Tom: Thanks, Gary. You are listening to Search the Scriptures Daily, a program in which we encourage everyone who desires to know God’s truth to look to God’s Word for all that is essential for salvation and living one’s life in a way that is pleasing to Him. Our topic for today, which we started last week, is prayer. Now, Dave, I don’t know exactly how long we’ll be addressing this subject, but other than the gospel, I can’t think of a more important subject.
Dave: I guess we have quite a few questions on prayer in this book, don’t we?
Tom: But it’s such an important part of our life. As we go through the scriptures, you read Paul, “Pray without ceasing.”
Dave: It’s a mystery why God even needs us. He doesn’t need us to pray. But I guess we’ll get into that Tom.
Tom: Yeah. The first question, which, if you’ve been following along with Dave’s book that we’ve been using—his book In Defense of the Faith—we’re in chapter six, and we’re picking up on page 176. Now, here’s the question: “I’ve been a Christian for many years and have attended hundreds, perhaps thousands, of prayer meetings. I have heard many earnest prayers for good purposes, but rarely have I seen an answer. This is rather shattering to my faith. Why are so few prayers answered?”
Dave: Well, Tom, at least he seems to admit some prayers are answered. He’s seen so few, he says, and yet that shows that some prayers are answered. So, his question is why aren’t more prayers answered, I guess. In other words, he doesn’t seem to me to be denying the power of God to answer prayer or that prayers are answered. He’s a Christian, but his problem is “how come we can’t get God to do what we want more often?”
Tom: You would think! Or . . . prayer is an interesting thing. There’s a subjective aspect to it. You can see something happen right before your eyes, and it’s clear—or something that overwhelms chance or probability, but just deny it. “No, it couldn’t have been.”
Dave: Well, that’s what atheists would do—those who are determined not to admit that God exists and that He does answer prayer. But, Tom, we’ve talked about this, of course, in the past, and, as you said, this is a continuing topic we want to deal with. What does prayer involve? I mean, here we are, finite human beings, first of all. Pitiful creatures—it’s amazing that God even has any patience with us. And here we are asking God, the infinite Creator of all, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent; so great beyond our capacity even to begin to understand the teeniest bit of His greatness, and we’re asking Him to do things!
Now, on what basis would we dare? Because I’m asking to do something in my life, it may be the worst thing for me. Now, we have lots of people out there, from New Agers to positive confession so-called faith teachers, who will give you various techniques to get your prayers answered. And I’m not trying to run any of these people down, but we have to face the facts. Kenneth Hagin, for example, wrote a booklet titled, How to Write Your Own Ticket with God. And in that booklet he says that Christ personally appeared to him and gave him several principles, which, if we would follow these, we can always get what we want from God.
Tom, I don’t want to get what I want from God. Jesus said, “Your heavenly Father knows what you have need of before you pray.” So, I would rather get what God knows I need than what I want. If I can always get what I want from God, if I can write my own ticket with God, then I’m God. I’m telling Him how to run His universe. I’m telling Him what is best in my life, and yet, Tom, even as I am speaking now, I think there are a lot of people out there listening who don’t want to hear what is being said. And I’m only giving them the Word of God and simple logic! Am I smarter than God? Do I know everything? Would, therefore, I know what would be best for me? What will happen tomorrow, the next day, and so forth? Things that I ask for, if I got them, could have repercussions in my life.
So, first of all, God does give us the privilege of asking, and He answers, but I’ve got to do it in accordance with His will. Now, George Mueller was a man of faith, a man of prayer. His diary recorded thousands of answers.
Tom: It seems like his life was dedicated to demonstrating God answering prayer.
Dave: Right, and anyone who hasn’t read some of the answers to prayer or read his diary, read his life, we would certainly recommend it. It will strengthen your faith. He would, for example, sometimes make a list on a piece of paper. On one side of the paper he would write down why God shouldn’t answer this prayer, and on the other side, why he thought God should. In other words, the pros and cons of this, and then he would lay that before the Lord and open his heart to God, not trying to push something on the Lord.
Tom: Dave, at the end of the list I seem to remember him saying, “and then I had no mind in the matter.”
Tom: Not that he wasn’t thoughtful—he was incredibly thoughtful—but he wanted God’s will. That’s what he meant by having “no mind in the matter.”
Dave: He wanted to know God’s will, and this is something that George Mueller said; let me just read it: “I never remember in all my Christian course, a period now [in March 1895 that he was writing] of 69 years and four months, that I ever sincerely and patiently [that’s important], sincerely and patiently sought to know the will of God by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, through the instrumentality of the Word of God, but I have been always directed rightly.”
