Is it appropriate to pray for judgment on others today? A pastor had said we are to pray for the salvation of those who are our enemies with love and that imprecatory prayers will come back when the church age is over. He was citing the passage in Revelation when the martyrs were making these prayers.
I know of no place in the New Testament where believers on earth perform imprecatory prayer, or where it is even discussed, let alone approved. The closest thing that comes to mind is the prayer of the believers in Acts chapter four:
Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to
speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to
heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name
of your holy servant Jesus." After they prayed, the place where
they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the
Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Acts 4:29-31 NIV
Even here, God is only asked to "consider their threats", but to compensate the believers with empowerment – not harm those who oppose them. In contrast, we have Jesus' words in the gospels which would seem to exclude all such prayer:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and
hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for
those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in
heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and
sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love
those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the
tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers,
what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Matthew 5:43-48 NIV
"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to
those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those
who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to
him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him
from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if
anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to
others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who
love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those
who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you,
what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you
lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is
that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be
repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend
to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward
will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he
is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your
Father is merciful."
Luke 6:27-36 NIV
There is a right time for everything. What was appropriate during king David's day is not necessarily appropriate now. Much has changed from the Old Covenant. Instead of having to approach God through a specialized priesthood of Levites, all believers are now priests, sharing the High Priesthood of our Lord Jesus (1Pet.2:5; 2:9; Rev.1:6; 5:10; cf. Heb.7). As such, we have direct access to God through Jesus' work in cleansing the real altar in heaven (Eph.2:18; 3:12; Heb.4:16). This is the dispensation of grace and mercy, and since we have been chosen by God to be a blessing to the world and not a cursing, it stands to reason that we should behave accordingly:
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with
blessing, because to this you were called so that you may
inherit a blessing.
1st Peter 3:9 NIV
The passage you ask about takes place during the Tribulation when many things will have changed. Even more to the point, the believers mentioned in your e-mail who want their blood avenged are making this request from heaven, not from earth, and their prayers are thus guaranteed to be right and righteous and entirely appropriate to the circumstances. Here on earth, we cannot know that. We cannot know whether it is God's will to blast others, even if they seem to deserve it. Jesus rebuked James and John when they suggested such a thing even though one would think that punishing an unbelieving town which had rejected the Messiah might be appropriate (Lk.9:51-56). When Jesus returns, He will "bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire" (Is.66:15), and those slain will be many (Is.66:16). But until He does, we ought to "walk as He walked" (1Jn.2:6). Until the time of vengeance arrives (the time, by the way, that the believers in Revelation 6 are praying for, namely, the Second Advent), the best way to ensure judgment upon our enemies is in fact to do them good:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is
right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it
depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take
revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is
written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On
the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is
thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will
heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but
overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:17-21 NIV
In the love of Jesus Christ,
Question #2: Hi Doc! =)
1 Corinthians 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
I know a family that the Lord is blessing greatly. They are both saved. However, he hasn't darkened the door of a church in over 3 years. He allows his family to attend, his wife works in the church/school office, and his kids attend the school. Can this verse apply to situations like this as well? Is it possible that the Lord is blessing because of the wife's continued faithfulness to the Lord?
I think it is very true that there are "blessings by association". For example, Obed-Edom's household was mightily blessed by the Lord in association with the presence of the ark (1Chron.13:13-14). Japheth is blessed with increase and association with the heir of the spiritual blessings, Shem, while Ham's son Canaan is cursed (Gen.9:24-27). Paul's shipmates are blessed by association with him and so survive (Acts 27:24). And there are plenty of other scriptural examples and scriptures which illustrate this principle (cf. Gen.30:30; Ps.37:26b; Prov.11:11; 14:26).
On this particular passage you quote I agree that this is a case of blessing by association. And we can apply the principle to all marriages, i.e., of a spouse being blessed by association with a partner who is being blessed by the Lord. So while in the case of unbelievers, being stuck with someone who is problematic lends itself to cursing by association, where believers are concerned there is never any regret when one partner turns to the Lord with all of his/her heart. That may not guarantee bliss without trouble (cf. 1Cor.7:28), but it is always a cause for rejoicing when we see such cases of blessing by association. Please see the following link which discusses this passage in those terms:
What does it mean in 1st Corinthians 7:14, "the unbelieving husband is sanctified"?
The application for all believers is that God most certainly does bless the people and organizations associated with believers who really are diligently seeking Him, even if the former do not see it, realize it, or appreciate it. Nebuchadnezzar didn't appreciate Daniel and his three friends (at least not until the latter part of his life), but I think there is no doubt that he and his kingdom were mightily blessed by having this cadre of dedicated believers as "salt", so to speak, a preserving influence that drew in the blessings of God. Yet another motivation for us all to put the Lord and our growth in and service to Him first in our lives – that those we love and care for may gain some spiritual benefit from our efforts, if only indirectly.
Righteousness exalts a nation,
But sin is a reproach to any people.
Proverbs 14:34 NKJV
Grace to you and your family from our Lord Jesus Christ. I was wondering if you had any articles written on the popular "Charismatic" notion of "generational curses" and their need to be "broken" by us. I understand where they think this comes from based on the Old Testament texts. But my belief is that Jesus became a curse for us and consequently I need to appropriate His finished work on the cross rather than keep looking back at what my great great grandfather may or may not have done. I also fully understand the nature of having a propensity to do certain things. However, each of us have choices to make and we have been given the Holy Spirit to empower us to make the right ones. Do you have any materials on this subject?
In His all sufficient name
What you refer to is an unbiblical "teaching" loosely based upon the "four generation curse" of the Pentateuch. I agree with your synopsis entirely – well done! Further, while you very adroitly point out the key passage that demonstrates the removal of the Law's curse, I know of nothing in the New Testament which would give a person any idea that we are to apply this Old Testament teaching to believers today, let alone conducting some sort of "intervention" to "break the cycle". One can certainly see how some such notions would be popular as a sort of "pseudo-Christian astrology". Got bad luck? Maybe it's not your fault at all but great-grandpa's. The problems with such a view are obvious and considerable. On the one hand, they encourage people to look to the wrong place when trouble comes. If we are experiencing unusual problems as Christians, we need to understand that these are the result of either:
1) divine discipline (Heb.12), for sins we have personally committed, not our forefathers:
The word of the LORD came to me: "What do you people mean by
quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: " 'The fathers
eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge'? "As
surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no
longer quote this proverb in Israel. For every living soul
belongs to me, the father as well as the son–both alike belong
to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die.
Ezekiel 18:1-4 NIV
or 2) Christian testing:
In this world you do have tribulation. But be courageous. I have overcome the world.
. . . or some combination of the above. And we need to understand that life has its problems and difficulties that come to us as a matter of course as well. Christ and the grace that God provides is the solution to these difficulties, with discipline to be met with confession and a proper change of behavior, and testing to be met with cheer, realizing through the truth of scripture that we are only "getting flak" because we are "over the target" and doing precisely what the Lord wants us to do. Seeking solutions in "breaking a curse" is likely to put us into a spiritual tail-spin in either case above, since in the former we will be ducking responsibility, and in the latter we will be failing to appreciate where we are in God's plan for us so as to fall into despair instead of taking heart.
The other main problem is that this is essential a cult-manipulation device. If I as the "pastor" can "break the curse" for you, then I control your "luck" and you in turn are totally dependent on me. Everything bad that happens to you is "locked in the past" and so you can't do anything about it without me. Everything good that happens to you is a "blessing" that comes from me effectively "breaking" part of the curse for you – but of course as your ancestors made many mistakes, you'll have to keep coming back, and this is true even if it is only my "special teaching" (rather than ceremony) that you "need". This is a sure-fire way to empty the pockets of the gullible and make them willing tools of crafty, unscrupulous practitioners of emotional manipulation.
The actual teaching (as opposed to the contemporary abuse) originally occurs in several places in the Torah, but the following passage makes the true issue most perspicuous:
So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones
and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the LORD had
commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his
hands. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with
him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of
Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and
gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,
maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness,
rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished;
he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the
parents to the third and fourth generation."
Exodus 34:4-7 TNIV
Even within the Torah, we see that the "punishment" is reserved for families of unbelievers, who, in the context of God's people Israel, were held to a higher standard, since the entire nation as a whole had been "entrusted with the oracles of God". Believers are forgiven, regardless of what their ancestors may have done (and there would be no way for an individual to "break a curse" even if that were what the passages were saying). And even in this context we see God's grace. When dealing with a particularly hard-headed family in Israel who refused to believe over several generations, God is merciful. The continuation of the discipline is a benefit, just as it is for believers (whose discipline comes for personal not generational errors). It is a benefit because it is a true inducement to change one's ways. In the eyes of the world, of course, being rich and comfortable and healthy and famous and powerful and possessing many things is great, even if the person who has all these blessings is an unbeliever. In fact, such "blessing" is terrible because it makes such a person all the less likely ever to respond to God. God is under no obligation to go the extra mile and make unbelievers particularly miserable so that they might be saved from the lake of fire (and indeed He does much beyond what we can know as certain passages of scripture make clear: He loves all and wishes all to be saved; Ezek.18:23; Matt.18:14; Jn.12:47; 1Tim.2:4; 2Tim.2:24-26; 2Pet.3:9). But in the case of families within Israel, He did "go the extra mile" to give them added incentive to return to Him and thus break the pattern their ancestors had laid down. The fact that they still fail to respond is only a testament to His glory and His mercy. He loved us first in Jesus Christ with an incomprehensibly great love. If we love Him back, He will never remove His love for us, regardless of what we may have done, not to mention our forefathers:
Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the
faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand
generations of those who love him and keep his
Deuteronomy 7:9 TNIV
And we know that everything works together for good for those
who love God, for those who have been called according to His
Thanks for the email. I am aware that there are all manner of strange and weird "teachings" on this subject out there in the ether at present, and on the subject of "curses" generally. Christ told us to let our "yes" be "yes" and our "no" be "no" and that anything further was "of the devil" (Matt.5:37). That's about the best brief I can think of to avoid all such matters like the plague.
