Note: This article deals with one aspect of prayer, so it is not a full exegesis on prayer itself. It has been written as a response to a hidden problem, rarely spoken of – that most Christians think God does not answer prayer. They say they believe, but when a time of proving comes, they do not.
Does God answer prayer? Or, do we, as Christians, delude ourselves as our enemies and God-haters say? The answer to the question takes us to the heart of our beliefs, for if God does not answer prayer, can we say He is there at all? Does He actually exist? This is the question we are forced to ask ourselves if we believe God does not answer prayer!
When we pray, what do we pray for? Are the results of our prayers given by God, or are they presumed to be from God as we manipulate the results in an attempt to suggest they are? If God does answer prayer, how do we know the difference between a ‘natural’ result and God’s response? (The difference between a ‘natural’ outcome and a God-given one is dealt with in some detail in my book ‘Plagues, Crossings, and Small White Things’, which examines the subject of God’s interventions, including miracles).
The text of Matthew 17:20, spoken by Christ, tells us in no uncertain terms that the reasons things do not happen is our unbelief. “Verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence… and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” Certain Christian groups dismiss this by saying it only applied to the apostles… but this defies normal reading of scripture. It applies to us all; as Christ added: “If ye have faith, and doubt not” we WILL have answers to prayer and faith.
Note that Jesus Himself commands us NOT to be like the Pharisees who loved to pray in public, but to “pray to thy Father which is in secret”; “when thou prayest, enter into thy closet”. Though many groups insist that corporate prayer is a demand of God, and must take place regularly (prayer meetings), it contradicts the nature and mode of prayer, and what Christ commands… to pray on our own, in secret. As I have argued elsewhere, there are no examples of regular corporate prayer in scripture! Not one! (See relevant article). So, if we persist in practices that Christ commanded against, how can we expect him to answer such prayers?
In Matthew we read specifically that if we ask God for something without doubting, He will give us what we ask for. It also says that even if our faith is tiny, He will answer. Why, then, do so many say God does not answer prayers? We must be frank about this matter, rather than brush it under the carpet. We MUST know the answer, or what we call our ‘faith’ will be battered into submission. However, if this happens, we should understand it is of our own doing.
(Some Christians, in an attempt to cover-up their unbelief, quote a text such as Matthew 16:4, but this is error, for Christ is referring to an “adulterous generation” – the Pharisees, etc., and not to righteous saved men and women. Scripture not only gives us examples of others who have prayed with success; it prompts us to ask God for things AND expect an answer! We cannot ignore this fact, nor may we hide our unbelief by saying these things no longer apply).
If our ‘faith’ suffers because we think God is not answering our prayers, then what we are doing is putting our own wishes above those of God. We are making sinful and futile demands of God instead of seeking His grace as creatures with nothing of worth in ourselves. Note how David speaks of the need for righteousness and humility, before we can plead our case before God!
God Means What He Says
We must assume God means what He says. But, firstly, we must assume God is real, that He truly exists. Do you, in all honesty, believe it? If He exists, then He means what He says. So, if He, in Christ, says He answers our prayers if we do not doubt/have little faith, this is included. There is no point in arguing with me if God’s word tells us exactly what we must do!
But, as we all know, at times our prayers are not answered. Or, at least it seems that way. This either means we are deluded in thinking the ‘other answers’ were not divine answers at all, but were just illusions created by our own minds, or, there are reasons why God does not answer every time. Which is it? Some say God never answers their prayers. This is not a neutral comment but a complaint. And if God never answers that person, there has to be a reason why.
Every argument must begin with a premise. My premise is this: I believe God to be real and that when He speaks, He always tells the truth. If He says He will do something, He will do it. This is the foundation on which I base this paper. I do so because over the years I have been convinced of these facts… facts denied to me when I adhered strongly and slavishly to ‘reformationism’ (a condition known to countless men and women who boast of being ‘reformed’, when, in reality, they are ‘reformationist’, which is very different).
Therefore, the argument is about answers to prayer. If God tells us in Matthew, for example, that He will give us whatever we pray for, then that must be taken as irrefutable and irrevocable. However, we must also admit that very often we ask for something and it is not given. Does this make God a liar? No, it means we do not yet understand, or, we are not obeying Him. It also means we like to use texts that suit us, forgetting or not including wider explanations found in other texts.
I am no longer interested in platitudes; those ‘explanations’ given from pulpits and theologians whose understanding is more intellectual than genuine. For many years I held views that can best be described as intellectual, because I had not yet experienced them personally. Nothing wrong with that, because that is how all of us know God. Now, all those views, though intellectual, are also truly believed in my heart and mind. Until we experience something, what we know is bound to be ‘intellectual’. It is not until we are pushed to the very edge of our lives that we begin to see if what we call ‘faith’ is actually faith, or intellectual assent only!