In other words, there are no exceptions. Whenever he sincerely and patiently sought to know God’s will, and he allowed his heart to be, as you said, “have no mind in the matter,” just open to God’s will, he says, “always I was led, guided by God. But if honesty of heart, [I’m continuing to quote him now] but if honesty of heart and uprightness before God were lacking, or if I did not patiently wait upon God for instruction, or if I preferred the counsel of my fellow men to the declarations of the Word of the living God, I made great mistakes.”
I never thought of Mueller as a man who ever made a mistake. But he says if he was trying to get his own way instead of submitting to God’s will—I think you mentioned— last week, was it? I can’t remember, Tom, but there are some people out there who say . . . some faith teachers, if you say, “not my will but Thine be done,” they say you are destroying your faith.
Tom: It’s a negative confession.
Tom: Dave, with regard to our question here about this person—he seems to be a Christian but still doesn’t see prayer answered—one of the things that led me to the Lord [was] seeing God answer prayers. Now, I’ll tell you how it worked. I loved to argue with my relatives. I was a skeptic and just loved to argue. So I wasn’t interested in what they had. Finally, after a long period of time, they just gave up talking to me about it. But they told me they were going to pray for me. And I said, “Well, that’s great.” But I didn’t think anything about it.
But that made me think about prayer and then I began to see certain things happen in my life that I couldn’t take credit for, and I saw God move in certain ways. And then the people . . . my wife was a believer at the time—she had just become a believer. I think she was a believer for about a year, and then we were put together with people who really knew the Lord, and they were praying as well. And she would do Bible studies with them, and she would come back and tell me what they were praying about. I would say, “Get outta here! That’s not going to happen!”
I remember once they were trying to change a charter flight. They were going to go to Israel, and they wanted to change the charter flight so they could go to Rome and then to Israel. And I said, “It’s not going to happen.” The flight wasn’t full, so they weren’t going to get their money back and so on. And I laughed; I thought this was a joke. But guess what? It got turned around. They got exactly what they wanted, with regard to getting to the place they needed for fellowship with people they were going to meet there and so on. And that stunned me. But I also saw God move.
Now, my background, as you know Dave—and maybe our listeners—is Roman Catholic. The only prayer—now this is me personally, so I’m not laying this on everybody—but the only prayer I could remember that wasn’t a rote prayer that I had learned, but a prayer looking for something from God, was a prayer to St. Anthony. “St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come around.” I would lose things all the time. Sometimes I would find them and give St. Anthony the credit. But most of the time, it was just losing a golf ball, you know, in the woods or whatever it might have been.
But that’s really what impacted my life. I saw people crying out to God—serious things in some cases, and in some cases— “I mean hey, you don’t pray about that, you just get after it,” or “Come on, God’s not interested in light stuff like that.” But that really impacted my life to the point that I kept looking over my shoulder to see God’s hand working, and it encouraged me to come to Him.
Dave: Well, Tom, when we think about prayer being answered or why it isn’t answered and so forth. And, of course, at that time you didn’t even think about such things. You were just being impacted by seeing, and God was allowing this. That brings us to the first point: “Is it God’s will?” Then: “Is it God’s time?” George Mueller refers to patience. It may not be God’s time. And then, “Would it be appropriate for God to answer this prayer?” It might be God’s will. God might want to bless me, but the way I’m living at the time, it would not be appropriate for Him. He would only be encouraging me in my disobedience and my lack of love for Him and for others.
Tom: Dave, with regard to the first point, God’s will—now, here’s a difficult subject. I know people have written to us about this. We have a burden, if we know the Lord, we have a burden for others that they might come to know Him. Especially loved ones. And I am sure, in many cases, we pray without ceasing for those individuals. Now, we know that’s God’s will. It’s His will that all should come to Him, but there’s an area there of the will—of the person’s will. So, how do you approach that? What’s your perspective?
Dave: Well, I’m thinking first of all, in my own life, whether it’s God’s will for this particular prayer that I am praying to be answered. Now, you are enlarging the subject considerably. You’re getting us even into something called Calvinism. In other words, the Bible does that God is not willing that any should perish. He would have all men come to the knowledge of the truth, and yet everybody doesn’t get saved, and many do perish. You mean, there could be something that is contrary to God’s will? You would have to acknowledge that, or you would have to say that all sin, all evil, every evil thought, and so forth, is all according to God’s will. In other words, we would have to say that although God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree, He really wanted them to eat of the tree. And, in fact, He caused them to eat of the tree. Otherwise, how could God see that everything that happened was His will unless He not only willed, but made, or caused (however you want to say it), people to do it?
So, I either have to acknowledge that it was not God’s will for Satan to rebel—it was something that God allowed, something that God knew would happen, and something that God could then use as He pleased for His greater purpose. But I would either have to acknowledge that every rape and murder and evil thought and crime committed on this earth is God’s will, or I must acknowledge there are things that happen that are not God’s will. It’s that simple.
