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)

Psalm 89:47

“Remember how short my time is:
wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?”

~ Psalm 89:47

The brevity of man’s life is given no small attention in the Scripture. James reminds us that our life “is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:14). Job characterized his own days as “swifter than a weaver’s shuttle” (Job 7:6). The number of the days of man’s life is compared to a hand breadth (Psalm 39:5) and “like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and whithereth” (Psalm 90:5-6). Day follows hard after day and our time flees as if pursued.

A quick glance at our text might cause us to put it in with other verses that treat of this subject. However, there is an important distinction between this verse and most others that address the shortness of man’s life. The distinction is one of perspective. Most of the verses are written man-ward in the sense that they speak to man to provoke him to realize his situation. Consider Psalm 90:12—“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Such verses exhort men to be wise and redeem their time because they have little of it and man is prone to waste his time on insignificant things.

Our text, though, speaks God-ward. It is a man speaking to God, “Remember how short my time is.” It should be considered a prayer, pressing upon the Almighty to remember how few the petitioner’s days really are. The Psalmist is crying out for deliverance asking, “How long, LORD?” (Psalm 89:46). This prayer is neither irreverent nor unbelieving. He does not doubt the deliverance of God, but he cries for it to come speedily.

The Psalmist feels a sense of urgency when he sees the people of God in disgrace in the world. He is grieved to see God’s enemies with a high hand defying the Living God. He cannot carry on with personal business when the Kingdom of God seems receding with its crown in the dust (Psalm 89:44). Though he knows his present condition is not the end of the story, he implores God that He will not let his days run out before the power of the true King triumphs.

The Psalmist qualifies his petition by asking, “Wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?” Several thoughts are suggested by this phrase. The vanity of how men spend their lives is magnified when set against the brevity of that life. So few days we have and they are mostly consumed in procuring the material things of the world.

It seems the Psalmist thought that his own days would be vain if God delayed in showing mercy. If the Lord were not working, his days would be consumed. He had the spirit of the old prophets who longed to see the power of God in their day. They had hope in the future, yet desired to see God working in their own day. They wanted to see terror struck in God’s enemies and for Him to be the rejoicing of His people.

We need this spirit in our day. A comparative minority of people continue to advance the agenda of evil and tread Christians under foot. Who will redeem their time in these evil days? Who will forsake all for the Kingdom’s sake? Who will beseech God that He act in power to confound His enemies and vindicate His own name in our day? May the people of God today have the conviction of urgency that makes them cry, “Remember how short my time is.” “Blessed be the LORD for evermore. Amen, and Amen” (Psalm 89:52).

Luke 18:7

“And shall not God avenge his own elect,
which cry day and night unto him,
though he bear long with them?”

~ Luke 18:7

Our verse contrasts God with “the unjust judge” in the previous verses. This man was unrighteous—he “feared not God” (Luke 18:2). He was also without compassion and mercy—he “neither regarded man” (Luke 18:2). He refused to hear the case of the plaintive widow “for a while” (Luke 18:4), though she was oppressed by an “adversary” (Luke 18:3). The widow was one who had no power to avenge herself. She was easily oppressed and taken advantage of, if none would intervene on her behalf. For all of this, the unjust judge was neither compelled to relieve her by duty nor by love.

However, eventually, the woman was avenged. Interestingly, the judge’s heart did not soften to her pitiful estate; neither did his neck bend to transcendent justice. He was made neither righteous, nor caring, but the widow won her case only by “her continual coming” (Luke 18:5). She found neither love nor mercy with this wicked judge, but she did find justice, although it was served both tardy and cold.

The contrast, and the lesson learned by it, could not be more blatant. God is “the righteous judge” (2 Timothy 4:8) and “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). God cannot forsake justice. Though He is “slow to anger,” He “will not at all acquit the wicked” (Nahum 1:3). The unjust judge did not consider the widow in her estate, but God is “A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows” (Psalm 68:5).

Ah, but the contrast continues. In His judgment, God is neither petty nor austere. With Him is found mercy and love in abundance: “But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth” (Psalm 86:15). All of His judgments of His people are bathed in mercy: “For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment” (Deuteronomy 10:17-18). It is not only that He can show mercy, but “he delighteth in mercy” (Micah 7:18). Mercy is His delight and rejoicing.

Furthermore, the judge had no personal connection with the widow. She was simply another demand on his time. He found her an inconvenience—“this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me” (Luke 18:5). What was it to him whether she found justice or not? So, the contrast is furthered by considering the relation of the Righteous Judge to “his own elect, which cry day and night unto him.” These are His people that cry unto Him. Though a woman could discard “the son of her womb,” refuse to “have compassion,” and “forget” him, God says to His people, “yet will I not forget thee” (Isaiah 49:15). He declares, “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continuously before me” (Isaiah 49:16).

In light of this testimony, our text is a conclusion that cannot be otherwise. The context of our verse is a parable, and a peculiar one at that. It is peculiar because it is prefaced by the primary purpose for the parable. The first verse tells us, “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” The whole must be interpreted in light of this purpose, especially our text. If this widow found justice at the hands of an unjust judge solely by her perseverance, how could it be possible that the people of God shall not be delivered when they cry day and night unto their Father? And, shall their deliverance not be much greater through the hands of their benevolent Father in heaven? Christ also answered the question, “I tell you that he will avenge them speedily” (Luke 18:8).

We must not think that our faith shall not be tried in this matter. Christ frames the promise saying, “though he bear long with them.” As the people of God labor for His cause in the world, as they go forth to war for the sake of His kingdom, they meet with opposition and oppression. This word is spoken to us not to despair of His deliverance, for it seems to us He delays it. It not only seems that way to His people, but also to their enemies. For this cause, they revile and mock, as they did David: “My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?” (Psalm 42:3). Do we think the man after God’s own heart should have to wait patiently on the Lord’s salvation and we shall not suffer the same? Though we wait on the vindication of Christ in us, we must not despair. “He will avenge them speedily.”

We must give heed that His people “cry day and night unto him.” I see no promise without this cry. Our resolve must be as the Psalmist who declared, “As for me, I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice” (Psalm 55:16-17). This fervent prayer was not birthed from personal desire for success, nor was it for deliverance from inner personal struggle. His heart was “sore pained” with the “terrors of death” upon him (Psalm 55:4). He cried, “Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me” (Psa. 55:5). Why? “Because of the voice of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked: for they cast iniquity upon me, and in wrath they hate me” (Psalm 55:3).

Oh that we would take up the cause of Christ in the world today! Oh that we would be so jealous and zealous for His honor that we would “cry day and night” in prayer, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Oh that we would cry unto God day and night that the nations would be subdued under His feet and that they would give Him the glory due unto His name (Psalm 96:7-8)! Amen!

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