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Answering Prayers

(Or not)

April 16, 2011

Does God answer prayers?

Does He always give us what we want?

If we don't get what we want, is it because God isn't listening?

Or is because He is saying not yet? Or is He saying no?

Does someone other than God answer prayers?

Maybe people give us what we want instead?

Maybe we "create" situations to allow us to get what we want, independent of what God would have answered?

Maybe Satan answers prayers?


This list could go on - and on - and on...

With so many questions, how are we to ever know if God's even listening - and if He is, whether a prayer that seems to have been answered (whether it be yes, later, or no) has been answered by God, our own imagination, some other person, or Satan?


Are there things we shouldn't pray for?

Obviously, in some cases - ike where it would violate one of the commandments - the answer is yes. Some things we shouldn't do - or even think - so we certainly shouldn't be praying for them.

But I'm talking about things that aren't forbidden.

Could there be things that we shouldn't pray for?

For instance - when we get really specific with the things we want - like a certain job - is that beyond what we should ask for?

Maybe God has something else in mind for us. I know I'm not working in a field anything related to what I expected, right up until I ended up with the job.


Why does that last question even matter? What difference does it make if God says not yet - or even no?


There were a lot of questions at the beginning of this article - but this is the one I want to deal with today - what should we pray for?


There's a joke that I heard one time. A father was watching his son say his bedtime prayers. The boy recited the alphabet - "abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz". The father asked him what that was about. The boy told him - "God knows what's best - I just gave him the letters to use."


Before I met my wife, a friend of mine told me I have to put together a list for God - so He'd know what I wanted her to be like. I told my friend - I don't have to put together a list for God, because He already knows what I want and He knows what I need way better than I do. Not that I wasn't going to pray about it - I did - but it wasn't specific - just that I meet the woman God intended for me. BTW - I did.

While I'm writing this article, there's another one that I started - pulled from the site - and am still doing more research before putting it back. In the midst of that research, I came across an interesting observation in the book that is the basis for the whole article.


I'm going to do something here that I really don't like to do - but at least I'm telling you that I'm doing it. I'm going to pull part of a sentence out of this book - Love Wins, by Rob Bell. I'm only taking part of it, because I don't agree with the conclusion that he comes to - and I'm still not sure what - if any - conclusions the whole book draws. But - this one portion got me to thinking, so here it is -


The day when God's will would be done on earth
as it is now done in Heaven.


Gee - doesn't that sound familiar? Like maybe from Matthew 6:5-15 --

Prayer

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“ ‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.


So that's how Jesus tells us we should pray.

More about that later, but first - does anything else like this appear in the Bible?


How about 1 Kings 8:54-61 --

1Ki 8:54 When Solomon had finished all these prayers and supplications to the LORD, he rose from before the altar of the LORD, where he had been kneeling with his hands spread out toward heaven. He stood and blessed the whole assembly of Israel in a loud voice, saying:

1Ki 8:56 “Praise be to the LORD, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses. May the LORD our God be with us as he was with our fathers; may he never leave us nor forsake us. May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers. And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day’s need, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other. But your hearts must be fully committed to the LORD our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.”


This was from Solomon, after a long Prayer of Dedication in front of the alter of the Lord - given before the whole assembly of Israel. The heart of Solomon's prayer for the people was - May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers.

May the desires of the Israelites be to do God's will. May God's will be done on earth - as it is in Heaven.


So how did Solomon get to be so wise? How did he come to pray this prayer? After all - Solomon was very young when he became King. Estimates are that he was likely somewhere between mid to late teens and early twenties at the time. Hardly old enough to be a wise in his years. Let's go back a little bit - to 1 Kings 3:1-9 --

Solomon Asks for Wisdom

1Ki 3:1 Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter. He brought her to the City of David until he finished building his palace and the temple of the LORD, and the wall around Jerusalem. The people, however, were still sacrificing at the high places, because a temple had not yet been built for the Name of the LORD. Solomon showed his love for the LORD by walking according to the statutes of his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.

