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It is Written

Bible

by Dennis Pollock

Many Christians struggle with the idea of answered prayer. Having had so few specific and evident cases of prayers that were definitely answered they often dilute the Biblical teachings on prayer to the point where they are hardly recognizable. We sometimes hear that God answers all prayers, but the answer is sometimes yes, sometimes no, and sometimes wait. That sounds about right, but when you think it through you can easily see that if we were to take this posture in all our praying we would never pray any prayer with a positive expectation to receive from God. We would simply throw our prayers up toward heaven and hope that God may mysteriously decide to say yes this time. Of course He may well decide to say no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. This is the attitude nominal Christianity has always taken toward prayer.

Another diluted version of prayer is the idea that God will answer your prayers but His answers may well come in some form that is vastly different from your original request. Thus the peasant who has lost his shoes prays diligently for another pair. Finally after months of walking around barefoot he goes to his pastor and asks why his prayer is still unanswered. His pastor, seeing the man’s tough, calloused feet tells him that God has surely answered his prayer. His toughened feet are the answer to his prayer! 

A third dilution is to only emphasize the transforming nature of prayer. Some are fond of saying that prayer does not change things; it changes us. In this view prayer is like a callisthenic exercise, such as doing pushups. You don’t really go anywhere or change anything around you, but you build yourself up in the process. Underlying this view is the notion that we mustn’t expect any tangible answers to our requests, but we will become nicer and sweeter for all the strain of asking and talking to God. 

Jesus & Prayer 

There is some truth in each of these views but there is also an insidious thread of unbelief. They certainly don’t harmonize with the teachings of our Lord concerning asking and receiving. Jesus believed in answered prayer. He constantly taught that we should pray with the expectation of receiving the very thing we request: 

  1. "And all things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive'' (Matthew 21:22).
  2. "Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:24).
  3. "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7).
  4. "Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven (Matthew 18:19).


Not only does Jesus tell us that it is OK to expect from God that which we request, He actually insists that we do just that! He instructs us: “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24). God clearly sets a premium on faith. Regardless of how the doctrine of faith has been abused and turned into a carnal means of gratifying our whims and lusts, we cannot afford to do away with believing God.

It is not necessary to look to current teachers and preachers to find an emphasis on faith. Almost all of the great heroes of the church from bygone days have had much to say about the importance of faith. That great revivalist Charles Finney knew what it was to prevail in prayer, and wrote this: 

That faith is an indispensable condition of prevailing prayer, will not be seriously doubted. There is such a thing as offering benevolent desires, which are acceptable to God as such, that do not include the exercise of faith in regard to the actual reception of those blessings. But such desires are not prevailing prayer, the prayer of faith. God may see fit to grant the things desired, as an act of kindness and love, but it would not be properly in answer to prayer. … I am speaking of the faith which secures the very blessing it seeks

One of the greatest Christian writers of the 1800’s, Andrew Murray, had this to say about faith:

When, after persevering pleading, our prayer remains unanswered, it is often easiest for our lazy flesh, and it has all the appearance of pious submission, to think that we must now cease praying, because God may have His secret reason for withholding His answer to our request. It is by faith alone that the difficulty is overcome. When once faith has taken its stand on God's word and the Name of Jesus, and has yielded itself to the leading of the Spirit to seek God's will and honor alone in its prayer, it need not be discouraged by delay. It knows from Scripture that the power of believing prayer is simply irresistible; real faith can never be disappointed. 

A Reason to Believe 

In order to pray with faith we have to first answer a very fundamental question: “Why should we expect God to answer our prayers?” Faith can only exist and grow when we have a rational reason for expecting the very thing for which we ask. Certainly we have no basis to demand anything from God. He is the Almighty and can do as He pleases. We cannot base our requests upon our meritorious lives or deeds, for “by the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified in His sight.” We are far too puny to try to wrestle anything out of His hands. Our simple minds would be no match for His perfect knowledge in any attempt to outwit our Creator or force His hand through the cleverness of our thoughts or words.

