Impacting Cities & Communities thru Prayer
A Community of Prayer Champions, Praying Churches, Prayed-for Communities
I originally wrote this article for Pray! back in 2000. I think it is still foundational for any biblical perspective on prayer. Hope you find it helpful.
The Mystery of Answered Prayer
(Five Principles from the Apostle John)
Jessica was 18 years old when she died. My wife and I had anxiously waited with her parents for five and a half days, fervently praying along with hundreds of others from our church and throughout the country that God would heal their precious daughter. Jessica loved God more passionately than most of the teens we knew. She had served in missions projects overseas, shared her faith regularly, and lived life to the fullest. She had more friends than some towns have residents!
Then there’s Kathy, a wife and mother of three, who went from a seemingly healthy woman in her 40’s into a “responsive coma,” apparently due to a virus in her brain. For several days Kathy lay in the hospital waving her arms erratically – “tremoring,” the doctors called it. The medical staff, however, could not determine the cause of the problem.
Several days after Kathy was admitted, I was on the phone with her husband. At that moment, Kathy’s doctor walked into the waiting rooms to tell him that his wife had just awakened. By that evening, Kathy was talking, and by the next day, she was back to normal. We celebrated in our worship services the following Sunday. The prayers of the saints had clearly been answered.
Most of us can tell two stories of our own with similarly opposite outcomes. It draws us to an obvious question: Why was Kathy healed but not Jessica? Both were wonderfully godly; both had scores of people passionately praying for them.
Mere human logic would suggest that Jessica should have lived since she was so much younger. Is God just not watching some of the time? Was there some hidden sin that kept Jessica from her own special touch from God? Did those of us who were praying not have enough faith?
We know that sometimes prayers don’t get answered because of a lack of faith. And yes, God sometimes disciplines us, even harshly at times, by bringing temporary sorrow and hurt into our lives. But why does someone else pray for a new job and start the next week at higher pay, when we prayed just as much and are still looking?
Why do some Christians practically receive handwriting on the wall when seeking God’s direction, while others who are just as committed believers feel as though God is playing hide-and-seek with His will?
The answers to these questions can’t just come from the “not enough faith” or “God is disciplining you” categories. The best answers, I believe, are found in what Jesus said in conjunction with His “Ask and it shall be given” statements recorded by John. Though we must remember that God’s ways are higher than our ways (see Isaiah 55:9), there are five principles that will always be a part of answered prayer.
1. God will be glorified
“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father” (John 14:13).
Some would ask, “Wouldn’t Jessica’s miraculous healing have brought glory to the Father?” I know I asked that question at least a hundred times, and her parents must have asked it more.
Yet God, in His sovereignty, knew that He would receive great glory through her death. Hundreds of people, at Jessica’s visitation, and funeral, heard the gospel and a vivid testimony of what the Lord had done in her life. Many young people came to Christ in the weeks that followed, and Jessica’s influence is still felt among those who knew her well.
The worship service after Kathy’s recovery also was filled with emotion that powerfully affected, and continues to affect, the people who participated. We must let God determine how His glory will be appropriated.
2. We will bear much fruit.
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15: 7-8).
We often ask God for things that will make us feel better now, but which will keep us from bearing more fruit in the long run. Great fruit takes time, the right fertilizers, and the right conditions. Sometimes God is coordinating these elements in our lives while we see only a “no” to our requests.
What if your children asked you to plant an orange tree in your yard in Minnesota? You would turn them down, not because you don’t love them or want good things for them, but because you know their tree would never bear fruit.
3. We must ask in Jesus’ name.
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (John 15:16).
As I was growing up, I was always taught to end my prayers, “In Jesus’ name. Amen.” But I’ve learned since that praying in His name means far more than tagging a phrase at the end of our prayers.
Imagine that someone calls the local police department, says that they’re going to shoot someone in the next hour and asks for money to stop the crime - then gives your name! Thankfully, the officer knows you personally and immediately realizes it couldn’t be you.
Why? Because he knows that what is being asked for and done doesn’t match the character of the name given. In the same way, our prayer requests must match the character of the one in whose name we pray. When we pray selfishly, or out of greediness, or in bitterness and rage, for instance we aren’t praying in accordance with the character of Jesus.
When we truly ask in Jesus’ name, we are simply requesting that He act in accordance with who He already is.
4. It will bring us joy.
“Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:24).
Scores of things can give us temporary happiness or pleasure. But joy is deeper, more penetrating.
It’s the assurance that even in the middle of the worst, God is in control. We experience joy when we see the greatness of God at work. God longs to answer our prayer in ways that will reveal his awesomeness.
To trust God to answer us in a way that will bring us joy, however, may require the most faith of all. We have to trust God for the big picture. Sometimes He does things that don’t make sense to us, at least for now. It is as though we are stuck in traffic on the freeway, praying for escape. God is the helicopter pilot who views the entire freeway network. We need to trust that He will guide us out of the snarl and where we need to go.
When Jessica’s parents lost her, the emotional traffic in their lives nearly brought them to a standstill. Yet they, along with the rest of us who were there when she died, tasted the deep emotion of encountering God Himself, standing at the door of eternity. It was a moment of pure joy which I have come to describe as an “exhilarating terror.”
5. We must submit our requests to God’s will.
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.”
Another tag line that, regrettably, often gets randomly attached to prayer is “if it’s your will, Lord.” Asking according to His will does not mean that we come before the God of the universe passively or on the fence about our requests.
It’s still true that we often “do not have because we do not ask” (James 2:4 NASB).
But I’ll never forget walking through the hospital cafeteria with Jessica’s dad several days before her death. We had just approached the salad bar when he abruptly stopped, closed his eyes, extended his arms from the waist, and opened his hands. He didn’t have to say a word-the tears began to roll down both our faces.
He repeated that gesture several times in the days that followed. It was an outward expression of what he knew inside he had to do: give his dear daughter into the Father’s hands so that His will might be carried out.
To submit our prayers to God’s will means that we will come to Him with a heart of humility and reverence. It means that we have studied His Word for guidance on what His will really involves. It means admitting that in this life our motives and attitudes still can be tainted, deceived, and focused on self. Ultimately, it means that we leave the results to God.
Think about a difficult situation for which you’ve prayed but received no answer. Consider bringing it before the Lord again and asking Him to help you see how He might be glorified, the fruit He intends for you to bear, how Jesus’ character can be exhibited in the request, the joy He desires for you, and His will for the answer.
We still “see through a glass darkly” (I Corinthians 13:12 KJV). But keeping these truths in mind makes for prayers that are better aligned with God-and makes us more aware that someday we will see everything from God’s perspective – face to face.