I want to start out by saying that prayer can be a waste of time, and you may say, 'What a way to start out the new year.' Let me tell you a story.
There were three little girls who were sisters and they had three little friends who came over to play. And they decided, “Let’s go riding on our Shetland Pony.” And so they asked their father to get the pony for them. The father explained, "Well, I can't do that. The pony has a mind of its own. It's in the far pasture and it takes two men to get that pony. There is no other man here, so unless somebody else comes there is no way I can do that for you. Why don't you go an play with something else this afternoon." The girls talked and he saw them drop to their knees to pray. To them the problem was simple. God would bring the pony.
The six little girls were kneeling with their heads all bowed praying earnestly. The father saw them and thought, “These girls will be so disappointed. I probably had better tell them not to do that.” And as he was walking over to them, he happened to notice the pony. From the far field, it was coming on a run. It ran down the hillside, through the creek and into the corral where it stopped and waited for the girls. His mouth fell open. The girls got up. They were not even surprised. They put on the bridle and had an afternoon of fun.
The father was absolutely shaken. His face was white. He later said: “It seems it’s not what you pray for, but who does the praying!” He began reading his Bible and soon became a Christian. Miracles happen.
For many Christians, prayer works and works very well. This is how it should and can be for all of us. But for many, prayer works and works effectively and exceedingly great. I want you to have that knowledge in your hearts. But for others it seems to be a waste of time. Nothing seems to happen at all. It's just like a dead-end thing that doesn't even work. I want to tell you that your success spiritually in 2006 depends upon a good prayer experience in Jesus Christ. You've got to have that, or you won't be successful in 2006.
Why is it that we get poor or no answers to prayer? Let’s look at several things that short-circuit our prayers.They make prayer an absolute waste of time.
1. - Cherished Sin
Read John 9:31 with me. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does His will. God will not listen to a sinner. That's what the Bible says. Now, if this were the only verse in the bible, you would end up with bad theology just reading this verse, because I don't believe it. Is it true that we have all fallen short of the glory of God - Romans 3:23. If that is true, then apparently God does not listen any human being because we have all sinned, and God doesn't listen to sinners.Is all of this clear now? You know how to get ansered prayer, right? He does not listen to sinners, and we are allsinners. So, apparently he doesn't listen to any human beings.
Does God listen to sinners? Yes or No. He does?? I could re-read this text for you here in John. Yes, He does listen to sinners. God heard the cry of Ishmael in Genesis 21:17. God heard the groanings of the children of Israel in Exodus 2:24. God even heard and answered of wicked Manasseh in 2 Chronicles 33:10-13. And God heard runaway Jonah, and God hears you when you earnestly pray to Him. So, what does John 9:31 mwean? Should we just take our scissors and cut this verse out of the Bible and throw it away? What does it mean when it says, "God does not listen to sinners?"
I think there is a verse that helps us understand this. Let's look in Psalm 66:18. Let’s look at Psalms 66:18. It says: If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. If we do what? If we have sin in our heeart He won't listen. Is that what this vierse says? It says, "If we cherish sinin our heart He will not listen" Okay, there's a difference here isn't there? In fact, one modern paraphrase says “Had I nursed evil in my mind the Lord would not have listened.”1
I beleive that this verse that we just read here in John 9:31, God does not listen to sinners, God does not listen to people who cherish sin in their heart. I think that's exactly what it means.
When the first Atlantic telegraph cable was laid in 1858, a great celebration took place on both sides of the ocean. Two great continents that had been separated for ages were now united. In our spiritual lives, prayer is like this cable. When sin first separated heaven and earth the mighty cable of prayer was laid. Instantaneous communication with God was now always available. However if we treasure sin in our hearts, this cable is short circuited. Our prayers will be blocked at the ceiling.
Look at Isaiah 59:2. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. Cherished iniquities will short circuit effective prayer. When you love your sin more than you love God, that short-circuits prayer and your experience will not be good.
