The experience of answered prayer is a strong confirmation that we are on the right track to the Kingdom. Prayer is spoken of as entering before the judgment throne of God, as if the prayer is a symbol of the one offering it, and is judged by God enthroned in glory, and then a sentence / judgment is passed by God which the Angels operationalize (Ps. 7:6; 17:2; 35:23; 54:1,2; 109:7; 143:1,2). This is all reminiscent of the last day judgment. Indeed, the Hebrew word for 'intercede' means also 'to meet'; every prayer is a meeting with God (Job 21:15; Is. 47:3; 64:5; Jer. 7:16; 15:11). Phinehas "executed judgment" or, as some translations, 'prayed / interceded' for Israel (Ps. 106:30). Judgment and prayer are linked. The "breastplate of judgment" enabled the High Priest to bear the names of all Israel before the Lord in mediation- and their judgment was carried by him, as it is by Jesus, in the process of mediating for them (Ex. 28:29,30). Romans is full of legal language, of interceding, pleading, finding a favourable verdict etc., and refers this to the judgment and also to the cross. But Romans 8 uses these very ideas in relation to prayer, for in coming before the throne of grace now on account of the Lord's sacrifice, we come in essence before judgment. Coming before the throne of God in prayer (Heb. 9:24; Ps. 17:1,2) is the language of the judgment seat. If we become before His throne and are accepted, it follows that this is a foretaste of the outcome of the judgment for us, were we to be judged at that time. Our boldness before the Father in prayer will be the same attitude we have to Him at the judgment throne (1 Jn. 2:28; 3:21; 4:17; 5:14 all use the same Greek word). Those who insincerely say "Lord, Lord" now, will say the same then, with the same lack of reality (Mt. 7:21,22). The publican went home after prayer "justified rather than the other". It has been suggested that this reflects "a Semitic idiom which describes…an anticipation of his acquittal in the final judgment" (1). When we call on the Father, we are judged according to our works (1 Pet. 1:17). Rachel felt that God hearing her voice was Him judging her (Gen. 30:4). The prayer of the poor is judged by God in His response to them (Ps. 10:7,8). Coming boldly before the throne of grace in prayer is again judgment seat language (Heb. 4:15). Our attitude to God in prayer now will be our attitude to Him at the judgment; we are 'bold / confident' before Him now, and we can be 'bold' then (1 Jn. 2:28). Marital strife results in prayers being "hindered" (1 Pet. 3:7), the same word translated 'hewn down' (Mt. 7:19) in a judgment day context. He who “says, Lord, lord” now “will say” the same words at the judgment (Mt. 7:21); our attitude to Jesus in prayer now will be the one we have then. The evidence that the experience of answered prayer is an indicator of God's pleasure with us is quite compelling- even if the answers aren't at all what we expect:
- "These things have I written unto you...that ye may know that ye have eternal life...and this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us" (1 Jn. 5:13,14). Answered prayer is the confidence that we have eternal life. Answered prayer means that our joy will be full (Jn. 16:24).
- God's face looks at the righteous if He accepts them (Ps. 11:7; 13:1)- and God turning His face toward men is a very common idiom for Him answering prayer (e.g. 1 Sam. 1:11). Thus acceptability with God and Him answering our prayers are related.
- Conversely, unanswered prayer is associated with God's rejection. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Ps. 66:18). Thus Nehemiah pleaded for God to unstop His ears and hear the prayer of the repentant remnant (Neh. 1:6).
- The Kingdom prophecy that "Before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear" (Is. 65:24) is applied to us now (Mt. 6:8)- as if answered prayer is a foretaste of the Kingdom life. Thus we must believe that we received what we ask for already (Mk. 11:24 Gk.).
- "Thou answerest them, O Lord our God: thou wast a God that forgavest them" (Ps. 99:8) again associates forgiveness / acceptability with God and answered prayer.
