elijahRead: Jn. 4:46–54

Introduction

About five years ago, God revived prayer at Cornerstone. Over that time, I’ve been stunned at how many prayers he’s answered. I should not have been stunned, because answered prayer should be routine for God’s people, but I’ve been stunned nonetheless. We simply cannot lose this momentum. Every day of my life, I pray that God continues to make Cornerstone a praying church. He’s answering my prayer.

It’s genuinely remarkable how many prayers we find in the Bible and how many teachings about prayer we find in the Bible. The Bible is simply full of prayer.[1] If we took time actually to study the topic of prayer, we’d discover that it pervades the Word of God. It’s not a secondary topic; it’s a major topic.

This is why prayerlessness in the church is so counterintuitive — and, I believe, sinister and Satanic. Prayer is a basic but powerful part of Christian living. The Bible doesn’t envision that we can live as a Christian without living a life of prayer. The church that does not major on prayer is not acting as a Christian church. The church not routinely getting prayers answered is not a normal Christian church. If you don’t believe this, I simply ask you to read the book of Acts. The primitive church prayed, and that church routinely got answers to prayer. In short: if we’re not praying, and we’re not getting answers to prayer, there’s something terribly wrong.

This is a tender, compelling account of one of Jesus’ signs. It’s an example of daring prayer. I want us to draw important truths from this account and other biblical texts, and I want those truths to change how we pray.

Transformational Truths about Prayer

Big faith does not annoy God

First, our Lord is never miffed by daring prayers. E. M. Bounds, perhaps the greatest writer on the topic of prayer in the history of the church,[2] once pointed out an important fact that we often don’t recognize. Never in the Bible do we find an example of Jehovah in the Old Testament or Jesus in the New Testament complaining that people ask God to do too much for them. On the contrary: God continually chides his people because they lack faith. Big, bold, daring prayers do not upset God. Little, anorexic, unbelieving prayers upset God.

The political official’s son had a near-fatal fever. He’d heard that the rabbi from Nazareth was healing the sick. So he approached Jesus and begged him to heal his son. Now what’s perhaps most remarkable in this account is not that the official asked Jesus to heal his son, but that Jesus didn’t need to be present to do this. Imagine in a similar case our asking a physician to operate on a sick relative without being present. The politician had enough faith simply to trust the very word of Jesus.

Jesus said, “Go; your son will live.”

And then we read: “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”

This is simple, daring faith. The politician’s faith was rewarded. As he was returning home, his servants met him and informed him that his son was recovering. ”When did his fever start dropping?” he asked. The answer: the exact hour that Jesus said “Go; your son will live.”

God loves to answer big, daring prayers. I’m not implying that he’s not interested in prayers for small, ordinary problems. Of course, he is. But he relishes great faith in his children. Earthly fathers delight when their children exercise great confidence in them. Can you imagine how the heavenly Father feels when his children have faith that he can do anything for them?

It’s remarkable how much faith we often lack. A couple of months ago I was talking to a dear friend on the East Coast. He had recently attended a church that was praying that one of its ladies wouldn’t suffer too much from her chemotherapy. They didn’t pray that God would heal her, mind you, but that he would give her relief from her treatment. Apparently God’s strong enough to relieve pain but not strong enough to heal disease. This is not a prayer of great faith, if I may say so.

We should pray according to God’s prescriptive will, not his decretive well

Second, daring prayers should not consider God’s secret, eternal counsels. By this I mean, God’s predestined will for human history. The Bible certainly teaches that God has a plan for human history, and that his plan will be accomplished (Is. 14:24–27; 46:8–10), but it is remarkable the Bible has almost nothing to say about considering that plan when we are making requests of God. In this way, our prayers today are remarkably different from the prayers of the saints in the Bible.

We pray, “God, if it’s your will, please give us a child.” Hannah prays, “Lord, please give me a child.” And God gives her Samuel (1 Sam. 1).

We pray, “Jesus, if it’s in your Father’s plan, please heal us of this sickness.” The disciples prayed, “Lord, please put your hand on this deaf and dumb man so that he can be healed” (Mk. 7:31–37). And Jesus healed him.

We pray, “Lord, if it’s part of your eternal will, please send revival to your people and to our nation.” Jehovah says,

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chr. 7:13–14)

My point is very simple: we have almost no examples in the Bible of God’s people who limit their prayers by pondering his secret councils. God’s people believe in his eternal will. They take great comfort in his will. But when we pray, we pray according to his revealed will in the Bible. We don’t know the specifics of God’s secret will. That’s why it’s secret. But God’s will in the Bible is not secret. It’s revealed. We know what God’s revealed will is. And so we pray according to his revealed will.

This does not mean that God answers every prayer. No father gives his children everything they want; he would not be a faithful father if he did. God didn’t answer Paul’s prayer to remove the thorn of his flesh (2 Cor. 12:7–9). But he wants to do good things for his children, and most of the time he answers our prayers offered in faith. Is our heavenly father less caring about our needs and desires than our earthly father (Mt. 7:7–11)?

