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God In Answered Prayer

Why does every relgion have answered prayers?

Sometimes, when dealing with spiritual power, we're not sure where to put God. For example, Christians' prayers are answered, so that says something about the God of Christians, right? The problem is, Muslims also claim answered prayer, as do Hindus, Buddhists, and Wiccans. Furthermore, each tend to think that because their prayers are answered, that proves their concept of God is right. However, each religion's beliefs about God are opposed to the other, so that if one set of beliefs is right, then the others must be wrong. So how is it that, if there is only one God, each person prays to a different god and claims an answer to prayer?

I heard one Christian give this explanation. "Satan answers prayers, too. He deceives other people into thinking they are really worshipping God and it keeps them in darkness." That response never gave me a feeling of satisfaction. It seemed just a little too domatic.

The fact is, God gave everyone spiritual power. Just as the scriptures say,
God causes the rain to fall on the good and the wicked
in the same way, God gave everyone spiritual power. Why? Because we need it to live on planet earth, whether we worship God or not. Wouldn't it be disasterous if God immediately let non-believers die? Why disasterous? Because we all at one time were unbelievers, until we became believers. If God let nonbelievers die, there would be no one on earth to convert. Therefore, God gave us all the equipment we need to spiritually survive on planet earth. We all, good and bad, have rain, sunshine, crops, health, wisdom, ability, strength, and spiritual power to cope with dying relatives and other disasters. I think that testifies to a supremely good God.

So, if we cannot point to answered prayer as proof that our God is the true God, then what else do we have? What else can we point to? That question reminds me of one of Jesus' parables:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ ”‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Luke 16:19-311

1The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.
This and all scripture references are from the NIV, unless otherwise indicated.

When we expect people to believe in our God because of our answered prayer, we fall into the same theological error that the rich man fell into. We expect an outward demonstration of power to prove our God is the right god. Jesus said if the rich man's surviving brothers do not believe in God although they have the scriptures, then they won't believe in God even if someone rose from the dead and told them. In the same way, just because our prayers are answered is not going to prove to a person in another religion that our God is the right one.

Then, what are we to think?

Let's start our journey into understanding what God wants of us in relation to answered prayer by reading this scripture. It's a portion of the story that tells when Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the garden.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
Genesis 2:1-10

Two elements from that story help us understand more about God and what's going on. First, the temptation was not to eat fruit but to become like God. "Your eyes will be opened and you will be like God." The second is that God came to visit them on a friendship basis. He was walking in the garden, they hid themselves, and God called to them, "Where are you?" The contrast here is amazing. On one hand, humans are trying to usurp the position of God, to get God out of their lives (they hid from God) because they want to be gods. In contrast, God at the same time is trying to build friendship-type relationship with humans. It's ironic that one of the most frequent complaints against God we hear is that God is hiding, God is unknowable, God went away. People blame God for doing to them exactly what they do to God.

In our age - that is, in the Twenthieth Century and going into the Twenty-first Century - there is a growing awareness of the spiritual power that we all have. People are claiming amazing things (some of which is just fantasy and conjecture). Groups are practicing "awareness," "miracles," and other spiritual power. Videos like "The Secret" and "What the Bleep Do We Know?" are being made. Quantum mechanics are being used to prove spiritual power exists and how it works.

I want to be very clear about two things: One, I have no problem with people developing their spiritual powers and Two, if we ignore God we are in dire peril.

It seems to me we would be at fault if we recoginize God gave us certainly powers and we ignored it. For example, we (humans) have learned to produce tremendous crops, thanks to god-given knowledge. We have disease-resistant, highly-nutritious, doubling-yielding crops with which we can field the world. Should we destroy all our crops because we used our god-given intelligence and wisdom to do that? Should we let people starve to death because we are not willing to utilize our abilities? What about our medical prowness? Two hundred years ago we almost couldn't do anything relating to physical health; now we can transplant hearts, cure certain forms of cancer, engage in beneficial neurosurgery (brain operations). Our technological explosion is astounding, and the inventions we have resulting from our space travel are being used every day among the common people. Should we give it all up because we are afraid to use the talent God gave us?

Some people would say, "Yes." I believe those people are a minority. Certain parables Jesus gave us indicate God expects us to use and develop the ability he gave us. One parable is this:

(A man, going on a journey,) called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents2 of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey...
After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things...’
Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said,...
I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!... you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’ For everyone who has will be given more... Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.
excerpts, Matthew 25:14-30

2A "talent" is a weight equal to about 75 pounds (34 kilograms).  A talent of gold is 75 pounds of gold.

Watchman Nee, a prominant Chinese Christian of fifty years ago, wrote several books about this spiritual power that we all possess. His thought was that although we have it and it was put in us by God, still we should not use it because we have a sin nature. God gave us the spiritual power before mankind fell into sin. And now, since we have a basic sinful nature, we should purposely not use that power. We should instead pray to God and let him use the power. That is, we yield it back to God." That sounds strangely like the man who had one talent and buried it in the ground. His master cursed him for it.

Jesus gave other instructions that imply the development of our spiritual power. One occurred when he cursed the fig tree:

Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered. When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Matthew 21:18-22

Jesus did not say, "ask in my name," nor "pray, 'If it be Thy will...'" He simply said, Pray (say it) and believe it, and it will be done. In other places he did say to qualify that prayer (in my name, etc), but for this situation, all that was needed was to speak the words.

That scripture and another one shows that God allows us to ask for things that will benefit us personally. The other one is the prayer of Jabez:

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.
1 Chronicles 4:10

A recent popular Christian book came out by that name, The Prayer of Jabez. The gist of that Christian book is that it is all right to pray for things that will benefit us.

That brings us to a question we must ask. If all this is true, then why believe in God at all? What do we need God for, if we have the spiritual power we need to do and get whatever we want?

If there is a God, then it makes all the difference in the world. If there is a God, then there's more to life than just getting what you want. After all, God gave us this whole world and our bodies, which are both abundant in strength and potential. If we believed we need God even with all this, then we still need God for the same reasons even after we discover we have certain spiritual power. Another parable explains this:

The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.
Luke 12:16-21

You can live your life without God. You can exercise your spiritual power without God. But in the end, what good have you done? What value have you amassed? You are temporal; your body has an end. If you are without God, the Eternal One, the Creator, then you have lost everything.