UNANSWERED PRAYER AND THE PRINCE OF THIS WORLD
††††††††††† God wills certain things. You and I will certain things. As Christians in prayer our wills can blend with his... But unfortunately another will can spoil this blending. Satan also has a will and a way in this fallen world of ours.
††††††††††† Youth minister D.C. Veal tells this story about prayer:
††††††††††† Once upon a time, a man walking in the forest came to a high cliff and looked over the edge. He saw a 300-foot drop beneath him with only one small branch jutting out about half way down the sheer rock wall.
††††††††††† Suddenly, his foot slipped and he fell 150 feet down but managed to grab that one small branch.
††††††††††† Looking down he saw the cliff ended in a rocky ravine at the bottom; looking up he could only see a few trees clustered at the top.
††††††††††† "Help! Help!" he screamed. "Is anybody up there?"
††††††††††† A shining cloud formed in the sky and a voice answered from the cloud, "It's ok. Don't be afraid. I am here."
††††††††††† "Who is that talking," called the man.
††††††††††† "This is God. I am with you," said the voice from the cloud.
††††††††††† "Wonderful," said the hiker. "I'm saved. What do you want me to do?"
††††††††††† "Let go of the branch," said the Voice.
††††††††††† The man looked down into the deep ravine. He looked up at the cliff top. He looked down into the ravine again.
††††††††††† "Help! Help!" he shouted, " Is there anybody else up there!"
††††††††††† I think that story reveals Satan's basic attack on the prayers of mankind -- He encourages us to call for "anybody else" instead of God.
††††††††††† And we do.
††††††††††† All too often we do.
††††††††††† Ok. Sure. I can see that. But if God knows my needs, and if he cares about me, and if he is all powerful, then why does he let the devil ever hinder even one of my prayers? I want to think about that problem a bit:
My Root Prayer
††††††††††† I have a couple of different root prayers.
††††††††††† A root prayer is what I call a sort of mellow, laid back, Everything-I-want-out-of-life-for-my-general-comfort-and-convience prayer, a prayer to cover all the bases when nothing major is going wrong at the moment.
††††††††††† One of my root prayers goes a bit like this:
††††††††††† Dear Lord, I'd like for everyone to enjoy a good life. For married couples to love eachother and get along. For people to have plenty to eat and a nice clean cozy warm place to live, a home with no stopped up plumbing. For workers to enjoy what they are doing and to earn decent salaries on their jobs; for work to be challenging and not a drudge. For students to be excited by their studies and eager to learn new things. For everybody to have a car that runs good, not necessarily a new car but one that doesn't break down. And a home where they are happy. And I'd like for people to tolerate their differences and accept eachother. And for the air to be clean, the water pure and the forests lush. For the roads to be safe and businessmen honest. I'd like for young people to enjoy just as much adventure as they want, and for old people to be as secure as they want, and for little kids to play together without fighting and to have fun. I'd like a world without war, disease, poverty or hassle. I'd like to sit by my fire with my pipe and a good book and savory smells drifting out from the kitchen and my kind of music on the radio while the kids listen to their's in the family room, and I hear them laugh every once in a while... That's the kind of life I pray for and I want it for not just my family but for everybody. Amen
††††††††††† Your vision of a good satisfying life may differ in details from mine, but I don't think my prayer is too radical. Do you?
††††††††††† I think I'm making a perfectly reasonable request of God when I pray this sort of root prayer.
Universal Root Prayers
††††††††††† Not only do I think my prayer is reasonable but I think it is Scriptural. You know, land flowing with milk and honey, every man dwelling under his own fig tree, love thy neighbor, that sort of thing.
††††††††††† St. Paul says that the whole created world earnestly prays this sort of universal prayer:
††††††††††† "For the created universe waits with eager expectation for God's sons to be revealed. It was made the victim of frustration, not by its own choice, but because of him who made it so; yet always there was hope, because the universe itself is to be freed from the shackles of mortality and enter upon the liberty and splendor of the children of God. Up to the present, we know, the whole created universe groans in all its parts as if in the pangs of childbirth."-- Romans 8:19-22 NEB
††††††††††† Yes, indeed.
††††††††††† Down deep, everybody prays for a good prosperous life with just enough peace, just enough excitement, just enough security, just enough adventure; with plenty of novelty and plenty of satisfaction.