In the One who was cursed for us that we might be blessed forever in Him, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Once again, thank you for your prompt and biblical response. (Not just because I happen to agree--but because the Bible happens to agree). The points you made are pretty much the very one's I made to this well meaning but I believe slightly confused believer. Her point however, deals with what she calls the "propensity" to sin, not just the punishment of it. And while I certainly agree that many of us have different 'propensities' toward different things, that does not negate God's finished work on the cross. His redemption broke the back of every propensity or inclination or predisposition we may have "inherited." Our job is to allow God's Spirit to apply that finished work to our lives. Her 'argument' is that if Jesus took "every curse" then why isn't every one healed, delivered, and so forth. She acknowledges the finished work of Christ, but still maintains that because of the OT texts that you quoted the "curse" or predisposition toward that sin is still there and therefore should be "broken" in order for us to gain total victory over it. I don't think she understands the ramifications of that thought process. I asked her, "what else must I do that apparently Jesus didn't do?" How arrogant of us to assume we can do something that only the Lord could do for us. This is a very slippery slope. I apologize for rambling, I don't mean to beleaguer the point.
Thank you Mr. Luginbill for your devotion to the Lord. Stay faithful and stay strong!
As to "propensity", it is certainly true that we all have a sin nature which is not removed at salvation. We are given "a new heart", meaning that at the new birth our conscience is cleared to see the truth with eyes open. Once blind, we now see; once in the dark, we now see the light of the truth. Sanctification is a process that must continue throughout the Christian life, however, and none of us will achieve complete victory over sin this side of the resurrection. Whatever propensities we may have, and I would certainly agree that everyone is tempted in slightly different ways (i.e., what may tempt me, may not be much of a problem for you and vice versa), these differences do arise from the (possibly) genetic variations of the sin nature (please see the link: in BB 3B Hamartiology: "The Sin Nature").
I agree with you entirely that it is very dangerous to assume either that 1) as believers with the indwelling Spirit and with all the truth of scripture we are yet not capable of walking in a sanctified way (we are; it's a question of choice); or that 2) it is possible for the influence of indwelling sin to be "broken" somehow through some concocted ritual. Both ideas would be laughable if they were not each fraught with such extreme danger to the Christian walk. We are responsible for what we think, say and do. We have the means from God to do all in an honorable and sanctified way (2Pet.1:3). We all fail and stumble, being human. We can, we should, and, as faithful followers of Jesus, we will get better day by day at confronting and controlling our flesh, but whatever failures we have are ours alone, and whatever progress we make will come from the divinely ordained process of spiritual growth, not from some invented hocus-pocus that clothes itself in a biblical mantle.
In the Name of the One who is the truth, the Lord we strive to please, our dear Savior Jesus Christ.
Thanks for your well-wishes and most importantly, prayers! I am feeling quite better although I do have some physical problems. I will look forward to doing some more reading on your website, too bad they can't teach these things in school, imagine the possibilities! What do you think about family curses. Lets say you have a family who has had severe problems with drug addiction and alcoholism, do you believe that's genetic or demonic? I suppose it may be both. I've seen some good people, several in one family, destroyed by addiction. Certainly the Bible talks about these things being handed down from generation to generation, iniquities. I've seen special prayers to break these curses but that doesn't seem right, my prayers have always been simple, as God wants. I never ask for anything except health, forgiveness and for the Lord to have mercy on our country.
Hope your job is going well, and that your family is also well.
I'm glad you're feeling better, and hope these problems clear up soon. It certainly think it is true that everyone of us has strengths and weaknesses which are apparently genetically based. God knows everything, of course, and whatever problems, deficiencies and weaknesses I have as a result of birth, I certainly appreciate His having decided to give me life in this time and place (as opposed to another continent, another century, another family, for example). It is also true that whatever sin-nature tendencies we have as individuals, even if some of these tend to be inherent in our particular families, well, 1) it's not as if other people don't have their own sin-weaknesses (naturally, we all do – and very "naturally" so); and 2) it's not as if God is not greater than whatever trouble we may face. This is especially true in regard to that small group of individuals who come to the Lord at an early age and make it their top priority to walk closely with Him from the start, seldom straying or stumbling in a serious way. As I say, that group is probably exceedingly small. Most of us have made mistakes in life, and oft times much of what we are dealing with later in life comes as a result of those mistakes (whether the results are physical, emotional, situational, etc.). Even so, God is greater than all our past mistakes. Wherever we are on any given day, even if like the former alcoholic who quipped "God gave me a new heart, but He didn't give me a new liver", we find ourselves weighed down to a certain degree by baggage from the past, we can still, right here and now, and day by day as long as it is called today, make our lives count for the Lord by doing what He has put us here to do. Every day we can grow through His Word; every day we can walk with the Lord Jesus, passing whatever tests He places in our way to help us grow; every day we can minister to His Body the Church, in accordance with the gifts, ministries and opportunities we have been given. Life is short; time is short. On the other side, all of these "curses" and the curses of sin and death in particular, will not even be called to mind for the glory of all that is to come. These "disadvantages" may get our dauber down from time to time, but it is well to consider that if they can't stop us from charging up that hill, if they don't stop us, well then in the long run they don't mean very much at all. On the other hand, were God to answer all of our prayers and cure us of all our physical, emotional, and situational problems at one throw – which is something very easy for Him to do, after all – that would only really be "good" from the long view if we made better use of the opportunity which is our life as a result. In fact, if we were to get such a windfall and then fail to do better, possibly even doing worse as a result (prosperity is often the toughest test of all in my observation of the human condition), then we would find ourselves less well-rewarded in eternity for a correspondingly less well-executed life of following Jesus Christ. God knows precisely what is best for us. Our job is simply to trust Him, pray and leave the details to Him, knowing that He is indeed working everything out for the best possible result (that's the truth, whether it may seem so at first to us or not).
So that is why I really appreciate your application. This notion of "special anti-curse prayers" (which has been making the rounds lately) is the height of mumbo-jumbo superstition. We do need to pray, but simple prayers offered simply for what we simply need is the only biblical way to go. When we start paying any serious attention to this "family curse" stuff it has a tendency to excuse our behavior in our own eyes, encouraging us to slack off in the fight of making the personal improvements we need to make (i.e., if it's not really our fault, maybe it's impossible to change). This sort of thinking leads the gullible into weird behavior that is divorced from the Bible, and makes them vulnerable to cults and cult leaders (who no doubt masquerade as "Christians").
Anyway, thanks for the update. I truly do believe as well that where there is life, there is hope. God knows just what is necessary to get our attention, and just when it is that we are likely to finally give it.
In Jesus our dear Lord,
I have a question. The Bible says in Matthew 6:33: "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
a) What does "his kingdom" mean and involve?
b) What are "these things" that will be given to us as well?
"The Kingdom" I take to mean our salvation, gaining the Person of Christ, being one with Him and having a share in Him for all eternity in blessed resurrection forevermore (where we shall be part of the King's Kingdom in the New Jerusalem forever). Presently, we do not see that kingdom with our fleshly eyes. Presently, we may be experiencing all sorts of tribulation, want, testing and trial. But we can see through the eyes of faith all the blessed things that His Kingdom will bring; and we can appreciate them here and now even if we are not experiencing them here and now as we will on that great day to come. For we are blessed now in spite of any present sorrow, and we shall blessed beyond present understanding on that great day of days. Jesus is telling us here that our salvation, our spiritual growth, and our production for Him in ministering His truth – all the elements that proclaim His Kingdom – are so much more important than anything else in life that we ought not even to take other things into consideration in the same breath. First priority: all things spiritual (for this is our salvation and our eternal reward). And then "all the other things", which I take to mean the worldly concerns that our Lord is addressing here in this parable (i.e., food, clothing, and all other temporal needs and wants), will be "added" – if we have our priorities straight. This means to me that if we are doing what God wants us to do (i.e., putting Him and His Word first in our lives – in our thoughts, words, and deeds – at all times), then we truly don't have anything to worry about at all! For God will take care of the rest. He provides for all who truly rely on Him. So we do not in fact have anything at all to worry about in this world – exactly the opposite of what the entire world screams at us and totally the opposite of what our earthly eyes see and our worldly ears hear – if we but put Jesus first in our lives: the very place He surely belongs. He is our Shepherd, and He will see to it that we have all the water, green grass, comfort and guidance we need (Ps.23). All we need to do is follow Him.
