CHAPTER 8: DOES GOD ALWAYS ANSWER PRAYER?
WE now come to one of the most important
questions that any man can ask. Very much depends upon the answer we are led
to give. Let us not shrink from facing the question fairly and honestly. Does
God always answer prayer? Of course, we all grant that He does answer prayer
-- some prayers, and sometimes. But does He always answer true prayer. Some
so-called prayers He does not answer, because He does not hear them. When His
people were rebellious, He said, "When ye make many prayers, I will not hear"
(Isa. i. 15).
But a child of God ought to expect answers to
prayer. God means every prayer to have an answer; and not a single real prayer
can fail of its effect in heaven.
And yet that wonderful declaration of St. Paul:
"All things are yours, for ye are Christ's" (I Cor. iii. 21), seems so plainly
and so tragically untrue for most Christians. Yet it is not so. They are
ours, but so many of us do not possess our possessions. The owners of Mount
Morgan, in Queensland, toiled arduously for years on its barren slopes, eking
out a miserable existence, never knowing that under their feet was one of the
richest sources of gold the world has ever known. There was wealth, vast,
undreamt of, yet unimagined and unrealized. It was "theirs," yet not
The Christian, however, knows of the riches of
God in glory in Christ Jesus, but he does not seem to know how to get them.
Now, our Lord tells us that they are to be had
for the asking. May He indeed give us all a right judgment in "prayer-things."
When we say that no true prayer goes unanswered we are not claiming that God
always gives just what we ask for. Have you ever met a parent so foolish as to
treat his child like that? We do not give our child a red-hot poker because he
clamors for it! Wealthy people are the most careful not to allow their
children much pocket-money.
Why, if God gave us all we prayed for, we should
rule the world, and not He! And surely we would all confess that we are not
capable of doing that. Moreover, more than one ruler of the world is an
God's answer to prayer may be "Yes," or it may be
"No." It may be "Wait," for it may be that He plans a much larger blessing
than we imagined, and one which involves other lives as well as our own.
God's answer is sometimes "No." But this is not
necessarily a proof of known and wilful sin in the life of the suppliant,
although there may be sins of ignorance. He said "No" to St. Paul sometimes
(II Cor. xii. 8, 9). More often than not the refusal is due to our ignorance
or selfishness in asking. "For we know not how to pray as we ought" (Rom.
viii. 26). That was what was wrong with the mother of Zebedee's children. She
came and worshipped our Lord and prayed to Him. He quickly replied, "Ye know
not what ye ask" (Matt. xx. 22). Elijah, a great man of prayer, sometimes had
"No" for an answer. But when he was swept up to glory in a chariot of fire,
did he regret that God said "No" when he cried out "O Lord, take away my
God's answer is sometimes "Wait." He may delay
the answer because we are not yet fit to receive the gift we crave -- as with
wrestling Jacob. Do you remember the famous prayer of Augustine -- "O God,
make me pure, but not now"? Are not our prayers sometimes like that? Are we
always really willing to "drink the cup" -- to pay the price of answered
prayer? Sometimes He delays so that greater glory may be brought to
God's delays are not denials. We do not know why
He sometimes delays the answer and at other times answers "before we call"
(Isa. lxv. 24). George Muller, one of the greatest men of prayer of all time,
had to pray over a period of more than sixty-three years for the conversion of
a friend! Who can tell why? "The great point is never to give up until the
answer comes," said Muller. "I have been praying for sixty-three years and
eight months for one man's conversion. He is not converted yet, but he will
be! How can it be otherwise? There is the unchanging promise of Jehovah, and
on that I rest." Was this delay due to some persistent hindrance from the
devil? (Dan. x. 13). Was it a mighty and prolonged effort on the part of
Satan to shake or break Muller's faith? For no sooner was Muller dead than his
friend was converted -- even before the funeral.
Yes, his prayer was granted, though the answer
tarried long in coming. So many of George Muller's petitions were granted him
that it is no wonder that he once exclaimed, "Oh, how good, kind, gracious and
condescending is the One with Whom we have to do! I am only a poor, frail,
sinful man, but He has heard my prayers ten thousands of times."
Perhaps some are asking, How can I discover
whether God's answer is "No" or "Wait"? We may rest assured that He will not
let us pray sixty-three years to get a "No"! Muller's prayer, so long
repeated, was based upon the knowledge that God "willeth not the death of a
sinner"; "He would have all men to be saved" (I Tim. ii. 4).
