DOES GOD ANSWER PRAYER TODAY?
There is probably no subject in the Bible about which there is more confusion, doubt and misunderstanding than the subject of prayer. We have come to a greater understanding of the laws of nature and how they work, and we have come to a correct understanding that God does not work by miracles today. Dependence on natural laws, medicinal healing, and our understanding that miracles are no longer available to us, has produced much skepticism on the benefits of prayer. In Bible times God brought about many things by miracles, but the question we ask is, “Can He also bring things about today without miracles?” And if so, how? . Does God answer prayer today? If He does, can he give us what we pray for without working a miracle? The passage we are investigating sheds much light on these troublesome questions.
The first thing we learn from this passage is that God does indeed answer prayer. The question is put to us, “Is any among you suffering? Let him pray” The Old King James version says, “Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray.” Then later in the passage the word of God says, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” It does not say that the prayer of every person avails much, but the prayer of a righteous person. A righteous person is the kind of person God loves, and that is the way it should be. Furthermore, please note that it says this prayer will avail much, not necessarily everything we may ask. It may not avail to the full extent of what was prayed for. There is no promise that it will accomplish precisely what is prayed for. But it does promise it will avail much, and that's enough.. It may be in this way or that way, but in some way, it avails much.
One of the important conditions of availing prayer is expressed in I John 5:14, “Now this is the confidence we have in Him, that if we ask anything according ot His will, He hears us, and if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” Many foolish prayers are offered through ignorance, greed, avarice or some other evil motive. If we ask for something we should not have, God will not give it. The Father wills for us only that which is for our good. In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus three times offered this prayer to God, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not as I will but as You will.” His request was, “Save the human race in some other way than by My shameful death” Three times, God said, “No.” Three times Paul requested the Lord to remove a physical
affliction from his body but the answer was, “No.” Paul received a bodily affliction for his own good, even though he did not understand its benefit..
I like the words of one preacher who said, “The Father sometimes says, Yes, by saying No!” That is, He answers a prayer for our good by denying the petition made. Nevertheless, the Lord encourages us to pray. Philippians 4:6 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” The apostle Peter said, “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers.” If God does not answer prayer, why would He ask us to make requests to Him.?
Another thing we learn from this passage is that God has in times gone by answered prayers with a miracle. In the first sixty five years of church history, God allowed Christians to perform many miracles to convince an unbelieving world that God had given a new religion to the world that was for all people, both Jews and Gentiles. Those miracles were very successful in getting the religion of Christ off to a wonderful start. One of those miracles is mentioned in the passage under investigation. God gave this instruction to the early Christians, “Is there anyone among you sick. Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick; and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”
One of the many miraculous gifts God bestowed on all local churches in the first century was the gift of healing. Before Jesus returned to heaven, He gave the command to preach the gospel to every creature and baptize all believers in the name of the Farther, Son and Holy Spirit. Then He said, “These signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover”(Mark 16:15-18). From this passage and the one we are studying, we learn that the elders would lay their hands on the dying person, anoint him in some way with olive oil, offer the prayer of faith, and immediately a miracle took place. The elders did not have to say with this prayer, “If it be Your will.” No. When those elders prayed the prayer of healing, it was God's will that the healing take place. Jesus said, “and they will recover,” not possibly or perhaps or maybe. God answered the prayer with a miracle, a supernatural healing.Why they were anointed with oil we are not told, but it was part of
the supernatural healing program of the early church. When the elders offered the prayer of faith, they recovered and dying people were raised up from their sick beds. That must have been something to behold! This also teaches us that most likely it was the elders of the local churches who primarily had the gift of divine healing, and they supervised the use of all miraculous gifts in the churches. Miraculous gifts were bestowed on Christians, as a general rule, by the laying on of the hands of the apostles(Acts 8:18). No church has these miraculous gifts today, and there are no gifts of supernatural healing in the Lors's church today. That was a temporary arrangement and ceased when the apostles died.
Thirdly, we learn from our text that God answers prayers today without miracles. To help us understand how He can do this, He has given us an example in our text. James 5:17,18 says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.” Elijah offered two prayers to God. One prayer was a request that it would not rain on the land of Palestine for 1260 days. God answered that prayer by causing a drouth for 42 months. After three and half years of no rain, Elijah prayed again and requested the drought to end, and a flooding rain fell on the very day his prayer was offered. The amazing thing about these prayers, and the events they caused, is that no miracle was involved. When we think of how prayers were answered in ancient times, we just take for granted they were answered by miracles. This was often the case, but not always. James, for the benefit of Christians and as an encouragement to them to pray, goes back in past times and selects a prayer that was answered with no miracle at all.
