Prayer: Does God Answer Our Prayers?
Psalm 116 is a great psalm of praise, and I commend it to your reading. Today, however, I wish to look just at the first two verses of Psalm 116. This is the Word of God. “I love the Lord, because He has heard my voice and my supplications and because He inclined His ear to me. Therefore, I will call upon Him for as long as I live.” Soli deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, oh God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
The 116th Psalm begins with what I would call a song burst of praise. “I love the Lord,” he says, “Because He has heard my voice and my supplications, and because He has inclined His ear to me. Therefore, I will call on Him for as long as I live.” That psalmist had a triumphant faith, and it’s quite obvious in this psalm. But that wasn’t always true. For he tells us that there was a time when his faith was shaken. A time when he was severely ill, almost to the point of death. And at that point, out of the midst of his pain he says, he cried out to God for help. And in that moment, this great eternal, unchangeable, all-powerful God, this great God focused all of the limitless energies of Heaven down into the life of that one lowly preacher. And it transformed his whole life. And his life, from that point on, was a song burst of praise. He went public with that praise, he says that he went to church and he paid his vows in the presence of the congregation. He wanted the whole world to know the glory of his experience. He wanted the whole world to know that God is a God who meets people’s needs when they have them. He wanted the whole world to know that the God with whom we have to do is a God who both hears and answers prayers.
Do you know, I recognize that it may sound a bit simplistic to say it, but I’m going to say it anyway, because even though it’s simplistic it’s still true. I believe that the experience of one answered prayer would be enough to dispel forever our doubt, and to give to us a faith so strong that no battering circumstance in this life could ever shake it again. I believe that’s true. And this psalmist believed it was true. And so I want us to look at what we might learn from this psalmist, to see if there’s not a way for us to find that same unshakeable faith.
First, this psalmist expected God to answer his prayer.
That’s the important word. Expected. He expected God to answer his prayers. He wasn’t praying just to boost his morale. He wasn’t praying just so he would feel good. He wasn’t praying just so he would be enabled to endure whatever. He prayed because he wanted God to answer, and he believed that God would answer. He believed it. He expected it. And therefore, his prayer was a prayer of faith. And because it was a prayer of faith, God answered it. You see, faith is the crucial element.
You know, Jesus did many marvelous things for people during His earthly ministry. He restored sight to their blind eyes. He mended their broken bodies. He restored their wasted limbs. He gave sanity to their deranged consciousness. He gave peace to their troubled spirits. He did many marvelous things for people during His earthly ministry. But there was always the condition. There always had to be faith. You can see it all the way through the gospels. Not that it had to be the faith, necessarily of the person who had the need. You remember the time when the four men brought their sick friend into the presence of Jesus. It was the faith of the four men, not the faith of the sick man, the faith of the four men that triggered the healing power. It didn’t always have to be the faith of the person who was in need, but there had to be faith. Not that Jesus was the kind of faith healer who put the onus on His patient. Jesus never said, “If this doesn’t work, then it’s because your faith isn’t strong enough.” Jesus never said that. Never. No, the only thing Jesus ever said was this. “Do you believe that I can do it?” That’s all. And not that He required a great, large, robust, adventurous faith. Not at all. Sometimes even just a tiny, timid, tentative faith, if it were humble and sincere. Just a tiny little faith sometimes was enough to open the door to God’s power. You remember the story of the woman in the crowd who had just a tiny, timid little faith. She was so timid and tentative in fact, that she could do nothing more than just simply reach out in the midst of the crowd and touch the fringes of His garment. And yet the Bible says that was enough. She was cured instantly. But there did have to be faith. It had to be there. You see, Jesus understood that it is faith which enables us to see that God is answering our prayers. Faith does that. Faith makes us able to see that God is answering our prayers.
Let me come at it this way. It’s true, is it not, that we think of God answering prayers primarily as some invasion from beyond. Some expression of God’s great, supernatural power, which invades our normal human circumstances and accomplishes some great work. That’s what we normally think of when we think of God answering prayers. But the fact of the matter is that God most frequently answers prayers by working through our normal human situation. And that’s important for us to remember.
Take the case of healing as an example. God’s power most often operates through the normal channels of medicine and surgery. No, I want to be honest enough at this point to admit that the education and the craft of the physician has a tendency to turn that person away from the church, away from faith, because the physician is trained to rely upon the certainty of scientific inquiry. And an over-emphasis on that fact means that there’s really no room there for faith. Of course, anyone with any intellectual honesty and integrity these days would have to admit that there’s very little certainty in scientific inquiry, because the fact is, whatever seems certain today according to science tomorrow will be obsolete. But it’s true. The education and the craft of the physician does have a tendency to turn that person away from the church. Away from faith. And it’s the easiest thing in the world to use hospital rounds as a rationalization for not going to church. Well, that’s true. But let’s remember, God uses even those physicians who do not have faith to accomplish His healing work. But more than that, and oh, this is important. More than that, I want to tell you something. When you do encounter a doctor who is a committed Christian, you have found one who is greatly used by God. And I tell you, I simply love to be in their presence, because you can feel the power of God at work in them. The doctor who has faith is a doctor whose healing skills are greatly amplified. And those doctors are the joy of a minister’s life and work. And I thank my Heavenly Father that there are many such doctors in this great church.
