Sometimes we pray about something and it doesn’t come to pass. Or it happens many years later, and possibly even after the death of the person who prayed. Why does this occur?
I suggest a commonly overlooked biblically-based possibility that has many branches.
It is possible that God didn’t answer your prayer because there are prayers that are exceptionally complexed and can not be immediately answered. The possible answer is but one domino answer in an exceedingly intricate design of dominos.
When that domino problem topples and produces an answer, it sets in motion a cascading effect upon other dominos that forever changes individuals, families, cities, nations, and even the world–for eternity!
For this reason, God takes extreme care to answer the prayer in such a way that not a single possible effect is overlooked. Every domino must be in its place and must be affected with perfect precision and timing, and within the boundary of human freewill.
As the Scripture says,
…also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will…Ephesians 1:11
The God who created and sustains the unlimited universe, and who knows each of the trillions times trillions of stars by name, is the God who answers prayers in accordance with His own will.
Nothing is left to chance.
The Complexity of Your Prayer Determines How, When, and Whether it is Answered
Many years ago…
Okay, I’ll come clean. Close to forty years ago I did a faith exercise. I was about four or five years old in the Lord and zealously sought to use my faith to get demonstrable answers from God.
I had adamantly resisted Christian unbelievers who rationalized away the power of God, gifts of the Holy Spirit, and receiving the types of answers to prayer we see in the Bible. I still reject their unbelief.
My rationale was, Why would God make promises in the Bible He doesn’t intend to keep? So, I came up with a faith exercise.
The exercise was I’d ask God to have someone fill my car’s gas tank. I quoted a bunch of faith Scriptures, but the one I focused on was Mark 11:23:
Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, Be taken up and cast into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it shall be granted him.
Then I waited.
I didn’t get around folks and drop hints. For that would have defeated the purpose. I simply got alone with God and spoke to Him about His promises and praised Him for His faithfulness.
I also repeatedly spoke to the mountain of an empty gas tank and commanded it to be filled. I know. Silly. But much of serving God appears silly–until it doesn’t.
Can We Boss God Around with Our Prayers?
Uhh, that doesn’t work.
The Creator and Ruler of all existence can’t be made to do anything. That type of presumption is famous among my fellow charismatics. But it’s a sandcastle of error that is no match for the waves of God’s sovereignty and wisdom.
My exercise of faith wasn’t intended to make God do anything. It was intended to grow in faith so that I might become more effective and efficient for the kingdom of God.
It was also so that my Father would be able to trust me with tasks that others could not do on account of their unbelief. I want to be someone God can use beyond his natural abilities.
Well, to put this story to rest, it took about two weeks of riding around on near-empty before God answered.
My friend’s sister had to get some gas. We followed her in my car. Once at the gas station, she told me to fill up my tank. I did so and grew several inches taller in the spirit. There’s nothing like experiencing a demonstrable answer to prayer.
Coincidence? If so, it’s the only time in my life anyone has asked to fill up my gas tank.
I shared this story because I want you to consider the simplicity of what was required for God to answer my prayer. All He needed was one willing person with enough money to fill up a single car’s gas tank.
What Does God Need to Answer Your Prayer?
Let’s be clear that my question doesn’t imply that a thing is easy or hard for God. His power and wisdom is so inestimable that in an absolute sense there simply is no such thing as something being easy or hard for God.
For if something is easy, this means it can be measured against resistance. This implies an expenditure of effort. God doesn’t expend effort the way we understand effort.
Think of a fly pushing against an elephant to stop its walk. How much effort does the elephant expend against the fly? None. He doesn’t even know the fly is resisting him.
Multiply the size of that elephant by infinity. In the truest sense of the idea: God is so great that the concepts of easy and hard in comparison to Him are meaningless.
When I ask, What does God need to answer your prayer? I am merely asking you to consider what is likely to be involved in God answering your prayer.
For instance, I exercised faith and God commanded someone to fill up my car’s gas tank. What if instead of asking for a tank of gas, I had asked for a gas station? Or better yet, my own oil refinery? That way I could make my own gas.
This is just another fly to the infinite all-powerful God. So, although it might strain my faith resources to believe for such a thing, it would require absolutely no more “effort” on God’s part to provide it.
