Bo Wagner is pastor of the Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, NC, a widely traveled evangelist, and the author of several books. His books are available on Amazon and at www.wordofhismouth.com
It is, I suppose, a mixture of Scriptural misunderstanding, faulty logic, attacks from haters, and even inaccurate preaching that often causes people to have some very serious doubts and questions about that which should bring us the most comfort in our times of trials.
I am talking about prayer.
Some time back, the following question was posed to me. “If God only answers prayers according to His will, which means that He is going to do what He wants anyway, then why pray? Isn’t it futile?”
This fatalistic, predetermined view of God, prayer, and circumstances makes for a miserable life bereft of hope. Nor is it even remotely close to what Scripture teaches.
We have all likely had those times where we prayed, and God seemed to either not even hear, or worse, to hear and do the exact opposite of what we ask. And it is in those times that people often try to help by poorly explaining prayer. The entire, “Well, it wasn’t God’s will,” is a subtle mixture of truth and error by omission. And some of us have also had the irritation of having to deal with snarky haters who use hard times and prayer as a weapon. A friend of mine with a hurting child posted a request for prayer online; his son was facing potentially life-ending surgery. Almost immediately, he was hit with, “And exactly how many prayers will it take for your imaginary sky-daddy to be willing to do something? Be sure you don’t miss by a few; wouldn’t want anything bad to happen.”
Preachers also sometimes say things that are not consistent with Scripture and, in so doing, damage people’s hope in prayer and the God they are praying to. I sat in a meeting not too long back and heard a preacher say, “Absolutely everything in your life, 100 percent of it, is not just allowed by God, but planned by God and pleasing to God.” I immediately leaned over to my wife and whispered, “Tell that to the woman who is being gang-raped or the child who spends years being molested by a relative.”
That preacher clearly does not understand that God gave man a free will, and that after the fall, man has often used that free will to do horrible things that God despises.
So, in a few short paragraphs, please allow me to summarize a few Scriptural truths about prayer that hopefully will be helpful to you.
To begin with, God very specifically and overtly shows us that He allows Himself to be influenced by our prayers and often even changes His purposed course of action based on our prayers. In 2 Kings 20:1, we read, “In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.” And yet, in direct response to Hezekiah’s prayer in verses two and three, we read in verses four and five, “And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD.”
And then Scripture also teaches us that, even though God knows what we need before we pray (Matthew 6:8), it is our prayers that He responds to in order to give us those things. In a passage about praying and prayer, Jesus in Luke 11:9 said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” In other words, God is far less likely to answer the prayers you don’t pray than the ones you do pray!
As to the matter of God “only answering according to His will,” 1 John 5:14-15 does say, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” So, yes, if we do ask something that is in His will, obviously, He will answer it. But the other side of the coin to that truth is that God often makes something His will based specifically on our prayers, so we should therefore pray about everything. We already saw that in the case of Hezekiah, and it is also seen in the prayer of Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:10) and in the case of the Canaanitish woman who besought Jesus for help for her daughter (Matthew 15:22-28). So, if we ask something that is sinful and against His will, we can normally expect a no (I say “normally” because of cases like Numbers 11:18-20, 1 Samuel 7:6-7); if we ask something right and in His will, we can always expect a yes, and sometimes if we ask for something right that was not in His will, He will give it to us anyway just because we asked.
Another important principle of prayer is that God does indeed know best. He knows all things (John 16:30; John 21:17; Isaiah 46:10) and therefore sometimes does not give us what we ask for because it is not the best option, even though it really seems like it. For instance, Isaiah 57:1 says, “The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come.” We pray for good people to be healed, and oftentimes they die. God saw the evil they would face in the future and spared them from it. We pray for wickedness to stop, and often it does not, because God uses it to show us that we have a lost and broken world and therefore need Him very badly.
Lastly, know that while prayer for us is usually about getting something from God, God, as any good parent, is more interested in simply talking with His children. Galatians 4:6 says, “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.”
Pray. It is worth it, and it does make a difference.
Pastor Wagner can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and his books are available by clicking the “Store” link above.
Feature photo by Pastor Bo Wagner