My quest began in 2005 with shocking, real, life-changing incidents many of you know about. Since then, I have looked in detail at this matter of faith and prayer, beyond the usual easy-definitions, debates and pulpit-teachings. I know what scripture says. I have known for a long time. I have believed those texts. Now, as I come closer to the end of my quest, I must provide a definitive answer.
The questions come from not receiving certain answers, and I want to discover why God has not answered. So do other Christians I know to be genuine and holy. This is not about total unbelief, but about wanting to know why God does not answer certain prayers. In my own case, I have had many answered prayers. On the other hand, I also need to know why certain of my pleas seem to be met by silence. Is God really silent? Or, is it just that I am forgetting the matter of ‘time’ – God might answer but in a while? Or, will He answer in an unexpected way? Or, is silence a proper response to a sinful request, or a sinful person, or just a request that is not in His will?
We tend to forget vital facts. For example, that we, as human beings, live in creation, whereas God lives in eternity, in the spiritual uncreated realm. We pray from imperfection, whilst He answers in perfection. We pray for specific kinds of answers, whereas He knows what is best for us and may indeed answer, but in His own way. (Prayer, then, is the joining of two impossible divides, the created and the spiritual. They are impossible and yet possible through God and His will).
Many, of course, pretend to know all the answers and claim God will always answer every one of their prayers. Do they really mean God has answered every prayer and heartfelt plea? Or, will they be as honest as I am right now?
Some of what I say here can be found in other articles I have written. This does not matter, for I am searching for a final answer (though, because we are dealing in eternals, I will not reach that goal in my lifetime, even if I get very close!). In scripture the statements made by God/Jesus are plain. They are absolute promises. So, if it seems God has not answered, we have to face the facts, and find out why. It is not enough to just shrug-off non-answers as if it does not matter. Of course it matters! God either means what He says, or, we believe a sham… or, we delude ourselves that we are happy, when, in our hearts, we anxiously yearn for answers.
In this paper I hope to answer my own questions, and those of many other believers who are too afraid to ask them out loud. If my other quests are anything to go by, I will end this paper with a substantial, honest and definitive answer, that will enhance, rather than ruin, my faith! And, knowing that what others claim is not the same as experiencing the same things yourself. Until they are experienced personally, they remain intellectual assents to scripture.
It is my view that the questions arise from one of the following:
A misunderstanding of particular texts
An incomplete understanding of a particular doctrinal statement, caused either by self, or by God not yet giving understanding. This is true of all questions.
An inadequate study of the whole subject
Some base their questions on wrong assumptions. Particularly Arminians (bearing in mind that true Arminians cannot, by definition, be saved). They say that we should pray always, but that God does not predestinate “every little action”. They say “If (God predestinates every action) there would be no need to pray.” The first statement (typified on freegroups.net) is intended to be mildly sarcastic. The second is not logical and is very similar to their absurd, ignorant statement: “If God predestinates who will be saved, there is no need to preach the Gospel.”
If God did not predestinate “every little action”, then creation would literally become extinct. (We might call it ‘free’ action, but that is only our interpretation of what God does). It is not possible for God to have no control over even the smallest activity; it would be like a stray thread of wool being pulled from a garment – keep pulling that one small thread and the whole garment will unravel. Imagine if God removed His power over just one planet – it could veer off into space and hit another planet. Imagine if it were the sun – it could move closer to earth and burn us up without a trace, or move away and freeze us to death; it would only take a minor movement. Imagine if God did not have control over Satan: we would be overrun by filth, evil, violence and satanic destruction. Things are bad enough now, without God removing His hand.
As for there being no need to pray if God predestinated everything: we pray because God tells us to do so. Yes, He predestinates everything, but He also commands us to pray. He predestinates who will be saved, yet He still commands us to preach. Though He knows what will happen and predestinates it, He still commands us to pray. Why? Because He says so, and because praying is a sign of our obedience to His will. It is futile to question His motives.
God Acts Because He Does
Our prayers are not the real issue. Nor are our beliefs. God acts because He wishes to, not because we demand it. Both the prayer and the answer are in the person of God the Father, not in us. I came across a neat illustration of this:
“A car travelling on the Golden Gate Bridge is fully supported by the integrity of the bridge, it doesn’t matter what the driver may be feeling, or thinking about, or discussing with someone in the passenger seat. What gets the car safely to the other side is the integrity of the bridge, which the driver was willing to trust.” (everystudent.com)
This does not mean there are no conditions to prayer or faith. What it means is that though the answers are all in God, we must still comply with His requirements. God will answer our prayers as He sees fit, not as we demand! The answer is not the result of our seeking an answer, even if our way of doing so is holy and filled with gratitude and pleading. Nor is it given because we prayed about it. It is given because of Who God is, and because it is in His will to answer.