You know, if you desire to turn from your sin, and you decide to come to Jesus, and you love Him more than the sin, you hate the sin, in fact, then He's always going to listen to your sincere cry. He's always going to help you.
If your cherished sin is not forsaken then you could become callused. You could become weathered against God's still small voice. You lower the ceiling on your prayers and your prayers get past the ceiling. Your relationship with God is stifled and God loves to answer prayer. He doesn't want us languishing and stumbling around in the Christian life, but if you ask Him to release you from a certain sin with your mouth and you continue to enjoy it with your hands and you admire it with your eyes, and you feast on it in your thoughts understand how that works?
Look at Proverbs 15:29. The Lord is far from the wicked but He hears the prayer of the righteous. So, cherished sin makes prayer a waste of time.
2. - Unbelief. Prayer can be a waste of time if you really don't believe in prayer. If you really don't believe it.
Come over her to Hebrews 11:6. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. That's where the fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. It'as got to be diligent, you've got to believe in it. Do you believe in prayer? Unbelief is to prayer what a cork is to a bottle. It must be removed before we can filled with God's blessings, you see. We've got to believe. We've got to have faith. Many so-called Christians believe, and they pray for rain, but they don't pray with full belief and they pray for rain with their bucket upside down. Faith is the key that opens the door to heaven. You could have a keyring that is full of keys. This is my keyring for the church and a few other things. A lot of these keys look alike, but I tell you this; you could try all these keys but the right one and they will not open the door. The right key to heaven is called faith. Until you have faith in prayer, it won't open the door. That is what will open the door to heaven. There is nothing else in the world that will open that door except FAITH. Have faith when you pray.
The wind died and a sailing ship was drifting toward the shore of an island inhabited by cannibals. The only Christian on board was asked to pray for a breeze. He said he would if they in faith would put up the sails. They did and he went down to his cabin to pray. As he was praying someone knocked on his door. “Are you still praying for a breeze?” “Yes”. “You’d better stop for we have more wind than we can manage!”
“The same compassionate Saviour lives today, and he is as willing to listen to the prayer of faith as when he walked visibly among men. The natural co operates with the supernatural. It is a part of God's plan to grant us, in answer to the prayer of faith, that which he would not bestow did we not thus ask.”2 That's beautiful, isn't it?
I read about a small town that did not have even one Liquor store. But somehow one was built on the main street. A nearby church was in a panic and held several all-night prayer meetings and asked God to burn down that den of iniquity. A storm came up and lightning struck the tavern and it was completely destroyed by fire.
The owner of the tavern, knowing how the church people had prayed, sued them for damages. His attorney claimed that their prayers had caused the loss. The congregation, on the other hand, hired a lawyer and fought the charges. After much deliberation the judge said: “It’s the opinion of this court that wherever the guilt may lie, the tavern keeper is the one who really believes in prayer while the church does not!”
3. - Giving Up on God.
Prayer can be a waste of time if we give up too soon. Let’s read Psalms 106:13, But they soon forgot what God had done, and did not wait for His counsel. Again in Psalms 27:14, Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Proverbs 20:22,... Wait for the Lord and He will deliver you. We are to wait. Don’t stop praying. Don’t give up too soon.
4. - Submit to God's will.
Prayer can be a waste of time if you di not Submit to the Will of God. Every prayer should be made according to the will of God. Look at Matthew 26:39. Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will." That is how every prayer ought to be. We ought to pray for God’s will to be done, otherwise, we jeopardize our prayer experience.
A fine man succumbed to a very serious brain illness. His dear wife prayed: “O God, you must not let him die. I can’t live without him.” She demanded that God heal him! God did save his life. Her husband did not die but his brain did and he became a living vegetable. Would it have not been far better for her to pray earnestly that God would heal her husband, but if not, then that God’s will be done? Submission to His will is best. It is downright hazardous for us to plead for anything apart from God’s will. I think some of the most beautiful words in the Bible are found in Daniel 3 where the three worthies tell the king, “We will serve our Lord. We will not bow down to your image. God will deliver us, but if not, we will not bow down.” We should always pray that God’s will shall be done.