Even as I write, the postman brings me an
illustration of this. A letter comes from one who very rarely writes me, and
did not even know my address -- one whose name is known to every Christian
worker in England. A loved one was stricken down with illness. Is he to
continue to pray for her recovery? Is God's answer "No," or is it, "Go on
praying -- wait"? My friend writes: "I had distinct guidance from God
regarding my beloved . . . that it was the will of God she should be taken . .
. I retired into the rest of surrender and submission to His will. I have much
to praise God for." A few hours later God took that loved one to be with Him
Again may we urge our readers to hold on to this
truth: true prayer never goes unanswered.
If we only gave more thought to our prayers we
should pray more intelligently. That sounds like a truism. But we say it
because some dear Christian people seem to lay their common sense and reason
aside before they pray. A little reflection would show that God cannot grant
some prayers. During the war every nation prayed for victory. Yet it is
perfectly obvious that all countries could not be victorious. Two men living
together might pray, the one for rain and the other for fine weather. God
cannot give both these things at the same time in the same place!
But the truthfulness of God is at stake in this
matter of prayer. We have all been reading again those marvelous
prayer-promises of our Lord, and have almost staggered at those promises -- the
wideness of their scope, the fullness of their intent, the largeness of the one
word "Whatsoever." Very well! "Let God be found true" (Rom. iii. 4). He
certainly will always be "found true."
Do not stop to ask the writer if God has granted
all his prayers. He has not. To have said "Yes" to some of them would have
spelt curse instead of blessing. To have answered others was, alas! a
spiritual impossibility -- he was not worthy of the gifts he sought. The
granting, of some of them would but have fostered spiritual pride and
self-satisfaction. How plain all these things seem now, in the fuller light of
God's Holy Spirit!
As one looks back and compares one's eager,
earnest prayers with one's poor, unworthy service and lack of true
spirituality, one sees how impossible it was for God to grant the very things
He longed to impart! It was often like asking God to put the ocean of His love
into a thimble-heart! And yet, how God just yearns to bless us with every
spiritual blessing! How the dear Savior cries again and again, "How often
would I . . . but ye would not"! (Matt. xxiii. 37.) The sadness of it all is
that we often ask and do not receive because of our unworthiness -- and then we
complain because God does not answer our prayers! The Lord Jesus declares that
God gives the Holy Spirit -- who teaches us how to pray -- just as readily as a
father gives good gifts to his children. But no gift is a "good gift" if the
child is not fit to use that gift. God never gives us something that we
cannot, or will not, use for His glory (I am not referring to talents, for we
may abuse or "bury" those, but to spiritual gifts).
Did you ever see a father give his baby boy a
razor when he asked for it, because he hoped the boy would grow into a man and
then find the razor useful? Does a father never say to his child, "Wait till
you are older, or bigger, or wiser, or better, or stronger"? May not our
loving heavenly Father also say to us, "Wait"? In our ignorance and blindness
we must surely sometimes say,
In very love
Whate'er Thou seest
Our weakness would abuse.
that God never bestows tomorrow's gift today. It is not unwillingness on His
part to give. It is not that God is ever straitened in Himself. His resources
are infinite, and His ways are past finding out. It was after bidding His
disciples to ask that our Lord goes on to hint not only at His providence, but
at His resources. "Look at the wild birds" (Matt. vi. 26, Moffatt); "your
heavenly Father feedeth them." How simple it sounds. Yet have you ever
reflected that not a single millionaire, the wide world over, is wealthy enough
to feed all "the birds of the air," even for one day? Your heavenly Father
feedeth them every day, and is none the poorer for it. Shall He not much more
feed you, clothe you, take care of you?
Oh, let us rely more upon prayer! Do we not know
that "He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him"? (Hebrews xi. 6.) The
"oil" of the Holy Spirit will never cease to flow so long as there are empty
vessels to receive it (I Kings iv. 6). It is always we who are to blame when
the Spirit's work ceases. God cannot trust some Christians with the fullness
of the Holy Spirit. God cannot trust some workers with definite spiritual
results in their labors. They would suffer from pride and vainglory. No! we
do not claim that God grants every Christian everything he prays for.
As we saw in an earlier chapter, there must be
purity of heart, purity of motive, purity of desire, if our prayers are to be
in His name. God is greater than His promises, and often gives more than
either we desire or deserve -- but He does not always do so. So, then, if any
specific petition is not granted, we may feel sure that God is calling us to
examine our hearts. For He has undertaken to grant every prayer that is truly
offered in His name. Let us repeat His blessed words once more -- we cannot
repeat them too often -- "Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do,
that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in My
name, that will I do" (John xiv. 13, 14).