The issue then is not whether God can provide the answer, but whether you can receive it.
Has the Complexity of Your Prayer Slowed or Stopped the Answer?
Obviously, more goes into God giving someone a gas station than does filling up a car’s tank with gas. Similarly, and to an exponentially greater degree, more goes into someone receiving an oil refinery in answer to prayer.
God fills my gas tank, nothing else is required of me. My life can go on its present course.
God gives me a gas station and my life has just changed. I am now a business owner with employees and obligations that demand time, effort, and business ability.
The beef jerky stock is low. The toilets are stopped up and the rancid smell is filling the store. The employees are disgruntled. The gas truck drivers are on strike. And there’s a guy standing at the counter with his hands in his pocket and saying, “Give me the money.”
Uhh…I don’t think I’m going on that missions trip tomorrow. Not if I want to be faithful with the Lord’s gas station He’s made me steward over. Especially since I know I must answer to Him on judgment day for how I served in this capacity.
God gives me an oil refinery and my life may never ever…ever be the same. Let’s assume that the refinery is making some serious cash. Trust me. Human nature being what it is, unless I’m extraordinarily spiritual, I’m going to see the answer to this prayer as God calling me into the oil business.
I know I just graduated from Bible school and am…err, was on my way to serve the poor in the mountains of Mexico, but why would God give me an oil refinery–and we did mention it’s making serious cash!–if He didn’t want me to drop the Mexico thing and become an oil baron?
Besides, I can do a lot more for poor folks in Mexico with a bunch of cash than I can sending out a bunch of letters to church folks begging for money to support me. Right?
The point of all this is to show you that every prayer is answered within a context. What context? There are many. Here are just a few.
Prayer is Answered Within the Context of God’s Fixed Time Table
Suppose the prophets Isaiah, Micah, and Amos had gotten together and “touched and agreed” in prayer and fasting that the Messiah would come within the next few years? That would be around 750-745 B.C.
Unless we consider there may have been secondary benefits to such a prayer meeting, that would have been a super waste of time. Why? It’s because God had fixed a specific time in the future for the arrival of Jesus that was perfect for His purpose:
But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law…Galatians 4:4
God the Father had orchestrated an exact time in human history for Jesus to be born. Had He answered such a prayer, it would have erased 750 years of history.
Jesus would have been physically born around 750-745 B.C. instead of approximately 3 B.C.
You can see that answering that one prayer would have monumentally changed history. Among other things, it would have done the following:
- Caused Jesus to be born during the Assyrian empire instead of the Roman empire.
- Caused Pontius Pilate, King Herod, John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary (before her marriage), the Twelve Apostles, Paul, Mark, Luke, and a multitude of others to be born 750 years or so earlier. Or would they have been replaced?
- Caused the Bible books of every writing Old Testament prophet after Jesus’s new date of birth to be not written. For God’s plan was that Jesus was to be the last Old Testament Prophet whose words were to become Scripture (Hebrews 1:1-2).
We could go on and on with this. You get the point. Isaiah and his prayer partners could not have known the complexity of their prayer request, and how that complexity made their request dead on arrival.
Prayer is Answered Within the Context of Volume of Prayer
Jesus told us that when we pray, we should not make a common mistake.
“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetitions, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.”Matthew 6:7
This is a prohibition against thinking God is going to hear you based on ritual and meaningless repetitions. What makes the repetitions meaningless is the supplicant places faith in the words rather than God. That’s one reason why they repeat them.
There’s something special about those words. Hmm…
(Reminds me of my charismatic brothers and sisters and their unhealthy “words rule the universe” doctrine. But that’s a different article!)
But let’s be clear: this prohibition against repeating meaningless words is not a prohibition against praying for something more than once. In fact, we are commanded to do so.
For there are prayers that will NEVER be answered unless someone persists in prayer. Here are a few famous examples in Scripture of this truth in action:
- Abraham prayed six times for Sodom and Gomorrah to be spared destruction. Apparently, one or two more prayers would have saved the cities. He stopped praying and the cities were destroyed (Genesis 18:20-32).
- Elijah prayed for rain seven times before the drought broke (1 Kings 18:41-45).
- Daniel prayed for twenty-one days before he won the spiritual warfare battle and received the answer (Daniel 10:1-14).
