Four Answers to Prayer

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? ~ Matthew 6:30

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? ~ Matthew 6:30

We generally consider a prayer unanswered if we do not receive the thing we asked for. Or, we might suppose there are only two answers to prayer—Yes or No. If yes, we have what we asked for. If no, we do not receive what we sought.

Those assumptions are overly simple. The Bible actually teaches much more than that about prayer and the answering of it. I do not propose here to go into a full theology of prayer, but to call your attention to four ways God answers prayer from the Scripture.

  1. God answers prayer by giving the thing sought for right away. Daniel received this answer when he set himself to pray and beseech the Lord to show him the meaning of the seventy weeks in prophecy. God gave the object sought even before Daniel was finished asking for it.

    At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou art greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision. ~ Daniel 9:23

  2. God answers prayer by withholding the object sought for a time, and then giving it later. Christ told an illustrative parable to His disciples to teach them to pray in light of this truth. He told them about a widow and an unjust judge who refused to relieve the widow. The widow finally received her relief because of her continual coming to the judge. Christ said that men ought always to pray likewise.

    And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? ~ Luke 18:7

  3. God answers prayer by refusing the blessing sought and giving a better one in its place according to His own will. Moses received this answer concerning his request to enter the promised land. It seemed a reasonable request after giving himself in service as he had to lead Israel there. God did not grant this request, but gave him a better blessing instead. He let Moses view the promise land and then took him home to the better country to be with the Lord.

    O Lord GOD, thou hast begun to shew thy servant thy greatness, and thy mighty hand: for what God is there in heaven or in earth, that can do according to thy works, and according to thy might? I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon. ~ Deuteronomy 3:24-25

    And the LORD said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither. So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD. ~ Deuteronomy 34:4-5

  4. God answers prayer by refusing the object sought and rather giving grace to bear the loss or want of it. Paul received this answer concerning the thorn in the flesh. He prayed three times for it to be removed. God refused to grant the request, but He supplied grace sufficient to bear it in this life. Paul rejoiced at this answer.

    And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9

This is one reason why we pray, “If it be your will.” We don’t know the best answer to receive (Romans 8:26). Rather we trust God in faith to do what is right, good, and glorifying of His name.

(This list is adapted from A Token for Mourners by John Flavel)

Harmlessly Indifferent

But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. ~ Matthew 5:37

But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. ~ Matthew 5:37

    But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. ~ Matthew 12:36

This verse haunts me. Every so often something will trigger its memory. It’s a sober verse I should not let slip, but it seems to get away so easily.

Any verse that speaks of “judgment” and “account” should be given due heed, but we just do not like to face those realities. I mean, I have bills to pay, a garage to clean, and a magazine article I started the other day that needs to be finished. I am only half-way through the ten ways to know if I perceive myself the same way my friends perceive me. Where did I put that magazine?

Just kidding about the magazine. The point is: There are endless activities and pursuits that keep us from meditating on the Word of God and otherwise fulfilling God’s Word in ways that bear Christ-glorifying fruit in the world. Taken on the surface, these things are not inherently bad or wrong. We think of them as harmlessly indifferent. But that brings us back to our text and the fact that harmlessly indifferent is an oxymoron.

Jesus’ warning states that people will give an account of “every idle word” they speak. This warning doesn’t get the traction it should because it doesn’t fit the typical categories. We associate judgment or giving account with the categories good or bad. There are good words and bad words. As long as we stay a mark above bad on the scale, we are fine. We acknowledge the existence of idle words, but we think they don’t matter. We think they are harmlessly indifferent.

According to our text, God thinks much differently about idle words. The word for idle here literally means inactive, unfruitful, barren. It is used here in the sense of ineffective or worthless. Idle words are worthless words. They are not bad words, just words that are unuseful.

Though idle words may technically be morally neutral, they do matter. Jesus said that God will require an account of every one. When they are placed in a balance, they will tip the scale to bad. I am not suggesting idle words are unforgivable sins. Christ died for our idle words as much as our other sins. The point is: Idle words are not harmless and therefore, they are not really indifferent either.

Problem or No

And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give you into our hands. ~ 1 Samuel 17:47

And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give you into our hands. ~ 1 Samuel 17:47

Absolute sovereignty poses a problem for not a few modern minds. It is supposed that if God is ultimately in control, it would not really matter what we did. They object, more or less, that this removes all motivation man would have in doing right or what God commands to be done.

I don’t find the faithful in the Bible to suffer from such a crisis of doubt. If you were to pose this problem to David, I imagine he would respond with thoroughly furrowed brow, “That maketh no sense.” Allow me to explain.

The Philistines sought opportunity against Israel after they had anointed David king. They spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim to fight. David went down to the hold and “inquired of the LORD, saying, Shall I go up to the Philistines? Wilt thou deliver them into mine hand?” (2 Samuel 5:19). David did not march to battle immediately. He sought direction from the Lord.

God responded by giving David a command and a promise. “And the LORD said unto David, Go up: for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into thine hand” (2 Samuel 5:19). David had a direction to go and a sure word of victory. What did he do?

    And David came to Baal-perazim, and David smote them there, and said, The LORD hath broken forth upon mine enemies before me, as the breach of waters. Therefore he called the name of that place Baal-perazim. And there they left their images, and David and his men burned them.” ~ 2 Samuel 5:20-21

David went and fought and won the victory. He also gave the glory to God for it.

What do we learn from this?

  1. The surety of victory beforehand did not cause David to think he had no responsibility. He did not think he didn’t have to go because God had already promised the victory. The opposite was the case. David went forth with zeal and energy to do the Lord’s bidding. The sovereignty of God empowered David.
  2. The battle being won by the Lord did not mean they didn’t have to really fight. They had to plan, march, and fight with all the energy, skill, and wisdom they had.

What does this mean for us today? For one thing, if Christ says we are to go “into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15) and “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me” (John 6:37), we should go and preach with all our energy. And when the victory come, we should praise Him for it.

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