David puts all this plainly and succinctly:
“The LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call.” (Psalm 4:3)
“The foolish shall not stand in thy sight.” (Psalm 5:5)
“Make thy way straight before my face.” (Psalm 5:8b)
“Thou, LORD, wilt bless the righteous.” (Psalm 5:12a)
“oh save me for thy mercies’ sake.” (Psalm 6:4b)
“the LORD hath heard the voice of my weeping.” (Psalm 6:8b)
These texts are very instructive, for they tell us vital things about God’s plan. We see that God has set us apart if we are saved; because he has set us apart He WILL hear us when we plead with Him. This is a definite promise! However, the foolish will not be countenanced, and this includes Christians who act foolishly. Therefore we must follow what God wants implicitly, not when we feel like it. When we do this we are righteous and he will listen. Notice that God makes His way straight – He does not simply rubber-stamp what we do… we must obey what He requires. Then, He will bless us because we are righteous. All this He does not because of anything in us, or even because we are saved, but because He wishes to, out of His mercy. When we call as righteous people, he WILL answer, hearing our voice of weeping.
God Does Not Change
Now, something must be made clear. God’s will does not change. Scripture tells us this. Because this is true, it means that even the most urgent and tear-filled prayer will not alter what God wishes to do in eternity… Because everything in eternity is already done! This is why I say prayer does not gain anything of its own power. Most Christians think that if they pray earnestly enough, they cause God to change His mind, or to think of something for the first time, or to suddenly have compassion about something He had previously not thought about. This is an error, for God always knows what is going to happen and He can never change His mind. God answers because He does! There is no other reason.
Another mistake is to think that when we pray it is because we think of something to say to God, or it is because of a crisis. There are two kinds of prayer – the genuine and the false. The genuine is described below. The false is not necessarily fake as in wicked. We can be false without realising it, because false is simply the opposite of true. We can, then, be false just by being ignorant of what is true. Many Christians live life in this misty ignorance.
When we pray truly it is in response to God’s prompting through the Holy Spirit. (See later section on two types of true prayer). When we utter that prayer we obey the prompting to rely on God and then the answer is given. Not as a reward or because God has changed anything, but because it was in God’s will in the first place. Essentially our trust then meets His grace and the answer is discovered.
But, What If…?
What if prayer seems not to be answered? God will never answer the prayers of the unsaved, or of Christians living a life of sin. But, He always answers the acceptable prayers of the saved. How, when prayers are clearly not answered for many Christians? This latter statement is misleading, for God always knows when His children pray to Him… but He chooses not to listen. He will not always answer, because of our sinfulness.
“Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:
But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid (his) face from you, that he will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:1, 2)
It is not that God does not hear, but that He refuses to listen! The duty of all who are saved is to obey God. If we deliberately sin, He will refuse to listen to us. You might think the context in Isaiah is not appropriate, but how much sin, and what kind of sin, makes a man guilty? The very smallest spot! (I am not here referring to the principle of sin, which indwells every new-born person). Not just murders, deceptions and thievery, but simple ‘ordinary’ sins are enough to spoil our relationship with God, because He hates sin and cannot have it in His presence:
“…we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, (but) we walk in darkness. We grope for the wall like the blind… (we are) in desolate places as dead (men).” (verses 9 & 10).
Turning From Sin
Do you feel desolate and desperate for answers? Then look carefully at your life. Do not seek help from God if you are obviously sinning. Would you dare face the Queen if you had committed treason against her, or wearing filthy clothes? Then, why face God when you do the very thing He hates – sin? Do not listen to weak-spined Arminians (whose arguments are Romish) when they tell you God’s love is unconditional! He demands the very best from us and His love is conditional. (It is also a fact that God might keep us in a sore position so that we might learn patience, wisdom, etc., in which case, if we do not fight it, we will be given strength).
We must remove ourselves from sin and act like people who are saved. As always, all of these words are aimed at myself, too. We have an holy Lord to live up to, One Who has come to save us and give us continual faith:
“And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression…” (Isaiah 59:20)
Some Christians truly believe there are no conditions to prayer, but they are wrong:
“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:7)
As a Christian sheds his sins and looks to God for holiness, he will drop all the usual things attached to sin – worthless tradition, bad teachings, pride, self, arrogance, ‘soft’ lies, associating with the wrong people, pretence… and will become a loyal follower of Christ, thinking only of His words and ways, determined to act in truth and humility. It does not mean a humble man is weak and ineffectual; one can be humble and yet be confident in Christ and strong in character. It means he will always be the servant of Christ and not the master of his own destiny or desires, or the servant of Satan and evil-doers.
Do We Honour God?
In a time of great need the answer is not to seek the satisfaction of self and alleviation of trouble, but to ask if we have done enough to honour the Lord. When the text says the words of Christ should abide in us, it means in totality, not in part! Live only for God and He will give whatever you ask. Yes, it is very hard when pressed down by anxieties and dire circumstances not to concentrate on self, but it has to be put to one side. As the stress increases, seek to honour the Lord. Ask for help only after you have put your life right. Then, we will know God’s will, because He will prompt us, and we respond by asking to be firmly led by it:
“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us:
And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” (1 John 5: 14, 15).
