Touching heaven: Where there’s a will, there’s a way
God hears and answers in his own time and in his own way, always with our best interests in mind.
Does God answer prayer? How do we know? Can we be sure? Before we can find the answers to these questions, we must begin with another, “Is God able to help me?”
God commands us to pray. He offers guidance, structure, patterns, and words for prayer. He promises to hear our prayers. But, we want to know, is he able to answer? Is he able to help?
GOD IS ABLE
The Bible overflows with accounts of God’s power in response to prayer: Israel’s deliverance from the Egyptians at the Red Sea (Exodus 13:17–14:31), Elijah calling down fire from heaven in his duel with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:16-46), Hezekiah’s 15-year life extension (Isaiah chapter 38). Scripture praises God for his absolute power, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Psalm 115:3). Mary, the mother of Jesus, heard and experienced this firsthand, “No word from God will ever fail” (Luke 1:37).
No doubt about it; God is able. But is God able to help us today? Who are we that he should hear and help us? What are our problems that he should bother with them? We don’t need seas parted or the mouths of lions closed. However, we do need God’s help. Anxiety afflicts, finances falter, health fades, relationships need repair.
“God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). The apostle Paul piles on the terms in this powerful passage as he attempts to express the inexpressible and describe the indescribable power and mercy of God.
Another way to look at this passage is to take each thought and add it, one at a time. This produces a pyramid effect, which maximizes the impact of the verse. God is . . .
Able to do
Able to do what we ask
Able to do what we think
Able to do what we ask or think
Able to do all that we ask or think
Able to do above all that we ask or think
Able to do abundantly above all that we ask or think
Able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think
What a blessing to be able to simply say, “My God is able.” And we’re able to say even more because God is able to do “immeasurably more” because of his great power.
Prayers offered to our God are neither a waste of time nor breath. God is able. He hears and answers in his own time and in his own way, always with our best interests in mind.
PRAYER CHANGES THINGS
Jesus spends more time teaching us to be bold and confident in our prayers than telling us what words to use. His story of the annoying person pounding on a friend’s door at midnight because he needs food for guests—remember, no 24-hour convenience stores in first-century Israel—ends with “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need” (Luke 11:5-8).
Jesus offers an executive summary of why prayer matters: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9,10). Ask, seek, knock are words of increasing intensity.
- Know that God hears.
- Know that God loves to have us come to Him in prayer.
- Be bold.
- Be persistent.
- Pester him.
- Bother him.
- Harass him.
- Storm his heavenly throne with your prayers.
Look at Abraham praying for Sodom in Genesis chapter 18. “Lord, will you spare the city for the sake of 50 . . . 45 . . . 40 . . . 30 . . . 20 . . . 10?” He’s like a little child who just won’t stop. “Please. Pretty please?” Could Abraham be any more annoying? What a pest. What a bother. But not to the Father. Abraham knew how to move the hand of God and he spare no time.
In the end, Abraham did not receive the answer to prayer that he wanted. It would appear that his fervent prayers ended in failure, as the city was destroyed. But God heard Abraham, who did receive answers to his prayers. And something else happened, something amazing. God sent his angels to rescue the members of Abraham’s family who were living in Sodom. Abraham saw firsthand that God had listened. His trust in God was fortified, a necessity for the challenges that were yet to come.
When you are engaged in prayer, something will always change. You may pray that the people who bug you or the things in life that bother you the most will change and then get frustrated because they never seem to change. Maybe that’s because God is changing you to have a little more patience, a little more love, a little more sensitivity. He is preparing you to talk to someone or deal with a difficult situation.
NOT MY WILL, BUT YOUR WILL
Still, all the asking and seeking and knocking at the door of our heavenly Father’s office do not gain for us the specific answers we want and the timing we prefer. Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is essential to understanding how God answers prayer. With the weight of the sins of the world on his shoulders and the time of his most intense suffering and death near, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
We pray the same way, “Not my will, Father, but Your will be done. You know what is best. I trust you.” Indeed, “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” (1 John 5:14,15). Our Lord will not necessarily give us what we want, like a child in a candy store or a sportsman in Cabela’s, but he will give us what we need according to his will. The more time we spend in God’s Word, the more we will know and understand God’s will. Our prayers will more closely zero in on the Father’s plan for our lives.
Martin Luther declares, “As a Christian undertakes to pray in compliance with God’s command and in reliance on His promise, he offers it to God in the name of Christ, and he knows that what he asks will not be denied him. And he actually experiences God’s help in every need. Even if he is not immediately delivered from his distress, he knows nonetheless that his prayer is pleasing to God and is heard; and he knows that God enables him to bear and overcome his distress”. (Luther’s Works, vol. 24, p. 241)
Don’t worry about the answers. Just pray, and keep on praying. “The greatest tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer”