“Do you believe in prayer?”
The writer was asked this question some time ago by a woman who had prayed in vain for the recovery of her sick husband.
“No,” I replied, “I do not believe in prayer. But I do believe in a God who hears and answers prayer.”
The woman’s question reminded me of my childhood days.
One day at school a playmate showed me a beautiful fountain pen.
“Where did you get it?” I asked.
“Lucky stone,” he replied simply, and taking me to a hill nearby he found a smooth brown pebble and showed me how to use it.
Closing his eyes he threw it into the air over his head and said solemnly, “Lucky stone, lucky stone, bring me luck.”
“Is that all you did?” I asked.
“Sure, I tried it yesterday, and this morning I found this pen. Eddie showed me how. He found a quarter the same way.”
Needless to say, I found a good many “lucky stones” that afternoon and went through the ceremony again and again.
But, I didn’t find a thing! even though I walked about with my eyes almost glued to the ground!
The next day I found my friend, and Eddie too, and asked them: Had I done it the right way? Had I used the right kind of stone? How long are you supposed to wait before you find something?
It was not long before I had completely lost faith in “lucky stones.” When the boys kept inquiring about my luck I scoffed, “G’wan, I don’t believe in that stuff!”
This incident came back to me when I was asked “Do you believe in prayer?”
Millions of people, saved as well as lost, are positively superstitious about prayer. They try it. If their requests are granted they say, “I believe in prayer. I have found that it works.” But if their requests are not granted they begin to doubt—as though prayer in itself ever had any power or efficacy.
Of course, not all Christians are superstitious, but this only adds to the difficulty. Many sincere and thoughtful believers have trusted and claimed certain written promises from the Word, only to find those promises unfulfilled in their lives. As a result they have found themselves struggling against the feeling that God is not faithful. This is a far more serious difficulty.
To these, and to all believers who have been tempted to doubt God because of unanswered prayer, we offer God’s wonderful solution to the problem.
“And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Matt. 21:22).
“Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 18:19).
Wonderful promises! Meditate upon them for a few moments. “ALL THINGS—WHATSOEVER ye shall ask in prayer, believing!” “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching ANYTHING THAT THEY SHALL ASK!”
Wonderful promises, indeed! Yet who can deny that they have proved more discouraging than encouraging to many sincere Christians?
Reading these verses, many of God’s children have been encouraged to ask for physical healing, daily employment, deliverance from temptation and many other things in prayer, believing, but have been deeply disappointed to find their requests ungranted. Such experiences have often left deeper scars on the lives of believers than their fellow men observe.
Before seeking the explanation to this fact let us first be wholly honest and acknowledge it to be a fact.
There was a time when my own faith was rudely shaken by this vexing problem. We had been holding open air meetings for many weeks without seeing any results. How we longed to see precious souls saved! Before going out one day my co-worker asked, “Do you believe Matthew 18:19, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven?”
I said, “God knows I want to believe it.” So we got down on our knees to ask for souls, claiming this promise. As we prayed I could not forget that the Lord had graciously helped one who had cried “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”
We arose from prayer that day with peculiar confidence. We knew before we had even begun to preach that God would give us souls. But—He didn’t!
Few people stood around and there was no indication that anyone was at all impressed by our words. We agreed, of course, that we shouldn’t expect to see fruit immediately. Perhaps we would find out later that God had answered our prayer.
But we did not find out that God had answered our prayer and I, for one, felt it deeply. This had happened before, too often, and now I found myself struggling against doubt and rebellion.
Thank God, Philippians 1:6 is blessedly true: “…He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it….”
If Philippians 1:6 were not true this might have been the end of my Christian life, but as it was I was only driven to my knees again and—finally to my Bible!
Is it not strange that we generally place more importance upon prayer than upon Bible study! How often the question has been asked from the pulpit, “How many of you have spent half an hour in prayer today?” Yet rarely does the preacher ask “How many have spent half an hour with the Word today?” Is prayer then more important than the study of the Word? Surely what God says to us is infinitely more important than anything we might have to say to Him.
As this dawned upon me, I went once more to the Word. I realized that I had simply taken verses here and there and had claimed their fulfillment without any regard to the context, without even inquiring whether those promises had been made to me!
I had not obeyed II Timothy 2:15, and I was supposed to be one of God’s workmen! I had ignored the very verse in which He Himself had told me how I might be “approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.”
“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15).
It was not long before I knew I had the answer to my heart’s problem. My difficulties vanished as I began to practice II Timothy 2:15. And not only did they vanish, but I came into the possession of the greatest blessing of my Christian life, the key to so many problems—the knowledge of the mystery of God’s purpose and grace. This, and this alone, is the answer to the problem we have been considering. But, before we go into this, let us consider briefly some popular explanations.
