By James E. Cooper
Man is a “praying animal.” Prayer, in the sense of a conscious effort to hold communion with deity, is universal. Even those who have denied the existence of God have been known to breathe a prayer in extreme circumstances. One of the most encouraging statements in the Bible is that “the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers” (1 Pet. 3:12). And one of the most solemn warnings to be found anywhere is contained in the same verse: “but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.”
1. God is a Personal Being. Prayer involves personal communication with a Personal Being. It implies that there is a Being who hears, thinks, feels and wills; yet He is omniscient, holy and gracious. Those who suppose God is a figment of human imagination, slowly developed as man ascended the evolutionary scale, declare that it is useless to pray, for there is no God to hear their prayers. David pronounced the man with this attitude to be a fool (Psa. 14:1), for there is sufficient evidence in nature alone to convince the right-thinking person that God is (Psa. 19:1-4). Without faith that God is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him, one cannot please God (Heb. 11:6).
2. God is able to answer prayer. The omnipotent God who was able to bring heaven and earth into existence by the power of His utterance (Heb. 11:3; Psa. 33:6); to make men out of stones (Matt. 3:9; cf. Gen. 2:7); to deliver His servants from the fire (Dan. 3:17); to raise the dead (Heb. 11:19); and to destroy both body and soul in hell (Matt. 10:28), is certainly “able to do exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20).
3. God is willing to answer prayer. God has a very sympathetic ear. In I Peter 3:12, we have God pictured with His ears literally “into (eis) the petitions of the righteous.” “What a picture of God bending down to their petitions, eager to answer them and come to the aid of those who pray. We have no far off deity to make propitious. We do not have to plead with God to make Him willing to answer our prayers. He is more desirous of answering them than we are to have them answered” (Kenneth S. Wuest, First Peter in the Greek New Testament, p. 87).
Does God Really Answer Prayer?
Peter encouraged Christians to be a united, loving and compassionate people – in short, to be a blessing to others: “knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing” (I Pet. 3:9). He then quoted Psalm 34:12-16. The person who would enjoy life to the fullest must avoid those things that could cause God to turn His face against him. Instead, he should “do good . . . seek peace, and pursue it” (Psa. 34: 10-11). Peter applies the Psalmist’s words in a most appropriate fashion. One of the blessings to be enjoyed is the assurance that God does hear and answer the prayers of the righteous (cf. Prov. 15:29; Psa. 145:18).
Open your Bible and read Psalm 34 in its entirety. David declared God had heard his prayers. In response to prayer, God had delivered him from his fears (v. 4), and had saved him out of his troubles (v. 6). God delivers the righteous out of all his afflictions (v. 19), and redeems his soul (v. 22). Urging all to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” David pronounces a blessing upon the man that trusts in Him (v. 8), and assures us that “there is no want in them that fear Him” (v. 9). “They that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing” (v. 10).
Do you believe God really does that? Today? Does He really act in response to our prayers? The Bible says He does. James said, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (Jas. 1:5). There are conditions to be met, of course. “Let him ask in faith, nothing doubting. For he that doubteth is like the surge of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord. A double-minded man unstable in all his ways” (Jas. 1:6-8). In the latter part of James 5:16, we read that “the supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its workings.”
Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matt. 7:7-8; Luke 11:9-10). In the contexts of these two passages, we find Jesus illustrating God’s willingness to answer persistent prayer. A man will grant his son’s request: “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matt. 7:11). He also illustrated prayer by the persistence of a man who at midnight asks his friend to lend him three loaves of bread so he could feed a house guest who had just arrived from a long journey (Luke 11:5-9). Jesus taught that God will respond to prayer.
Is God Any Different Today?
Is God different today from what He was in David’s day? Is He different from what He was when our Lord was upon earth? Is He no longer interested in His children? Does He no longer work on our behalf? One man argued with me that it is useless to ask God to do anything in response to prayer today. His contention was that God’s “last will and testament” has been revealed; therefore, God doesn’t have a will to be influenced by our prayers. But, my friend, God “is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 12:8). He has always had an immutable will (Heb. 6:17-18), but declares that His actions change in response to changes in men. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:7).
Is God indifferent to His people today? No! Peter declared that His eyes are upon the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers. God has not changed His attitude, nor His inclination to hear the prayers of the righteous. He has not abandoned His children. We are taught that He will continue to work on our behalf. “Be ye free from the love of money; content with such things as ye have: for Himself hath said, I will in no wise fail thee, neither will I in any wise forsake thee. So that with good courage we say, The Lord is my helper; I will not fear: What shall man do unto me?” (Heb. 13:5-6).
Should We Expect A Miracle Today?
Is it necessary to believe God will work a miracle today in order to believe He really does answer prayer? Many seem to have the opinion that prayer is either answered miraculously or not at all. However, we need not expect to see a miracle today. God can work through His natural laws, as well as He can suspend and overpower them to work miracles.
Miracles were never performed merely to accommodate the desires and needs of man, but were signs to confirm the truth of God. The signs performed by Jesus were performed and recorded that men might “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (Jn. 20:30-31). What Jesus taught was further “confirmed to us by them that heard; God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will” (Heb. 2:3-4). Miracles served a temporary purpose, to bear witness to God’s revelation (cf. Mk. 16:17-20; Acts 2:33; Acts 10:47; 1 Cor. 14:22). Paul taught that knowing and prophesying were “in part,” but they would be “done away” when the complete revelation (“that which is perfect”) was come (1 Cor. 13:8-10). Miracles served their purpose and have ceased.
God does not have to suspend the laws of nature in order to answer prayer. He can answer by working through the natural forces and processes which operate in the natural world, but which are still under His control. When James affirmed that “the supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working,” he gave an illustration to help us understand it. “Elijah was a man of like passions with us, and he prayed that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth for three years and six months. And he prayed again: and the heavens gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit” (Jas. 5:17-18). Elijah is not pictured as a super-human, even though he was an outstanding prophet of God. He was “a man of like passions with us.” Insofar as God’s answering his prayer, he was an ordinary man. The efficacy of prayer does not require a specially endowed p son. It is a blessing available to ordinary men, like you and me.
From 1 Kings 18:41-46, we learn how God answered Elijah’s prayer. After he had prayed seven times, a cloud appeared out over the Mediterranean Sea “like a man’s hand,” and the rain came out of that cloud. If it had rained out of a clear sky, we could it a miracle. But since God brought up a cloud to produce the rain, we recognize this as an act of God’s Providence – His control of the natural forces operating in His created universe.
God always answers prayer. We know and sometimes ask for harmful things, but He knows what is best. Sometimes He grants our petitions, and somethimes He denies them. Paul prayed three times that his “thorn the flesh” might be removed (2 Cor. 12:8), but God had something better for him. May we be content to submit when God says “No” as well as when he says “Yes.”
“In nothing be anxious: but in everything by prayer supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be in known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth understanding, shall guard your hearts and your in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
God Answers Prayer
I asked God for strength,
That I might achieve —
I was made weak,
That I might learn to obey.
I asked for help,
That I might do greater things —
I was given infirmity,
That I might do better things.
I asked for riches,
That I might be happy —
I was given poverty,
That I might be wise.
I asked for all things,
That I might enjoy life.
I was given life,
That I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for,
But everything I had hoped for.
My prayers were answered.
I am among all men
Most richly blessed.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 20, pp. 617-618
October 18, 1984