Recently a close friend, pastor of a vibrant congregation lost his eight year old son to acute pneumonia. This resulted in someone commenting that probably he and his congregation did not offer prayers of faith or wavered in their faith otherwise the Savior Lord would have definitely healed the child. But is answer to our prayers is dependent only on our faith? Is God obligated to answer every prayer and provide healing of the body and soul? Then what about His grace that He gives ‘to whomsoever He decides? Is such thought biblical and don’t we cause hurt to someone by saying such words?
Am I the cause of my unanswered prayers? – This question has haunted mankind since long that why does answer some prayers while others are immediately responded to. Some get healed while others continue suffering, disaster strikes one house, lane or a city while others escape. Is it that the answered prayers only are earnest and offered in the right manner? Won’t such segregation hurt the suffering masses and allege favoritism by God? God’s promise is clear, “Ask and it will be given” (Matthew 7:7) and God cannot be partial for He is just and our claim that we prayed and He answered imply that others did not. Can we draw such straight lines for answers to prayers? Our friend thanked everyone for their prayers but He acknowledged that God is not under any obligation to heal anyone who is sick. Apostle Paul prayed thrice but ‘the thorn in his side’ was not removed (2 Corinthians 12:9) and his faith cannot be doubted.
Apostles Peter, James and John were the three close ‘friends’ of Lord Jesus for they not only witnessed His transfiguration but were also present at every important event including His prayer in the Gethsemane Park. Herod, the king, killed James and arrested Apostle Peter also, to please the Jews and earnest prayers were offered for his release from prison. God intervened and an angel rescued him from the prison (Acts 12:1-5) but he was later crucified for his faith. The third, Apostle John was exiled to Patmos Island and died a natural death in old age. Did God love Apostle James less as compared to the other two or were no prayers made for him or was his life less important than the other two?
Job was entirely perplexed about his sufferings and had a lot of questions that he wanted God to answer (Job 7 & 19). King David, the man of God’s heart, cried out,“How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” (Psalm 13:1-2). But God answered neither, for ‘His ways are not our ways’ (Isaiah 55:8-9) and are beyond our comprehension. On the other hand we also know that everything that He does has a deep purpose to it (Isaiah 46:10). God numbers our days before they begin and He determines what we must go through (Psalm 139:18).
Apostle James life and death was for a purpose and once that was fulfilled God took him out of the scene. He had finished his assigned job while Apostle Peter was yet to complete his (Philippians 1:6; 24-25). Living or dying, sick or healthy, poor or rich is not an indicator of God’s love for us or of the extent of our faith. In faith all of us are blessed to be the children of God and a loving Father can in no way discriminate between His children (John 1:12). In any case, nothing can separate us from the love of God and He knows what is best for His children (Romans 8:28). Apostle Paul was chosen for “how much he must suffer” for God’s kingdom and he lists out the enormity of what he went through in his Epistle (2 Corinthians 11:23-28) but his faith never wavered. Despite such suffering, he could still write, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made before God – be content and thank Him in everything – and the peace of God will guard your heart”(Philippians 4:6-7).
How to overcome guilt for unanswered prayers? – Suffering is not necessarily punishment and all prayers of faith also may not be answered by God. Often we wonder ‘Where did I go wrong in my prayers?’ but God’s response to our prayers does not depend on our worthiness, but rests upon His great mercy (Daniel 9:18). Lord Jesus took upon Himself the punishment that was our due and because of this God is always for us. He wants to give us all things and Lord Jesus is our Advocate and Intercessor before God the Father in heaven (Romans 8:31-34). Though God listens to His Son’s prayers for us but our suffering is used for our good by Him in ways that we do not understand, but one day we will.
We were created to be like Lord Jesus (Genesis 1:26) and thus we are spiritual beings living in a body. We are given intellect and power of reasoning, can think and solve problems, behave in a relational way and like Him receive and love others. We have a moral conscience, our soul, helping us discern the right from wrong and are accountable to God. But we can never become gods as Satan lied to deceive Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:5) but this unfulfilled desire leads us to behave as gods and try to control our destiny, circumstances, our future and even people around us. God desires that we be godly instead and develop His values, attitude and character. God’s aim for us on earth is not comfort but character development for Garden of Eden was full of comforts, a heaven on earth and we lost it. Now heaven is available only after leaving this earth but we desire to be in heaven without leaving the earth.
Abundant life that Lord Jesus has given us is not about perfect health, a comfortable life, constant happiness, full realization of our dreams and instant relief from our problems through faith and prayer (John 10:10). We were created for God and not vice versa and He is not an obedient genie of the bottle. Our final destination as believers is eternal life with Him and this life is our training area for that future life. ‘We see with covered faces the glory of God and as His Spirit works in us we become more and more like Him and reflect His glory’ (2 Corinthians 3:18). This transformation is His doing for we cannot do this on our own. Power of the indwelling Holy Spirit helps in this change but we must cooperate. Joshua faced a flooded Jordan river and the waters receded immediately on the stepping in of the Levites carrying the Ark.