††††††††††† A wise man, I think it was G.K. Chesterton, said, "The chief end of all human endeavor is to be happy at home."
A good satisfying life is what we all want.
††††††††††† This is what we all pray for. This is what the Scripture says God intends for the world to be like. This is the norm -- but most of us only catch brief glimpses of the good life, while many in this world never see it at all.
††††††††††† Why aren't our prayers for the good life answered? Why do the people who seem to achieve the good life die in pain and leave it behind them?
††††††††††† What we truly want, the good life, satisfying life, abundant life, what the Bible calls Eternal Life -- that life God does promise to give us.
††††††††††† "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world."-- John 3:16-17 NIV
††††††††††† So we see that our root prayers will be answered -- eventually.
††††††††††† But why not here?
††††††††††† Why not now?
††††††††††† Because -- because we live in a battle zone.
††††††††††† That's right. We're in the Lord's Army. This world is not our home; we are on temporary assignment here in enemy occupied territory.
††††††††††† What would be a perfectly reasonable normal lifestyle in peacetime, soldiers give up for the duration of the war. Combat troops don't live in the comfortable homes where they would live normally; during the emergency they live in tents and eat field rations. They leave their firesides and families to face loneliness, hardship and danger. They stand a good chance of being killed or horribly mutilated.
††††††††††† Our soldiers fight a monstrous enemy who has a multitude of troops.
††††††††††† As do we all.
††††††††††† Saint Paul explains how this relates to prayer in less than a thousand words:
††††††††††† "Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against† the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep praying for all the saints."-- Ephesians 6:11-18 NIV
Life in occupied territory
††††††††††† Yes, the devil and his spiritual forces of evil have invaded and occupied God's world and as we pray on all occasions with all kinds of prayers, these demons rage against our prayers.
††††††††††† The enemy of our souls usually fights through subterfuge, but he also sometimes launches all out frontal assaults with flaming arrows, massive carnage, disaster, disease, Skuds, sword and fire.
††††††††††† But in addition to demon forces, Satan also uses human traitors.
These human traitors are the reason the war has been prolonged.
††††††††††† Saint Peter said, "Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient to you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance".II Peter 3:8-9 NIV
††††††††††† You see, Our General could have nuked the demon invaders ages ago. But our Leader wants the human rebels taken alive ... and turned.
††††††††††† Why should even a single inhabitant of God's world be lost to Satan?
††††††††††† God's attitude about this enrages Satan.
††††††††††† St. Peter said, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast".-- I Peter 5:8-10 NIV
Daniel and the demons
††††††††††† The Bible tells of several specific instances where Satan has directly hindered prayers:
††††††††††† In his book, Daniel tells about several miraculous answers to his prayers. For instance: "While I was speaking and ... making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill -- while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight and said do me, 'Daniel, I have come now to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I came to tell you...'"
-- Daniel 9:20-23 NIV
††††††††††† But not all answers arrived on Daniel's doorstep in swift flight; a few years later, Daniel had a much rougher time getting a response:
††††††††††† "I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks, I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over," he said.
††††††††††† Eventually, while Daniel was standing on the bank of Babylon's Tigris River, an angel again came to him and said,
††††††††††† "Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain..."
-- Daniel 10:2-14 NIV
††††††††††† Here we clearly see demons resisting, hindering† and delaying the answer to Daniel's prayer. Notice that Daniel played no part in the battle between the angels and demons; his duty was to continue faithful in prayer and leave the timing of the answer to God.
Is it always demons blocking answers to our prayers?
††††††††††† Of course it is not always demons hindering our prayers: sometimes God's own Holy Spirit guides us by hindering us. A prime example of that is found in the missionary journey of Paul, Silas and Timothy:
††††††††††† "Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to."†
-- Acts 16:6-7 NIV
††††††††††† The context makes it clear that these Christians were praying about where they should travel. They intended to go this place and that, but they were prevented by the Holy Spirit. They continued praying until St. Paul received his "Macedonian Vision" telling him to go to Greece.
††††††††††† So... how do you know whether it is the Holy Spirit or† an angel-fighting† demon who is delaying your prayer's answer?
††††††††††† I have no idea.
††††††††††† I'm not sure that we can know until after the event.
††††††††††† There is no reason for us to know.
††††††††††† Our clear duty is to continue in prayer however long it takes till God's will is plain to us. What practical difference does it make why a prayer's answer is delayed so long as that delay leads us to further prayer?