1Ki 3:4 The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

1Ki 3:6 Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

1Ki 3:7 “Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”


So in the middle of all these wrong things that Solomon is doing - worshipping other "gods" in the high places - he asks God for wisdom. Which he got. So now Solomon can do God's will on earth - as it is done in Heaven.


And just one more - an exchange between Elijah and Elisha - great prophets. From 2 Kings 2:9-15 --

2Ki 2:9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

2Ki 2:10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise not.”

2Ki 2:11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart.

2Ki 2:13 He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. “Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.

2Ki 2:15 The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. “Look,” they said, “we your servants have fifty able men. Let them go and look for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley.”


This is request is just before Elijiah is taken up to Heaven by God. And what a request! Elijah is called "The man who had no fear of man" by All the men in the Bible. It also says -

No career in the Old Testament is more vividly portrayed, or has as much fascination as that of the unique character of Elijah. The New Testament attests to his greatness and reveals what an indelible impression he made upon the mind of his nation. All we know of him before his dramatic appearance can be summed up in the words: “Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead” (1 Kings 17:1). Scripture is silent about his past history. Suddenly and with abrupt impetuosity the figure of the prophet bursts upon the scene to rebuke the godless and to reawaken and restore the nation of which he was a part.


And Elisha wants a double portion of that! And got it, as we see in "All the Men of the Bible" -

There is a striking difference between Elijah and Elisha, both of whom labored in the Northern Kingdom. Elijah’s name means, Jehovah my God and suggests the Law while Elisha’s name speaks of grace—Jehovah my Saviour.

Elisha left a peaceful occupation to become a model spiritual leader. Elijah prepared Elisha for his commission (2 Kings 2:1-14), and the two became devoted to each other. Elisha’s character is marked by mercy (2 Kings 2:21), disinterestedness (2 Kings 5) and toleration (2 Kings 5:19). He earned a wonderful posthumous influence (2 Kings 13:20, 21). What a victorious death was his (2 Kings 13:14-19)! Summarizing the life of this prophet who spoke with the authority of an oracle of God (2 Kings 3:16, 17) ...

Elisha suggests the ministry of Christ. On the whole, Elijah’s work was destructive—he was the prophet of fire. Elisha’s task was more merciful and beneficial. He had double the power of Elijah (2 Kings 2:8, 9, 15), and consequently performed twice as many miracles as his former master.


So - we don't really know how Elijiah came to be a man of God - but we can see that Elisha asked for it. He wanted to continue to do God's will as his mentor Elijiah had been doing. God's will - done, as it is in Heaven.


So - let's go back to what Jesus said - using a current version of The Lord's Prayer

Our Father, who art in Heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory
for ever and ever.
Amen.


So - first and foremost - after acknowledging that God is our Father - we pray for His will to be done - on earth as it is in Heaven.

After that - we pray for what we need to get through the day - we pray for forgiveness - we we pray for a couple more things related to temptation and evil - acknowledge the eternal power of God - and end it with Amen.

Interesting.

Nothing in there about power and money for us.

Nothing in there about a great job.

Nothing specific for us at all.

Just some stuff about getting through the day - not being tempted too much - rescued from evil - forgiven - and of course - that part about God's will being done.


But wait. Did the people we looked at earlier actually follow this pattern as well? Let's start with Jesus. After all - if He didn't do it, then it's a case of do as I say, not as I did. Jesus was supposed to be an example for us. Was He? Let's look at Matthew 26:36-39. Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing that He's about to be arrested and then crucified.

Gethsemane

Mt 26:36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Mt 26:39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Jesus actually prayed for something specific - not having to go through with the crucifixion. But at the same time saying - Yet not as I will, but as you will.

God's will - done on earth as it is in Heaven.


What about Elisha?