Not long ago, for example, I was visiting in the hospital room of one of our people, and the doctor came in. The doctor also happens to be a member of this congregation. And he began talking with the patient. And he said, “I cannot cure you. Only God can do that. But I can pray that God might be willing, if it is His will, to work through me as a healing instrument.” And then do you know what happened? The three of us prayed, the preacher, the patient and the doctor. But what I want you to understand is, it wasn’t the preacher who did the actual praying. It was the doctor. And oh the power in that room. You see, that was a doctor who understands that if we have faith enough to look for God in the midst of our normal, human situation, not just always expecting God to intervene from beyond somewhere, though he does that sometimes. But if we look for him working in the midst of our normal human situation, then we are going to discover that, in many marvelous ways, God is answering our prayers.
But the second thing about this psalmist that I want you to see is that this psalmist was ready to receive the answer.
Oh, that’s important, too. You see, prayer, it’s obvious from the psalm, prayer was the normal habit of his life. It wasn’t some kind of an emergency exit that you turn to in time of calamity. No, prayer was the normal, everyday part of his human experience. And because that’s true, he was not only spiritually conditioned enough, spiritually strong enough, to be ready to receive and answer, but he was spiritually sensitive enough to know the answer when it came.
Dr. Roger Pilkington is a deeply committed Christian who also happens to be a doctor. On one occasion, he was lecturing to a university in England. After a long day’s responsibilities, he returned to his hotel that evening. He was tired. He walked up to the desk and asked for the key to his room. And while he was standing there, he happened to overhear the lady who was behind the desk chatting with a couple of businessmen who were standing there, and they were talking about the subject of suicide. Dr. Pilkington never gave the matter a thought. He was weary. He took his key, he went on to his room, and began to dress for bed. And then, as was his daily habit, he gave himself to a time of prayer. And there, suddenly, a feeling came over him, which he described himself as being charged like a condenser. A feeling came over him and he jumped up immediately and put on his dressing gown, and he ran down four flights of stairs and he barged right into the hotel office, and he found the lady who had been standing behind the desk, and he said, “I know that you are going to commit suicide. I don’t know why you’re going to do it, and I can’t stop you from doing it. But you please must tell me why are you going to take your life?” The woman was shocked. And she began to protest, “No, no, you must have lost your mind.” But then suddenly, something snapped, and she broke down.
And she began to tell him her story. It seems that years before, when her father was 43 years of age, he was stricken with a terrible eye disease. It caused him blindness, total blindness. And he spent the rest of his life in terrible suffering and as an invalid. And at the occasion that he was taken ill, the attending doctors told his daughter, quite young at the time, told his daughter that it was a hereditary disease. And that she could expect at some point in her life, probably about the time of her early 40s, that she could expect to have the same disease. And she’d lived with that for all these years, terrified, as the years passed, becoming more and more frightened. Asking God to help, and there was no help coming. And her 43rd birthday was just a matter of days away. And she’d hit the end of her rope, and she was going to take her life that very night.
You know what? Dr. Roger Pilkington is a doctor whose specialty happens to be genetic studies. And he had given himself to eight years of intensive studies of inherited eye diseases. And he asked this woman to describe her father’s condition, and she did. And he was then able to offer her concrete medical proof that that in fact, the earlier diagnosis had been wrong. Her father’s condition was not hereditary. Just a coincidence? Is that what you say? Oh, come on. Come on. Not when you look at all of the factors involved, especially the two major ones. Here was a woman who was desperate, who had cried out to God for help, and she felt that no answer had come. And here was the one man, the one man in the entire nation of England who at that moment combined both the scientific knowledge and the faith commitment that would be necessary in order to reach that woman. And on that day, the day when she was preparing to take her life, he happens to check in to the hotel. Coincidence? Come on. No.
Roger Pilkington says, “The whole thing had that peculiar, brilliant simplicity that you constantly encounter when dealing with the works of God.” That’s Psalm 116 written all over again. Demonstrated in a real life circumstance. Our God is a god who hears, and answers, prayers.
So my friends in Christ, when you encounter hard times in life, remember Psalm 116, and call upon the name of the Lord. Call upon Him for as long as you live.
Let us pray. Almighty and most gracious God, You do hear and You do answer our prayers. Grant us the faith and the spiritual conditioning necessary, not only to believe that You do answer, but then to recognize the answers when they come. This we ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.