The answer to this is found in the promises and declarations of God’s inspired word. Suppose a little boy comes to his father with a request. The boy is far smaller than his dad, and any hope of physically taking anything from him would be ridiculous. He is not nearly as smart and therefore could not possibly trick his dad into giving him his desire through verbal dexterity. And yet there are two words the little boy can use that would instantly move his father to do for him exactly as he desires – “You promised!” If the father has made his son a promise, and if that father is a man of integrity, he cannot and will not withhold his son’s request. He may decide on the time to grant the favor, but he will never break his word.

Acknowledging the promises of the word of God in our praying is one of the most powerful means we have of touching heaven and obtaining that which we seek. Any praying which ignores the Scriptures is still at the kindergarten level. You might as well be saying, “God bless Mommy and Daddy and Aunt Martha and Uncle Max…” And any believer who desires a powerful prayer life and a record of answered prayers and yet neglects the Bible is short-circuiting any hope he has of effective prayer. Our prayer life will never rise higher than our life in the Word of God. 

“Let it be to me…” 

The annunciationIn the gospel of Luke we have the amazing story of how Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel who told her she would become the mother of the Messiah. Mary was perplexed and asked how such a thing could be, since she was a virgin. The angel did not go into a longwinded explanation but simply told her “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” That was good enough for Mary and she responded with a powerful declaration of faith: “Let it be to me according to your word.”

That simple reply is at the heart of the mystery of answered prayer. Mary came to believe that as a virgin she would become pregnant and give birth to Israel’s long awaited Messiah. There were probably a lot of young Jewish women that might have hoped for that privilege, but Mary didn’t just hope it – she knew it. She knew it because God had revealed this to her. For Mary to have dared expect this apart from a divine revelation would have been both presumptuous and absurd. But now there was nothing absurd about Mary’s belief. It was rooted firmly on the words of God. God’s word to her had made faith possible and had made the ridiculous to become reasonable, for as the angel told her, “with God nothing will be impossible.”

Most of us are not likely to receive a visitation from Gabriel, but we have a very large book filled with words for us from God. On the basis of these words and promises we too can dare to believe things that seem impossible. 

Pray the Promises 

Suppose someone came to you and told you, “I would love to be saved, but I’ve been so wicked I don’t think God would ever forgive me.” How would you respond? Would you say, “I don’t know if God would want to save someone like you or not, but you could at least pray and ask Christ to forgive you, and see what happens”?

 Of course not! We would immediately go to the Scriptures and point them to such promises as, “He who comes to Me I will by no means cast out,” and “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead you will be saved.” Almost any evangelical would know enough to point them to the many and all-inclusive promises of salvation in the Scriptures.

This is not only true with salvation; all effective praying must be based on the promises of God. Without God’s word, our prayer times are reduced to begging, whining, and hoping, which are not God’s ordained means of opening the windows of heaven.

Just as a good mechanic has his favorite tools that have served him well again and again, believers will acquire tried and true promises which become their first resort when they approach the throne of grace. When things are tough financially, and we hardly have money to give to the work of God, we remind Him of His promise that He is “able to make all grace about toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). When we face a situation that seems impossible, we thank God for His declaration, “I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?” (to which we emphatically declare, “NO!”). When we are in need of a favorable ruling by a government official we praise God that “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water He turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:1). And when we feel dry and lifeless we go to Jesus our Fountain and remind Him of His promise, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

These are just a handful of the hundreds and hundreds of promises and declarations God has made in His Word that are given to support our faith. As you spend time in the Scriptures, you will find more and more of these promises that will give you power and boldness in prayer.

Charles Finney once wrote, “See how the Bible is universally despised. The world ignores its threats and the church ignores its promises.” Every believer should know the joy of specific answers to specific prayers. It does not require super intelligence or eloquence to prevail in prayer. It does require time in God’s word. Jesus Christ died on the cross in order to give us a relationship with our Heavenly Father, and a part of that relationship is the joy of asking and receiving from Him. His exhortation to the disciples may well be what He is saying to you today, “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask and you will receive that your joy may be full.”

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