The Struggle in Prayer
We are called to pray and intercede in all circumstances:
Philippians 4:6 - Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Ephesians 6:18 - And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people.
The question that arises in our hearts is “Why does one prayer get answered and another is not?” Greg Boyd outlines a number of variables we should be aware of (see here for more information and in Greg’s book
Is God to Blame?). Here are some reflections on this drawing from his outline:
1) God’s Will: we know that praying in God’s will is important; so knowing his promises, his mission, his love for our world is vital. 1 John 5:14 - This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. However, we need to be wary of attributing unanswered prayer to God’s will as this implies no other variables exist and can make faith fatalistic and God appear unconcerned, unapproachable and non-negotiable.
2) The faith of the person being prayed for: there were times that lack of belief and lack of faith hindered the outworking of Jesus’ power. Mark 6:5-6 – Jesus’ healing ministry seemed limited because of unbelief. Conversely there are many stories that indicate healing where there was no belief. I have seen Christians hurt by accusations that “if only they believed more then healing would come”. Again we need be wary of attributing this variable alone to unanswered prayer.
3) The faith of the people praying: the story of the friends of the paralysed man lowering him to Jesus through the roof comes to mind (Luke 5:20). We can recall stories when the faith and love of friends intervening in prayer and action brings about change. In many ways the role of Micah Network’s prayer focus is to draw on the network as a group of faithful friends bringing the needs of one another and on behalf of our hurting world to the Lord. Hear these words: “When Jesus saw their faith he healed their friend….”
4) Persistence of prayer: change takes time and like any project we set out to do, there are different stages, hours of labour. Prayer is often just like this (Luke 11:5-8). For change to take place many hearts need to be challenged and circumstances evolved. Persistence is key and a hard discipline to practice in our quick access society. We will see some prayer points arise over and over again in our monthly focus – we encourage one another to not stop praying. For example: for the IAS staff held hostage in Somalia.
5) The number of people praying: Paul invites prayer support from the churches so as to ensure he has the boldness and insight to fulfil his ministry (Ephs 6:19ff; Cols 4:3ff).The importance of solidarity and combined prayer is key. It is not that the prayer is louder and so God hears us, but rather that our love and unity breaks through strongholds.
6) Human free will: God will never override each person’s free will to choose. However, praying for our loved ones to come to faith is influenced by prayer because strongholds are broken, lies exposed, truth heard. (2 Peter 3:9)
7) Angelic free will: both angelic and demonic beings (e.g. 1 Thess 2:17ff – Satan hinders activity). These spirit beings have free will according to what the Bible shares about them.
8) Spiritual strongholds: depending on the presence and number of principalities and powers in a given area (Luke 11:24ff indicates that numbers makes a difference).
9) Presence of sin: when we allow sin (known disobedience) to be in our lives we limit our authority and impact. See the example from Joshua 7:10-11. Greg Boyd uses the following example: no one would be surprised if God told an abusive husband that prayer for his wife’s love is useless until he stops abusing her!
Extracts and points drawn from Greg Boyd’s article from Renew. Comments and Reflections added by Sheryl Haw