Since we’ve all been discussing heretics recently, I thought I would rework a post I put up over at sbcIMPACT! I hope when you are done, you will forgive me the title!
I would request that you put down your stones for a moment and hear what this heretic is trying to say.
I do not believe that I am advocating heresy and I am certainly not recommending that we abandon prayer. The title was provocative, and intentional. I risked the wrath of my readers to make a simple point about prayer, one I feel is important. Actually, if you get a hold on this principle, it might actually be a blessing. So sit for a minute, read this, and then if you still want to stone me with stones afterward, well, get in line!
So, here’s my thesis: God does NOT answer prayer. Now, let me explain.
We commonly use biblical, spiritual, or church-related terms in slightly inaccurate ways. We who have grown up appreciating the ministry of Billy Graham talk about “going forward” or “praying the sinner’s prayer” to get saved. Yet we know that it is genuine faith in Christ, not walking an aisle or reading the words of a prayer that save us. Though we know better, we replace the spiritual reality with a human act. Someone giving a testimony will say, “Faith changed my life.” But faith never changes anything unless it is the right kind of faith. Faith in myself accomplishes little. Faith in people often leads to disappointment. Faith in false gods cannot save or heal or help. It is not our faith that changes us, it is our God. Faith is how we come into a right relationship with Him. Faith is useless unless it is focused on the true and living God.
“God answers prayer.” I have heard that statement since I was a little boy. It is the most noble of expressions. Certainly, when God’s people seek Him in prayer, God demonstrates His presence and power among us. But I am afraid the statement can give people the wrong impression about prayer. It can lead to some false conclusions.
When we say that God answers prayers, we risk putting the emphasis in the wrong place, on the way we pray. Did I say the right words? Did I pray long enough? Hard enough? People wonder why their prayers do not get answered. They pray for healing or help or provision and when no answer comes, they assume that there must be something wrong with their prayers. Maybe they did not use the proper format or the magic words. If they can just find the right way to pray, God will hear.
The phrase “God answers prayer” can leave people with the idea that there is some magic formula, attitude, posture, technique or grouping of words that makes prayer effective. But that misses the whole point.
Look at James 5:16. Speaking of Elijah, James said, “The prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective.”
Note that he did not say, “Prayer is powerful and effective.” He said that it is the prayers of “a righteous man” that move the heart of God. Elijah prayed in the simplest words. It was the false prophets who chanted, cut themselves and engaged in all kinds of weirdness to gain their gods’ attention and get their prayers answered. It was not what Elijah prayed that mattered most, but who he was before God. When a person in right standing with God prays, God hears.
So, here is my point. God does not answer prayer, He answers PEOPLE!
I love Caller ID. I guarantee you, when the caller ID shows that my wife or one of my sons or my daughter is calling me, that call is getting answered. My family can always reach me. But if the Caller ID says that it is a blocked call, or a toll-free number, the chances are not good that the call will go through. In other words, I base my response on who is calling.
That’s the way our God is. He does not respond to eloquence, or volume, or magic words, or any other human devices. He responds to people. It was not Elijah’s prayers that moved God, it was Elijah. Elijah was a righteous man and God listens to the righteous.
Am I saying that there is some sort of merit in Elijah, or me, or in anyone else that gives us merit? Can we attain some kind of special standing with God that gets our prayers answered? No, of course not. But when we come to Christ we are justified, clothed in his righteousness and granted favor with the Almighty. We are adopted into his family and given full access to God in the name of Jesus Christ. When I pray, God sees Jesus’ name on the Caller ID and my prayers are answered.
Now, in the name of Christ, I have the privilege of going boldly into the throne room of heaven to voice my praise, confess my sins, pour out my heart and make my requests. I am welcome in the presence of God because of the grace of Jesus Christ.
God does not hear my prayer because I say the magic words, or because I moan and shout. All my chanting or repetition would be no more effective than those of the false prophets on Carmel. He is impressed by neither my eloquence nor my passion. He hears my prayers because He loves Jesus and I am in Christ! I have been accepted in the Beloved and therefore God hears my prayers.
Undoubtedly, there are ways that the righteous can make their prayers more effective through study, practice, discipline and passion. But there is no method, means or magic that can make the prayers of an unrighteous man powerful and effective. The only basis of answered prayer is an intimate relationship with God won through the Blood of Christ.
If God gave me what I deserve, he would consign me to hell and forever banish me from his presence. He chose not to do that. He sent his Son to bear my sins and has clothed me in his righteousness. So, in my life and in my prayers, I get what Jesus deserves. Now, I have access to God that I don’t deserve. But I have it anyway.
Why does God answer my prayers? Because I pray the right words? No. Because I pray long enough or hard enough or with enough faith? No. He hears my prayers because I am his, because I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ and because I approach him in that awesome name.
In Christ, God answers ME.
So, what are you going to do with those stones?