is there any basis for what I'm writing here?  Yes.  In two words, the optative.  The optative is a rare mood of the Greek verb in the New Testament.  I've read that there are 63 of them total.  In other words, I haven't counted them all up myself.  Papers have been written that categorize their various usages.

Overall, the optative is a mood that expresses wish or hope.  It is used to express wishes and is sometimes used for what is called a benediction, which I think that some of you can relate with, where you express to an audience at the end of a presentation that you hope they have a fine evening.  Paul shifts to the optative at the end of 1 Thessalonians 3, and by doing so, he does introduce some of what he will address in the next section of the epistle.  It also serves as a benediction to the end of the first part of the book.  Someone night confuse verses 11-13 for a prayer, especially when one includes verse 10.
10 Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith? 11 Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you. 12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: 13 To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
As an apostle, I think we should think that Paul knew things that we don't and can't know, that God reveals to him.  When he writes in the indicative mood, "praying," he communicates the requests with two aorist infinitives:  "to see" and "to perfect."  He makes it back on his third missionary journey (Acts 20:4).

Prayer must be in the will of God.  Prayer must be of faith, so we believe that we will receive.  Jesus said (Mark 11:24), "Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."  What you believe that you will receive is reality.

Paul shifts then in verse 11 to the optative with "direct our way to you," followed by another optative, verse 12, "increase," and, third, "abound."  There are three of our 63 optatives in the New Testament.  Verses 11-13 are wishes or a benediction to end the chapter.  They contrast with the prayer of verse 10.

Prayers are not wishes.  We wish for things that we are not sure about.  We want them and that will direct what we might do to see those wishes accomplished.  We have no guarantee that they will come to pass.  God might affect them to occur.  If we wish them, then they must be the right thing.  We just don't know we will get it.  That's why they are communicated by the optative.

Paul makes wishes.  We can make wishes.  There are things that we wish.  We can express those wishes.  We should.


Jeff Voegtlin said...


Do you think it is proper to express our wishes to God? If so, does this then become a matter of Christians lumping everything we say to God into the category of prayer? Like...worship is prayer; thanksgiving is prayer; intercession is prayer; praying is prayer; and wishing is prayer.

Thank you for the article. I learned from it and it was helpful.

Jeff Voegtlin

Kent Brandenburg said...


Thanks. What you are saying, I believe is expressed in scripture, that is, we can express wishes to God, like expressing laments to God. God is in the audience of a wish or hope, seeing it as a right desire. We can want things that we don't ask for. There is no guarantee we will receive them, but they are fine to communicate as a desire. One category of the optative is imprecation, like let him be accursed. It doesn't mean that he is accursed, just because we express that.

I'm glad you're interested. Prayer is one of my favorite topics, and one of the most messed up ones. I also think that I didn't understand it as I grew up and it has been one of the more important aspects of my life, to do so.