- Jesus prayed twice for a blind man before he was fully healed (Mark 8:22-25).
The Lord also taught in two parables the necessity and power of persistently praying for the same thing in Luke 11:5-8 and 18:1-8. Could it be that your prayer has not been denied, but only delayed by lack of volume?
Prayer is Answered Within the Context of Your Qualification to Receive the Answer
We sort of touched on this when we considered the difference in receiving a tank of gas, a gas station, and an oil refinery. Now let’s be direct. Do you qualify to receive what you’re asking for?
Some Christians get nervous when you mention qualifications for anything God has. This is an unhealthy overreaction to the fear that someone may try to earn God’s grace.
For the record, that simply can not be done. It’s foolishness. It’s delusional. It’s a waste of time. Grace is a gift. I’m talking about behavior.
So, let’s put down our fear that someone may try to sneak through heaven’s back door and press our nose against the nose of reality. We will see that the outcome of our life has everything to do with qualifying and disqualifying ourselves for certain of God’s blessings.
- Do you want to become a child of God? You must repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:14-15). This is a qualification.
- Do you want to be a deacon or overseer of God’s people? You have to satisfy a higher standard of Christian conduct (1 Timothy 1:1-13). This is a qualification.
- Do you want God to consider you as a vessel of honor? You must be careful to live a holy life and proactively seek the Lord (2 Timothy 2:19-22). This is a qualification.
Obviously, if grace alone satisfies the criteria above, there is no criteria except grace, and thus everyone qualifies–including unbelievers. For grace has been given to the entire world.
So, now the question must be asked.
Do You Qualify to Receive the Answer to Your Prayer?
Do you qualify for that which you are praying? Are you willing to do what it takes to qualify? Don’t agree too quickly. For the qualification process could be costly and long.
It may be tempting to deceive yourself into thinking God will overlook a deficit of mandatory ingredients and still grant your petition.
I can’t dogmatically refute this hope because God is exceedingly gracious and resourceful. He takes great pleasure in doing the impossible for those with no power, and in giving great blessings to those who least deserve it.
In fact, I encourage you to believe every promise of God and to let no one talk you into settling for anything less than what your Almighty God can provide.
Hopefully, my offering you this encouragement will help you accept my next word of caution as the advice of a friend who also believes in the Almighty God.
The caution is despite God’s goodness, there are times when He demands growth and change, and without that growth and change He will deny your prayer, as these Scriptures so clearly state:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man think that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.James 1:5-8
You see? This person has a prayer request that will not be granted until they get rid of the double-mindedness and instability. But their shifty condition isn’t my point.
My point is the principle it represents. Some answers aren’t granted because we do not yet qualify to receive them. Your task is to seek the Lord and His written word to discover what that qualification is.
Prayer is Answered Within the Context of Your Ability to Receive
There is a difference in failing to receive an answer to prayer because you haven’t done something and failing to receive because you are unable to receive. Yes, there is an overlap, but I think we can separate the meat from the bone.
I’ll show you the difference by looking at something Jesus told His disciples:
I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth…John 16:12-13
The disciples had not done anything wrong. Nor had they failed to do something. It was just a matter of spiritual growth. They weren’t there yet. But notice that Jesus pointed to a future time when they’d be able to receive what He would have given them then had they been able to receive it.
Is it possible that what you’re praying for can not be granted yet because the answer requires more spiritual growth, either in you, the person you’re praying for, or a person related to your prayer request?
Prayer is Answered Within the Context of Your Era of Birth
This one may cause you to scratch your head, but I think I have a strong biblical and common sense case.
America elected Barack Obama as its first black president in 2008. He was born in 1961. Do you think this would have been possible had he been born in 1861?
If we follow his timeline, he would run for president in 1907-1908. President Obama’s birth was only forty-two years after the U.S. Civil War. It was forty-four years after Lincoln was forced through military necessity to free some slaves.
It was forty-six years after the last of the slaves were technically legally freed by the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in December of 1865.
However, the victorious North was exceedingly gracious to the defeated South, and granted them full reinstatement into the union once they promised to be good.
In 1877, twelve years after the Civil War, the North’s occupying forces went home and left the freed ex-slaves at the mercy of their former overlords. Their really angry, vindictive overlords.