Clearly, then, our prayers are not going to succeed unless our lives are right and we ask according to His will. This means His will as contained in scripture, as well as in our lives (which can never contradict His written will). The more we conform to His will as found in His word, the closer we will get to the holiness we should be seeking. The casting-off of personal sins along the way is essential to this. Everyone sins, so these notes do not apply to occasional failure to comply with God; they apply to men and women who constantly sin, deliberately and obstinately, or who continually enact life-affecting sins.
Does this mean we can never have answers to prayers, because we can never be perfect in this life? No, there is much confusion about ‘perfection’. We are called to be perfect in this life. To be perfect on earth does not mean being sinless; it means that the very core of our being hungers after truth, love and holiness, and we live in the perfection that is Christ, always trying to please Him. Seeking holiness is not, then, a mere appendage, something we add-on whenever we want something! Rather, it is the substance of our inner being, continually expressed in everything we think, say and do, even if, like Paul, we struggle along the way.
Prayer and Time
An element usually missing from our prayers is the wait. We think that everything we ask for is urgent, but God may not agree. He might have a far better solution to come, but not in the time scale we desire. That is why some prayers are answered instantly and others take time. We have already looked at why some prayers are not answered at all (though it can be said that unanswered prayer is itself an answer, because the true child of God will search deeper in his life and determine to honour God more wisely and constantly).
“And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you… blessed (are) all they that wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:18)
The wait usually associated with ‘ordinary’ prayer (see below), then, is all to do with God’s glory and not our plea! He answers in His own “due time”, so we must wait. And by showing quiet resilience and fortitude, we honour Him. When we thus humble ourselves, God looks kindly upon us:
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:
Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” (1 Peter 5:6, 7).
Sadly, many Christians have a light view of God. He is the Potter, the Almighty Lord, the Creator and Sustainer of all life! To use the royal analogy above: would we stroll before the Queen in dirty clothing and yet claim to honour her? No. So, why do we do it with the Lord? (In scripture Jesus told the parable of the wedding guest removed from the master’s sight because he did not wear suitable clothing). He does not just deserve the best from us – He demands it. And when we display proper humility before Him, He will show His care. He also wants us to praise Him with thanks when we make our pleas in prayer:
“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6, 7).
When we pray for something, then, we should be thankful. God will, as a minimum, send us peace that will help us in the present need. We should not ignore this answer but keep it stored in our hearts as a barrier against unbelief and further harm… the most precious thing being our relationship with God and His presence with us. Any other consideration is secondary, no matter how urgent we think it is to us on this earth. This is why He says, in John 14:27,
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
If we look only for an immediate and direct removal of our troubles we will miss the presence of God, Who brings us peace. I know we can miss it, because I have personal experience! The problem is that we live on a physical earth and tend to think along physical and earthly lines. So, we miss the more important factor: spiritual strength and peace. We will one day leave this earth, and, at a time not known, the earth itself will be destroyed by The Creator. The only continuing thing for us is spiritual life. Grasp that, not the earth.
We must listen to the Psalmist (62:8):
“Trust in him at all times; (ye) people, pour out your heart before him: God (is) a refuge for us. Selah.”
You might think I am now giving you nothing but words, but you would be in error. If God says it, it is true! If He tells us to trust in Him at all times and to pour out our hearts because He will give us refuge, He means it and it will happen. Our desire is towards physical and mental respite from this or that earthly problem. We want whatever it is to be removed, or done.
But, this might not be how God sees it. He sees the eternal plan for our lives. We only see the small and local symptoms of a problem. It might not be in our eternal interest to have a problem removed or some thing done, therefore God will not move to provide an answer we expect. We see this in action in Paul’s life.
We must admit that we see God as our ‘cover-all’ insurance; we do not have continual communication, yet we tend to call upon Him when we are in trouble. Then, when He does not answer (or does not seem to answer) we complain and say God does not answer prayer! We forget Who God is and who we are. We are created beings; God is our Master and Lord. He owes us nothing but we owe Him everything. If we call upon Him, He is not obliged to answer. Even so, He promises His intervention if we obey. The onus is on His divine will, not on our obedience (though our obedience is mandatory).
“which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?
And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird yourself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?
Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.
So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:7-10)
We can see that God owes us nothing. It is not our duty to demand from Him, but it IS our duty to do whatever He requires of us. If we are as holy as is possible on this earth and give our everything in ministry and obedience, even then we cannot claim anything! It is our duty to be holy, pure and obedient. We may not expect anything from God as a reward. That He will give us a reward is down to His will and mercy, not our own activities and desires.
It is apparent that certain adjuncts concerning prayer must be true if predestination is true. For example, how do we know when God is prompting us to pray and what to pray for? There are two answers. The first I describe as having a ‘burden’.
