WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES SOME PEOPLE PERSIST IN PRAYER WHILE OTHERS ARE CRUSHED BY ‘UNANSWERED PRAYER’?
· When you cannot hear God, you will find that He has trusted you in the most intimate way possible — with absolute silence, not a silence of despair, but one of pleasure, because He saw that you could withstand an even bigger revelation (Oswald Chambers).
· Prayer is a process through which we learn to trust God. He listens to us patiently. He takes our requests seriously. Then He considers everything in the context of the bigger picture only He can see (Ross McCall).
· The gospel we preach must not be just something we hear from men or read from books or even conceived through our meditation. Unless it is delivered to us by God, it can serve no spiritual utility (Watchman Nee).
· If God gives you a vision, a challenging season does not need to destroy or even disrupt the vision because God gave the vision with full and vivid view of the challenging season (Eric Geiger)
Text: Acts 12:1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also . . .12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying.
Throughout history there are people whose spirits have been crushed because they prayed fervently and instead of getting what they were hoping for, their situation got worse. Sometimes there is absolute silence and at times the response to prayer can be disorienting. The opportunity for job promotion was given to some who (may not have prayed), the person we fasted and prayed for was not healed, instead he died, the painful relational dynamics we prayed for soared high leading to divorce, instead of a God honoring and enriching relationship. James was killed by Herod to quell a riot and please the Jews yet ‘many people had gathered and were praying’ (Acts 12:2-3; 12). When circumstances take unexpected turns, some people get confused, hurt, and feel at a loss. In that wilderness experience, not sure of which way forward, the cry is ‘How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?’ (Psalm 13:1). Perishing in that wilderness is a possibility that every believer faces. However, there are believers who have remained immovable, trusting, crying, as they remain in prayer. It is their testimonies that give courage to those facing ‘wild’ moments of life.
DANGERS IN THE WILDERNESSES OF LIFE
Intercession fatigue– Prayer is spiritual warfare where there is a force that puts every effort to hinder God’s purposes. Think of Elijah whose firmness and dependence on the power of God is so encouraging. ‘ So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19: 2-4). Intercession fatigue is a reality that leaves people in a dangerous position of going through motions while feeling betrayed, forgotten and abandoned.
Satan’s lies – Just like the time of Jesus’ experience in the wilderness, the enemy knows how to sneak in ideas that make one doubt God. There is a way the enemy seems to smell out the tender spots, hurts, doubting God’s Sovereignty and love, unforgiveness, and uses these to tear the believer apart. Power and pride become lethal tools that Satan uses. Power that is not of the Holy Spirit, breaks people by taking their reality and making them adapt to another reality. ‘If the state or mob controls the meaning of truth and language and is able to force citizens to believe that 2+2=5, then complete tyranny reigns’ (Mark Legg).
Lack of understanding who God is – When the Sovereignty of God is not understood, prayer can be assumed to be a means of taking some level of control of one’s life and the world. That means when one gets what they ask for, it means God did what one wanted. So, prayer is like a button in a vending machine that is pushed to release what one wants. Inevitably one gets troubled by what appears to be unanswered prayer. When you decree, declare and refuse anything contrary to what you desire, then get no answer, or the situation gets worse, you get perplexed and disoriented. Just like for the vending machine that ceases to bring out what was expected, you get angry, ignored, and move on to the next best source of comfort, however temporary. ‘Prayer is not a button to be pushed; it’s a relationship to be pursued’ (Carey Nieuwhof).
Misinterpretation of scripture – The premise from which one seeks understanding of scripture determines how the message is assigned meaning. An example, Psalm 37:4 ’Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart’. This can be taken to mean that if you find enjoyment in God, He will give you whatever you want. How you gain what you want may not be in His interest. You get ideas from the world and you expect God to keep His promise in fulfilling them. The desire to be blessing-centered rather than God-centered is a great weakness that denies the work of grace. To be disappointed that God has not granted such desires could imply one does not know who God is. The same verse can mean that if you take delight in God over and above anything else in your life, He will inspire you with His desires so they become your desires. That is in alignment with Jesus teaching on how to pray, ’May Your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matthew 6:10). It is us to love the Lord so much that we find joy in desiring what He desires. Prayer that seeks to have God fulfill what we desire can be a subtle way of seeking to be in control. ‘You’ve just got to be careful not to be reading your cultural assumptions into the Scriptures, or worse, out of the Scriptures’ (Tim Keller).