In the One in whom we do indeed have "all things" both now and in the blessed eternal future to come, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Dear Dr. Bob Luginbill,
Thank you so much for taking time to answer my questions. You have clarified well a number of things, although there are still some clouds. I am particularly confused by the fact that here in Africa we have many of God's precious people who have surrendered their lives to Jesus and are seeking His Kingdom with all their ability. But many of these people are suffering acute poverty and disease. This disturbs me as to why God can't, by all means, cause other things to be added to them as He promises. It's even more disturbing when you look around and see people who are not seeking God's kingdom at all enjoying a good life, while those who are seeking the Kingdom are suffering!
Anyway, may God bless you so much and may He continue to use you.
Good to hear from you again. The question "why do the wicked prosper?" is one that has always bothered many good Christians. It is an important question, so important that it is in fact addressed many times in scripture. For example, the Psalmists and prophets ask this question of God directly on more than one occasion (Jer.12:1; cf. Job 21:7; 21:13; Ps.37; Jer.5:27; Hab.1:12-2:20), but God's responses to this question show that His perspective is so far from being our perspective that it behooves us to take care lest we reflect an essential lack of true faith in the One who controls all things (cf. Mal.3:15).
"And you will again see the distinction between the righteous
and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do
Malachi 3:18 NIV
In two Psalms in particular, God makes clear the true reality behind what our eyes perceive. These are important enough to this discussion to quote in full here (and I beg your indulgence in doing so):
1Surely God is good to Israel,to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
3 For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.
5 They are free from the burdens common to man;
they are not plagued by human ills.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.
7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity ;
the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.
8 They scoff, and speak with malice;
in their arrogance they threaten oppression.
9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 Therefore their people turn to them
and drink up waters in abundance.
11 They say, "How can God know?
Does the Most High have knowledge?"
12 This is what the wicked are like–
always carefree, they increase in wealth.
13 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure;
in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been plagued;
I have been punished every morning.
15 If I had said, "I will speak thus,"
I would have betrayed your children.
16 When I tried to understand all this,
it was oppressive to me
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.
18 Surely you place them on slippery ground;
you cast them down to ruin.
19 How suddenly are they destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors!
20 As a dream when one awakes,
so when you arise, O Lord,
you will despise them as fantasies.
21 When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
27 Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.
Psalm 73 NIV
1 Do not fret because of evil men
or be envious of those who do wrong;
2 for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.
3 Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him and he will do this:
6 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when men succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.
8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret–it leads only to evil.
9 For evil men will be cut off,
but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.
10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.
11 But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy great peace.
12 The wicked plot against the righteous
and gnash their teeth at them;
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he knows their day is coming.
14 The wicked draw the sword
and bend the bow
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose ways are upright.
15 But their swords will pierce their own hearts,
and their bows will be broken.
16 Better the little that the righteous have
than the wealth of many wicked;
17 for the power of the wicked will be broken,
but the LORD upholds the righteous.
18 The days of the blameless are known to the LORD,
and their inheritance will endure forever.
19 In times of disaster they will not wither;
in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.
20 But the wicked will perish:
The LORD's enemies will be like the beauty of the fields,
they will vanish–vanish like smoke.
21 The wicked borrow and do not repay,
but the righteous give generously;
22 those the LORD blesses will inherit the land,
but those he curses will be cut off.
23 If the LORD delights in a man's way,
he makes his steps firm;
24 though he stumble, he will not fall,
for the LORD upholds him with his hand.
25 I was young and now I am old,
yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.
26 They are always generous and lend freely;
their children will be blessed.
27 Turn from evil and do good;
then you will dwell in the land forever.
28 For the LORD loves the just
and will not forsake his faithful ones.
They will be protected forever,
but the offspring of the wicked will be cut off;
29 the righteous will inherit the land
and dwell in it forever.
30 The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks what is just.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
his feet do not slip.
32 The wicked lie in wait for the righteous,
seeking their very lives;
33 but the LORD will not leave them in their power
or let them be condemned when brought to trial.
34 Wait for the LORD
and keep his way.
He will exalt you to inherit the land;
when the wicked are cut off, you will see it.
35 I have seen a wicked and ruthless man
flourishing like a green tree in its native soil,
36 but he soon passed away and was no more;
though I looked for him, he could not be found.
37 Consider the blameless, observe the upright;
there is a future for the man of peace.
38 But all sinners will be destroyed;
the future of the wicked will be cut off.
39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD;
he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
40 The LORD helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.
Psalm 37 NIV
In the second Psalm quoted above, we see of a surety that the Lord always takes care of His own: their seed never lacks bread (Ps.37:25). On the other hand, we are also assured that the hour of the wicked will come. And we know this in our heart of hearts, do we not? For it is for the next life that we have put our faith in Jesus Christ, not for the present one. What good would it do if we were to possess the entire world for a season, if at the end of this short life we found ourselves cast into the outer darkness? But if we but maintain our faith and faithfulness firm until the end we have complete confidence that we will see the Lord in the land of the living, that resurrection and reward beyond present imagination will be ours forevermore. What should it matter to us, since these things are true, even if the wicked always were indeed left to go scot-free in this life only, and even if the righteous were forever trod under foot in this life only? If we were wise, we would still embrace the upward calling of Jesus Christ, for we are not of this world but of the one to come.
In truth, however, the wicked more often than not do come to see with their eyes of flesh the folly of the way they have chosen, and the righteous, regardless of the trials and tribulations they must go through (and all who would lead a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted: 2Tim.3:12; see the link: Peter #25: "Personal Tribulation"), are ever blessed by the Lord, often experiencing the most sublime closeness to Him in the midst of the most difficult times.
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my
power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all
the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may
rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in
weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in
difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2nd Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV
The world is not a paradise; rather, it is under the control of the evil one (see the link: in SR 4: "Strangers in the Devil's Realm"). Small wonder then that Satan attempts to give the appearance that the wicked prosper and that following God is pointless, even dangerous. This, after all, was his whole purpose in the case of Job, and that book's message too is directly applicable to this question. For Job, an exceptionally righteous man, found himself bereft of everything and sorely stricken by disease through no fault of his own. Worse to tell, his friends, instead of comforting him, blamed him for the trouble, assuming that his situation must be the result of personal sin. Even Job himself, beset by these attacks, came to doubt and blame God. But in the end God Himself put all these false opinions to the lie. We know the truth because we are blessed to have the scriptures which explain Satan's machinations behind the scene. The moral is that there is much we do not know because there is much we cannot see with these fleshly eyes. We cannot see what the devil is up to. We cannot really know what is the hearts of our fellow men. And we certainly have no idea what God is in the process of doing when it comes to specifics, testing, trying, correcting, glorifying Himself while He works everything out for our absolute best whether we realize it or not. For one thing only do we know, and that by faith: that He is unquestionably "working all things together for good for those who love Him" (Rom.8:28). This "good" may not be the specific "good" we would choose, and it may not happen in the way we would suppose or desire, and it very likely will tarry longer than at times than we may think we can endure. But even in all this God is merciful, God is faithful, and God loves us more than words can tell. Our part is to believe; He will bring it to pass in His own way in His own good time if we but continue to trust in Him. For it may be that instead of a miraculous cure or financial success or temporal prosperity of any sort, the blessing God has in store for us is spiritual: deepening faith, spiritual growth, and production for our Lord Jesus Christ which will last not merely to the end of our lives but to all eternity when we receive our rewards on that great day of days.
Can God? Of course He "can" – and He always does without fail. The real question is whether or not we will choose to see it with the eyes of faith when He does. For we walk by faith, not by sight (2Cor.4:18; 5:7). Our eyes may tell us that things are unfair, that the righteous are getting a terrible deal at the hands of the wicked. But if we could sit next to the Lord on His throne, He would show us how every wicked person has or was or would receive their just desserts, and how every righteous person was being lovingly superintended by God personally, in more detail than any individual human being could ever perceive: not a hair of our heads falls to the ground without the consent of our heavenly Father (Lk.12:7). We know from scripture that every single thing that has ever happened to every single human being who has ever lived on this planet has been planned, taken into account, allowed for, directed, and guided for good by the One with whom we have to do. And if this knowledge were not enough, we know that our Heavenly Father loves us so much that He even sent His one and only precious Son to the cross for our sakes, to die in the darkness in expiation of our sins – that we might live forever with Him and not perish in those sins. So while I have complete confidence that God is working out everything together for good for me and for all my brothers and sisters, and have learned to accept that anytime my eyes or ears tell me different, that is because they do not see or hear what my faith does, yet even so, if I were convinced that following Christ would only mean pain, misery and destruction, while followed the crooked path would bring me peace, wealth and safety – in this life – then as Jesus is my Savior I certainly hope that I would still choose to follow Him even so. For what good is the whole world to me if it costs me my eternal life?
May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be praised,
who has in His great mercy caused us to be reborn to a hope
which lives through Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead,
and to an inheritance which will never be destroyed, defiled, or
dimmed, but which is being guarded in heaven for us, who are
ourselves also being kept safe by God's power and our faith in
Him to an ultimate deliverance ready to be unveiled at the end
of time. Rejoice in this [salvation to come], even though at
present it may for a time be your lot to suffer through various
trials so that this validation of your faith [which results from
your successful passing of these tests] may result in praise,
glory and honor for you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. For
this [validation of your faith] has a greater benefit [for you]
than [is true in the case of] gold, which, while it is also
proved by fire, ultimately perishes.