The book of Habakkuk begins: “The burden which Habakkuk did see”. The ‘burden’, massa’, is a load to be carried, or something our souls arise to. Another meaning is that of an utterance or oracle, or a ‘gift’. Both apply in the matter of prayer.
The prophet Habakkuk ‘saw’, chazah, this burden or oracle. He perceived a divine prophecy, a vision. Habakkuk, then, had a prophecy pressed upon him by God, so that he would express it as God’s will before the people. You will note in the book that the message he was to give was filled with detail, because it was a genuine prophecy from the Lord. In every prophecy, God gives the smallest details to the one speaking on His behalf.
The same kind of burden is given when God wishes us to pray in an urgent manner. We might think we always pray because of some problem or need, but this is not the crux of a true prayer ‘burden’.
There seem to be two main types of prayer: one initiated by God and one offered to God from our own spirit. Prompted prayer is always sent as a burden upon our soul and seems to arise from nowhere… something we are urged to talk to God about, and which cannot be shaken off or dismissed. We are given sure knowledge of what to pray for, when, and with what content, and become sure He will answer. It is as if we are pushed forward until we start to walk, and cannot stop ourselves. Then, after a while of walking we are stopped again and made to sit down. Feeble though the description is, that is the ‘burden’ God gives us when He wants us to pray to Him.
It may be something in our own lives, or the life of some other person, or something else entirely. We might not even know the person or thing we are to pray for. All we know is that we are compelled to pray about it. The intriguing fact is that the prayer did not originate within us – it began in the mind of God, before a ‘problem’ or situation arose. Say that you get a letter in the post this morning. It tells you your house will be taken away because of missed payments you did not realise were not made. You panic. You have no money. Maybe you cry and sit forlornly on the chair, your mind racing with the thought of pending doom.
Suddenly, you have a strong compulsion to pray to the Lord for help. You may not even have been thinking of God, but the thought just entered your head. It is a strong and persistent thought and it overcomes every other thing in your mind. For reasons you do not know, your fear has gone and you know you MUST pray. So you pray. You say things you perhaps did not think about beforehand, and much of it is praise for God, maybe with tears. Your praise then becomes a request for help and you ask for God to deal with the matter. Somehow, you are at peace and you know God has heard. Later, you get a message from a woman you have not met for a long time. She says she had just been thinking about you and wanted to send you a cheque… and it was the amount you are short of to pay your mortgage.
That is an example of the burden of prayer, and it has happened to me many times. The prayer came to your mind and you had to pray it. You were compelled to; the compulsion was strong and filled you with joy. That is true God-initiated prayer. It was God Who compelled you to pray, but the compulsion was not force; it was utter faith, a realisation that God would prevail.
To do this, God started to formulate your answer to prayer by having someone else to think about you, in such a way as to give you the desired help. He started this activity even before you received the letter and knew you were in need. And, He knew what was to happen even before the world was made! I have examples of this in my own life, so I know it is true.
So, He predestinates His own prompting for us to pray, even before we know we have anything to pray about! He prompts us strongly and we discern it as a burden or strong desire to pray. When we pray, the prayer is evidently not of our own making, for we seem to pray the words of God. (On one particular occasion I remember not knowing what to say to a person, but then I was compelled to speak – and the words just came out, including a prophecy meant for that person!) This is because that is what they are. We are praying a prayer God has given us to pray. We use the very words He gives to us. Then, when we finish praying we know it has come from God and that He will answer. After that, the answer comes quickly, if not instantly. In this way we can call such a ‘prayer burden’, a divine intervention; miraculous.
Second Type of Prayer
There is a second type of God-led prayer, for we are also called upon to “pray always”, and the texts containing this and similar statements appear to arise from our own needs and fears, rather than from something instantly initiated by God. The difference seems to be that we come across a situation, or an incident occurs, and we mull it over in our mind and heart. As we see the issue unfold we feel the need to talk to God about it. Unlike the ‘prayer burden’ that is wholly initiated by God, this kind of prayer has its source within our spirit, when we pray out of concern. It is still God-led, because it is prayer coming from a heart fixed on Him, and He commands us to pray always (that is, to always have an attitude of prayer). However, in this type of prayer there is no instant urgency.
We can do this in one of two ways: Our spirit communes with the Holy Spirit because our prayer is within God’s will, or, we pray wrongly and our prayers return upon ourselves, for God does not listen. This is apparent in the fact that God will not listen to our prayers if we are living sinfully, or if we ask for something out of His will. It does not mean He cannot hear them; it is just that He says He will not listen. In the first type of prayer we will receive an answer, though perhaps not in a time period we would wish.
Habakkuk 2:1-3 tells us this:
“I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me…
And the LORD answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make (it) plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.
For the vision (is) yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”
We must watch: be what we ought to be, holy and just, humble and strong; obedient to His every word. When we are in a constant state of observance we will see and hear the smallest nuance. It is a truism, that a long-married couple who love each other tend to finish off each other’s sentences, and can often foresee the other’s needs, providing for them even before they are expressed.