How are we transformed? – God uses three ways to give effect to this -His Divine Word and the Holy Spirit to give us the truth for us to follow and grow, while His people provide us spiritual support through prayers. The circumstances that we are placed in are the third element to provide us practice to implement in our lives what the first two had taught. As we study and apply God’s Word, connect regularly with other believers, we learn to trust God in difficult circumstances and then start operating in His power to face each situation as He would. None of these would work alone and all three must be adopted together.
With no answers to prayers, should we accept our circumstances? – When King David prayed, he could not be certain if, when or in what way his prayers would be answered, though like him, we also give our suggestions to God (Psalm 13:1-2). All of us face equally serious issues in our lives and are uncertain of answers to prayers. Not all waiting is agonizing, waiting for a suitable marriage partner, for a child, for a job are not so painful as being afflicted by a serious illness. There are many occasions when we feel like crying out, “How long, Lord?” Feelings of God being cruel to let us suffer endlessly are not in accordance with the Scripture which declares “God is love” (1 John 4:8). And He so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son for us (John 3:16) and God clearly informs, ‘Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands’ (Isaiah 49:16). A God who has numbered even the hairs of our head, how can He be happy to see us suffer (Matthew 10:30)?
What could be God’s purpose to say no or keep us waiting? – Just before Pharaoh’s dream, how many times Joseph must have prayed for a change in his circumstances– sold by his brothers into slavery; false accusation by Potiphar’s wife and unjust imprisonment and forgotten by all to remain in the prison of his life. And all this was despite all others realizing that “the LORD was with Joseph and he was successful in all he did” (Genesis 39:2). Joseph faithfully waited and God trained him for a great responsibility to save his own family and many more during the 7 years of draught. Meditating on God’s ways for his life, in the end he understood what his brothers intended for evil God permitted and meant for good (Genesis 50:20). Apostle Paul understood this after praying three times for the thorn to be removed while the daily pain reminded him of his personal weakness to make him dependent on God. It was then that God answered him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9) to make him take pride in his weakness.
Our weakness is often a reminder and also an opportunity from God to stop trying to control and fix everything on our own power and resources but rather leave it into His hands. God used that suffering servant Apostle Paul to touch innumerable lives. He can do the same with us through our perseverance, faith, trusting in God’s wisdom and strength, rather than our own. Even Lord Jesus prayed three times but each time emphasizing “not My will but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Invariably we think, what can God do through my suffering, surely not save people’s lives during a famine, or bring salvation for others or some such great thing. But God might use our testimony to encourage many others who need His grace (2 Corinthians 1:4). He might inspire someone to enquire about the reason of our hope despite our suffering and thus save him or He might have something better planned and waiting (1 Peter 3:15).
We definitely know – firstly, God loves us for He has declared, “I have loved you with an everlasting love, I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (– Jeremiah 31:3). Second, God hears you, Apostle John affirmed this while suffering isolation, “I write these things to you who believe in the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence we have toward Him, that if we askanything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:13-14). Thirdly, God is with you For He declares, “Fear not, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10) and promises to rescue us from difficult situations that the floods or fires that we may be forced to go through will not overwhelm us (Isaiah 43:2-3) – READ – when you walk through the waters, I will be with you – fourthly, God will help you for ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1-2); fifthly, Holy Spirit and Lord Jesus are interceding for you – Holy Spirit intercedes with groaning too deep for words (Romans 8:26-27) and also Lord Jesus intercedes for us before God the Father (Hebrews 7:25); sixthly– you have all you really need for My God will supply every need of yours according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus (– Philippians 4:19).
God’s Word assures us, ‘after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you’ (1 Peter 5:10). Generations of saints have persevered in faith through trials and persecutions as severe or more than this and ‘this light momentary affliction will pass’ (2 Corinthians 4:17). The trick is to let go of the life I wanted, look eagerly to the eternal life and even life here on earth yet to unfold and in the present embrace the life that I have. God revealed His name to Moses as “I AM” for He is a God of the present before whom the past and the future all lie open. Made in His likeness and image, He desires the life of the present moment to be fully lived for it will never return and in this way we honor and glorify His mighty name.
God created heaven on earth for the mankind to occupy and hold dominion over it in the Garden of Eden and provided all possible facilities for him to worship and glorify God. He visited Adam and Eve everyday to help them in their life. Entry of sin caused fall of man as well as nature itself whereas we desire the same life as it was in the Garden. Life on earth for all believers is a process of preparation through daily transformation through the Holy Spirit and His Word into His image and likeness for only then can we fit into the new life. The daily battles that we fight with the ‘principalities and powers of darkness’ here are part of the same process of victorious living in Lord Jesus. Since it is not possible without the guiding hand of the Messiah, we have to remain rooted in Him in faith and let Him!