(These uncomfortable facts must be highlighted so you can understand the context in which prayer must do its work.)
It’s all a matter of irrefutable history that the South quickly began a campaign of terror to physically harass, torment, beat, imprison, and murder blacks at will. (This also occurred outside of the South.)
They also systematically created political, judicial, commercial, and other tools to return black people to as near a state of slavery as possible without calling them slaves.
In 1907, that southern system of terror and repression of blacks was exceedingly strong and mainstream. Nearly no black person was allowed to vote.
And the few who could somehow maneuver the South’s government sponsored race-based barriers to voting did so in peril of their life.
Now how many black votes in the South do you think a black presidential candidate would have received? How many white votes? Okay, can we agree that a black candidate would have had to find a way into office without one southern state?
Well, what about the North?
I like the hope.
A Black Candidate in 1907 Would Not Have Won a Single State
I do not believe a black presidential candidate would have received one state in 1908. In any region. At that time, it would have taken the endorsement of the state legislature for him to win the state.
In 1908, a black man who could be hunted as easily as a deer or wild hog would have definitely been highly favored of God were he to escape being lynched while campaigning.
Ahh, but you’re a person of great faith in God. You say, “If God wanted a black man to be president in 1908, He could’ve made it happen.”
I’ve got to admit, you’re tough. Okay, let me pull out my ace card. What if the black candidate had been born in 1761 instead of 1861? Keeping with our timeline, he’d run for office in 1807.
You still believe God could have made Him president? You do? Okay, I have a few questions for you.
- How would a slave run for president?
- How would a non-citizen run for president?
- How would a person who doesn’t qualify to vote run for president?
The answers to these questions are linked to the much larger topic of possibilities in prayer versus probabilities in prayer.
What is Possible in Prayer Versus What is Probable in Prayer
If we consider only God’s raw ability, prayer is simple. God can do anything.
Yet, if we consider all that He has said about Himself in the Bible, and all that common experience has proven to us throughout human history, we can’t think this simplistically.
For prayer to be successful, we must graduate from saying, “There is a possibility God can do a thing,” to saying, “There is a probability God will do a thing.” The difference is more than semantics. It is the difference in fantasy and reality.
If I say, “God is so powerful, He can turn the moon into cheese,” I’d be correct. That is a theoretical possibility. But what is the probability He will do this?
You see, this is not simply a matter of power. We must consider the bounds of the written word of God, the irrefutable evidence of human history, and the Person of God.
And one thing the Bible and human history agree on is God is a God of process. Long, tedious, costly process.
Why do you suppose we are six thousand years into this salvation thing and God hasn’t returned yet to set up His earthly kingdom? Is it lack of power? No. He’s almighty.
The Lord has taken such a long time (as we consider time) because He is a God of process. He has things He wants done and He uses time and process and people and nations to do them.
For instance, God wants a planet filled with people. In the beginning, He didn’t create seven billion people. He created two people and told them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 3:28).
That’s time, process, and people.
Yes, it is possible for an almighty God to do otherwise. But what is the probability that any amount of faith-filled prayer is going to get God to change this goal and strategy?
God Doesn’t Use His Power to Circumvent the Process of Humanity’s Progression
What if some Holy Ghost rascal got a hold of a handful of faith Scriptures and believes God to become a brain surgeon without going to medical school, internship, or residency?
Is it a lack of faith on our part to say he doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in the hot place to get that prayer granted?
Despite God’s almighty power, He is not going to grant that prayer for several reasons. Two of these directly pertain to the distinction between possibilities in prayer and probabilities in prayer.
First, to grant this prayer, God would have to directly change society with raw power instead of wisdom and process. Actually, He’d be overruling the reasonable processes of those whom He’d given authority to create such processes for the common good.
Second, to grant this prayer, God would have to prematurely take back humanity’s authority to rule the world. I say prematurely because God has appointed that transference of authority to occur at the Lord’s second coming.
God Operates Within the Framework of Human Cooperation and Freewill
If it sounds like I am making God smaller than He is, I’m not. I’m explaining the context He created for our development in His wisdom for His own pleasure. He takes great delight in the good development of His prize creation of humanity.
