Saturday, July 26, 2014

How Does God Answer Prayer?

Photo by Toby Hudson 2009

God, knowing and anticipating our needs, always answers the prayers of His children who are right in their heart attitude toward Him (Isaiah 65:24). We must not approach Him in rebellion or lusting after the flesh (James 4:3), but rather in humble submission, earnestly seeking God’s will and His face (1 Chronicles 16:11; Psalm 27:8; 105:4). God expects us to pray to Him to provide for us, protect us, and guide us in all that we do (Proverbs 3:-6). If we don’t pray, we should not be surprised that our prayers are not answered (James 4:2).

As we pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, helping us to pray in accordance with God’s will even when we don’t know what to ask for (Romans 8:26). He will teach us to trust Him Proverbs 3: 5), deepening our faith (Mark 11:22-24) as we accept that He knows what we need before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8), and that He will give us what is best for us (Jeremiah 29:11).  God in His wisdom will provide what we need, even if it isn’t what we think we want (Luke 11:9-13; Matthew 7: 7-11).

Sometimes He answers “Yes,” sometimes “No,” sometimes “Yes, but in the right time,” and sometimes “No, because what I want to give you is even better than what you have asked for.”  He may answer “Yes” immediately if we delight in the Lord, resulting in Him giving us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). In other words, our love for and joy in the Lord lead us to desire His perfect will, which is the best blessing we could possibly receive, and a blessing that He Himself is delighted to give us. His mind does not change, but our desire does because our mind becomes conformed to His will (Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 2:16).

When we have a specific request for God, it is our human nature to want our needs satisfied right away. Yet God’s perspective on time is quite different from ours (2 Peter 3:8), and what appears to us to be a delay actually serves to strengthen our faith in His Word. God promised Sarah a child when she was already old and barren, but He saw fit for Isaac to be born nearly 25 years later! (Genesis 18:9-15).

One Sunday afternoon after choir practice eight years ago, I prayed my usual quick Sunday afternoon prayer that I would be filled with the Spirit for singing in the evening service. I felt that God was saying “Yes” to that prayer, but I also had a sense that there was something else He wanted me to do. “Lord, please show me what that is,” I prayed. Moments later, the associate pastor was waiting for me in the hallway to ask if I would teach a ladies’ Sunday school class! God answered that prayer immediately, resulting in my teaching God’s Word weekly to this day!

Yet on another occasion my husband and I had been praying for a long time over whether or not to prepare for a particular opportunity that might or might not come to pass. One day while praying about this I suddenly felt the burden of doubt lifted from my shoulders, and I had the clear sense that God was saying to prepare, for the opportunity would indeed arise. I ran excitedly to my husband to tell him the news, but little did we know that the promised opportunity was three years down the road!  When it did come, though, it was definitely worth the wait and preparation!

It pleases God to give good and perfect gifts to His children (Luke 11:13), so if we ask Him to meet our needs in accordance with His perfect will, we can expect to be blessed. The clearest example of this is the sinner’s prayer, which is one prayer God will always answer “Yes!” because it is His perfect will that all should be saved. When the lost person realizes he is a sinner (Romans 3:23), turns away from his sin, and trusts in Christ as the Son of God, the perfect sacrifice for our sins (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10) Who died on the cross, was buried, and rose again that we also may have eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), God will save him (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13).

Prayer always blesses us. However, the blessing we receive from prayer may not always be what we had prayed for, and it may even seem to our limited vantage point to be quite the opposite. When our beloved late Pastor was diagnosed at age 40 with lung cancer that had spread to the brain, bone and liver, our church experienced a great revival as we all prayed for his complete and rapid healing. As a church body, we felt that surely God would answer our prayer for him to continue his inspired and Godly leadership of his church and family, with two young sons and a third on the way.

God did answer our prayer for perfect healing, yet not in the way we had hoped, when He called our beloved Pastor to Himself six short months later. We continued to proclaim “We Choose Faith,” knowing that God had worked through this situation in countless ways, including 83 young people surrendering their lives to the Lord after they heard our Pastor’s testimony, and his daily journal, which was posted online and later published as a book, leading unknown numbers to Christ. We acknowledged that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9) and thanked Him for our closer communion with Him through prayer, and yet there were times of sadness and questioning God.

When we ask for healing of our loved one who is sick, and that person dies, we may despair that God has not heard our prayer or cared enough for us to answer it as we had hoped. Yet if that person was saved, God has indeed given him perfect healing and perfect peace, and He will use the situation to bring good into the lives of others in ways that we cannot begin to understand until we reach glory (Romans 8:28).

Paul asked God three times to take away his “thorn in the flesh,” a physical ailment that brought him great distress, but that kept his pride in check. God said “No,” because the lesson Paul learned of God’s grace being sufficient was a far greater blessing than physical healing would have been. This lesson enabled him to rejoice and be fruitful even when imprisoned, abandoned, and in other dire straits, because he was relying on God’s strength instead of trusting in his own flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

God the Father even said “No” to His own Son when Jesus asked that if it were possible, that the cup of suffering would pass from Him. Yet the Son yielded to His Father’s will (Matthew 26:39). Just as God said “No,” to Paul because He had a greater good in mind, so was this the case when He said “No” to Jesus. Christ’s perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins was necessary for our forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life with Him (Hebrews 10:10-14; John 3:16).

The parallel account in John 17 of Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane on the night He would be arrested is sometimes referred to as the Lord’s Prayer because it is the Lord praying for what He is about to face, and for all of us. It is a beautiful example of intercessory prayer and of His self-sacrificing love, for His focus was not on His ordeal to come, but on our salvation, eternal security, and keeping us from evil.

