Prayer: What about those unanswered prayers?
Have you ever prayed for something, but it seemed your prayer went unanswered? People often speak of this. What are we to think about it? Don’t we as believers have promises given in the Bible that assure us our prayers will be answered? Let’s look at some of those prayer promises people often “claim” as their own.
7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. [Emphasis added]
Such passages are numerous.
19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. [Emphasis added]
Aren’t these passages and promises often quoted and claimed? And please note that none of these are stated as conditional promises.
9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. [Emphasis added]
Doesn’t every one mean everyone?
10 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. [Emphasis added]
And isn’t this related even to things other than healing?
14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. [Emphasis added]
Even James speaks of prayer promises like these.
14 Is any sick among you? 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:
15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; [Emphasis added]
That all looks quite simple to me; doesn’t it to you? Aren’t these promises claimed by many believers in every generation? Why is it then that people of faith don’t always get what they request? Isn’t that often the case? It surely is! But please notice something very important about all the promises you find like these in the Bible—NONE of them are in the apostle Paul’s thirteen epistles. Is that of some special significance? It surely is! It is because all such promises were given to Israel, NOT to us of today. Some will say, “Aren’t all the promises in the Bible mine to claim?” Or they will say, “I thought we are to believe the whole Bible.” We are! I agree with that completely. The whole Bible is a book of truth. But the whole Bible is not addressed to us. For instance, have you or any Christians you know obeyed the commands in the Bible to offer animal sacrifices [Leviticus 5:10]? Or have you been faithful to observe the commands in the Bible to observe The Year of Jubilee [Leviticus 25:9 – celebrated every 50th year]. Are you disobedient for not observing these? There are many such commands that were once given to God’s people that rightly go completely ignored by believers of every generation of our time. There are other believers who will say, “But didn’t the apostle Paul perform miracles and heal the sick?” Answer: Yes! But only for a relatively short period time. These special abilities were only given to Paul in the earlier years of his ministry to prove the authenticity of his message. They were not given simply to alleviate pain and suffering. There was a special need for this at that time because Paul’s message was something new and quite different from what had gone before. It is true that it is the apostle Paul who is our apostle today. But even he was only able to do these miraculous things in the earlier years of his ministry. Once his authority had been established and the revelation given to him had been disseminated, those special abilities were withdrawn.
I Corinthians 13:9-10
9 For we know in part [God’s revelation to man was then still incomplete], and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. [Emphasis added]
Today we now have the complete revelation of God’s Word. The 66 books of the Bible provide that. In our time we are to give priority to Paul’s teaching much like Israel once gave priority to the teachings of Moses. This is all because it is Paul who is God’s instructor for us in our time.
13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: [Emphasis added]
This magnification of Paul’s office [his teaching] is to do with giving it special attention. As we might put it today, this is “making a big deal” of Paul’s teaching. It is to be given priority over all the other teaching of the Bible because it is specially directed to us today. This is telling us that it is Paul’s teaching that serves to be the words of Christ to us today.
I Corinthians 14:37-38
37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.
Paul’s words are somewhat blunt about this. Note what he then says in this next verse to alert the reader to the importance of this.
38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. [Emphasis added]
I’m afraid we have a lot of ignorant churchgoers today, including many pastors. They’ve not bothered to study the Bible. Instead, they read and study denominational teaching and commentaries on the Bible but spend little time on the Bible itself. Furthermore, they know in most cases nothing at all about studying the Bible rightly divided. Yet we have a clear command on that for all of us.
II Timothy 2:15
15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. [Emphasis added]
This activity of “rightly dividing” means approaching the Bible with the understanding that while the whole Bible is FOR us, it is not all TO us or ABOUT us. MOST of it is tied to Israel, not the church of today which is the Body of Christ.
I Corinthians 12:27
27 Now ye [believers of our time] are the body of Christ, and members in particular. [Emphasis added]
The Twelve Apostles were never said to be apostles to the Gentiles and never became a part of this Body of Christ. They were apostles OF Israel, and they were directed in a ministry TO Israel. Yet most pastors spend most of their time in their writings. It is, therefore, no wonder that we have so much confusion and division in churches today. This IS the primary reason we have so many church denominations today.
As commanded, The Twelve would have taken their message of The Gospel of The Kingdom to the Gentiles had Israel accepted it first, but that never happened.
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations [that’s even Gentiles], baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you [that included the Mosaic Law]: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. [Emphasis added]
Throughout the book of Acts, we have the record of The Twelve Apostles and their message presented but being rejected by Israel. Notice even Paul’s words quoted about this at the end of that very important historical book.
27 For the heart of this people is waxed gross [describing Israel], and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
28 Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it. [Emphasis added]
Yes, this message of salvation then went to the Gentiles with the apostle Paul leading the way. The Twelve Apostles later learned about this message from him.
2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain. [Emphasis added]
Most people think it was The Twelve who provided orientation to Paul, but it was the other way around. He needed to present his new and different gospel to them.
7 But contrariwise, when they [The Twelve and other Jews in Jerusalem] saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; [Emphasis added]
This “gospel of the uncircumcision” is the same as The Gospel of the Grace of God. It was by no means the same as what had gone before through The Twelve Apostles and others.