1st Peter 1:3-7
I do understand your concern – quite well. I became interested in doing this ministry many years ago (although at that time it was a face-to-face Bible study) in large part because of the suffering of some of my fellow believers. It struck me as "unfair", and yet I knew that the answers to all these things were to be found in scripture. Over the years, I have learned, unlearned, re-learned and more deeply learned the truth of the simple proposition that "God knows best", that He is in control and working out everything according to His plan, and that our part is not to question beyond what scripture has to say but to accept and to follow in the footsteps of the One who suffered so much for us. What we see with our fleshly eyes is often misleading. Those we see as being unfairly treated may be being disciplined for causes about which we do not even suspect. On the other hand, those who we assume are being punished, may, like Job, be special to God, being used by Him to demonstrate that there are those on this planet who will stay faithful to Him even when the circumstances seem terribly unfair. Those wicked who seem to prosper may in reality be experiencing a special kind of hell on earth of which only the Lord is truly aware; they may be used by Him in time to come to bless the righteous; or they may simply be allowed to retain their wealth and power and position for a long enough time to feel the loss of it all the more when that inevitable day arrives. But in all these things, what is really important is not the fabric of life so much as the content of life. If we have the opportunity to believe in Jesus, and we do, to grow in Him through His Word, and we do, and to serve Him in the way He would have serve Him through helping our brothers and sisters in Christ do the same, then why do we complain? For in that case – and that is the case – all our sufferings are merely working out an eternal weight of glory which is not to be compared to our present trials (2Cor.4:17; cf. Rom.8:18). Things will never be perfect in this life, no matter what; and on the other hand we will never be so trodden down as to find ourselves bereft of the opportunity of glorifying Jesus Christ day by day as we pick our cross and follow Him.
I know of many Christians who assume that God wants everyone to have a "good life". That may be fine as far as it goes, but how do we define "good"? If by good we mean having the opportunity to grow closer to Jesus through the Word of God and engage in ministry to help others do likewise, then I am supremely confident that the Father not only nourishes that sort of plant but also prunes it so that it may bear more and more fruit day by day (Jn.15). But if by good we mean material comfort and well-being, beware, because this can have precisely the opposite effect. Human beings being what they are, there are few of us who would not accept great material prosperity, excellent health, and peace and security over their opposites, given the choice. But if these former "blessings" are not in the will of God, if they are associated with sin and evil, if they would drag us down spiritually instead of building us up, then where is the profit? Lot was given the choice by Abraham to settle where he would. Instead of the dry and largely unpopulated hills of Judea, he chose the well-watered plains of Sodom and Gomorrah. The comfort and material blessing of these places appealed to him, no doubt in the same way that the contemporary U.S. appeals to many who see it from afar. Within a few short years, Lot had apparently converted his flocks to money, was living in a comfortable house, and was on the point of marrying his seed into the most degenerate pack of sinners recorded in scripture. Were it not for God's grace – which Lot and his family clearly took for a cursing – Lot himself might have been lost, his faith overwhelmed in time by the volume and intensity of the sin of that place (cf. 2Pet.2:4-10).
The end times will be swiftly upon us. There are many in this country whose faith is weak, due no doubt in large part to the comfort of this place and to the sinfulness that grows like cancer day by day. When the end begins, and when Babylon replaces what the eye presently sees, scripture predicts a great apostasy that will sweep away fully a third of those who now not only call themselves Christians but truly are (see the link: in CT 3A: "The Great Apostasy"). If that is the result of comfort, God give me discomfort. Now I have no desire to know suffering, hunger, thirst, pain, prison, persecution, or martyrdom any more than the next person. But if so wills the will of God, I am willing to accept it – especially considering that the alternative to passing these trials which test faith is the loss of faith and consequently the loss of eternal life.
Trust the Lord. Put everything in His hands. Lean not on your own understanding. We are small children being led by the hand by our loving parent down a path whose twists and turns we cannot know before we come to them. But we do not need to know or even understand the details of the journey. All we need to know and understand is the character and the faithfulness of the One whose hand we hold.
In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the One who died that we might live together forever with Him.
Hey, I have a question about one of your posts at ichthys. To get straight into it, I'm a teen who is going to be older sooner than wanted. I basically didn't live out my youth like I wanted to because all the problems I had when I was younger. And I don't want to grow up, which sounds absolutely ridiculous and childish, but I don't. I read your post about moving mountains. It really brought some insight. I still wonder about the verses in Luke, but when I read after it in one of the passages about God giving good gifts, I guess I just don't know what a good gift is. I actually asked God to bring me back in time, having faith that He would if He wanted. But it says that God would give me anything I ask in complete faith. I just want to relive what I missed out so much. Since He said anything, doesn't that mean that He would give anything? I appreciate if you read this.
What you desire is not at all unusual. I doubt that it is possible to live a human life without having some major regrets. And, typically, these occur for most of us earlier on. Then, ideally, we learn from our mistakes, make the proper course corrections, and move on. This is very normal in the Christian life as well. For one thing, the evil one is eventually going to attack anyone who chooses for Jesus, and doubly so anyone who is intent on growing up spiritually and helping others do the same through ministry. It takes most of us some time to figure out that not only is what the Lord tells us in His book true, but it's true – if you get my meaning. It takes most of us some time to realize experientially as well as intellectually that we really do have to decide whether or not we are going to love Jesus Christ or the world. Life and the circumstances of life (the world, the flesh, and the devil) are going to force us to choose both our essential direction as well as the details in how we advance on that path (or retrogress). Life is, in fact, all about choice. That is why we are here. It would be nice to be able to go back and change some things, but that would largely defeat the purpose of why we have been put here by the Lord and why we have been left here after we believed. This is all about testing our mettle, and demonstrating to ourselves, to the Lord, and to the world of men and angels both what is that we truly and deeply love.
You see, faith in biblical terms is about more than perception and recognition – it is about consistency, follow-through and passion. We are "believers" (pisteuontes, "believing ones" in the Greek), that is, "people who are exercising faith". We are "faithful" = people who possess faith and use that faith. This is why James can say "faith without works is dead" and not contradict Paul who says we are "saved by faith" and not by works. If we "have faith" in Bible terms, it means we have made use of the God given ability all human beings have to respond to the truth God wants all to receive: Jesus is Lord. Note the word "respond". Just as we responded to the truth to become believers, so our life as believers in Jesus is (or should be) one of continual and constant response. We were saved by accepting the truth; we grow by continuing to access, believe, and apply the truth; and we produce a crop for Jesus Christ by helping others to do the same according to the gifts we are given.
It is in this light that I would wish to address your question about prayer. When Jesus talks to us about our "faith", He is not just talking about our mental faculty which allows us to accept that something is true (although that is certainly part of it), nor only of our willingness to accept that what God tells us is true (and that is a big part of it); He is also including the whole "place where we are at" when He says "Great is your faith" or "O Ye of little faith". All human beings have the same mental faculty of faith, that is, the ability to believe or to disbelieve. And all human beings have the same free will of faith, that is, the ability to make that choice to believe or to disbelieve. But no two human beings, and no two believers are at exactly the same place in their "faith status", that is, in the depth of relationship they have built with Jesus Christ our Lord, in the depth of truth they have made their own through learning and believing, in the depth of their walk with Him developed through consistent faithfulness in response to all He commands. James tells us in chapter five verse sixteen that "the prayer of a righteous man can effect much – when it is energized" (Greek: enourgemene). Most of the versions mess up the translation pretty bad because they apparently don't understand that the final participle is a qualifier (i.e., to be translated "when/if it is being energized"). For we are all righteous in Jesus Christ, having the righteousness that comes by faith, and many Christians are even righteous in their way of life. But few of us (none of us really) are as "effectively energized" in our faith as Elijah was. Few of us "believe" on as deep a level, with as deep a knowledge of scripture, scripture fully understood and believed in turn, and with a track record of solidifying that faith through its faithful exercise as Elijah did.