Maybe now if we leave the delusionary would-be surgeon and resume our discussion of a black person becoming president in 1808, my intent will become clearer.
For God to make a non-citizen slave president in 1808, He would have to somehow make an exemption for the slave. That would require a suspension of the U.S. Constitution for the sake of one black slave, and the agreement of the white society that made him a non-citizen slave.
That hope is fantasy, not faith.
The other possibility is God could give the non-citizen slave his citizenship, right to vote, and freedom. So, the guy would go straight from the plantation to running for the office of president of the United States.
This time the Constitution would have to be changed. Again, this would require the agreement of the very people who had enslaved the man and reduced him to a legal non-human.
In light of the Bible and what we know about God, through what process could this have possibly occurred?
We can’t use the examples of Joseph and Daniel. They weren’t hated by the societies they were in. Joseph’s slavery was a single transaction of a single person, not a people. And Daniel was a victim of a lost war.
That was simply the deal back then. You lost a war, you became a slave. It had nothing to do with skin color.
Another thing we should note is that Joseph and Daniel were promoted by dictators because they were highly esteemed, and the promotions were done because it was believed they would be a blessing to the nation.
This would not be the case in America’s 1808. The nation was an exclusionary democracy. Again, this is just a matter of history. It was only democratic in the sense that white men could vote–but only white men.
No problem for an almighty God, right?
This also is fantasy.
God May Grant a Prayer That Was Previously Denied Because of Era
I suspect that no matter how much time passes, our would-be brain surgeon who wants to bypass school will continue to be denied by man and God. I sure hope so!
The slave, however, has actually found a way to the White House without the aid of a butler’s uniform or a cook’s big spoon. The slave became president!
God Answered the Prayer by Changing Elements of the Era
This is not a heavenly endorsement of any particular president. For both major American political parties are antichrist at their core. Their only differences are in which sins they value more than their political opponents, and whether they serve their sins in the name of God or man.
Rather, it’s a celebration of the power of prayer irrespective of what political party is in office at the time of the prayer’s blossoming. Mostly, though, it’s an examination of the process God uses to deal with prayers and aspirations that are clearly ahead of their time.
This directly affects you. Sooner or later you’re going to get an urge to pray for something that requires great changes in the environment before the prayer may be answered.
It’s important that you know a long delay doesn’t necessarily mean the answer is forever no. God may be working out things behind the scene.
How God Worked It Out For the First Black President
Here is how the Lord answered the prayer of the black man in our parable, whose ambition was far ahead of his time.
- He amended the Constitution to free the slaves.
- He amended the Constitution to make black people U.S. citizens.
- He amended the Constitution to give black people the right to vote.
- He changed the hearts of many white people toward black people.
What had to come before the amendments? God had to destroy the political power of the South.
How did He do that? By the U.S. Civil War.
What caused the U.S. Civil War?
God hearing the prayers of millions of oppressed black slaves and exacting vengeance and executing justice for billions of injustices, indignities, atrocities, rapes, beatings, mutilations, separation of families, and murders committed against slaves by white society.
Am I taking liberties in filling in the blanks for the sake of an article? No. We have clear templates for this in the Bible.
We have the sacred testimony of the Lord that the innocent blood of Abel cried out to God from the ground and got His attention:
And God said [to Cain], “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.”Genesis 4:10
The Lord testifies to us of a similar, but exponentially greater, sin that cried out to Him when Egypt enslaved the Hebrews:
And the Lord said [to Moses]: I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.
So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land, to a good and large land…Exodus 3:7-8
There are many other biblical examples of injustices that have compelled God to take vengeful action. But we’ve covered enough ground on this point.
How Long Did It Take God To Answer These Era-Bound Prayers?
Prayers that are before their time and are limited by the era in which they are prayed either are not granted the petitioner, or are granted far off in the future.
In the case of the 1808 slave who would be president, that prayer would have been denied because it could not be answered in that present world. God would have to first change that world.
We know from history that would require revolutionary political change brought about by a civil war that killed 620,000 U.S. soldiers in four years.
To understand how great a number that was to that society, understand that it was two percent of the population. If we lost two percent of our population today, it would total 6,560,000–in four short years.
