"The LORD God has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. He awakens me morning by morning. He awakens my ear to hear as the learned." Isa. 50:4. One who walks with God needs to be awakened "morning by morning", so that he can "wait on the LORD." Note that it is done that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. The chief purpose of prayer is for the blessing of others. Jesus taught it in a parable, saying, "Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within and say, 'Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you.' I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs." Luke 11:5-8
1) This story encourages us to be persistent in prayer. Does it mean that God is reluctant to answer prayer?
Answer: The parable stresses that prayer is for blessing others. When we try to help others know the truth, we will feel our own inadequacy, so we should plead for help from Him who can supply all our needs. The God who sends His servants to satisfy hungry souls will gladly supply our needs to advance His own cause. The reluctant neighbor in the parable stands in contrast to God. Jesus shows that even a selfish person, in order to relieve himself of a bothering neighbor, would grant his request, how much more would God, who is pleased to be gracious, be willing to satisfy our needs, and would never feel bothered by our prayers.
2) I note that Jesus often calls God our heavenly Father, so that we may know Him as a dear parent who loves us.
Answer: Yes. This is "a name entwined with the dearest associations of the human heart. He gives us the privilege of calling the infinite God our Father. This name, spoke to Him and of Him, is a sign of our love and trust toward Him, and a pledge of His regard and relationship to us. Spoken when asking His favor or blessing, it is as music in His ears. That we might not think it presumption to call Him by this name, He has repeated it again and again. He desires us to become familiar with the appellation.
"Our prayers are not to be a selfish asking, merely for our own benefit. We are to ask that we may give. The principle of Christ's life must be the principle of our lives. 'For their sakes,' He said, speaking of His disciples, 'I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified by the truth.' John 17:19 . . . Our mission to the world is not to serve or please ourselves; we are to glorify God by cooperating with Him to save sinners. We are to ask blessings from God that we may communicate to others. The capacity for receiving is preserved only by imparting."Christ's Object Lessons, p. 142
3) The Bible says, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." Matt. 7:7. Does that mean that God will always grant whatever we ask?
Answer: In principle, yes. But our petitions may not always get an immediate answer. Christ wants us always to pray and not to faint. The purpose of prayer is not to change God's mind, but to bring us into harmony with Him. He may see that we need to examine ourselves, repent and rectify our wrongs. So He lets us undergo trials and hardships, to help us see what it is that hinders the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
God's promises are conditional. Prayer cannot take the place of performance of duty. Christ says, "If you love Me, keep My commandments. . . .He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him." John 14:15,21. It would not be reasonable for us to insist that God hear our prayers, when we are disobeying Him. Jesus says, "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you." John 15:7. The condition here is certain: "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you." The "abide in Me" is hard to grasp: How do we know we are abiding in Christ? The second clause answers our question: "and My words abide in you." This is something we can do: always keep His words in mind, carefully meditating on them and earnestly practicing them. Thus our prayers will be heard, because they are directed by the words of Christ. Our petitions will be according to His will.
4) There is a text that says that if we hate a brother, God will not hear our prayers, is that right?
Answer: After citing the Lord's prayer, Jesus added a comment: "If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matt." 6:14,15. Jesus also taught: "If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." Matt. 5:23,24.
In Matt. 1:23-35 Jesus told a parable, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!' So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.
"Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?' And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses." A believer in Christ who refuses to forgive others, thereby denies his own repentance, and gives up the hope for his own forgiveness. See Ezek. 18:24.
5) If a man who has repented and belongs to Christ refuses to forgive his brother, will God revoke his forgiven sins?
Answer: That last remark made by Christ is certain. A sinner who has been forgiven, if he is not careful, can be enslaved again by his original selfishness, thereby declaring his rejection of God's love. He alienates himself from God, returning to his original unforgiving state, virtually denying his own repentance. So he will have to bear his sins again, just as if he had not repented. This parable brings out the contrast between God's love and human cruelty. "Should you not have had compassion on your fellow servant even as I had pity on you?" We are forgiven not because we forgive, but according as we forgive. It is true that we are not worthy of God's forgiveness, but our attitude toward others reveals whether or not we have been changed by God's love. Christ's purpose in saving us is to convert us into loving Christians. He prays, "I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them." John 17:26.