It is like that with God. The more we desire to be like Christ, and the more we listen, the closer we get and the more able we are to know when He is with us. Also, if we truly love God we will always want to please Him and be as we ought to be. Thus, we will be attuned to the Holy Spirit and will more readily ‘hear’ or ‘see’ what is required. In this way we can say God prompts our prayers, whether with a burden or not. The key is the way we live, in obedience to God.
When we come across a problem or other issue, though we think we pray of our own volition, in reality, it is God who prompts us to pray (as a burden or from within our spirit). And because He prompts us, the answer will always come. I believe I have already shown why God does not answer, or seems not to answer.
One thing more needs to be said: no matter what conclusions we have arrived at, we may not use them as a formula. God acts because He does. He does not give us His divine reasons, and He can and does act outside what we know of Him. This is because He is Lord.
Nevertheless, He demands that we live holy and obedient lives. If this is a prerequisite to receiving blessings and answers to prayer, then let us be holy and obedient. Even if it is not a prerequisite, let us be holy and obedient anyway, as becoming a people saved by grace, for no reason except His love and will. It is a pre-requisite of having telephone calls that we have a telephone and pay the bill. We cannot complain about not receiving calls if we refuse to have a ‘phone or pay the bill! If God says we must obey before He answers, then that is that!
In Matthew we read that if we pray without doubt, or with only a small faith, God will remove our mountains. This is a definite promise. Why, then, if we pray without doubt, is there no answer? It cannot be the text is a lie. So there must be reasons. We have looked at some of these above – especially sins in our life and waiting patiently. Our lives should be mirrors of the Lord’s life. Once we move away from His path we deliberately remove ourselves from His divine peace, and yet we complain that our prayers are not answered.
Is your prayer prompted (a burden) or does it arise from your spirit as a proper response to a life situation or inner need, both of which are legitimate, attracting a reply from God? Or is your prayer just a formality you observe and utter without true conviction (as in most prayer meetings, and by most Christians at home)?
Do you seek answers even though your life is peppered by sins? And even if you live a life of holiness, do you acknowledge God can respond in His own time, or in a way not expected? If you think there has been no answer, it is not a cue for you to complain and become depressed or churlish, but a time for you to step-up your determination to live an even more holy, godly and pure life! Read that text from Habakkuk again!
Keep praising God and just wait. It might be He has already answered, but you are unaware of it, or He has set in motion answers you might not have dreamt of. Or, because He wishes only the best for His children, He is preparing something far better: an optimal answer (what God knows is best for you) rather than an instant maximum response (what you desire, even if it is not meant for you).
Those who think they are being ‘balanced’ will read the above and tell me there are caveats to my reasoning. So, they propose alternative arguments. Frankly, I do not see them as alternatives or as genuine caveats. A caveat is a word of caution, but I see no need for caution in what I have said, because I have taken my argument from scripture… all of it, not just those parts that support a particular theological approach or denominational stance. I especially refuse to contemplate personalised arguments. Often, what others think are ‘caveats’ I see as cavils – trifling objections; finding fault without just reason.
One such ‘caveat’ is the command to pray always. Objectors say that if we are to pray always how can we say God must prompt us? Really, this is an irrelevant question showing the inadequacy of the objector’s thinking, making it obvious that he or she is not familiar with points of logic or scriptural discussion. In reality, both conditions apply: we are prompted and we must always pray! Why should we see the two as antagonistic or opposite?
“And he spake a parable unto them (to this end), that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”
‘Always’ can be rendered ‘at every season’. It does not mean that we talk only to God in our every waking moment. Of necessity, we have to speak to others, our family, friends, fellow Christians and unbelievers… and also not talk at all. We have to talk with fellow workers. The term ‘always’ means to have a soul ready at all times to pray, and to take everything to God. Thus, the text tells us to always be ready to pray to God and not to be wearied by our circumstances. When we constantly walk with God we will all the more readily know His mind. The more we know His mind the more we know when and how to pray… and when not to pray.
Every text is placed in a context. The context is this: God will help His children who cry out constantly because of injustice they suffer. Obviously, the more we suffer the more we will call out to God in prayer. In this text ‘pray’ is proseuchomai, simply meaning ‘to pray’.
“Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
The context here is about watching our own lives that we do not fall ‘unawares’ into sins such as drunkenness, cares, etc. We must pray always to be alert to such evils, that we do not indulge in them. Only then can we escape what others do and stand righteous before Christ when He returns.
The text is similar to the one in Matthew, and so the greater context is that of coming doom. If we stand firm in holiness then God will help us. Thus, ‘praying always’ takes on the meaning of being constantly alert to our propensity to sin. The word for ‘pray’ (deomai in this text) explains: to desire or long for, to beg (in this case, for protection from inward sins and outward evils).