Well, I think we've already seen - he asked for a double portion of Elijah's spirit - and got it. However - just in case anyone not familiar with the two men might think that Elisha was a carbon copy of Elijah, only twice as powerful, like in HUD - see the following from All the men in the Bible -

The following contrasts between these two prophets can be noted:

Elijah was a prophet of the wilderness;

Elisha was a prince of the court.

Elijah had no settled home;

Elisha enjoyed the peace of a home.

Elijah was known by his long hair and shaggy mantle;

Elisha by his staff and bald head.

Elijah was mainly prophetical;

Elisha’s work was mainly miraculous.

Elijah’s ministry was one of stern denunciation;

Elisha’s task was that of teaching and winning.

Elijah was a rebuker of kings;

Elisha was a friend and admirer.

Elijah was a messenger of vengeance;

Elisha was a messenger of mercy.

Elijah represented exclusiveness;

Elisha stood for comprehension.

Elijah was fierce, fiery, energetic;

Elisha was gentle, sympathetic, simple.

Elijah was a solitary figure;

Elisha was more social.

Elijah had an extraordinary disappearance from earth;

Elisha’s death was ordinary.


And what about Solomon? He was wise, to be sure. But was there anything else? Let's go back to 1 Kings 3 - just after Solomon's request - to 1 Kings 3:10-14 --

1Ki 3:10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both riches and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.”

Wow.

I will do what you have asked.

Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for


God's will - done on earth as it is in Heaven.


Back to the question for this article - What should we pray for?

How about that God's will be done - on earth as it is in Heaven?


Are we all going to be Elisha's and Solomon's? No.

We are all different. No matter how much the world may try to tell us that we are all alike, the same, equal, whatever - we are all different. God has a plan for each of us - and it's not for each of us to be identical clones of each other. To believe that would be to put God in a box and think He can't do any better than to create people from one mold.

What we should pray for is that His will be done - on earth as it is in Heaven.

Which means we are praying for each of us - ourselves - to do His will - to listen to what He has for us - to live that plan to the best of our abilities - to keep Him in our lives - to walk with Him - and to do His will.

That's a hard thing to do. We worry about what will happen to "us" if we're not in control. Jesus talks about that - in Matthew 6:25-34 --


Do Not Worry

Mt 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ?

Mt 6:28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.


So - if we don't worry about that part - and only seek to have God's will be done on earth as it is in Heaven - what should we pray for?

Or maybe - is there anything we shouldn't pray for?


I still believe that we shouldn't pray for anything that would violate the commandments - anything that would violate what Jesus taught.

However - aside from that - Jesus Himself gives us an amazing example of prayer.

He even prays that if there's a way to avoid it - can He not die on the cross.

Can you imagine that? Jesus - who, as part of the Triune God - was, is and always will be - who has known, literally forever, that He is going to die on the cross - asks God The Father if there's any way out of it?

But - Jesus also says - Yet not as I will, but as you will.


If we keep that it in mind - and pray as Jesus taught us, as Solomon did, as Elisha did - and are willing to both listen for and accept God's will - we can have some amazing prayers too.

Some people look at Matthew 18:19-20 and think that something's wrong if God doesn't give them everything they ask for --

Mt 18:19 “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

Even on it's face, this seems like a bit much - like too good to be true. When taken in context of what Jesus is saying - this doesn't at all say that The Father will give us anything we want if two or more gather in Jesus name and ask for something - we'll get it.

But - if we pray in Jesus' name - and are asking for The Father's will to be done in our lives - I think there's more than enough evidence to support that prayer being answered. We just need to listen and recognize how it's answered.


Musical note - "The Lord's Prayer", by Craig Smith - has just now started playing while I'm writing.


If we pray that prayer - the answer won't be "no". It won't even be "later". It might be - "Let Me prepare you" - but even that preparation is part of the answer.


So pray - and listen. And know that God will answer.


Yet not as I will, but as you will.