Many Christians feel that their prayers are being ignored by God. Watchman Nee, the late Chinese church leader and Christian leader, addressed this question of how one can have one’s prayers answered in his book, “God’s Plan and the Overcomers”.
Prayers will be answered if it aims at letting Christ have the first place in all things. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and God will add to us all our needs (Adding is not giving. The first means adding to what is already there; the second means giving what is not there.) Asking in the name of the Lord is asking the Father for the Lord so that the Lord himself might receive it. According to the principle they who mind the flesh will have nothing for which to pray. How we need to let the cross cut off our flesh that we might be the Lord’s intercessors praying out the Lord’s will. We should not pray for our selfish purposes. Only those who permit Christ to have the pre-eminence in all things can enter the Holiest of all. May we transform the time of praying for our needs into a time of praying for God’s affairs. God will then hear the prayer we have uttered – that is, prayer for the things of God; but He will also here the prayer we have not uttered – that is, prayer for our own affairs. If we should ask first that the Lord might receive His, He would cause us to receive ours too. One of the sweet experiences in the life of a Christian is to have prayer continually answered. Remember, though, that the reason for God answering our prayer is to allow Christ to occupy first place in all things.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)
Editor’s note: The below essay was written by the late E.M. Bounds and can be found in the book Prayer and Revival.
All prayers may be divided into three classes: answered, unanswered, and rejected. The Bible and Christian experience are filled with instances of the first class. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, David, and many others, men and women, received responses to their petitions. In the New Testament, Zacharias and Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna, Paul and Silas, Peter and Cornelius prayed and were answered. And we read of another
who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared. [Hebrews 5:7]
These examples serve to illustrate the fact that prayers are not in vain. Often the answers come in time to be known by those who prayed. Sometimes the answer is sent before the prayer has been made. While Daniel prayed for his people, the angel Gabriel was sent to tell him that at the beginning of his supplication the commandment came forth. In Isaiah 65:24 it says, “Before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” If any man still lacks faith, let him hear the words of the Lord Jesus: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matt. 7:7).
Of unanswered prayers we have some notable instances in the Bible. The ancient saints who prayed for the coming of the Messiah thought their prayers were of this sort. Prophets and kings desired it long, but died without the sight. Our Savior’s last intercessory prayer that his followers might all be one is yet to be answered. The souls beneath the altar that have been slain for the Word of God cry for vengeance upon them that dwell upon the earth. Their cry has been put on record, but judgment is delayed. The promise of the resurrection and the life to come, of the new heaven and the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness are among the pledged but unfulfilled assurances of prayer.
Of rejected prayers we notice first the prayers of the wicked. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps. 66:18). “Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me” (Prov. 1:28). “Unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth?” (Ps. 50:16). These prayers are rejected because of the character or purpose of the petitioner. But we also find in the Bible that some of the prayers of the saints were rejected. Where human nature cries for one thing, and the Spirit of God dictates another, it is mercy that heeds not our request. An instance of this is found in the plea of the sons of Zebedee to sit in heaven on the right and the left of the Son of man. Several times they had been the recipients of special honor. At the raising of]airus’s daughter and at the transfiguration they had been selected, with Peter and to the exclusion of the others, to accompany their Lord. Now that the kingdom of God seemed near they thought it would be a good time to make their claim. “Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (Matt. 20:22). They said they were able, but when the time came they forsook him like the others and fled. Many times our ambitious desires are better refused. God knows what is best for us.
Again, we find one who had done much service for his Lord, praying plaintively that a thorn in the flesh might depart from him. How reasonable this appears! It was not for ambition’s sake that he asked, but to remove a disability for service. It was a bodily affliction, yet so severe that he considered it a messenger of Satan sent to buffet him. Would he not be a better man without it? Three times he prayed, yet the jagged edge was thrust deeper into his side. There was no promise of removal, only the assurance, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). How little do we know where our true gentleness lies! By suffering we are made perfect.
And lastly, there comes One who knew no sin and who had the assurance that all he had done was pleasing in the sight of his Father. “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” If atoning blood had to be shed, he was ready to shed it; but why the agonies of the cross? Three times he prays, but the answer does not come. The prayer is rejected.
And yet in all these instances may we not safely say the prayer was heard? Do not james and john sit upon thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel? Has not the thorn long since ceased to rankle in the side of the apostle, only an honourable scar marking the place? As the maimed soldier is everywhere accorded the place of honor when the war is ended, so shall the marks of suffering in the service of Christ be the marks of distinction in the kingdom of glory. And after the resurrection we hear the risen Redeemer himself arguing from the Scriptures: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). Suffering and glory are integral parts of redemption. The prophets prophesied of the “sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow.” The apostle argued that “we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” ·
For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. [Hebrews 2:10]
Here’s a timely reminder to Christian businessmen, from the late EM Bounds, concerning their true priorities. The text can be found in the book Reality of Prayer.