2 Thessalonians 1:11
“Wherefore also we pray always for you…”
This is saying the Apostles always pray for the Thessalonians. It would be absurd to say they meant their every waking moment is spent only in praying to God for these people. Ordinary, everyday considerations come into play: eating, drinking, buying food, preaching, teaching, praying about other things…
Again, proseuchomai is used for ‘to pray’. The word does not carry any notion of urgency (a burden), but simply says they prayed. They always held these people in mind and heart and prayed for them whenever it was appropriate.
Every day we go about our ordinary business. Do we constantly pray? No we do not. There are times when we pray more than usual, especially if we are experiencing something that concerns us. But, where do you think these times come from? If they come only from our heads, then the prayers are of no use. If they bubble up from emotion, through our hearts, these can be faulty.
When we live only for God, though we go about everyday business, our hearts, minds and spirits are attuned to God. We speak to Him often, even when working or doing other things. And, because we speak to Him without hesitation and with praise, He responds. But, here is the amazing part: when we speak to Him, it is because He firstly prompts us to speak. Not necessarily in urgent pleas, but as Adam used to speak to God in the Garden.
In ordinary terms, we think we pray of our own accord. In deeper terms, God gives us a love for Him that causes us to pray at any time. This, by any other name, is ‘prompting’ by the Holy Spirit. It is not always a sudden command. It is also the result of living closely with the Lord. Thus, we pray always and yet are also prompted to do so by the Lord. There is no caveat.
Finally, at the request of others, I will give a personal example of how the above occurs, and the difference between self-prayers and Holy Spirit prompted prayers.
Homosexual activists made sure I was dismissed from my job in 2005. This meant I suddenly had no income but huge debts. Naturally I prayed for assistance from God. And that is what I received. I regularly had money gifts so that I could pay off each month’s bank payments. In money terms, I needed £800 a month extra, and God kept the balance coming. Indeed, this will be my lot for the foreseeable future and God provides through very kind fellow saints, despite the fact that I no longer tell anyone what is happening (unless they ask). Though spectacular I see this as ‘ordinary’ answer to prayer, because God promises to give us what is needed daily.
Though there were two or three ‘blips’ when incoming money was a little later than usual, I refer to this provision as ‘manna’. This is because I receive just enough to keep my family going and no more. It means that our immediate needs are met, but we have nothing to effect house repairs, or buy anything new, etc., and need to pray for needs daily. (October 2010: We have since had money from kind Christians to do the most urgent repairs).
After a while, I prayed that God would remove my entire debt. But, no answer came. I am sometimes given a few banknotes by believers. Until last month, these I kept back ‘just in case’ we needed food and God did not provide! (Even reading such foolishness makes me shudder). Other times we have no cash at all, because every penny is put into the bank, who swallows it up instantly.
Then, only a week or two ago, I realised two things: one is that if God gives manna He means us to use it up straightaway, and not to hold it back ‘just in case’. I saw that to keep back a portion as a precaution was to mistreat the manna and a loss of faith. When the Jews tried to keep back manna overnight, it rotted. God meant for the Jews to rely on His provision daily! To hold some back was not to trust fully.
So, last week I had £40 in banknotes that I kept back to pay for food. However, once I realised what I was doing, I immediately went to town and put the cash into the ‘paying-out’ (to creditors) account. If I am receiving manna, I cannot keep back money ‘just in case’, because that would be like telling God I do not trust Him.
Secondly, I have been asked (by kind folks who say they don’t understand why I have been left like this) why God has not removed my debts. Well, though I prayed about it, I must admit, now, that my prayers were not prompted but were emotional panics. God has not yet pressed me to plead for such removal. And, if God is providing manna, why should I ask for a different outcome? Yes, on a personal level I want to see all my debts disappear and will continue to pray for it, because it is proper. My reasoning is that I do not want my enemies to think they have caused my downfall and, I do not want fellow Christians thinking God has disowned me with the punishment of bankruptcy. He will provide money to pay all my debts when He wishes and when He is ready.
Despite my inability to get it right before, God continues to give me manna. I must now prove that I can be trusted with the little things, so that God will later give me the bigger things. One day He might prompt me to pray for removal of my debts. If such prompting comes I know the answer will be decisive. It is also possible that even as I write this, God has put a plan in action that will be far better than anything I have asked for in my own will. For now, I will thank him for the manna.
Continuing with my own life as an example, I can point to two occasions, both in early 2006, when God prompted me with a burden, and I had instant answers. The first example was a few months after I lost my job. My enemies were literally hounding me. Not content with causing me to lose my livelihood and profession, they tried in six different ways to destroy me totally (going to the police, my professional body, etc). On this occasion, on a Monday, I received a letter telling me I was about to be sued by my ex-employer, because I dared to tell readers what was happening.
