09 Problems of prayer

“And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”(Matthew 17:20)

Life is full of problems. It is, therefore, not strange that prayer life too has it’s problems. Let’s briefly mention some of these problems:

1. How can prayer accomplish such tremendously great things when it in itself is so weak?

To  superficial minds this question may seem quite unnecessary. It is written that if we have faith, we can remove mountains. Everything, therefore, depends upon faith. Our prayers are effective when we are strong in faith. And when we are not strong in faith, our prayers lose their effectiveness.

Yes, to some it seems as easy as that; but people who have had a somewhat wider experience in the remarkable realm of prayer will not accept this as the final solution of the problem. Of course, they know that the final and wonderful results often take place after men have prayed with great faith. There are times when the Spirit of prayer whispers into our hearts “Ask for it, and you shall receive it”, and when we are fully assured even before we have finished praying that we shall receive the wonderful answer we are seeking.

But as a rule it does not work as beautifully as that. On the contrary, many have received the most remarkable answers to prayer when they have had no clear or definite assurance that they would be heard either before they prayed, while they prayed, or after they prayed. It has seemed to them as though God has given them the mightiest and most remarkable answers to prayer at times when they have had no faith whatsoever. Such things are not published in the papers, but wonderful things are nevertheless experienced quietly in the family circle of the Lord’d humble friends. Praise the Lord!

2. Why should we pray?

To many, this problem seems easy to solve. We should pray, they say, in order to get God to give us something! But a moment’s reflection will convince us that this view of prayer is pagan and not Christian. We all have so much of the pagan left in us, that it is easy for us to look upon prayer as a means whereby we can make God kind and good, and grant us prayer. But the whole revelation of God teaches us that this is to misunderstand both God and prayer completely. God Himself is good, from eternity and to eternity; He was good before man had any occasion for prayer. The Scriptures also teach us that God is equally kind and good whether He grants our prayer or not. When He grants our prayers, it is because He loves us. When He does not, it is also because He loves us.

Others say, “No, the purpose of prayer is to tell God what we need.” But this solution is not adequate to adequately explain the problem involved in Christian prayer. By the revelation of God we Christians are convinced that as far as God is concerned it is not necessary for us to explain our needs to Him. On the contrary, God alone fully understands what each one of us needs; we make mistakes continually and pray for things which could be harmful to us if we received them. Afterwards we see our mistakes and realize that God is good and wise in not giving us these things, even though we plead ever so earnestly for them.

Prayer is essential! It is not for the purpose of making God good or generous; He is all that from eternity. Nor is it for the purpose of informing God concerning our needs; He knows what they are better than we do. Nor is it for bringing God’s gifts down from heaven to us; it is He who bestows the gifts, and by knocking at the door of our hearts, He reminds us that He desires to impart them to us. No, prayer has one function, and that is to answer “yes” when He knocks, to open the soul and to give Him the opportunity to bring us the answer.

3. Does God need our intercessory prayer?

Here, we touch on the greatest problem in the whole realm of prayer. We have just seen that prayer is essential to personal fellowship with God. But now we come to intercessory prayer, and we ask: Are our intercessions necessary as far as God is concerned and the work He would have accomplished in this world? Nor is this problem of mere theoretical interest; it, too, is one of practical significance because of the manner in which it affects our view of God, of prayer, and of the world.

We can answer by saying, in the first place, that it is impossible for God to bring the world forward to its goal without man. The attitude which man takes is the vital factor in determining whether the world shall attain its goal or not. God has voluntarily bound Himself to man in His government of this world. From the very beginning of the history of revelation we see that God has established His kingdom only where He could find men who would voluntarily permit themselves to be used by Him. It thus becomes evident that God has voluntarily made for Himself dependent upon our prayer. For, after all, prayer is the deciding factor in the life of everyone who surrenders himself to God to be used by Him.

4. Are prayer and answers to prayer consistent with God’s government of the world?

From the Scriptures and from our own experience we are certain that prayer changes things with respect to the way that God governs, not only to individuals, but society, the nations, and the whole world. Therefore many ask, “Can God really rule the world according to a definite plan and towards a definite goal if a simgle individual can persuade Him to change His plans merely by asking Him to do so? Would not this lead to utter chaos? One might pray for rain; another for sunshine; another for wind, and another for calm weather.

To this we must reply that God has never intended that prayer should be used in that way. In the first place, God has not promised to answer the prayers of everybody, only the prayers of His children and the prayers of those who pray that they might become His children. In the second place, He has not even promised to answer all the prayers of His children, only those which are prayed in the name of Jesus, or, as it is written, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:” (1 John 5:14). In these words Jesus has designated the extent to which man by his prayers can affect the divine economy and has pointed out that only those prayers can have any influence which are wrought by the Spirit of Christ in the hearts of believers and which, therefore, look towards the realization of His kingdom-plans.

5. Does God answer the prayers of the unconverted?

This question, too, has more than a theoretical interest. It has great practical significance for the unconverted who have experienced  definite and immediate answers to prayer, and who accept this as proof that they are children of God. To others, such answers to prayer are a deep and heavy mystery. They themselves have experienced such answers to prayer while still unconverted. After their conversion, they began to worry about this. They began to question themselves, “Does it make any difference to the Lord whether a man who prays is converted or not?” As they grew more and more sceptical, they asked themselves, “What, after all, is prayer, if unconverted people too, receive what they pray for?

Why does God at some times grant petitions even of unconverted people? Several reasons might be mentioned, but we shall only answer shortly. God, at times, grants the prayer of the unconverted for the same reason that He showers blessings upon them, namely because He loves them and desires to save them.  Answer to prayer becomes one of the gracious means whereby God seeks to bring such people to repentance. I have met several who have been converted through such answers to prayer. Unfortunately, there are also those who, like Cain, have been strengthened in their rejection of the Lord after such an answer. But this is the law of God’s salvation, either acceptance or rejection.

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