Job and Satan
††††††††††† Another example of Satan meddling with a man's prayers appears in the book of Job.
††††††††††† Job prayed for his seven sons and three daughters every day. Satan challenged God about the hedge around Job. Shortly afterward a tornado smashed into the house where the children were attending a feast and killed them all instantly.
††††††††††† Job got up, tore his robes, shaved his head, fell to the ground and worshiped the Lord.
††††††††††† Reading the whole book of Job we see other disasters fall on the poor man's head. "Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head."
††††††††††† Job was in bad shape. He did not understand what was happening to him. But he did as we should do when we do not understand; he continued doing the plain duties of the moment immediately before him, and he continued to pray. In the midst of his pain Job cried:
††††††††††† "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes -- I and not another. How my heart yearns within me!"
††††††††††† In C.S. Lewis's book The Screwtape Letters, the demon complains that Hell's cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do God's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of God seems to have vanished, and questions why he has been forsaken -- but still obeys.
Is Satan strong enough to overcome Christ when we pray?
††††††††††† Now, demons are subtle, insidious, spoiled, envious, spiteful, cunning, and nasty; but they sometimes aren't too bright. They meddle in prayers and things in ways which make their own meddling turn against them.
††††††††††† Think about Satan and Jesus for a bit:
††††††††††† After man's fall in the Garden of Eden, God immediately told the snake of the Messiah's coming, telling Satan that the Seed of the Woman would crush his head even as the worm bit His heel.
††††††††††† At the birth of Christ, Satan influenced King Herod to murder babies in order to kill the promised King of the Jews. Satan tempted Christ to pray to him in the wilderness. When Christ exorcised demons, Satan influenced mobs of people to try to stone Jesus or throw him over a cliff. Jesus knew that he would be tortured to death, but continued doing the will of his Father anyhow. Then Satan entered into Judas Iscariot leading him to betray Jesus.
††††††††††† How Satan must have laughed at the prayer's of Jesus in Gethsemane! How pleased he was to see the crown of thorns pressed on his head. He counted every lash of the whip. He shouted with the mob, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"
††††††††††† And Satan felt glee when he saw Christ nailed down and die...
††††††††††† All of that evil activity constituted the worm's bite on the Seed of the Woman's heel.
††††††††††† Cover your head, Devil, here comes that Heel again!
††††††††††† How do you nail down the Lord of Life?
††††††††††† Remember that odd verse in Matthew's gospel about how when Christ died, some graves opened and the bodies of saints who slept awoke?
††††††††††† I have this mental picture of bodies in the grave like dried beans scattered, still and quite, on the surface of a trampoline. Then somebody climbs a ladder with a cinder block and drops it from ten feet up. Look at those bodies bounce up when our Solid Rock hits the grave!
††††††††††† Who's laughing now, Devil?
††††††††††† Bug off, Worm.
††††††††††† But the best is yet to come. The borrowed tomb of Jesus was a hard hat area for Satan, and he'd left his home.
††††††††††† Not only did Jesus liberate the spirits in prison (whatever that means) but HE AROSE!
††††††††††† Job knew it. You and I know it. Paul knew it. But the prince of this age did not know what hit him.
††††††††††† As Paul said:
††††††††††† "We speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."-- I Corinthians 2:7-8 NIV
But the story gets even better for you and I personally.
††††††††††† Because Christ arose, you and I will too!
††††††††††† "Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep... But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him...† Death has been swallowed up in victory," Paul says in I Corinthians 15.
††††††††††† Satan has lost the battle but the evil one still thrashes about in spite just like a beaten human army might -- burning crops and cities, plundering homes and poisoning wells, spoiling lives and blowing up bridges -- as he retreats before the Victor.
††††††††††† And this ruined battlefield, this scorched earth, which Satan is pillaging in fury, angry† over his defeat by Christ† -- this is where we live and pray and fight.
††††††††††† But just as Christ arose, our turn is coming. We too will arise. We are going to muster out of this army and go to where the fire burns warm on the hearth, where scrumptious smells waft in from the kitchen, where the good life we have prayed for all our earthly lives awaits us...
††††††††††† We are going Home -- where every prayer is fully and unquestionably answered.
You have been reading Chapter Sixteen of the book Why Donít I Get What I Pray For? by John W. Cowart †(IVP, 1993)
Click here for Chapter Seventeen