If we were the type of believer the Lord wants us to be, having grown up in Christ in every way, walking with Him and producing a spiritual crop for Him day by day, then there is no doubt that our prayers would be very effective. For one thing, we would have an extremely good idea of what the will of God really is for us in all cases (so as to pray for what He wills and not for what we want when the two are not in sync); and we would easily recognize when we were being tested and would not become demoralized by every wave of opposition. We would cease to drift backward, resist looking sideways, and instead be "intent upon the goal of the upward calling of Jesus Christ" (Phil.3:14). We would in short be, rather than free agents who are sampling life for our own benefit, very effective tools for our Lord, intent on pleasing Him and not ourselves. And this we would be so to such a degree that, ideally, everything we wanted or allowed ourselves to want would be exactly what He wants for us; and everything we said and did would be precisely what He wants for us to say and do. In such a case, a case of extreme spiritual maturity, a case of deep and abiding faith – not implanted by someone else but developed through the process of spiritual growth – then we really would be able to move a mountain (if that were God's will for us). And while we may think of this sort of spiritual status as exceptional and difficult to attain (and in many respects it is), from God's point of view it is where we all should be (at least within a few years of becoming followers of Jesus). That is because He does all the real work. Rather, Jesus has already done the hard work by dying for us on the cross and making available to us this tremendous grace we now enjoy. For all of us who have been saved through faith in Jesus and His work on the cross for us have the Holy Spirit residing in us (Rom.8:9). We all have access to the Father through prayer (Eph.2:18; 3:12; Heb.4:16). We all have so many incalculably wonderful benefits and advantages (see the link: "Benefits of Salvation", and in particular we all have at least one spiritual gift to assist us in the production for the edification of the Church to which we have all been called (1Cor.12:1-11). And God will never let any desire on our part to fulfill the potential we have go unsatisfied. He will always make sure that we all have the benefit of all the spiritual food we will ever possibly desire. Now we may have to search for it; but if we seek, we shall find. So since He has given us and is willing to give us all we need to develop our faith, and since we have been called to do just that, and since there is really no other reason for us to be in the world at all (everything else is just house-keeping or wheel-spinning), then truly this level of development of faith really is "mustard seed" level. It is mind-boggling to contemplate the level of spiritual maturity to which we could attain were we but even just a little bit more willing to hear the Spirit's still, small voice and respond to what our Lord desires, reading scripture attentively, listening to sound teaching, believing all that is true, applying and living the Word as we follow Jesus, passing the tests He places in our path, and helping others do the same day by day.
I don't know if this is a satisfying answer, but I do hope it is somewhat helpful. Whenever we pray for something and it is not immediately forthcoming, this is in itself a test of our faith. But the closer we draw to Jesus, the better we come to understand that all His answers are good and for the best, even when they surprise us; the more we come to realize that while we might not see what lies ahead in this world, He has everything planned, and we can trust Him to work it all out for what is truly our first best "good".
Keep walking hand in hand with Jesus – He will lead you where He wants you to be as long as you let Him.
In Him in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
As you hoped, so it is. I am very pleased with your answer. I have a question though. When Jesus said "ask and ye shall receive", as far as I read in your email, you believe that this is conditional to what God has planned and is in His will? If that is true, does He tell us to ask just for the communication and relationship between us and God?
I do indeed think that the answers we receive to our prayers are conditional; that is to say, they are "conditioned" by a variety of factors. For one thing, Jesus tells us "Ask, and you shall receive.". So the first thing to point out is that if, for whatever reason, we fail to ask, then we are no doubt not going to receive some of the things we would receive if we had bothered to ask. This may sound like an obvious point but I think it is all too true that every Christian is liable to lapse now and then (and often on an almost daily basis) into a pattern of dealing with the world on its own terms rather than realizing moment by moment and step by step that we are children of God and members of the Body of Jesus Christ. Whenever we have some need or some concern, or see or hear of something of the like in the case of others, is our first thought to pray for help? Not that our wonderful access to the very throne room of God the Father Himself on the basis of what Jesus has done for us (Jn.14:6; Eph.2:18; 3:12; cf. Rom.5:2; Heb.4:16; 6:19-20; 10:19-23) means that we can from now on sit on our hands and do nothing ourselves (there are clearly times, circumstances and situations where action on our part is what it required or is at least also required), but there are on a daily basis things we confront directly or indirectly whose outcome we with our pitifully puny human power and resources cannot hope to influence let alone control. In all such situations, we need to trust God, and if we are trusting Him, we are well advised to have a conversation with Him about whatever it is that is bothering, troubling or concerning us, whether it be in regards to us personally or has to do with our concern for others (He is the One who comforts us and prayer reminds us of this). Secondly, when Jesus says "You", He is of course speaking to His disciples, to you and me, and not to the world as a whole. That is not to say that God doesn't hear the prayers of unbelievers, but what they need is the gospel above all, and it is unquestionably the case that He does give greater heed to those who belong to Him.
The next thing I should like to point out is that when Jesus says about prayer that we will receive "whatever" we ask for, He Himself always qualifies it:
If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for
Matthew 21:22 NIV
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask
whatever you wish, and it will be given you.
John 15:7 NIV
Then the Father will give you whatever you ask
in my name.
John 15:16 NIV
In the first case, we must be "believing", in the second, His words must remain in us and we must remain in Him, and in the third, we must ask in His name. Now all of these qualification or conditions are pointed in the same direction, namely, towards what is right and good and just and pure, and what is in the plan and will and good pleasure of God. Certainly, if someone were to ask for something sinful which they sinfully desire, that could not be said to come from true faith, but rather from the lust of the flesh.
(1) Where do these conflicts, where do these fights [that are
being waged] among you come from? Isn't it from your [desire
for] pleasures which do battle in your [bodily] members? (2) You
lust [for things], and yet you do not have [them]; you commit
murder [in your hearts]; you are filled with envy, and yet you
are not able to obtain [what you are envious for]; you fight and
wage war –
yet you do not get [what you want] because you're not
asking [for it]. (3) And when you do ask [for it], you don't
receive [it] because you are asking with evil intent
with the purpose of squandering [what you ask for] in your
pleasures (i.e., under the control and in the service of lust).
So if someone should ask for something evil and un-Christian, how could that person be said to walking in fellowship with Jesus? And if a person should ask for something that is contrary to or impossible in the plan of God (like salvation for someone who refuses to accept Jesus), then we should not expect the Lord to answer, should we?, notwithstanding the unconditional promises given above. So we do understand when we pray that true belief, true fellowship with Jesus, and true respect for Him in asking the Father in His Name will in and of itself wash out many prayers that we otherwise might be tempted to offer, or transform them into prayers which may be acceptable to the Person and will of God. This is the flip-side of the principle expressed in the last e-mail that God does indeed take into account the spiritual status of the individual offering the prayer, as for example when James says of Elijah's prayer to stop the rain for three years and then to begin it again that "the prayer of a righteous man has much power when energized [i.e., by the Spirit interacting with faith]". Now Elijah wasn't praying for something he dreamed up on his own: he was praying for precisely what the will of God intended. Thus, one of the key factors in effectiveness of prayer is spiritual growth, because to the extent that we get to the point of understanding God's will 100%, and responding to that will perfectly, then everything we pray for will fall precisely into the will of God and we will find ourselves "batting a 1000" in our prayer requests. Of course only our Lord Jesus Christ accomplished this, and no one else has ever come anywhere close to His record: so there is room for us to improve! This is why Jesus' example of commanding the fig tree to be uprooted and go plant itself in the sea is such a wonderful one. No one would likely ever say or do such a thing, even if they possessed the absolute power to do so or the absolute confidence of prayer that our Lord possessed – indeed, He Himself did not do this. There was no need, and it is difficult to imagine a circumstance in which there would be any need to do so (that is the point; He is giving an example of something seemingly impossible which requires complete faith, but also completely unnecessary so as not to set up an unnatural test). So when we like the disciples before us stand here scratching our heads wondering, "Lord, why would I want or need to do that?", that is precisely the point! Jesus is telling us that if it were necessary, and if we had faith, were walking faithfully, and were faithfully honoring His Name, then of course this necessary request would be fulfilled, whatever it is or was. But consider: many of the things we ask the Lord for are really not necessary either, not to fulfill the plan of God generally, either in the case of others or in our own cases. Many of things we ask the Lord for are directed toward the comfort and well-being of ourselves and others. And while I would be the last person to suggest that we shouldn't ask for such things, still we need to understand that just because we see something as so critical and crucial that we can't seem to live without it or so terrible and terrifying that we can't seem to live with it, God knows the truth. And it may be that we our being "deprived" or "afflicted" is precisely what the will of God wills, for reasons which we would understand better if we were really trusting Him and growing in Him as we ought to be. Paul asked the Lord "three times" for his thorn in the flesh to be removed, and He replied, "My grace is sufficient for you", meaning that the answer to Paul's specific request was that in fact this thorn was necessary to help him maintain the humility required for him to continue to be an effective tool for our Lord in spite of the potentially head-swelling revelations and miracles and effects of the gospel he had been so graciously given.
This is really the bottom line: God wants nothing for us but our first, best absolute good. We can't really know all the details there, because we cannot see the future or even really discern the present with complete spiritual clarity. What we can do is to keep growing up spiritually so that we may get better at this day by day, and we can make it a point to trust Him more completely every step of the way up the high road to Zion. He sees beyond the mist ahead that blocks our view, and He knows what is really "good" even though to us it may seem a poor substitute for what we really [think we] want. We have to hold His hand tight and trust that He is leading us around all those blind corners ahead for good and not for ill. What should we pray? "Lord, don't lead me around that blind corner; I'm afraid of what's there!"? That would not be much of a prayer of faith. Or, "Lord, I want to go over there to left, and not to the right where you seem to be leading me!"? That would not seem to be abiding in Him as we should be doing. Or, "Lord, I just want to sit right here; please stop!"? That would not seem to be respecting the Name of the One who is trying to lead us to what is best for us. After all, if our children ask us for something we know is going to be harmful to them (like a poisonous snake), we are not going to give it to them, are we? Or if they ask to avoid something good for them (like a trip to the Dr.'s office), we are not going let their fears overrule what we know is best for them, are we? The difference in the analogy between our children and us is that when it comes to the Lord leading us we can say "no!" to Him, although it would be far better if we said "yes!". It would be far better if we tried might and main to accommodate our prayers to the true will of God as we learn it in His Word and as it is revealed to us in our lives. I firmly believe that this principle is behind our Lord's prayer in Gethsemane, "Father, if it be Thy will, let this cup pass from Me" – Jesus offered this prayer for our benefit so that we might understand that there are times when in order to fulfill the plan of God, to accomplish the first best good for our lives, we too are going to have to "drink the cup" and come to the point of acceptance in prayer as well as in behavior of saying along with our Lord, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done". Our Lord Jesus' acceptance of the Father's will expressed in prayer led to salvation for you and for me and for everyone else in the world willing to receive it, and as a result He has been honored with "the Name that is above every Name". Our acceptance may mean acquiescing to things in this life that the flesh would rather avoid or doing without things the flesh would rather enjoy, but the result for us will be to share in the rulership of the King of Kings, rewards that no thief can take away and no moth or rust destroy.