Though it should not have, it sent me into a weird time of depression. It lasted just a week, though most people know me as a ‘strong’ person. During that time I could not sleep, eat, or say much. I just sat staring into space. I knew what was happening around me but simply could not get out of it. However, as an ex-psychiatric nurse, I knew I had to stay in a bright room, try to eat, and try to talk.
By the end of the week, Saturday, we had to buy food. At that time I used my car normally (nowadays we only use it to get food, once a week) and shopped at a supermarket about a mile away. But, this time, I felt I just had to get out of my home town – I felt oppressed by it. So, we drove to a place called Bridgend, about 30 miles away. My wife bought the food and my input was almost zero as I accompanied her automatically, with almost no speech.
On the way back home I turned-off for a small coastal town and we got out, though it was cold and very windy. I was pushing myself to be ‘normal’. As we walked the long promenade with no-one else around, I prayed inwardly for God that my depression would not remain. I knew it was sin and I could not abide staying in such a condition. I felt a mild difference, but was still acting in a depressed manner.
We got home, and as my wife put the food away into the cupboards I sat in the lounge. I was compelled by a burden to pray again, that God would remove this mood. After praying I must have rested my head against the back of the chair and gone to sleep. About half an hour later I awoke and knew instantly things were different. I was much brighter, the depression had gone, and I began to function properly again!
But, that was not the end of it. My co-worker and I were to meet with a specialist lawyer in Cardiff, fifty miles away. It would cost about £500, but it had to be done. He would advise on the best course of action. The day after I came out of the depression, Sunday, was the day before we would meet the lawyer (Monday). I took our Bible study meeting as usual and then, in the evening, I was strongly prompted to pray for an answer to my ex-employer’s wickedness. I was then prompted to write just one paragraph. I wrote down the wording and somehow knew it would save me from a disastrous law case.
Next day I gave the paper to the lawyer and he agreed it was the best solution. In human terms I disliked having to do what was necessary, because it involved me issuing an apology on our own website to a man who had tried to destroy me, but I knew it was God’s answer. It was a case of swallowing my pride in order to gain God’s blessing. The ‘offer’ was immediately accepted by the ex-employer’s lawyer and the matter was settled.
Many did not understand and thought I had somehow become weak, but the paragraph I wrote was immediate and not of my own making. It was God’s answer. Both the above examples are of God’s prompting of a ‘prayer burden’ and show why they are different from the ‘normal’ or ‘ordinary’ range of prayers.
What Do I Pray Now?
At the time of writing this article I know I have the human uncertainty of facing every single day without knowing if God will continue to keep us or not. I say this because when occasional ‘blips’ occur, I still react with anxiety, mainly because my bank does! But, He still gives us manna, despite my occasional anxiety!
Nevertheless, I continue to seek a far bigger response. My reasoning is that if my debts (caused by the wickedness of others) are removed, I will then be able to breathe easier and get on with the ministry without always wondering if God will again provide manna. And, I can effect house repairs. But, obviously, God has other ideas, so I know I must wait. One day, if I receive a burden to pray, I will know the answer I seek is forthcoming instantly or very soon. Until then, I rely on ‘ordinary’ prayer and attempt to live righteously. (The recent financial gifts to effect repairs came when I did NOT pray for them).
Very often, what we see as no answer to prayer is a deliberate move by God to toughen us up spiritually, to let us experience our own human ideas and to know what it is like not to have Him dealing directly with the situation. It is all to give us greater strength, which leads to greater spiritual power. He does not leave His children alone without purpose, and when we think we are alone, He holds us in His hand, protecting us. Even if He cannot/will not give us something we plead for, He nevertheless gives us His protection and presence. Everything He does is for our good. It is our own fault if we misjudge this to be a refusal to answer.
Knowing all this, I can only conclude that the majority of God’s children (including myself) are not living as we ought, and this is why God is not answering prayers. He specifically tells us that He will not listen to prayers from men who are sinning, or do not fully trust. If we live as we should, with holy selflessness, we would see something more glorious! I have shown different kinds of prayers, and believe all kinds have been looked at. It is now up to us to comply with God’s commands.
Prayers, then, seem to be of five types:
Those directly and specifically prompted by God as a ‘burden’. These are fully divine and have instant or almost-instant answers, and can be called miraculous.
Those that arise from circumstances and events that concern us, but are broadly prompted by God because He says we must pray always. Such prayers come from a life of communion with God and answers come, but usually in God’s own time, or in an unexpected manner.
Christians can often pray without genuine reliance on God, or genuine belief He will answer. There is no answer to such prayers, because they are not genuine.
Christians who live sinfully (not just occasionally) can pray, but God will not listen, because of sin. This is because the prayers arise from sin and not from holiness.
The unsaved can pray, but because they have no communion or link with God, He ignores their prayers, whether or not they are urgent.
More work will be done on this topic.
© February 2008
Published on www.christiandoctrine.com
Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
Please 'Make a Donation' to support the work of Bible Theology Ministries