SOME EXAMPLES OF A PEOPLE THAT HAVE TRUSTED GOD IN SPITE OF DETERIORATING CIRCUMSTANCES
The crowd of witnesses continues to increase through testimonies of those who have persisted in prayer despite the circumstances. These are men and women whose lives testify through the centuries that God-doing-what-I-asked-him-to-do-when-I-asked-him-to-do-it is a myth. They know prayer as a conversation with God who is Sovereign whose promise to always listen may be the answer needed first and foremost. That then means there is no such thing as unanswered prayer.
Monica the mother of St Augustine (c. 332 – 387) – She is said to have had three children. Like the story of the shepherd who left the ninety-nine in order to follow one (Luke 15), Monica prayed, fasted, and wept over her son Augustine’s wayward ways. This led a local unnamed bishop to console her: “the child of those tears shall never perish.” Like any good mother, Monica did not let her child's stubbornness, stupidity, or blatant sin obscure her love for him. Her greatest desire was to see her son convert to faith in God instead of being ruled by the desires of the flesh. She is said to have relocated to be where the son was living while keeping her distance. Monica loved her son deeply and desired that he know the Source of the meaning of life
The view of eternity – Lee Strobel quotes a British church leader Galvin Reid’s interview of a young man who had fallen down a flight of stairs as a baby and shattered his back. He had been in and out of hospitals his whole life, and yet he made the astounding comment that he thinks God is fair. Reid asked him, “How old are you?” The boy said, “Seventeen.” Reid asked, “How many years have you spent in hospitals?” The boy said, “Thirteen years.” The pastor said with astonishment, “And you think that is fair?” And the boy replied: “Well, God has all eternity to make it up to me.” The knowledge that there is a morning when all that which is not understood will make sense encourages one to remain in prayer. Albert Charles Tindley (1851- 1933) song ‘By and by, when the morning comes, when the saints of God are gathered home, we will tell the story how we’ve overcome, we will understand it better by and by’.
WHAT ARE SOME FOUNDATIONAL BELIEFS THAT INCLINE A PERSON TO TRUST GOD EVEN WHEN IT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE?
Transformed mind– A mind renewed by the word of God recognizes, ‘For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life’ (Ephesians 2:10). In prayer, Christians take their position which is to lean on the one whose will should be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Recognition of the Sovereignty of God – Prayer is acceptance that one has no power to propel a child in the path of loving and obeying the Almighty God. Prayer is a demonstration of trust in God and deep love for others. Instead of relying on one’s fears, ‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you’ (1 Peter 5:7). The more you learn to trust in God’s invisible Presence, the more the Holy Spirit gives you comfort. That is how you learn to trust God with the outcome of the prayer.
Willingness to be honest with self and with God – Prayer is acknowledgement that you need God’s power. To give up is to show that you do not trust in God’s ability. To recognize that you are not in competition with God is what makes one remain in prayer. God is not an alternative power that one turns to when you run out of what you have. It is maturity to communicate real feelings about a situation and allow God to have the final say. Under God’s protection the real you is vulnerable but safe in His presence.
God answers prayer. If you are one wondering ‘O Lord how long’, know that there is hope. ‘No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause’ (Psalm 25:3). That is what the early church knew even after one of them was killed by Herod. Instead of doubting God’s Sovereignty and love, by wondering and allowing the fear, anger and frustration of the many losses caused by the persistent Covid 19 and other needs, remain in prayer. Christian life that is founded on the word of God is what is likely to make one remain persistent in prayer because it takes the Christian beyond the obstacles and disappointments and self-centeredness straight into the arms of grace. Trust in the one who has the picture of the end from the beginning. Monica had a glimpse of the conversion of her son Augustine a few days before she died. Using his literal and intellectual abilities, Augustine played a significant role in articulating his vision of Christianity in a way that shaped the faith up to date. The fear of not praying the right way, or fear of getting disappointed are just forms of pride in that one feels so important that you will be the first person to be disappointed by God. Instead of focusing on yourself, seek to be part of what God is doing in the world and in your individual life. The promise is true that, ‘If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples’ (John 15:7-8, NIV). God never promises to answer prayers the way you want Him to. But as you spend time with God by praying and reading the Bible, you will develop trust in Him. This trust guards your heart during times when you feel let down by God, or even angry with Him. What do you do when God’s timing seems questionable, His lack of intervention hurtful, and His promises doubtful?
“We never know how God will answer our prayers, but we can expect that He will get us involved in His plan for the answer. If we are true intercessors, we must be ready to take part in God’s work on behalf of the people for whom we pray.” (Corrie ten Boom)