After the U.S. Civil War, it would take another 143 years before the White House would become a reality for a black person.
Some Era Limitations End When the Perfect Piece is Put Into Place
Some prayers are complicated. Some require changes in society or governments or nations so deep that a lot of time is required. Some require the right person to be strategically placed.
Moses was forty years old when it came into his heart to deliver the Hebrews. Yet, when he acted upon this desire, he failed miserably (Exodus 2:11-15; Acts 7:22-29).
It was not until forty years later that Moses’s prayer for his people would be answered. Why the extra forty years?
What Moses could not have known, and what the suffering Hebrews could not have known, was that they were praying within an era, a time constraint. What was that constraint?
The constraint was God had to position a particular pharaoh that would perfectly resist His will. Pharaoh’s stubborn resistance would provide a context in which God could show His greatness and demonstrate His care of the Hebrew people.
It would take God forty years from the time Moses first tried to deliver the Hebrews to position Pharaoh and get him ready for his task.
Paul alludes to this in his letter to the Romans:
For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.”Romans 9:17
The many millions of prayers and groans and cries and tears would have to wait until God placed His pharaoh.
Perhaps a more faith-building way of putting this is the many millions of prayers and groans and cries and tears of the Hebrews caused God to put a meticulous and perfectly timed plan into place to demonstratively deliver His people through mighty signs and wonders and miracles.
Yeah, that’s better.
Prayer is Answered Within the Context of the Size of the Problem
Some prayers are not granted immediately because the problem is a stronghold. A stronghold is a deeply rooted problem. It is protected and reinforced by layers of other problems, by powerful lies, and darkness that fertilizes and energizes it.
This is not the type of prayer you can deal casually with and find any real victory.
For instance, how much success should I expect if I pray haphazardly, say…a minute here and there a couple times a week against the abortion industry or sex trafficking?
Strongholds require monumental spiritual effort to dismantle. Furthermore, strongholds don’t just go away because someone prayed. What we may not have thoughtfully considered is God uses our prayers to affect changes in the natural realm. That is the point after all, is it not? To eradicate the stronghold?
Well, that takes time. Usually, a long time.
American slavery was a stronghold. Billions of prayers of slaves and abolitionists rose to God for centuries before they were answered. Did slavery disappear of its own accord because of prayer?
Prayer was the invisible catalyst. But prayers usually require someone to work. Someone has to actually dig the ditch. An angel is not going to do that for us.
Prayer Took Down the Stronghold of Soviet Communism
In 1917, Russia started its hellish descent into communism. By 1945, it had evolved into the Soviet Union. It championed communism and tried in vain to eradicate the influence of Jesus Christ within its borders by violently oppressing the church as an enemy of the state.
For many decades multitudes of Christians were beaten, tortured, imprisoned, and murdered for their faith in the Soviet Union. Then, surprisingly, in 1989 the Soviet Union imploded and fell so quickly it was reported that it caught the CIA by surprise.
Using the Bible as my x-ray machine into the behind-the-scenes effects of prayer, my assessment is that the prayers of God’s people undermined this evil system from its inception in 1917 until its demise in 1989, when the Soviet Union finally bit the dust.
We’re talking 72 years of prayer and 72 years of spiritual power affecting change in the natural world that culminated in prayer taking down a stronghold.
What does this have to do with you? It can serve as a helpful template if you ever try to tackle a stronghold. You see that it takes extreme effort and persistent prayer (usually) over a long period of time.
Don’t be slack.
Don’t give up.
God is at work behind the scenes.
Prayer is Answered Within the Context of Sanctified Suffering
In Hebrews 11:1-35a, we read of incredibly spectacular answers to prayer. In Hebrews 11:35b-38, we read of devastating “non-answers” to prayer:
...Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.
They were stoned, they were sawed in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented–of whom the world was not worthy.
They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise,
God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.Hebrews 11:35-40
The first thing I must clarify is although this passage contrasts wonderful miracles to horrible suffering, this is only incidental to the true topic, which is neither miracles nor suffering.
The contrast in the two groups of Christians, those who have faith and receive immediate deliverance, and those who have the same faith and receive immediate suffering, is to show that both groups were driven by the promise of receiving the kingdom of God.