Before I show you that God did not use a miracle to answer either one of the prayers of Elijah, the question comes to me, “Why did Elijah make such a terrible request to God?” I can almost hear God saying to the prophet, “How could you ask for such a thing?. Don't you know that it would cause much suffering in the land, even cause some to die by starvation? You too will suffer and all good people in the land will suffer. What is this thing you asking Me to do?” God may not have said these things, but we can be sure He considered such consequences when He gave consideration to this prayer of His prophet.
Did you ever inquire why Elijah offered such a prayer to God? It wasn't because it had rained too much, because the land was soaked or the
lakes and the Jordan river were all at flood stage. This man was worried
about his nation because of their unfaithfulness and mistreatment of God. But he had an idea that might help. . The whole nation, under Ahab as King and under the leadership of Jezebel, had deserted the living God. They replaced the true religion of Israel with the immoral and idolatrous Baal religion. Israel had become immoral idol lovers and idol worshipers. The true religion of Jehovah had all but disappeared. The nation of Israel was in apostasy, a complete falling away from true religion. It was so bad that as far as Elijah knew, there was no man in all Israel but himself who served God. Elijah thought he could help the nation. It entered the mind of Elijah, that if he could only have power granted by God to hold back the rain for a year, and if necessary another year, and if necessary another year, and if necessary even another year, it would compel them to see that Baal was no God at all, for all their prayers to Baal would not bring rain. He would compel them to see that Jehovah was the only God who could bring them rain. That was quite an idea, and he asked God for the power; and God granted him that power. Immediately he went into the presence of King Ahab and said, “As the Lord God lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years but according to my word.” And there was no rain for the next three and a half years.
As a final thought, it is clear that God answered Elijah's prayers
without any kind of a miracle. What caused this long drought? You are ready, perhaps, to say it looks like a miracle to me. No, a drought for one year is not a miracle. This happens quite often all over the world. A two year drought or a three year drought would not be a miracle. Why? Droughts are caused by the laws of nature and not by miracles. California has a nine month drought every year as a general rule. Too much rain, two little rain and normal rain are caused by the natural laws and not by miracles. Any event that can be explained by the natural laws cannot be claimed to be a miracle. A miracle is an event that is supernatural, above the natural laws, something that cannot be explained by the laws of nature. Drought and rain are very natural events and do not require miracles.
How then did God answer these prayers of Elijah?. Elijah stopped the rain for 1260 days, and at the end of that time his prayer brought the rain back. God answered his prayer by providence, not miracle. All Bible believers are agreed that one of the attributes of God is His providence. The Bible says, “In God we live, and move and have our being.” He quickens us with His own life. He is with us, around about us, and upholds all things by His power. Providence is the superintending care which God takes of mankind and of all things He has made. There are many examples in the Bible of God bringing about events by His providence and not by miracles.
But you may ask, “How did God's providence work in answering Elijah's prayer? Since drought and rain are very natural events and are regulated by the laws of nature and not by miracles, and since there is no evidence that God worked some great miracle to answer Elijah's prayers, we can rightly concluded that God can use the natural laws in any way He chooses to do what he wants done on the earth, without working miracles.
We are not told just how He caused the normal rain season to cease. The clouds that normally brought rain did not appear. Just how God worked that out no one knows, but it teaches us that God is not limited by the laws of nature. We are limited by the laws of nature, as to what we can do, but He is not. He can use them in any way He sees fit. He can manipulate the laws of nature to accomplish whatever He wants to do. He is the Creator and ruler of the natural laws. They carry out His will at all times. In one of the great battles Joshua fought to conquer Canaan Joshua said, “Sun, stand stilll over Gibeon...So the sun stood still, the moon stopped, nd the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day”(Joshua 10:12-14) That was the day the sun stood still, and the Bible says, “There has been no day like that before it or after it.” He is the Lord of the laws of nature. He can manipulate and use them whenever and however He sees fit.
This truth answers the objection offered by unbelievers that to answer our prayers God would have to work miracles and that is contrary to the laws of nature. You go right on and make your requests to God. Don't worry about the laws of nature or how God answers prayer. We don't know how He answers prayer or just how He saw to it that rain did not fall on Palestine for three and half years, or how He caused the sun to stand still for a whole day. His providential working is His business, and He has not seen fit to tell us how His providence works. The evidence is conclusive, however, that God answers our prayers by providence and not miracles; and He may very well us the laws of nature to give us the requests that we make. Now, someone might say, “Preacher, according to your interpretation of Elijah's prayer, I should be able to cause droughts and end droughts by prayer. Elijah had an excellent reason to bring about a drought, would you? You may make the request, but it may not be God's will to do for you what He did for Elijah. Perhaps we should express our reason for making a certain rquest. For best results, make requests as a good person, in faith, nothing doubting. When we make requests of God we should ask fervently for something that is according to His will. I close with this statement in James 4:2,3, “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”