Some time after I had come into the knowledge of “the mystery,” a special meeting was called by one who, though he had been saved for many years, had found his faith sorely tried by the same perplexing problem.
He invited a popular preacher to address a group of Christian workers on the question of unanswered prayer. I was one of those invited.
The preacher went through the same familiar explanations I had heard so often—explanations which certainly never satisfied my heart.
He said that there may be a divine factor in unanswered prayer. That is, God may, for His own good reasons, deem it best not to grant some request, as in the case of Job.
Then too, he went on, there are human factors to take into consideration, such as sin harbored in the heart (Psa. 66:18), selfishness (Jas. 4:3) and a spirit of unbelief (Jas. 1:6,7), all of which, he said, would result in unanswered prayer.
Then he came to the climax of his message. How could we be sure our prayers would be answered?
He asked us to turn to Mark 11:22-24,
“And Jesus answering saith unto them, have faith in God.
“For verily I say unto you, that whosoever shall say unto this mountain, be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.
“Therefore I say unto you, what things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.”
From these verses he urged us to put away all known sin and selfishness and reap the blessed results of believing prayer.
But I felt like asking, “What about the divine factor? Suppose I pray in true faith, and God, for His own good reasons, deems it best not to grant my requests as in the case of Job!?”
How I longed, that day, to breathe into his ear and into the ears of all those present, the solution to the problem—the mystery! But he had already turned a deaf ear to that glorious message.
We agree, of course, that harbored sin will hinder prayer and that selfish requests should remain unanswered, but these present no difficulty. The problem is why sincere believers, seeking honestly to live for Christ and praying in humble faith, should so often find their prayers unanswered.
Granting that human failure enters into the question of unanswered prayer, is it not a fact that many, living in conscious fellowship with God, eager to do His will and confidently believing their requests would be granted have been discouraged, not to say disillusioned by unanswered prayer? They had rested in the promise that whatsoever they asked in prayer, believing, they would receive. They asked, believing, and did not receive.
The answer to this problem, as to so many problems, is a dispensational one.
Have you ever noticed where the “whatsoever” promises are found? They are found only in one small portion of the Bible—that dealing with our Lord’s earthly ministry (though they are referred to in the Hebrew Christian epistles).
Never in the Old Testament, nor in the Pauline epistles do we find that “all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”
Why is this? Simply because these promises had to do with the establishment of Christ’s kingdom on earth. These are the conditions which will prevail during His reign and He proclaimed them as part of “the gospel of the kingdom.”
We do find in Isaiah 65:24,
“And it shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking I will hear.”
This is a wonderful promise, indeed, but it has not been used very intelligently by Christians in general.
How many sincere Christians have quoted this passage after receiving some blessing without even asking for it! They have said, “How true God’s Word is! Didn’t He say `Before they call I will answer; and while they are yet speaking I will hear’?” However, few quote this verse when they have struggled long in prayer without receiving an answer from the Lord!
But suppose that through some strange circumstances we should see a wolf and a lamb feeding together and I should quote the next verse, and say, “How true God’s Word is! Didn’t He say `the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock’?”
Would I be using the Word of God intelligently? Of course not. You would say, “Yes, the Word of God is true, but Isaiah 65:25 does not apply to this. It speaks of the kingdom reign of Christ when this shall be the rule, when wolves and lambs, lions and bullocks, as well as men shall get along together.” And you would be right. That whole portion of Isaiah 65 speaks clearly of Messiah’s reign. It is concerning this period of time that we read, “And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking I will hear.” It is not strange, then, that we should find “whatsoever” promises in connection with “the gospel of the kingdom.”
Certainly it is not the rule today, among God’s people, to receive the answers to our requests before we even make them, nor even while we are presenting them. Far more often we have the experience of David who cried, “How long, O Lord, How long?” And surely we need David’s advice, “Wait patiently for Him,” for God does not generally answer before we call.
But when our Lord reigns in the kingdom things will be vastly different. He will have control over man’s three greatest enemies—the world, the flesh and the devil.
“The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ” (Rev. 11:15).
“The child shall die a hundred years old” (Isa. 65:20).
That is, he that dies at one hundred years old shall be considered a child.
“And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years. And cast him into the bottomless pit…” (Rev. 20:2,3).
What a changed scene! “The times of refreshing!” In those days the Lord will no longer hide His face, but heaven will be opened to the earth.