Why would Jesus have us pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done”? We have people today who think we’re in the kingdom. We are not yet in the kingdom. The kingdom is in our heart. The king is ruling in our hearts. But King Jesus is not ruling on this earth. People get confused about sovereignty: “Well, isn’t God in charge? Well, I thought God was in charge of this universe. Well, then, everything that happens must be as God wants it to be.”
Well, I think God was in charge when Satan rebelled. God was in charge when Adam and Eve rebelled. It doesn’t mean there can’t be rebellion. The very fact that we even pray the prayer, “not my will, but thine be done,” indicates we could do something that is not according to His will.
Tom: But, Dave, let me push this beyond Calvinism. For example, I have relatives who I’ve been praying for constantly, and I don’t seem to see any effect. Now they have a free will, I believe, so—but if I know it’s God’s will that they would come to Him, and it’s God’s will that I pray for them—but you see the issue here is how much does God impose upon a person through my prayer, or does He at all? Maybe “impose” isn’t the right word. We’re talking about conviction, wooing, bringing information, that they might respond.
Dave: Well, if we take what the Bible says that “God is not willing that any should perish,”—He wants all to come to the knowledge of the truth. If we would take the example, or the lessons we learn from the Old Testament, where God sends His prophets, day and night, pleading, pleading, pleading with Israel: “Repent! Return to Me! Turn from your sin! Why would you perish?”
Now, if He really means that—which I must assume that He does—and yet they don’t turn. . . . Psalm 81: “All the day long I have held out my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people. I would have fed you with the finest of wheat, with honey out of the rock. I would have satisfied you, but my people would have none of me.” Jeremiah: “My people have forsaken me days without number.” Isaiah begins: “I have raised children, and they have rebelled against me.”
Well, then we are either driven to the conclusion that God is not sincere when He pleads with people to repent, and He doesn’t really want them to repent, then why is He doing this? You think of Israel—its rejection of God down through history, the rebellion in the wilderness, and so forth. “Oh, that was what God really wanted them to do, although he asked them not to.” Tom, that doesn’t make sense! Or we are driven to the conclusion that man does have the power of choice. He can, indeed, reject God’s appeal.
Now, I believe, then, from scripture, that God does everything possible to woo this person, pleading with them, reasoning with them. Isaiah:1:18, “Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord.” And then He says, “If you are willing, you will eat the good of the land, you will have my blessing. But if you rebel, you refuse, then My judgment will have to come upon you,” and how reluctant God was to bring His judgment. It went on for generations before finally He brought His judgment upon them.
Now, then, Tom, you pray for your relatives; I pray for relatives, I pray for friends, for their salvation. All I can say is, “God, do everything you can! Bring circumstances about, bring people into their lives, plead with them, work in their hearts and lives somehow!” But in the final analysis, they must say yes or no. That is the mystery, and we’ve talked about it many times: Why do some people get saved and others don’t? We have two possibilities. Either God from eternity past has predestined some to be saved and He has predestined others to be damned, and there is nothing that either one can do about it. They have no choice in the matter. God has done it all. Or . . . in other words, those who are in hell, that’s what God wanted for them. And all the evil and wickedness and sin on this earth, that’s the world that God wanted—although Jesus says, “Pray ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Obviously it’s not being done! Or it is the person’s fault in the final analysis.
That’s the mystery. The mystery is either “Why does God damn so many, giving them no chance, no choice?” or “Why do some say, ‘yes,’ to God and others say, ‘no.’” Why are some so stubborn? I’ll take the latter as the mystery, Tom. I cannot solve that mystery because the mystery is within the heart of man. “The heart is deceitful,” the Bible says, “above all things, desperately wicked, who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart.”
David cries out, Psalm 139, “Search me, O God, know my heart; see if there’s a wicked way in me. Reveal it to me. Lead me in the way everlasting.” But unless you want that, unless you really want to know God—in other words, God makes a promise, Tom. He says, “You will seek for me and find me when you seek for me with all your heart.”
You seek for a god of your own choosing. You want some magic genie, when you rub the lamp, that comes and says, “At your service”? That’s the God you will find. But if you are really and sincerely, from your heart—I can say this to everybody out there listening—if you, from your heart, sincerely want to know the true God because you want to do His will and want Him to guide your life—you will know Him. I don’t care who you are, where you are—you seek Him, He will reveal Himself to you.
So, that is the mystery, Tom, why some reject even though God pleads with them. I cannot answer that. Well, prayer—do I want God’s will? Do I want it in His time, or will I be patient? Do I want it only when it’s appropriate?
We ask, and we receive, John says, 1 John 3, because we ask those things and we do what is pleasing in His sight.
Tom: Dave, we’re out of time for this segment, but next week we want to pick up on, really, an important issue, and that is how does our relationship with God affect answers to prayer? And it does.