Finally, while the above might seem to some like a mandate to stop praying, it is in reality a mandate to pray more than ever and more zealously than ever and certainly with more conscious attention than ever (just as no one ever prayed more or more effectively than our Lord and yet He trusted in the will of God entirely and completely). For prayer is indeed as you say our conversation with the Lord, and we can never have enough of that. We should have as our top priority in this life the goal of maximum spiritual growth and spiritual production (which in its true manifestations is a function and a result of the former). And nothing is more helpful in reinforcing the truth we know and applying it to our lives that a vigorous and unceasing prayer-life, as we learn more about the Lord day by day, grow closer to Him, and gain ever greater confidence in His will being what's really and truly best for us to the point where we can really cry with delight, "Abba! Father!", knowing that He is answering us in the right way, even on those occasions where things are turning out differently from what we may have expected. We need to learn to embrace the surprises of life, trusting Him more deeply with every corner turned, remembering that in every past case, He has always proved completely faithful.
Pray without ceasing!
1st Thessalonians 5:17
In the Name of the One who is able to do on our behalf far more than we can ask or imagine, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Hey Mr. Bob,
Thank you for your reply. I must admit, when you reply, you REPLY. But that's great. :) I am inspired. In relating to your first paragraph, I find that the more I know God, the more I -have- to pray, and talk to Him. Not only what I should do, but He's put it in me for it to be a desire. Also, the fact being that all things are from God, and everything I do pertains directly to God, particularly relating myself to God where I need to be in His will 24/7. I just _feel_ the need to talk to Him. However, you're point has come across well. Personally, I don't pray enough, especially in little problems of the day.
You quoted the following:
/*If you believe*/, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.
Matthew 21:22 NIV
*/If you remain in me and my words remain in you/*, ask whatever you
wish, and it will be given you.
John 15:7 NIV
Then the Father will give you whatever you ask */in my name/*.
John 15:16 NIV
However, later on you added "if it was needful"(You were talking about the tree being uprooted). And I don't understand it there either. You said it was exactly the point, because nobody would do such a thing..but *if* it was needful. Doesn't it make more sense that Jesus is using that as a really small situation while saying that God doesn't overlook it? Then the mountain being the situation where God doesn't stop from doing something because it's 'too big'. I'm not trying to argue, or even debate. :) I just didn't understand.
Now..the first verse you quoted, -that- one really throws me. It says "if I believe" and the Bible talks about "if I have faith", then "it shall be done". But, I know I'm not understanding something, because..how can I really say "car door, unlock so I can get my key out", and 'have faith' that it'll be while understanding that it'll only happen if God wants. How can I even start to believe that it *will* happen, when God's will is done. I will say, however, to God that I believe that it'll be done if He wants.
I thank you again for you in-depth response.
May God bless you for your work,
His will be done,
I think both tree-in-the-sea-planting and mountain-moving have in common a number of things: 1) it's hard to imagine a situation where there would be a real need for either one (i.e., even if we cooked up an outlandish set of circumstances where either might appear needful, I am sure that we could also come up with more conventional alternative things to pray for that would also accomplish what we need; 2) both are significant things to ask for in that neither is ever going to happen without the power of God, hence the need for faith in the solution: i.e., IF either were necessary, or IF something seeming equally unlikely to us were necessary in our circumstances, we should have absolute faith that God will fulfill such prayers of faith on our behalf (without that faith we "should not think" that God will answer (Jas.1:6-8); and 3) it is hard to see how either of these two prayers would ever be issued out of sinful motivation; many of the things we are tempted to pray are really only for things to benefit us personally in some way, and often, if we are not careful, may have some sort of sinful motivation lurking behind them (cf. Jas.4:3: "You ask but you do not receive because you ask with evil intent [sinful motivation]"). By virtue of the requests themselves, such cannot be the case with Jesus' examples, so that just by using these brilliant examples He avoids the entire subject of praying for something that is not really in the will of God out of poor motivation (that is if we are listening carefully to what our Lord is saying here). For if we pray for what is not in the will of God, we are not going to receive it, whether we are [spiritually] immaturely asking for something which we ought to know is not in His will (i.e., out of selfishness or some other such false motivation – the Lord's prayer in addition to asking for deliverance from the devil's snares and forgiveness, asks only for what we need to get by . . . today), or whether God is protecting us by not giving us something that is bound to be bad for us. Either way, getting into the will of God perfectly is the secret behind perfectly offered prayer. For, as I have said before probably more than once, prayer is God's way of helping us understand, appreciate, and accept His will (if we are "doing it right"). This is why Jesus taught us to pray "Thy will be done!", why in the garden before the cross He qualified His request (made for our benefit for He knew what was necessary), "IF it be thy will, let this cup pass", why we are to keep praying continually but accepting with thanks giving whatever comes "because "this is God's will for you in Jesus Christ" (1Thess.5:17-18), and why we are told to remember that God knows what we need even before we ask (Matt.6:8), so that the very act of praying is for our benefit, not a device to get God to respond.
(14) This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that
if we ask anything according to his will, he hears
us. (15) And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know
that we have what we asked of him.
1st John 5:14-15 NIV
For as this passage above shows, it is the will of God that is the key to prayer. This is one reason why we are told to "pray in the Spirit at all times" (Eph.6:18). When we really are "in the Spirit", that is, opened up to the full control of the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God within us, we are thinking and doing – and praying – what God wants, that is, doing what is His will (cf. Gal.5:16-18). It also explains why the apostles make such a big point out of our knowing the will of God – so that we may do it (and part of that is praying for the means to do it):
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by this
renewal of your thinking (i.e., through obedience to the word of
God; cf. v.1), so that you may discern what God's will for
you is, namely what it is good, well-pleasing, and
correct [for you to do].
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the
Lord's will is.
Ephesians 5:17 NIV
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have
not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with
the knowledge of his will through all spiritual
wisdom and understanding.
Colossians 1:9 NIV
Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus,
sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that
you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature
and fully assured.
Colossians 4:12 NIV
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal
covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great
Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for
doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing
to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and
Hebrews 13:20-21 NIV
That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the
flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.
1st Peter 4:2 KJV
This does not mean that we can stop praying on the grounds that God's WILL will always be done regardless of what we wish or pray. That is true on one level, but it is also true that we are given multiple commands not only to pray but to grow and to serve Him despite the fact that He could do everything without us with no problem whatsoever. After all, God could have saved us without "our will", and in terms of all the really hard work – Jesus dying for our sins – He did just that (so that it is "not of works, lest any man should boast": Eph.2:8-9). And yet you can be sure that without your will, that is, your acquiescence in the process of salvation, your "faith in Christ", you would not be saved, even though that is God's first best will for everyone. The one thing He will not do is violate your will. But what He wants is to have you adjust your will to His. That is precisely what is going on in the area of prayer as well (except that prayer is part of the continual process of spiritual growth while salvation happens in an instant). So as is often the case in the Bible we have two things that are true at the same time even though to human logic they may seem incompatible: we can rely on God completely, yet we still need to pray, and the effectiveness of our prayers ultimately rests on our reliance on God to do what is right and necessary regardless of what we may want.
Thus as is often the case, scripture gives us two extremes to avoid in order to see the proper "narrow path" between the two (which sort of discrimination is the essential feature of the God-given conscience: Eccl.7:16-18; see the link in BB 3B: "The Conscience", and biblical wisdom). On the one hand, we are not to look at ourselves as some passive vessel sitting and waiting without bothering to pray since "it's God's will anyway" – there are abundant scriptures which tell us to pray all the time (e.g., Col.4:2)! And on the other extreme, we are not to be arrogantly self-willed about it, using prayer as a bludgeon to get God's attention in order to benefit personally in ways that have nothing to do with our real needs or the real needs of others (Jas.1:6-8; 4:1-3). What we want is to get to that perfect sweet spot between passive inaction and self-willed reaction where our will matches up with His; we want to bold in prayer (Lk.11:5-3) and persistent (Lk.18:1-6), but with that boldness and persistence we want to be humbly thankful for whatever God's will for us is, and accepting of that will of God in all things (1Thess.5:17-18).