Prayer is God’s business to which men can attend. Prayer is God’s necessary business, which men only can do, and that men must do. Men who belong to God are obliged to pray. They are not obliged to grow rich, nor to make money. They are not obliged to have large success in business. These are incidental, occasional, merely nominal, as far as integrity to Heaven and loyalty to God are concerned. Material successes are immaterial to God. Men are neither better nor worse with those things or without them. They are not sources of reputation nor elements of character in the heavenly estimates. But to pray, to really pray, is the source of revenue, the basis of reputation, and the element of character in the estimation of God. Men are obliged to pray as they are obliged to be religious. Prayer is loyalty to God. Non-praying is to reject Christ and to abandon Heaven. A life of prayer is the only life which Heaven counts.
God is vitally concerned that men should pray. Men are bettered by prayer, and the world is bettered by praying. God does His best work for the world through prayer. God’s greatest glory and man’s highest good are secured by prayer. Prayer forms the godliest men and makes the godliest world.
Jesus Christ was always a busy man with His work, but never too busy to pray. The divinest of business filled His heart and filled His hands, consumed His time, exhausted His nerves. But with Him even God’s work must not crowd out God’s praying. Saving people from sin or suffering must not, even with Christ, be substituted for praying, nor abate in the least the time or the intensity of these holiest of seasons. He filled the day with working for God; He employed the night with praying to God. The day-working made the night-praying a necessity. The night-praying sanctified and made successful the day-working. Too busy to pray gives religion Christian burial, it is true, but kills it nevertheless.
Many Christians admire and wish to emulate great revivalists like Charles Finney and Dwight Moody.
This is a noble ambition, however, few recognise that behind powerful revivals are little-known intercessors who have prayed behind the scenes, sacrificially, for hours and days.
This point was highlighted by the late Frederick Julius Huegel, in his book The Ministry of Intercession, who illustrates this by narrating the life experiences of John Hyde (who became known as “Praying Hyde” in India), Charles Finney, and Dwight Moody:
As a young man, fresh from seminary, [John Hyde] left home to take ship to India. On board, in his stateroom, he found a letter from one of the elders of the church of which his father was pastor. The letter contained a challenge, a question! Had John received the fullness of the Spirit for his ministry? Or was he trusting in his talents, his theological training? John became angry and threw the letter into the wastepaper basket. He stomped angrily out on the ship’s deck. He did not like this intimation that he was not really prepared for his task. But the journey, as it was made in those days, was long, and so John had plenty of time to think it over. He reread the letter and decided to seek the Lord for an infilling of His Spirit. The result was a might baptism of power from on high. John decided that his ministry would be one of intercession.
He knew that he would be misunderstood, but he stuck to his purpose. The history of Hyde’s ministry in India is one of the most stirring accounts of ministry activities in all the annals of Christian missions. Before the Siolkot Convention (a large gathering of missionaries and pastors from all parts of India), John spent thirty days and nights in ceaseless intercession. He groaned with groanings which could not be uttered. He barely ate and slept. Ah, but the result was a glorious outpouring of the blessed Spirit of God upon pastors and missionaries, the beginning of a blessed time of revival in churches all over the land.
It was a time of great quickening, a surging of new life from heaven, and joy unspeakable. The Punjab Prayer Union was formed, as many others were drawn to the ministry of intercession. But it cost John Hyde his life. After some years, Praying Hyde returned to his home in Indiana to die. The attending physician found John’s heart clear out of place. Such intercessions as John was wont to take heavy toll from the physical frame.
The story of the great revival that shook America in the days of Charles Finney is well known. May pastors sigh sorrowfully and say, “Oh, for revival as in the days of the great Finney.” But there was an unsung hero behind all this. It was Father Nash. Three weeks before the arrival of the revivalist, Father Nash would go to the towns and cities where Finney was booked to visit. There he would give himself to ceaseless intercession. Little wonder that the heavens were opened as Finney preached and that multitudes were brought to Christ.
A similar circumstance occurred in the days of the great Dwight Moody. The church as large owes a great debt to this apostle of evangelism. The story of those glorious days is well known. Not so well known is the story of the two women who ceased not to intercede for Moody when he was the pastor of a church which he had formed in a humble colony of Chicago, made up largely of urchins which he had gathered from the streets of the colony. It irked Moody that these two women should be praying so constantly for him. He felt that they should intercede for their pastor. The answer came on a day when Moody was walking on the streets of New York. He hastened to his room at the hotel and on his knees cried out, saying: “Lord, withhold your hand or I shall die of joy.”
He soon became a world figure. He was no longer an unknown preacher in a humble colony of Chicago. He was now an apostle who shook the country and on two continents led thousands to Christ.
What did it? The intercessions of two humble women who, as it were, besieged the throne of grace until their pastor was endued with power from on high.