This is why Grant Osborne is right: “God is sovereign and can say ‘no [to our prayer],’ but we should not expect God to reject our requests.”[3] Of course, God can say no, because God knows what’s best. But just as we love to please our children whom we love, so God loves to please his children whom he loves. If we don’t understand this tender fact, we have missed something very crucial about prayer.

And this is why is when we read the Bible, we can come up with some amazing statistics. Even apart from the Psalms, which are full of prayers, “[T]he Bible records no fewer than 650 definite prayers, of which no less than 450 have recorded answers.”[4] That’s a fascinating proportion. Probably more than 450 of the prayers in the Bible were answered. Still, that’s almost 70% of answered prayers that we know of. God doesn’t always answer our prayers, but he answers many more prayers than if we did not pray.

And we must face that fact squarely: Had this politician not come to Jesus and begged for the healing of his son, we have no reason to believe his son would have been healed. It’s futile for us to ask, “But what is the predestined will of God? Wouldn’t God have healed him anyway if he had been predestined to be healed?” That answer is for God to decide, not us. We know that all of human history is in his hands. We needn’t worry about that. We simply need to trust God to be as good as his Word — to do good things for his children.

God loves to exhibit his glory by answering prayers

Speaking of human history leads to the third and final truth: God answers our prayers in order to demonstrate his might in the world and to vindicate his honor. You may recall that old covenant Israel lost a strategic battle at a city called Ai. Joshua, the leader, reminded God that if the Jews turned their backs on their enemies, what would their enemies think of God (Josh. 7:9)? That he was some puny little God! In Judges 6:13, Gideon appealed to God in much the same way: “If you really are Israel’s God, what happened to all the promises you gave to us?”

God is vulnerable to our appeals to demonstrate his great power and vindicate his great honor in the earth because he desires to be praised and is worthy to be praised.

So when we pray, we should ask God to exhibit his greatness in the earth. More than anything, God desires and deserves worship and adoration. This is what he desires, and this is what he deserves. When we ask him to do great things, and he does them, he shows not just us, but the world, including the unbelieving world, how great he truly is. God did this with Pharaoh, he did it with Nebuchadnezzar, he did it with Ninevah, and he will do it today.

My mother is a godly, praying woman. Sh’s a writer. Recently she submitted an anecdote from our family history that I didn’t know or else had forgotten for her church’s devotional manual :

Remember

Salle Sandlin

“I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old” (Psalm 77:11).

There is something about recounting the mercies of God in the past that seems to fan again the flames of faith that have become embers of smoldering doubt in our prayer lives. Are there any among us, saved any amount of time, who have not seen the hand of God in our lives? I think this is why God tells us over and over in His Word to remember, to “forget not all his benefits” (Psl. 103:2).

By God’s grace, I will never forget the morning nearly fifty years ago when our first born, Andrew, looked at my husband and me, questioningly, when we told him he couldn’t have any more cereal and milk, because there was no more—in fact, no more anything. Oh, and then the blessed memory of the knock that came at the back door just as the three of us were on our knees in the kitchen, praying for God to supply our need! A woman from church was standing there with bags of groceries in her hand that she said God had, for some reason, laid it upon her heart to bring to us. “Could you by any chance use them?” she asked, hesitantly. And, yes, there was cereal and milk in those bags!

Today, that little boy is a pastor, author, and much in demand preacher and conference speaker. And one of his favorite themes is—you guessed it—prayer.

We will remember, we will remember;

We will remember the works of your hand.

We will shout and give you praise;

For great is Thy faithfulness!

So, when we pray, let us pray bold, daring prayers, because those prayers honor God. Paltry, unbelieving prayers do not honor God. Let’s not forget the warning of Hebrews 3:12, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” An unbelieving heart is an evil heart. An unbelieving heart leads us away from God. When we lack faith in God, including faith to answer our prayers, we begin to depart from the living God.

Conclusion

Let’s review: (1) God isn’t upset by big, daring prayers; he’s upset by an evil heart of unbelief. (2) Don’t worry about God’s secret, eternal will when you pray; just act on what he’s promised in his holy writing that’s not-at-all-secret. (3) Always keep in mind that God loves to show his might and to vindicate his people in the world — so pray big prayers that will cause him to do that!

Let us pray bold, big, daring prayers, and expect God to act as he said he promised — and as he has so many times in the past.


[1] Herbert Lockyer, All the Prayers of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959).

[2] E. M. Bounds, The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004).

[3] Grant R. Osborne, “Moving Forward on our Knees: Corporate Prayer in the New Testament,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 53, 2 (June 2010): 255, emphasis supplied.

[4] Herbert Lockyer, All the Prayers of the Bible, 5.