It was all this which our Lord had in view when He preached “the gospel of the kingdom.” It was this which Peter had in view when he cried, after Christ had gone to heaven,
“Repent…the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and He shall send Jesus Christ which before was preached unto you” (Acts 3:19,20).
But the kingdom was rejected. God did not send Jesus and the times of refreshing did not come, indeed have not yet come.
The age in which we live is, to a superlative degree, an evil age. Paul calls it, “This present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). It is the age of the rejection of the Son of God. It is the age when the world has been given up to the wrath and judgment of God.
It is only because of “the exceeding riches of His grace,” that the vials of His wrath have not yet been poured out upon this rebellious race, for “the rulers of the darkness of this age” hold sway and “the god of this age hath blinded the minds of them that believe not” (Eph. 6:12; II Cor. 4:4).
Our blessed Lord cast out Satan, the oppressor of this fallen world, and offered man deliverance, but lo, man did not want to be delivered. Satan is the god of this age. Today Satan still reigns by the will of man and the sufferance of God. (See John 12:31, 16:11; II Cor. 4:4).
But God overrules. He “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11).
This present evil age is also the age of grace. Some years after Pentecost, Paul wrote these wonderful words:
“Where sin abounded grace did much more abound.
“That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign, through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:20,21).
“For God hath concluded them all in unbelief that He might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32).
“And that He might reconcile both unto God in one Body by the Cross, having slain the enmity thereby” (Eph. 2:16).
Neither man nor Satan knew it, but this was God’s eternal purpose in Christ. It was a mystery, “kept secret since the world began” (Rom. 16:25), “in other ages was not made known,” (Eph. 3:5), “hid in God,” (Eph. 3:9), “hid from ages and generations,” (Col. 1:26), “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” (eph. 3:8), “His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (II Tim. 1:9).
Still, God waits in mercy while His ambassadors go forth with the message of reconciliation, God’s offer of grace to a lost and ruined world. (See II Cor. 5:16-21 and read carefully).
And what about prayer in this age of abounding sin and overabounding grace? Does God promise to grant whatsoever we ask in prayer believing? He does not. Even Paul had to learn this. (See II Cor. 12:8-10). He offers us something better and more perfectly suited to our circumstances.
GOD’S PLAN FOR OUR PRAYER LIFE
What Christian cannot freely quote Romans 8:28!
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”
But how few Christians can quote Romans 8:26! Yet Romans 8:28 cannot be fully understood or appreciated except against the background of Romans 8:26.
Romans 8:28 tells us what “we know.” Romans 8:26 tells us what “we know not.”
Now let us consider them together:
“…we know not what we should pray for as we ought….”
“…we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”
How wonderfully this fits our present circumstances!
In “the darkness of this age” it would be calamitous if we received whatever we asked in prayer, believing. Indeed, a large proportion of the time, “we know not what we should pray for.” We must get down on our knees and say, “Lord, the way is dark. I cannot see one step before me. I do not even know what to ask.”
But though “we know not what we should pray for as we ought,” “the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities;” “He maketh intercession for the saints,” and God works “all things together for good” to us.
The highest expression of faith is found in Paul’s words to the Philippians (4:6,7).
“Be careful [anxious] for nothing!
“But in everything
“By prayer and supplication,
“Let your requests be made known unto God
And “Whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive?”
“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep [garrison] your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Here is ample proof that God is not deaf to the cries of His children in this age. He wants them to pour out all their hearts before Him. There is nothing He does not wish to hear about. He says, “Tell me everything and be anxious about nothing for I’ll work it all out for your good.” He who loves us is working out our future!
How foolish then to say, “What’s the use of praying if we do not receive what we ask for?” It is because of the very darkness of this age that we must be willing to leave the outcome with Him.
He is the Head of the Body and, remember, the head always does the thinking.
Learn this lesson and “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
“For we walk by faith not by sight” (ii cor. 5:7). We walk (or should walk) by faith even though we see no public demonstrations as were seen at Pentecost. We walk by faith even though our requests are not granted. We walk by faith even though things seem to go against us for we know He is working all things out for our good. Not for our present apparent good, perhaps, but certainly for our eventual, eternal good.
Does this satisfy you, Christian friend? If not, let us ask one simple question in closing.
WHICH WOULD YOU CHOOSE?
If you were offered either a $1.00 bill or a $10.00 bill, which would you choose?
If, in this age of darkness and sin, God should offer you either whatsoever ye ask in prayer, believing, or exceeding abundantly above all you could possibly ask, or think, which would you choose?
“Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.
“Unto Him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Eph. 3:20,21).