Look at Psalms where it talks about the wayward Israelites. Psalm 106:13-15, But they soon forgot what (God) had done and did not wait for his counsel. In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wasteland they put God to the test. So he gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease upon them. These verses say that If we do not wait for His guidance and we give in to our cravings, God will often give us what we ask for, but the end result will be a wasting away. A leaness will enter our soul. How often we ask for what is not best.
We ought to be very thankful for what seems to be what we think of as unanswered prayer. “Seemingly unanswered prayers have been among our greatest blessings.”3
One morning my small two year old girl was watching me shave. I finished and took the blade out of the razor to place it in a container. Her small hand went out and she said: “I Want! I Want” I said: No. It will hurt. She went away quite unhappy.
Sometimes God denies the very thing we pray for, knowing that something else or some other answer is best. Pray for His will to be done. David said in Psalm 40:8, I desire to do your will, O my God. God’s will must be way ahead of our will. Jesus taught us that God’s will is the priority of life. This is how we are to pray. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10. We need to surrender to God’s will.
Let me illustrate Jesus' point. I heard of a seriously handicapped man named Worral. He had been stricken with rheumatoid arthritis at age 15, and 30 years later, he was totally paralyzed except for one finger, he could barely speak and was totally blind. But he had a string tied to that one mobile finger that could turn on a recorder. He wrote for national magazines, authored books and led a happy and influential life from his bed. This was possible because after initial prayers brought no healing, he accepted his lot graciously and said, "Well Lord! If this is the size plot in life you've staked out for me, let's you and me together show the world what we can grow on it." Down the path of humble acceptance of God’s will, Worral achieved a happy and more useful life within the limitations of a very restricted circumstance.
On the other side of the prayer coin is Cliff. He had been a powerfully built construction worker, but at age 18 he fell from a dirt moving vehicle and a huge wheel ran over him, shearing his spinal cord just above his hips. Doctors explained to him after saving his life, "You'll never walk or sit up in a chair again." But Cliff insisted "God never intended anyone to live like this. With Him all things are possible, so I'm praying for and expecting my miracle and one of these days I'll walk out of this hospital; and when I do I'll thumb my nose at you unbelieving doctors who said it would never happen."
Fifteen years went by and Cliff never yielded from that determined goal, which consumed all his energies and efforts. Many people prayed for him but no healing ever came. Cliff grew despairing, critical and bitter as his life wasted away in futile insistence upon "changing what cannot be changed."
The "the bottom line" is this. How do we know when to keep courageously praying for a miracle, or when to patiently accept our limitations and with God's help live the best life we can within them? Always begin by praying for complete deliverance from every evil, every painful or limiting circumstance that you believe is not God's will for you. But if God doesn’t see fit to change your situation, then accept it and ask God to help you endure it.
Prayer is one of the most wonderful things in the world when used properly. Don’t misuse it. We must always pray according to His will. Jesus said in John 4:34, "My food, is to do the will of him who sent me." Submitting to His will in prayer is like a banquet to our soul. Effective prayer must seek to give God the glory and not seek something to appease my selfish desires. Jesus said in John 5:30, "I seek not to please myself but him who sent me."
Nothing lies beyond the reach of prayer except that which lies outside the will of God. We should say: Whatever makes you happy is what I am praying for.
Paul says in Romans 12:1, Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. My objective is not to please my cravings but to please God. When praying, don't give God instructions. Submit to His will. Before we can pray, "Thy Kingdom come," we must be willing to pray, "My kingdom go." Effective prayer is never a waste of time.
1. Psalms for Today.
2. Great Controversy, by EG White, p. 525.2.
3. Ministry of Healing, by EG White, p. 474.
Hymn of Praise: #1, Praise to the Lord Scripture: Genesis 1:1 Hymn of Response: #495, Near to the Heart of God 060107#244
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last updated 01/13/2006 by Eric Koester.