God sometimes says “No” to us, allowing us to go through illness or other storms of life because they bring us closer to Him. If we seek His perfect will, He may sometimes calm the storm, as He did for His disciples in the boat on the troubled sea (Matthew 8: 24-27).

But at other times, His perfect answer to our prayer may be to calm us instead, bringing us the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), the fellowship of His suffering that conforms us to the image of His Son (Philippians 3:10), strengthened faith, and wisdom and compassion to help those going through similar trials

Thank God for His infinite wisdom and infinite love, so that He answers our prayers in the best possible way! Have faith when you pray that God will answer your prayers with His perfect love, wisdom, and power; satisfy your needs; and grant your desires according to His perfect will.

© 2014 Laurie Collett
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Sherri said...

Wow, thank you for posting this series on prayer, I so needed it!

Frank E. Blasi said...

Dear Laurie,
I recall when I attended housegroup at my previous church that we had a discussion about God answering prayer in very much the same lines as you've discussed here. Basically we talked about God answering prayer by means of a snail, as lightning, or not at all, depending on what we were praying for and the circumstances in which the prayer was made.
But the most striking example of a snail's pace, other than the case of Abraham and Sarah, I would think, was the case of Hannah the mother of Samuel. Througthout her prayer life she went through teasing, even bullying from Elkanah's rival wife Peninnah, who already had children. Yet she persevered, to be rewarded after Eli the priest assured her that God will grant her her request. To me, this is one of the most moving part of the Old Testament.
Again Laurie, thanks for such a well-constructed post. Your belief in the sinner's prayer I find very encouraging, as many, including our elders, don't believe in its significance, yet I have read scores of testimonies of believers who found this type of prayer of great benefit.
God bless.

Laurie Collett said...

You're3 very welcome, Sherri -- I'm glad this is helpful to you!
Many blessings,

Laurie Collett said...

Dear Frank,
Great point about Hannah, who desired and must have prayed for children for many years. Clearly there was something different, though, about the feast where in despair she poured out her heart to God, so that Eli (a priest with family problems of his own) at first accused her of being drunk and then affirmed the sincerity of her prayer. On that occasion, she left the altar in peace, finally able to eat, and those who saw her noticed the change in her face. And God answered that prayer almost immediately, for as soon as they reached home, she conceived.
I believe that the "sinner's prayer" is effective when said sincerely from the heart, truly realizing that we are sinners deserving eternal punishment in hell, utterly dependent for salvation on the mercy and grace of God the Father through the completed work of His Son. But in many churches where the emphasis is on numbers, the pastor reads a condensed version of the prayer & asks people to raise their hands if they agree. Or even worse, it is printed on a card & visitors are asked to "check the box" if they "made a decision" for Christ. Sadly, there is often little or no follow-up in these situations to explain the Bible basis for salvation and to test the sincerity of the profession. So this may be why there is skepticism about the "sinner's prayer."
Thanks as always for your encouraging and thoughtful comment, and God bless,

elizabeth said...

I'm so glad to be next to you at Janis' this week. The way you place scriptures throughout your writing is wonderful!

Unknown said...

What a beautiful testimony of prayer and God working in your life. I love to hear examples of God at work!

Laurie Collett said...

Thanks, Elizabeth, for your visit and kind comment! Hope you'll be back soon!
Love in Christ,

Laurie Collett said...

Thank you, LeeAnn, for your sweet comment! God is so good, all the time!
May you have a blessed week in Him,

Donald Fishgrab said...

Amen Laurie. I suspect a great many repeat some version of the sinner's prayer with little understanding or concern for what they are saying,and are not truly saved. The author(s) of Hebrews were addressing this very issue.

Donald Fishgrab said...

Great post. Laurie.

Too many don't realize the Holy spirit modifies our prayers to what they ought to be. I suspect that many times he is like a secretary sortin her employer's mail. Some of it is simply disposed of as not worth his time/

Janis Van Keuren said...

Laurie~I really liked the way you backed up everything you said about prayer with a Scripture that corresponded to it.

Laurie Collett said...

Thanks, Donald, for your comment. What is worse, I think, after a false profession, than not being truly saved in the first place, is then being too prideful or embarrassed to admit it, thus failing to call out to Jesus in repentance and faith that would bring true salvation.
God bless,

Laurie Collett said...

Thanks, Donald, for the encouragement! I like that analogy, but I am humbled and chagrined to think that many of our before-meal "grace" prayers, when rushed through in rote fashion, probably fall into that category.
God bless,

Laurie Collett said...

Thanks, Janis, for your visit & sweet comment! I'm blessed to hear that you found the Scripture verses helpful.
Love in Christ,

Janet said...

Wow - this is the kind of resource for prayer that needs to be kept close and referred to over and over. I thank God for his intercessor - because I don't always know how to pray - or what it is I'm really praying for or about - I just know that I can take my mixed up thoughts to God and he will know. He does know.

Laurie Collett said...

Dear Janet,
I'm so blessed by your visit and lovely comment! Praise God that His Spirit within us hears our groanings and carries them lovingly to the throne room of God, where He will answer in the best possible way.
God bless,

Ginger Harrington said...

Visiting today from Thriving Thursdays. So glad to stop by and read your work. Blessings!

Laurie Collett said...

Thanks, Ginger, for your visit & comment! Blessings to you too!

Tina at said...

This is a hard lesson to learn but such an important one and one that leads to great joy and peace! Thanks for sharing this on Booknificent Thursday! Hope to see you again this week!