- Answered prayer is paralleled with being given the Holy Spirit, the token of God's acceptance (Mt. 7:11 cp. Lk. 11:13). The prayer of the Philippians for Paul is likewise linked with "the supply of the Spirit" (Phil. 1:19). Having spiritual fruit is therefore associated with answered prayer (Jn. 15:16), as is the possession of the Comforter (Jn. 14:14; 16:24 are in this context). Many passages imply that God's hearing of our prayers is proportionate to His perception of our spirituality. He will not respond to the prayer of those whose way of life is contrary to His word: Ps. 66:18; Pro. 1:24-28; Is. 1:15; 59:2; Jer. 7:16; 11:14; 14:10-12; 29:12; Lam. 3:8,44; Mal. 1:7-9; Mk. 11:25; Jn. 9:31; James 1:6,7; 4:3; 1 Pet. 3:7,12. But He will hear the prayer of the righteous; and 'hearing' is an idiom for 'answering', it doesn't just mean that God takes cognisance of the fact the righteous have prayed: Ps. 6:8,9; Mt. 7:7; 18:19,20; Jn. 14:14.
- Both David and Christ panicked when they felt their prayers weren't being answered; they felt that this meant they had sinned (Ps. 22:1-4; and consider too 17:15; 24:5; 27:4,8). Clearly they understood answered prayer as a sign of acceptability with God. Christ knew that God always heard him (Jn. 11:42). When apparently God didn't hear his prayer for deliverance on the cross, he for a moment supposed that he'd sinned and therefore God had forsaken him.
- The parable of the friend at midnight is surely to be interpreted like this: Friend coming = unexpected crisis; going to friend to get loaves = going to the Father in prayer; fact it is grossly inconvenient (children sleeping etc.) suggests that only because they are good friends will the man get up and give his friend the loaves (Lk. 15:5,6). This very nicely describes the way in which our answered prayers (for others' needs, in the parable) are a statement of the degree to which God counts us as His respected friends.
- Christ is a mediator between God and His people. The fact He mediates successfully for us means that we are His people. We know not what to pray for, but the Lord Jesus intercedes for the right things for us. Often we may pray for something, not receive it, and yet receive what is clearly Divine intervention in another way. This is proof that our prayers are being heard and Christ is mediating for us, even if we don't fully know God's will. Therefore this is proof positive that we are God's people.
The experience of answered prayer is therefore part of the upward spiral of confidence and spirituality experienced by the believer. "What things soever ye desire, believe that ye [did] receive them, and ye shall have them" (Mk. 11:24 Gk.) can be read as meaning that we should remember how we received things in the past, and therefore we should have faith that the things we now desire really will be likewise granted. It is for this reason that the prayers recorded in the Psalms constantly look back to previous experiences of answered prayer as a motivation for faith and Hope: Ps. 3:4,5; 44:1-4; 61:5; 63:7; 66:18-20; 77:4-16; 86:13; 94:5,7-19; 116:1; 120:1,2; 126:1,4; 140:6,7. Jeremiah likewise (Lam. 3:55,56). And even the fact other believers had received answered prayers inspired David's faith in prayer (Ps. 74:11-15; 106). "Nevertheless", despite the fact God answers prayer, "when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith?" (Lk. 18:8). The implication is that the experience of answered prayer ought to develop faith, but such will be the spiritual perils of the last days and the lack of serious prayer, that there may well be no faith in the final generation.
Probably all readers will now be in a state of doubt; because they will know the experience of answered prayer, but also that of unanswered prayer. But let's remember the above reasoning; answered prayer really does indicate our acceptability with God. The unanswered prayers must therefore be the result of:
- Praying for the wrong things, i.e. those things about which we do not know God's will for sure
- Praying without faith, without really intending to receive the answer.
There is the repeated Bible teaching that what we ask for, we will receive. God hearing prayer is an idiom for Him answering it; and this is not just the inference of an isolated verse. Consider the parallelism of Ps. 6:8,9:
"The Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping
The Lord hath heard my supplication
The Lord will receive my prayer".
