POWER AND PURPOSE IN PRAYER
By J.R. Ensey
John 14:13,14: “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.”
Perhaps the saddest wails to fall upon a pastor's ears are these: “Why doesn't God hear my prayer?” “Why doesn't He do something, Pastor?” They are often heard in sickrooms, hospital corridors, around altars and in the church office. It is the questioning cry of someone in trouble, distress or pain. It's okay to ask, but he who asks should be open for an answer. There is one, you know, and it is not always hidden deep within the heart of God. At times He lets us know why our prayers are not answered.
First, let it be said that God responds to every prayer. Sometimes the reply is, “No, foolish child!” or “Wait...in time your desire shall be granted!” Those answers aren't always received by us with exceeding joy. We're glad when the positive answer is shot back— “GRANTED!" But why aren't all prayers granted? Doesn' t the Bible say “anything” we ask in His Name we will receive?
Let's take a closer look at the text. It definitely says that and it sounds like a firm offer, an explicit promise, an unequivocal statement. But is it? Should this scripture be removed from context and let stand without qualification? The whole universe would be thrown into chaos! This is true because God would be subject to every whim and fancy of the lusts of men. “Give me this or that! In Jesus' Name!” The requests of some would be exactly opposite of others. Which would God grant? What is the criterion by which He judges the worthiness of our prayers?
Let the Scriptures interpret the Scriptures. In I John 5:14 there is a key phrase—“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us.” Learning to pray according to the will of God is so important. That is why we are urged by Paul to pray in the Spirit, “...for we know not how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit maketh intercession for us...”
Our motivations in prayer are often too selfish for God to honor with a positive answer. James told us (4:3) that some prayers are not granted because we “ask amiss” to consume it upon our own lusts. God knows how we would respond should He grant the request, whether we would be thankful, drawn closer to Him or become haughty and demanding. He knows what effect the answer would have on us.
“But I know God can do anything...everything is within His power. So why doesn't He do this thing which looks so obviously (to me) like a good deed?” Indeed God can do everything, but we cannot isolate His power from His purpose. We are not think of God in terms of sheer omnipotence which crushes all obstacles in its path. If God did that which He can do, but yet in doing this would defeat His purpose, it would demonstrate weakness, not power.
Power is the ability to achieve purpose. A gun's “power” is relative. A .357 Magnum pistol is powerful, but only in a narrow range of purpose. It is of no value against cannons ten miles away. There are “powerful” drugs, “powerful” engines but the question must be asked: Do they fulfill their purpose? Do they achieve their ends?
God does not expend power merely to get things done, but to get them done in a certain way and with certain results. For example, a person ignorant of the game of football may wonder why eleven men battle furiously, risking injury and pain. When told that it is to get a leather ball across a goal line they may ask: “Why doesn't someone get up in the night and put it there?” But the object involves more than that. The ball must be moved across the line in a particular way, under certain circumstances.
Or consider a crossword puzzle. If the purpose is to fill in all the questions, then just wait until the newspaper comes tomorrow and the answers will be in it. One can fill in the blanks quickly and easily then. Yes, but the whole purpose is lost.
Therefore, the paper is interpreted in terms of purpose and makes sense only in the light of those purposes.
What power God exercised in the death of Jesus! He could have torn the universe apart to save Him—but He didn't. There was a higher purpose. The cross was called the power, not weakness of God. Power was demonstrated more in allowing Jesus to die than in saving Him. In the same sense, our petitions are passed through the sieve, the collander, the strainer of divine purpose. In relation to that purpose God manifests His mighty power.
As parents we realize we cannot give our child everything that is asked for. He may ignorantly want something that will destroy him. Or he may plead, “Don't make me go to school! I don't like school!” But we know we can't let him stay out of school. It wouldn't be in his best interests. He is a child—he doesn' t really know what is best for him. Likewise, we are God's children and He can't possibly grant us our every whim. He loves us too much!
Some of the great men of the Bible prayed some prayers which God didn't grant. Men like Moses, David and Paul were turned down. The Lord knew what was best for them. And, dear reader, he knows what's best for you, too.
But why must we suffer? Is it God's will that we endure pain and suffering? His final purpose is to deliver His children from the world in which there's so much suffering. But as long as we're here, we are subject to at least a little of it. Some disease, or bodily malfunction, or accident will serve as the door of death for each of us. For reasons and purposes that are His alone, God at times chooses to have us wait for our deliverance. I don't know why two people are healed on either side of a dear old sister in a prayer line and she is not. But someday all the parts of the puzzle will fit together into a glorious whole! (I Corinthians 13:9-12).
If you are that one who must wait, let me encourage you to be faithful. Keep trusting the wisdom and purposes of God—not merely His power. Peter said, “Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator” (I Peter 4:19).
Paul suffered both persecution and bodily ailments. He asked for relief more than once but was told to be faithful: “My grace is sufficient for you!” In other words, it is enough for you to have God's grace, regardless of whether you have anything else. It is foolish to think that saints in apostolic days were always well, always high-spirited, always excluding hilarious and holy gaity, always able to sleep at night, never haunted by doubts and fears, and that they always got their prayers answered in the way they desired.
But if they did not, why not? That question will be forever answered someday when we see Jesus! Paul cried, “Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed: In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (I Corinthians 15:51-52). God is going to give us “a body like unto His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). We shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is! “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known (I Corinthians 13:12).
It's okay if we stop by the graveyard on the way to glory because the body that is “sown a natural body shall be raised a spiritual body, sown in weakness; it is raised in power” (I Corinthians 15:43). Job said, “If a man die shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change comes” (Job 14:14). Glory!
God loves us and care for us in a way we can scarcely understand. To trust Him although we may not understand is the apex of faith. He is worthy of our trust—for He is God!