6) Many pray to God when they are sick and in trouble. Ps. 50:15 says, "Call on Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me." Is this absolutely dependable?
Answer: This text should be read in full context: Ps. 50:14,15 says, "Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me." We are taught to offer thanksgiving to God and glorify Him when we pray. Please read this selection from 2 Chron. 20:1-30:
7) "It happened after this that the people of Moab with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against Jehoshaphat. . . .And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throught all Judah. . . .Then Jehoshaphat stood in the congregation of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD, . . . and said:'O LORD God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You? . . . For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You. . .' Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel, . . . a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the congregation; and he said, 'Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, king Jehoshaphat! Thus says the LORD to you: Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God's. Tomorrow go down against them. . . .You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the LORD , who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem! Do not fear or be dismayed, tomorrow go out against them, for the LORD is with you.'
"And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem bowed before the LORD, worshipping the LORD . Then the Levites . . . stood up to praise the LORD God of Israel with voices loud and high. And they went out early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa; and as they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, 'Hear me, O Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Believe in the LORD your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper.' And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the LORD, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying:
Praise the LORD, For His mercy endures forever."
"Now when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, and they were defeated. For the people of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of Mount Seir to utterly kill and destroy them. And when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they helped to destroy one another."
Answer: This is a most unusual miracle. Its prominent factor is simple faith, thanksgiving and praise. Under all circumstances, prayer should be attended with praise and thanksgiving, offered in Christ's name and according to God's will. 1 John 5:14 says, "If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us." As Jesus faced His final trial, He prayed, "Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup from Me, nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done." Luke 22:42. Jesus came to earth to be our sin offering, so He must undergo extreme suffering. His Church, that is His body, must likewise undergo great suffering. In the early centuries many Christians were slain under Roman persecution. In the Middle Ages many more died by sword and fire during the crusades and the Inquisition ordered by the pope of the church in Rome.
The mother of two disciples of Jesus once asked Him for the privilege of "sitting one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom." Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They said to Him, "We are able." So He said to them, "You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father." Matt. 20:20-23.
This dialogue reveals two facts: one is that people often offer selfish prayers, the other is that whatever the Lord grants is according to God's will. The experience of Jesus was: suffering first; enjoyment later. The Church must go through the same experience. So sometimes it is God's will to deliver believers from trials, sometimes it is His will that they suffer martyrdom. Apostle Peter was twice delivered from prison by angels (See Acts 5:17,19; 12:5-17), and finally died as a martyr.
8) What does the Bible teach about praying for the sick?
Answer: James 5:14 says, "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the LORD . And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the LORD will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven." The mention of forgiveness indicates that sin is often related to disease, because many ailments result from sin. Once, before healing a sick man, Jesus said to him, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Mark 2:5. Another time after he had healed a sick man He said to him, "See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you." John 5:14. These reveal a certain relation between sin and disease.
Yet this does not mean that all diseases result from sinful acts. Once Jesus met a man who was blind from his birth. The disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him." John 9:2,3. Jesus then healed him. So before Christians pray for the sick, they should make inquiry. If the disease is related to smoking, drugs, alcohol or venereal disease, they should not hastily pray for its healing, but should teach the patient to repent and change his evil habit.
9) Some pray for their loved ones, that the Lord will lead them to repent. This is according to his will, and is offered in the name of Jesus. Why are such prayers sometimes not answered?
Answer: We need to exercise a firm faith in God; He does not always give an immediate answer, because He wants to test our faith, or perhaps to see if our desire is genuine. Since we ask according to His will, we should believe firmly in His promise, and pray with persistence that he cannot refuse. God did not say that we shall receive what we want by asking only once. We must continue in urgent prayer, to intensify our desire for His answer. Says Jesus, "Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?" John 11:40.
10) Most believers are in danger of being forced by a busy life to lose their first zeal, and let prayer become cold and formal.
Answer: That is right. Every believer needs to know himself and to know God: to realize his own deficiency, short life and frailty. On the other hand he needs to sense the omnipotence and holiness of God. We must lay hold of His every promise, and not forget Jesus' words, "Without Me you can do nothing." John 15:5. The devil wants us to rely on self, feeling that we can get along without praying. That is dangerous, muddled thinking. Another danger is to put dependence on human power, riches and learning. "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts." Zech. 4:6.