Hopefully we will all have had the experience of a crisis where we have prayed, really prayed, and the answer has miraculously come. Yet this is what real prayer is; and yet we simply can't sustain the intensity. The only real way out is to fall back on the fact that the Lord Jesus intercedes for us with that kind of intensity (Rom. 8:26). We have shown elsewhere that Biblical prayers rarely request things; if we ask according to God's will, we will receive (1 Jn. 5:14); and yet if God's word dwells in us, we will ask what we will, and receive it (Jn. 15:7). Thus if our will is purely God's will, we will receive answers to every prayer. And yet our will is not yet coincidental with His; even the will of the Son was not perfectly attuned to that of the Father (Lk. 22:42; Jn. 5:30; 6:38), hence the finally unanswered prayer for immediate deliverance from the cross. Yet as we grow spiritually, the will of God will be more evident to us, and we will only ask for those things which are according to His will. And thus our experience of answered prayer will be better and better, which in turn will provide us with even more motivation for faith in prayer.
We earlier pointed out that the judgment will be the time when God 'requires' of us our behaviour. And yet the Hebrew word is used about our enquiring / searching to God in prayer now (Gen. 25:22; Ex. 18:15; Dt. 4:29; 12:5; 1 Kings 22:5), as well as His 'requiring' / searching of us at the last day (Dt. 18:19; 23:21; Josh. 22:23; 1 Sam. 20:16; 2 Chron. 24:22; Ez. 3:20; 33:6,8). There is a mutuality between a man and his God. We must keep and seek for His commandments and He will seek / search our hearts in response (1 Chron. 28:8,9- the same original words are used). The wicked don't seek for God because they don't think He will require their deeds of them; but because He will require them, we should enquire / seek for Him (Ps. 10:4,13,15- the same word occurs three times). We enquire of Him and He enquires of us, both now and in the last day. This entering into 'enquiry' with our God is what goes on in prayer. In it we have a foretaste of judgment to come.
How we are in life generally is reflected in how God sees our prayers. The prayer of a righteous man is heard; and those whose hearts are wrongly motivated are not (James 4:3; 5:16). Husbands and wives have their prayers hindered if there is tension between them (1 Pet. 4:7; 5:7). Our lives are read as a prayer- this is surely how Paul could speak of praying constantly. And therefore answered prayer reflects our standing in God’s eyes here and now.
Whenever we come before the call of God in His word, whenever we hear the ‘judgments’ of God, we effectively come before His judgment. 1 Cor. 14:24 speaks of those who hear the prophesied word of God as being “judged” and convicted, and the secrets of their hearts being made manifest, just as they will be at the final judgment. Indeed Paul uses the same words in 1 Cor. 4:5 to describe what will happen at judgment day, and repeats them in 1 Cor. 14:25 about what happens when a man in this life is ‘judged’ by God’s word.
Reflect a while on two consecutive verses in Ez. 8:18; 9:1: “Though they [Israel] cry in mine ears with a loud voice [when they are under judgment for their actions, which I now ask them to repent of], yet will I not hear them. He [God] cried also in mine [Ezekiel’s] ears with a loud voice, saying…”. Do you see the connection? As we read and hear God’s word today, He is passionately crying in our ears with a loud voice. Just imagine someone literally doing this to you! If we refuse to hear it, then we will cry in His ears with a loud voice in the last and final day of condemnation. The intensity of His appeal to us now will be the intensity with which the rejected plead for Him to change His verdict upon them; and God, like them in this life, will refuse to hear. What arises from this is a simple fact: as we read and hear the pages of Scripture, as we turn the leaves in our Bibles, God is crying in our ears with a loud voice. Our response to Him is a foretaste of our acceptance or rejection at the day of judgment.
(1) F.F. Bruce, The Message Of The New Testament (Paternoster, 1994 ed., p. 30).