If we truly need something from Him to fulfill His will for us, then we can and should have complete confidence that that something will be done for us, no matter how unlikely it may seem to the world, whether uprooting a fig tree and planting it in the sea, moving a mountain, or even opening up our car door in some unforeseen emergency (I have seen Him do far more amazing things than that, as I'm sure you have as well). As long as we are walking perfectly with Him and for Him, then what we "want" will be precisely what He wants as well, and when we ask, He will bring it to pass.
You might check out the following links as well regarding prayer as well:
Corporate prayer, EM
Cumulative prayer, EM
The Lord's Prayer, EM
Prayer offered to the Son, Jesus Christ, EM
Prayer for wisdom in James 1:5, EM
Finally, I would be remiss not to point out that in the case of "mountain moving", there is indeed a scriptural, prophetic case where a mountain will need to be moved, and prayer to that effect will indeed be heard, namely, the return of our Lord to Jerusalem at the second advent when Jesus alights on the Mountain of Olives and splits it in two, with half "moving north" and half south, to open a way of escape for the besieged inhabitants of Jerusalem. Here is what I have written about that at the link: in CT 5 "Jesus Christ's Return to Earth on the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:2-7)":
Our Lord's astounding splitting of this obstacle in two will greatly facilitate the escape of the beleaguered occupants and defenders of Jerusalem, giving them much needed respite as He proceeds to resolve the Tribulation's final battle. Herein we shall see a fulfillment of the promise of faith for those who now believe: "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him" (Mk.11:23; cf. Matt.21:21; 1Cor.13:2). The moving of the Mount of Olives will be an occasion for great rejoicing, anticipating the victory and deliverance which the Messiah is about provide.
Hope this helps,
Yours in Jesus Christ,
Thanks Mr. Bob.
That did help. You know..I think this proves itself..in a way. I prayed to God for wisdom, naturally taken from His word..but as we both know, God uses people as vessels for His will. To tell you the truth, I think He was showing me the passages about asking, knocking, and seeking; mountain moving; and tree uprooting. I simply didn't understand it. I actually went in the woods one day, and mustering as much 'faith' as I could possibly get out of my puny cortex I told a tree "be uprooted and planted down there." When it didn't, I asked God to send some sort of messenger to reveal what I was missing..and periodically over the weeks. Maybe you're the messenger. Not calling you anything greater than you are(even though I know you're really knowledgeable through your submission to God and through the mighty grace of Him), but isn't it cool that God uses us? And that He used you?
Your last email makes me think of my prayers. I only hope and pray that He will show me His will as you are saying, so I will know my limits. I mean..I know God wants me to grow spiritually. That's a no-brainer for even a youngin' in His kingdom. And I am! I pray that I am! And I pray I'm not lagging in the pace He expects. That is one thing that He reveals to me more and more..is how much I should read, and how much I should do....then I loose it all when I don't reach what I know I should have, then it comes apart even more where I get lost..That's how I know how much. But in prayer, say..I pray for a couple more inches of height...if that is not from any evil motive as you were talking about, or any selfishness of my heart, but yet an innocent motive of pleasing whatever He may have for me, as in a knight in shining armor, I do not believe it's wrong to pray for it(not that you implicated that it is), but is it in His will? That is what I do not know. However, I feel that God doesn't mind. That He just wants me to share what my desires(spiritual and physical) are, even if they are as the last one.
It is always a great delight to be able to discuss the Word of God with my brothers and sister in Christ, and even more so when they are helped thereby. We are all part of Jesus' Body and we all need one another's help, support and encouragement – that's the way it's supposed to be. As to what to pray for, in my own personal evaluation of things, the Bible seems to me to be leaning us in the direction of praying rather than not praying. I think that spiritual growth (through the process of reading scripture, listening to solid Bible teaching, praying and applying what we have learned and believed, and helping others to do likewise) ultimately solves most of these problems. God is our Father, and Jesus is our Savior and Friend whom we love and respect more than anyone or anything else in the world. The better we know Jesus, the better we know our heavenly Father, the more "real" our prayers are going to become as we engage in more and more meaningful conversations with them. Just as we learn to deal with our earthly parents in love and respect, and just as that love and respect conditions the conversations we have with them, whether requesting something or just talking, so it is with God, the two major differences being that 1) we can't see Him (that's why spiritual growth is so important in all this because it is only by growing in the Word that we come to know who Jesus is, more and more so every day), and 2) He is perfect, so we don't have to worry about Him misunderstanding our motives (either not seeing where we are coming from if they are honestly good, or being fooled when they really are not). There are all sorts of things that are probably unnecessary that we want out of legitimate and normal human desire that God does (and has as the Bible documents) given to those who love Him and follow Him – it is impossible to put a cap on His grace, His patience, and His generosity. On the other hand there are also times when something may be absolutely necessary beyond all argument (to our human point of view) and yet it is not forthcoming: Paul prayed three times for relief from what must have been a terrible pain or condition, but received the answer "My grace is sufficient for thee" (2Cor.12:7-10). There are times when God tests us, when He puts pressure on us for our benefit (there is no spiritual growth without such spiritual "exercise"), that we might grow in our trust, in our faith, coming to see and understand that the material world is completely temporary, and that He, that Jesus, that our eternal life and eternal rewards are really what are important in this life, not the things we can see and feel and touch – even if they are essential or seemingly so. For He also tells us "My power is made perfect in weakness", because only when we have come to a complete end of ourselves and all human solutions do we really understand that there are only divine solutions, and that is why Paul says "when I am weak, that is when I am strong", because the pressure of testing is the only thing that can really focus our frail human minds on God's complete sufficiency in the face of complete human impotence.
Finally, sometimes, oft times, in my experience, God also cuts through the fabric of our prayers and gets to the real meat of what we desire when those desires are at their heart not sinful. He is able to make you confident and bold in the proclamation of His Word, whatever your height; He is able to give you grace in the eyes of all with whom you have to do, regardless of your appearance; and He is able to give you whatever success and blessing He desires for your good and the good of your brothers and sisters in Christ in the fulfillment of His plan for your life, in ways the world cannot imagine or conceive.
So keep on praying. As long as you are listening as well as talking, it can only lead to good things.
In the Name of the One who gave up everything for us that we might have eternal life with Him, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Someone had asked me what is the percentage of my prayers being answered. I thought that this question is kind of odd because some prayers take more time to be answered and sometimes our timing doesn't necessarily conforms to ours. So we may think that our prayers have not been answered, but God is still working out His good will in our lives. Some of my friends disagree. What do you think?
You are absolutely correct. And it is not just the timing (which, of course, is all important for a variety of reasons) but also the form that answered prayers come in. After all, God, as you quite correctly point out, is working everything out for the good of those who love Him and His Son, so in a way we ought really to want what God wants for us and only what God wants for us since He is the only one who really knows what is truly good for us. I believe that that is why the prayers of mature believers have a "higher percentage" of obvious effectiveness – not only because "the prayer of a righteous man availeth much", as James assures us, but also because the closer we get to the Lord, the more we do want what He wants, and the more clearly we see what that is. God hears all of our prayers, and He answers all that are offered in truth and righteousness. It is just that as imperfect people we don't always know what we should ask for; we sometimes ask for things that if we were honest we know we shouldn't, and until we are at a perfect pitch of maturity there will be many times that we grow impatient waiting for God's perfect timing. Abraham was greater than us all, and he had to wait until he was 99 years old to receive the "son of promise". Zechariah and his wife were so good and godly they were given John the baptist as their son – but not until they were well-advanced in years (and you know they had been praying for years for a child: "But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John." Lk.1:13 NIV). It is also true that there are many times that God does answer our prayers only we may not see it (for a variety of reasons). For what we ask for may have a legitimate motivation behind it, but the mechanics we ask for to achieve what we want may be not in God's will, and He may go about the answer in a way we don't expect and may not even see. Therefore our "percentage" is really more often than not a "perceived percentage". What percentage of our prayers does God answer? 100%! As long as we ask in righteousness and truth. The percentage we perceive has more to do with our own spiritual perspicacity, spiritual maturity, and spiritual circumstances than it does with the One who promised to answer every prayer offered in the Name of Jesus:
And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son
may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my
name, and I will do it.
Should we not then approach the throne of grace with confidence (Heb.4:16)? That is, with an attitude of confident expectation coupled with a complete acceptance of the will of God.
In the One in whom we have put our faith unto eternal life, Jesus Christ the coming King.
What do you think about prayer walking? It is unbiblical? I use to be part of a ministry where me and my friends would walk around the city and pray for the lost (drug users, homeless, etc), so we called it prayer walking. I have some friends who condemn it and told me that it's unbiblical because charismatics do prayer walking and believe that they can claim a city or are by prayer walking around it. That's not what we believe, we simply called it prayer walking because we walked around the city to search for the lost and prayed for them. Nothing more and nothing less. Why would this be unbiblical? Then another person told me that there is prayer walking that is christianizing some practices borrowed from paganism. We haven't adopted our prayer walking from any of this yet some Christians will tell us that the term "prayer walking" shouldn't even be used because it could give the wrong impression. I find this odd. What are your thoughts on this?