Remember that it was impossible for Christ to
offer up any prayer which was not granted. He was God -- He knew the mind of
God -- He had the mind of the Holy Spirit.
Does He once say, "Father, if it be possible,
let. . ." as He kneels in agony in Gethsemane's garden, pouring out strong
crying and tears? Yes, and "He was heard for His reverential awe" (Heb. v. 7,
Dr. Moule). Surely not the "agony," but the son-like fear, gained the answer?
Our prayers are heard not so much because they are importunate but because they
Brother Christian, we cannot fully understand
that hallowed scene of dreadful awe and wonder. But this we know -- that our
Lord never yet made a promise which He cannot keep, or does not mean to fulfil.
The Holy Spirit maketh intercession for us (Rom. viii. 26), and God cannot say
Him "Nay." The Lord Jesus makes intercession for us (Hebrews vii. 25), and God
cannot say Him "Nay." His prayers are worth a thousand of ours, but it is He
who bids us pray!
"But was not St. Paul filled with the Holy
Spirit?" you ask, "and did he not say, 'We have the mind of Christ?' Yet he
asked thrice over that God would remove the 'thorn' in his flesh -- and yet God
distinctly tells him He would not do so."
It is a very singular thing, too, that the only
petition recorded of St. Paul seeking something for his own individual need was
refused! The difficulty, however, is this: Why did St. Paul, who had the
"mind" of Christ, ask for something which he soon discovered was contrary to
God's wishes? There are doubtless many fully-consecrated Christians reading
these words who have been perplexed because God has not given some things they
We must remember that we may be filled with the
Spirit and yet err in judgment or desire. We must remember, too, that we are
never filled with God's Holy Spirit once for all. The evil one is always on
the watch to put his mind into us, so as to strike at God through us. At any
moment we may become disobedient or unbelieving, or may be betrayed into some
thought or act contrary to the Spirit of love.
We have an astonishing example of this in the
life of St. Peter. At one moment, under the compelling influence of God's Holy
Spirit, he cries, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!" Our Lord
turns, and with words of high commendation says, "Blessed art thou, Simon, for
flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father, which is in
heaven." Yet, a very little while after, the devil gets his mind into St.
Peter, and our Lord turns and says unto him, "Get thee behind me, Satan!"
(Matt. xvi. 17, 23.) St. Peter was now speaking in the name of Satan! Satan
still "desires to have" us.
St. Paul was tempted to think that he could do
far better work for his beloved Master if only that "thorn" could be removed.
But God knew that Paul would be a better man with the "thorn" than without
Is it not a comfort to us to know that we may
bring more glory to God under something which we are apt to regard as a
hindrance or handicap, than if that undesired thing was removed? "My grace is
sufficient for thee: for My power is made perfect in weakness" (II Cor. xii.
9). Remember that
God nothing does,
nor suffers to be done,
But what thou would'st thyself
Did'st thou but see
The end of all He does as well as He.
Paul was not infallible -- nor was St. Peter, or St. John; nor is the Pope or
any other man. We may -- and do -- offer up mistaken prayers. The highest
form of prayer is not, "Thy way, O God, not mine," but "My way, O God, is
Thine!" We are taught to pray, not "Thy will be changed," but "Thy will be
May we, in conclusion, give the testimony of two
who have proved that God can be trusted?
Sir H. M. Stanley, the great explorer, wrote:
"I for one must not dare to say that prayers are inefficacious. Where I have
been in earnest, I have been answered. When I prayed for light to guide my
followers wisely through the perils that beset them, a ray of light has come
upon the perplexed mind, and a clear road to deliverance has been pointed out.
You may know when prayer is answered, by the glow of content which fills one
who has flung his cause before God, as he rises to his feet. I have evidence,
satisfactory to myself, that prayers are granted."
Mary Slessor, the story of whose life in West
Africa has surely thrilled us all, was once asked what prayer meant to her.
She replied, "My life is one long, daily, hourly record of answered prayer for
physical health, for mental overstrain, for guidance given marvelously, for
errors and dangers averted, for enmity to the Gospel subdued, for food provided
at the exact hour needed, for everything that goes to make up life and my poor
service. I can testify with a full and often wonder-stricken awe that I
believe God answers prayer. I know God answers prayer!"