24 But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I [Paul] have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. [Emphasis added]
No, this gospel Paul preached was revealed to him through the risen and ascended Christ. The apostle Paul was the first to know about it and proclaim it, even to The Twelve Apostles. It was Paul who explained to them what God had accomplished at the cross through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Before then, all that was not known to The Twelve. All they knew is that He was the promised Messiah and that He had risen from the grave. They had no idea about how the crucifixion was about Christ dying for the sins of the entire world of mankind to provide the way of salvation.
II Corinthians 5:21
21 For he [God the Father] hath made him [Jesus Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. [Emphasis added]
It was Christ’s work that satisfied [or propitiated] the justice of God.
I John 2:2
2 And he is the propitiation [the means to satisfying God’s just demands] for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. [Emphasis added]
This was a marvelous expression of God’s love directed toward all mankind.
I John 4:10
10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. [Emphasis added]
It is our knowledge of His love for each of us that should motivate us to love others.
I John 4:11
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. [Emphasis added]
There is obviously so much that can be said about this. I even have a book on all this and a lot more that’s related—22 Key Promises You Can Count On. We DO have God’s promises to and for us today, but not these that belong to Israel alone. If you’ll take the time to learn how to sort all this out, you’ll not only spare yourself of a lot of frustration, but you’ll preserve your confidence in what you read in the Bible. Otherwise, you find a lot of things that appear to be contradictions.
Now let’s get back to our subject. Have you ever thought about the fact that “unanswered” prayer happened to mature believers like the apostle Paul? There were things he requested in his prayers that even he didn’t receive.
II Corinthians 12:7-9
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
But notice what the Lord told him.
9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. [Emphasis added]
In other words, he did not get what he requested. The pain and the problem itself did not go away. Instead, God enabled him to withstand the situation. Why then should we think such things will be different for us? We shouldn’t!
In answer to our question about prayer, we always need to be mindful that, as we noted earlier in this study, while every promise in the Bible is FOR us, they are not all TO us or ABOUT us. We are not living in a time when we are so completely controlled by the Spirit of God that what we ask for in prayer is always God’s will. There was a time in the past and there will be another time in the future [in the coming time of The Tribulation] when that kind of thing will happen, but not in this time which we are a part of what is called The Dispensation of the Grace of God. There are those who will claim that it does, but you will find by your own experience and by that of others that it does not. You don’t know of any believers today who get everything they ask in prayer. As we study the Bible, and particularly the promises of the Bible, we must understand what is called the right division of Scripture. Otherwise, as I often say, we will be setting ourselves up for a lot of frustration and many disappointments.
Again, II Timothy 2:15
15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. [Emphasis added]
Right division is separating what was written to Israel from what is written to us as members of the Body of Christ. Those things written to Israel would include everything outside the epistles written by the apostle Paul. Even the book of Acts is a transitional book where God’s program for His people is in a state of change. There are even a few things in Paul’s writings that were transitional in nature that eventually went away. All this, of course, demands study on our part to learn and rightly understand.
The portion of the Bible that most believers tend to have the hardest time with is that which is written [especially the promises] in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as well as the book of Acts. It is in this timeframe when God was preparing the nation Israel for the fulfillment of their promised kingdom. It is regarding things in these writings that most of the confusion and controversy comes. There it centers around the kingdom promised that would be centered in Jerusalem. In this promised kingdom there would be unity, peace, and perfect provision for life. It would be a form of Heaven on Earth. But obviously that kingdom did not come spiritually or materially. The promised kingdom has been put off. It definitely will come as promised through the writings of the prophets. But today we live within the timeframe of an interruption of the prophetic program. How long it will last is something no one on earth knows. But it will finally end with that which we speak of as the Rapture, the resurrection of all the members of The Body of Christ. That’s us as believers!
I Corinthians 15:51-52
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery [MUSTERION = a secret – In this case, something not known to the Old Testament prophets]; We shall not all sleep [pass away in death], but we shall all be changed,
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump [the one at the end of this period of grace]: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. [Emphasis added]
When this happens the last seven years, called The Tribulation, will come about. During that time a lot of prophecy will be fulfilled. God’s people will then also have access to these prayer promises that are not ours to claim today. That period ends with the climactic return of Jesus Christ to the Earth to establish His promised earthly kingdom. Meanwhile, believers of this present Dispensation of Grace will experience a lot of what is often mis-called unanswered prayers—prayers that are “unanswered” only in the sense that they don’t get all that they request. But we all need to realize that a NO is just as much of an answer as a YES. If we don’t get what we request, we need to simply claim other promises that ARE given to us. Resting on those will give us the power and the peace of mind to face any and every adversity. Here are a couple of often rightly claimed examples of that.
28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. [Emphasis added]
In the Greek text of this verse, we find that it is God who is the subject, not all things. Things can only serve to frustrate us and cause us to worry, but it is God who can and will work all things together for our good.
6 Be careful for nothing [meaning to stop worrying about anything]; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
Please notice that this verse is not followed by a statement promising us we’ll then get what we request. But notice what it does promise.
7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep [TEREO = guard or watch over] your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. [Emphasis added]
What a wonderful Savior we have!