This is what God says about the entire list of heroes mentioned in Hebrews 11:
These all died in faith [those who were delivered and those who suffered], not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.
But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.Hebrews 11:13-16
Both groups of petitioners are said to have “gained approval through their faith” (vs. 39). Lack of faith was not the reason the second group didn’t get their prayers answered. So, then what was it?
Some Prayers for Immediate Deliverance are Not Granted–At All
I was powerfully baptized in the Holy Spirit over forty years ago. I believe in and have practiced the gifts of the Spirit all this time. I have participated in spectacular physical healings and extraordinary casting out of demons.
I have received open visions and dreams, where I received verifiable words of knowledge and words of wisdom. I have clearly heard the voice of the Lord several times. I once saw an evil spirit with my eyes wide open.
I’ve written several spiritual warfare novels, as well as nonfiction books on healing and deliverance. They are available on Amazon.
I mention these things because many in the charismatic community, of which I am a part, would scold me as lacking faith for telling this obvious truth. Nonetheless, the truth is sometimes you do everything correctly and you don’t get what you want and you’re left scratching your head.
“Never Fear! Formula Man is Here!”
This is when my charismatic brothers and sisters pull out their book of formulas and try to reduce the problem down to a simplistic remedy of do more of this or less of that and the problem will go away.
Often they just make matters worse, leaving the suffering saint filled with endless questions and tormenting guilt. (This is shameful!)
We need to talk about this.
What to Do When Your Prayer Is Not Answered
Go back and read Hebrews 11 again.
What you see is that God approved the faith of both groups of saints. Those whose faith brought them spectacular deliverance, and those whose faith brought them spectacular suffering.
We make a hero of the person whose faith delivers him from a lion, but not of the saint who remains faithful to the Lord as the lion rips the flesh from his bones.
Actually, that statement is too broad. My Baptist brothers and sisters do indeed correctly recognize the heroism, as do other denominational saints.
It is actually many of my own charismatic family whose spiritual shallowness and biblical illiteracy cause them to fail to recognize that all faith does not look the same. Some faith looks like failure.
Nor do they understand that all faith does not make suffering go away. In fact, some faith causes suffering to increase. This was the case with that second group of Hebrews 11 saints.
Sometimes Faith Causes Suffering to Continue
There is a fascinating Scripture hidden in plain sight within Hebrews 11. It explains how sometimes faith can cause hard times.
Women received their dead raised to life again. Other were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.Hebrews 11:35
We transition from the last of the faith people who received immediate spectacular answers to prayer. In this case, people being raised from the dead.
These are probably references to Elijah and Elisha raising little boys from the dead at the request of the mothers (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:18-37).
I absolutely love spectacular answers to prayer, have received spectacular answers to prayer, believe I will receive more spectacular answers to prayer, and teach others how to receive spectacular answers to prayer.
Yet I must not be as some who handle the word of God deceitfully. The truth is there are times when the answer to spectacular faith will not be spectacular victory. It will be a continued grievous trial.
The trial I speak of here is of the class of trial spoken of above in Hebrews 11:35. It is the one that can be made to go away by compromising your devotion and obedience to God. This is what is meant by the Scripture saying these saints were “not accepting deliverance.”
They would not accept deliverance because of the terms of the deliverance. It required a compromise of faith toward God. And they knew that to accept deliverance in this way would damn their souls to hell.
This is why the rest of that verse says, “…that they might obtain a better resurrection.”
Some Saints Use Their Faith to Suffer
Well, there are only two resurrections. Let’s drill down and see exactly what caused these saints to use their faith to continue to suffer for the Lord.
Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear his voice and come forth–those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.John 5:28-29
These saints were not deceived by the “once saved, always saved” false doctrine. They knew their salvation was based upon the faith they had at that moment and not the faith they had some time in the past.
They were having no part in the resurrection of condemnation. So they used their faith to suffer. (The Bible is full of heroic saints who used their faith to suffer.)
In this case, their prayers for immediate deliverance were not granted, and that’s what brought them to the crossroads of compromise.
God hasn’t delivered me from the lions’ den or the fiery furnace or the torture room or the cold prison cell or the…[fill in the blank]. But no matter what happens, I will be faithful to the Lord.