I think what you are doing is wonderful (no matter what you wish to call it). We are strongly encouraged by scripture to pray, and I know of no passage which discourages it of course. Being a "prayer warrior" is the specific major ministry that many believers are given by the Lord. But even for those of us who are not as gifted in prayer as others, the more prayer the better! I think praying for those you meet is a wonderful idea, and even better if you are doing it deliberately and consistently. I see nothing in anything you describe you and your friends as doing as being unbiblical in any way, but rather to be responding to the Lord according to the Bible in a very inspiring way.
Keep up the good work for the kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Dear Dr Luginbill,
I hope you are fine sir? A pagan directs his prayers to false "gods",is there any chance of God answering them? Does God help a pagan or an unbeliever in his sufferings. Does He help them to prosper (materialistic prosperity)?
Thank you and God bless you
God knows everything and did before He even made the world through Jesus Christ. The question is, does He respond to prayers from those who are not part of His family through faith in Jesus Christ? The first thing I should wish to say on this subject is that all truly good things anyone has ever had in this temporary world have come from Him without exception. Consider this quote from the apostle Paul who was remonstrating with a pagan crowd who wished to offer him pagan sacrifices as a result of the miracles God had given him to do:
"Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like
you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from
these worthless things (i.e., pagan gods) to the living God, who
made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the
past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left
himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you
rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you
with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy."
Acts 14:15-17 NIV
The world, everything about human life in fact, is designed to lead human beings to the One true God, and to salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ:
"The God who created the world and everything in it, this is
He who as Lord of heaven and earth does not dwell in temples
made by human hands nor is He tended to by the hands of men –
if He were in need of anything –
He it is who gives life and
breath and everything else to all [of us]. For from one man
[Adam], [God] created the nations of mankind, that they might
inhabit the entire face of the earth. And He predetermined both
their appointed times and the boundaries of their settlement,
that they might seek God, if perhaps they might even [deign to]
grope after Him and so come to find Him –
for He is not far from
every one of us."
In the context of these truths, I would say that God knows every human being's true heart far better than they could ever know it themselves. He knows who wants to have a relationship with Him and who does not. Everyone wants "something" in this life, and plenty of people in the history of the world have convinced themselves or been convinced by one religion or another that by "doing" certain things they could "get what they want". That is, after all, the fundamental doctrine of religion (as opposed to the truth of Christianity): I do something, and I am rewarded for it.
Christianity, on the other hand, says, first, that there is nothing I can do on my own that would every benefit God or be good enough to merit anything from Him; Abraham was justified by faith, not by works, and he is the pattern for all who believe in Jesus (Rom.4). Secondly, in Christianity we understand that we are sinful and worthy of condemnation at birth, so that without the gracious intervention and intercession of God to save us through condemning His Son in our place, not only would anything we might think to do "for God" be considered polluted by Him, but we would be lost without hope in this life, only awaiting the judgment and condemnation that follow death. Christianity is accepting on God's terms what God has done for you: He has provided justification and eternal life through Jesus' sacrifice. Religion is attempting to propitiate some [non-existent] god(s) through your own efforts on terms you and/or your religion have invented.
Therefore Christian prayer is fundamentally different from the prayer of any unbeliever. We know God; more than that, we are known by Him. He is our Father, and we ask our Father and/or our Savior for things we need to serve them in this life, knowing that we already have the most important thing: eternal life. When we pray, we know that we don't (and couldn't) "deserve" what we are asking for, any more than a small child deserves what he/she asks his/her parents for. But just as (good) parents always hear their children, so our Father always hears us. And just as (good) parents know what is really good for their children (as opposed to the specific things they ask for), so our Father is ever working things out for our good (Rom.8:28); even when we don't know how to pray in some situation or precisely what to pray for, the Spirit we have been given intercedes on our behalf (Rom.8:26). We will be rewarded for everything we do "right" in this life as Christians, but not as those who have "done something" for a god who "needed something"; rather as those who responded in love to the One true God who loved them first (1Jn.4:19).
So when unbelievers pray, whatever it is they are actually praying for, there is really one thing they have need of: the gospel of Jesus Christ. After they become "members of the family", God treats them as sons and daughters; but until that point salvation is what they need (regardless of what they may think they need). If in their hearts they have no true wish to know or to respond to God, no genuine willingness or desire to have their sins washed away through faith in the work of Christ on the cross, well, God knows that full well (and always has). But I firmly believe that if there is the smallest spark of yearning to know Him truly, God ever works to fan that spark into a flame of consummated faith. I firmly believe that in the whole of human history God has never let a single sliver of thirst for Himself and for eternal life go unquenched, no matter how minute. And I firmly believe that He works everything out in the lives of every person on earth so that they might indeed accept Jesus and be saved. For, after all, Jesus died for everyone.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten
Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have
John 3:16 KJV
The amazing thing to me is that even though all this is unarguably true, nevertheless the vast majority of mankind from every country, every race, every place and every period of history have in fact not been interested in knowing God – even though they were aware of Him. their coming judgment before Him, and their absolute inability to redeem their own lives (aware, that is, at least until they purposefully blotted this most basic human information out of their hearts, with or without the help of religion).
So I would say that if at the heart of a prayer, a person really does want what God wants for them, namely, salvation in Jesus Christ (whether or not they know to express things in those terms), that God does indeed work things out in their lives to bring them to that point so that they may be saved (and that may indeed include answering prayers for deliverance from some catastrophe, for example). I would never wish to underestimate what God does for people, even when perhaps in the end that sliver of faith never catches fire. I would only wish to clarify His purpose in answering prayer for unbelievers, i.e., that they may be saved. Since all truly good things come from God, it is certainly the case that He has blessed unbelievers (for example, the offspring of great believers in particular seem often to be blessed, even if not believers themselves; cf. Ps.37:25). But whether such blessing has come from their relationship with others, from God's structuring of their lives to give them the maximum chance to be saved (knowing, as He does, how every person responds to every possible circumstance), in response to their prayers, or for any other reason whatsoever, it is clear that His first, best purpose for doing so where unbelievers are concerned is His desire for them to have an eternal future with Him and with Jesus Christ – by responding to Jesus and His work in faith.
So to respond directly to the question, does God hear the prayers of unbelievers? Absolutely He does – especially if what they really desire is to know and respond to Him:
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in
what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family
were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need
and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the
afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God,
who came to him and said, "Cornelius!"Cornelius stared at him in
fear. "What is it, Lord?" he asked. The angel answered, "Your
prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial
offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man
named Simon who is called Peter.
Acts 10:1-5 NIV
Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea
stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to
have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers
also went with me, and we entered the man's house. He told us
how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, 'Send to
Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a
message through which you and all your household will be saved.'
Acts 11:11-14 NIV
In sure and certain hope of life eternal with Jesus Christ our Lord.
Dear Dr. Luginbill,
Thanks you for all your email answers – they have been a great help to me. I am keeping you in my prayers. I also have another question, about prayer, actually. How do we pray to get just the answer we are looking for? How do attune ourselves to God's will to hear exactly what He wants us to do and ask for. It would be great if we could see Him face to face and ask Him directly, getting our responses directly from Him (though I know that's not the way of things at present).
Keep up the good work!
Thank you so much for your good words, and especially for your prayers. They are very much appreciated. It is indeed a blessing and an encouragement when God answers prayers swiftly and exactly as we have asked them. Your experience regarding wanting to get "just the answer" and to "hear exactly" the voice of God is not at all unique. All of us who are soldiering on here in the devil's world at this time in God's plan deeply desire to hear His voice directly and see Him visibly and to commune with Him personally. Of course we also realize that this is not the time in the plan of God where we should expect that to happen. Instead, this present age is the time when our Lord through His Spirit and through His Word tells us, shows us, and gives us all we need know – much more than we can digest! This present age is the time when believers are to show through their faith in the One they cannot yet see how much them love Him anyway (1Pet.1:8; cf. Heb.11:27), and to demonstrate through their attentiveness to scripture their faithfulness to the words of God even though they cannot yet hear the audible voice of God (so as to have direct "knowledge" of specific situations: cf. 1Cor.13:12). This present age is the time that angels are observing very closely (1Pet.1:12; see the link in Pet.#22: "The Angels are watching us"), because if we demonstrate exceptional faith and faithfulness in the absence of the tangible (Jn.20:29), the visible, and the audible, how powerful must the truth of the Bible ministered by the Spirit really be! By responding fully and completely to the Lord in the absence of the overtly and supernaturally miraculous, we show to the world of men and angels both where the true power really lies: in the truth of the Word of God empowered by the Spirit and believed on by the faithful.
If we persevere, all of our questions will be answered in time, and all of our prayers answered for the true good, even if not immediately and in the way that we in our necessarily myopic view of what is going on in God's plan would wish at first and anticipate at first. But if we keep knocking, God will answer. Through the truth of His Word, every desire of our hearts will be fulfilled, and if we will but be willing to receive it, the peace of God which passes all understanding, the peace Jesus left for us in the Holy Spirit, will be ours in abundance as we trust Him to lead us forward on the high road to Zion (Jn.14:27; Phil.4:7). And we will discover in the end, that the wonder, and the power, and importance of this particular battle we are fighting at this particular time has been in many ways the most gratifying and significant of all that happened during our time in the world, well-pleasing to our Lord and richly rewarded on that blessed day to come.
In the One who is our love, our hope, and our life, our dear Lord Jesus.