It is a Terrible Sin to Accuse a Suffering Saint of Having Weak Faith
I pray for the sick and cast out demons just as any good charismatic should (smile). But I’ve read and studied too much of the Bible to fall into the trap of simplistically and ignorantly (I had to go there!) reducing the complexities of life to a few charismatic faith formulas.
What if a saint believes she’s a Job, and God gave her debilitating arthritis to teach her a mysterious lesson? Shouldn’t I tell her that’s a demon and that Job got healed?
Well, first of all everything’s not a demon.
Nonetheless, when I see a demon of crippling in Luke 13:10-17, a demon of muteness in Matthew 9:32-34, a demon of blindness in Matthew 12:22-28, a demon of insanity in Mark 5:1-10, or a demon of torment in 1 Samuel 16:14-23, I am obligated by biblical precedent to consider the possibility that a sickness may be directly caused by a demon.
Second, I know Job got healed–many months later.
How do you know the person you’re criticizing as weak because they’re suffering is not also on their way to healing? And I might add, without your assistance!
Since we are quick to reduce weak faith down to whether a person is sick or broke, when are you going to use your great faith to stop your private sinning?
If it is a sin not to have money in your pocket, what about not having purity in your mind? What about bitterness, pride, hardheartedness, covetousness, lying, and selfish ambition?
If having a weakness in the body is proof of weak faith, what about your overweight? Or your bad back? Or your bad vision or allergies? What about your high blood pressure?
Or all of those other conditions you don’t want any of your equally shallow faith friends to know about? And that age in your face is not a sign of life. It’s a sign of decay. Decay is a sign of the curse.
So why are you criticizing others for not using their faith against the curse in their body when we can clearly see the curse at work in your face?
The point I’m making is there are many within my tribe of charismatics who consider themselves faith giants. They are God’s holy agents anointed to accuse and crush God’s hurting people by demanding they wave the magic faith wand and get delivered.
What I don’t see anywhere in the Bible is where I should insensitively, presumptuously, and probably arrogantly, accuse a beloved child of God who is suffering that their suffering is proof that their faith is weak.
What is your motive in “correcting” this “weak” and “ignorant” daughter or son of the Most High God? Is it pride or love? Is it to build your reputation? Or to build the body of Christ?
If you are willing to crush this person’s spirit and fill them with guilt in the name of correcting their theology about healing and deliverance, perhaps you are not a wolf. But only an autopsy can prove this conclusively.
For you certainly look and behave as one.
How We Should Correct One Another
If we were speaking of matters of doctrine regarding the deity of Jesus Christ, whether He really came in the flesh, whether one can live for the devil and still go to heaven, or something else that qualifies or disqualifies one for heaven, I’d speak the truth and if someone’s feelings are hurt, then that’s unfortunate. Yet I can not compromise.
But I doubt that most of our accusations against what we consider weak faith rise to the level of such critical importance.
The truth is that a person can get to heaven with bad doctrine about healing, casting out demons, the gifts of the Spirit, and most of our charismatic doctrines and practices.
What you can not do is get to heaven without love for your brothers and sisters: “He who does not love his brother abides in death” (1 John 3:14).
If we feel that correction of our brother or sister is appropriate, and it is to come through us, we must do it in meekness and not haughtiness, as the Scriptures command:
Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.
Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.Galatians 6:1-3
Believe God for Spectacular Answers to Prayer
Let’s close this topic with the reminder that there are many reasons for delays and denials of prayer. Some reasons may be easily discovered. Others may require more effort. Don’t let this shake you. This is the nature of prayer and of normal spiritual warfare.
I’ve discussed many concepts of prayer that may be new to you. Some may tempt you to think too hard about how God can accomplish difficult or seemingly impossible tasks.
Nothing I’ve shared is intended to encourage you to try to figure out exactly how God answers prayer. This would certainly drain your faith.
Nor should you shy away from asking the impossible. Impossibilities are simply prayers that haven’t been granted yet.
Instead use this knowledge to rise high enough above the fray to see the whole playing field. Understand the contexts in which you pray so that you aren’t discouraged by delays, and so that you aren’t permanently devastated by temporary defeats.
God needs people who understand Him and His ways and methods well enough to help Him rule the world through bold, audacious prayers.
Be one of those people!
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