During my recent reading of the parable of the widow that troubled the unjust judge – from whom she was asking to get justice for her from her adversary –, I was deeply challenged by the expression, “that men always ought to pray and not lose heart” … (Luc 18:1-6). It has captivated my attention because it invites man to be always and at all times in a spirit of prayer and dependence… I immediately wrote in my notes: “Forgive me, Lord…!” The Lord knew well what I wanted to tell Him… While pursuing my reading, I was astonished by the verse 18:7 which says, “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?” My spirit stopped at the expression: “though He bears long with them”! I understand this expression to mean that He will get justice for them though He tolerates them for a long period before intervening for them! Then, I told myself: “John, try to find out the reason for which God uses patience and forbearance towards you before intervening on your behalf!” Then I remembered the verse that says: “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Ro.2:4). “Do find, John, the reason why the Lord uses forbearance and/or longsuffering before intervening!” That challenge raised in me a series of questions: What does He ask from me? What are the conditions that must be fulfilled in my life so that God may hear my prayer and intervene? Insistence on the faith – because true faith insists – or sincerity in my request? May be something from which I must repent; compassion for those who suffer; patience to put up with those that are difficult to forbear; show understanding towards all those that need understanding or even to forgive all those that have offended me? What, Lord? Because it is written that we have need of endurance, so that AFTER WE HAVE DONE the will of God, we may receive the promise (Heb.10:36). Is it not the reason why Jesus, as He was finishing this parable, said: “Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” True faith insists… (1Th.5:16-18; Mt.7:7-11), has patience… and perseveres. Is it not so? Why is it then written: “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him…”?
When I was young and newly converted, I tried to memorize beautiful expressions of the Bible and to combine them, to make a way of assembling, to make beautiful and impressive prayers. Often, in this ‘literary’ effort, I was losing or I missed the target of my prayer, of my request. But the Lord did not linger to challenge me and to show me that I followed a wrong way… God does not watch to the pump of words and the variety of expression but to the sincerity and the devotion of the heart. Someone said: “The key opens the door, not because it is gilt but because it fits the lock.”
He taught me to approach Him like a small child and that I should address myself to Him directly with regard to my requests! To ask clearly, without detours and vain repetitions and by my many words, what I wanted, “reminding” Him like a little child, at the same time, His promises! He taught me that, after some words of thanksgiving and praise coming spontaneously from my heart, to mention the object of my prayer directly: To tell Him what I ask for and what He has promised in His Word. «Be yourself», the English-speakers say! I had the wrong idea that my spirituality depended on the manner in which I prayed, while my spirituality depended, in reality, on my love and my commitment for God, on my obedience to His commandments and on my sanctification, which is the will of God… (1Th.4:3). That would result in a continuous reasonable worship… (Rom.12:1-2)
And what should we say about those who, when they pray, steal words and religious expressions from the others, as Jeremiah says? “Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour.” (Jer.23:30). HE also taught me that God’s delays did not constitute a refusal but a test of my will to insist on my demand: Was I going to be discouraged and to abandon? These delays would finally result in the development of my faith. HE wanted to know – or rather He wanted me to know – if there existed in my heart the necessary goodwill, sincerity and devotion! If I insisted, that would mean that I had faith in His words and confidence in His character because prayer without faith is fruitless! True prayer always waits for answers. Sincerity is the main condition required in every approach to God who desires truth in the inward parts (Ps.51:6). God hates hypocrisy, the lie and the swindle. Did I believe that He would come to bring me the thing that I was asking Him for or not? During the time of His silence, I was asking myself a lot of questions concerning the state of my soul, my ways and my hidden desires. HE also taught me integrity, through the cases:
a) of other people that prayed for their healing or their deliverance but whose requests only aimed at obtaining their health or their deliverance but not in order to be able to serve others and God’s work but for the satisfaction of their own lusts or projects, in other words to continue their life as before: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (Jas 4:3 NKJV); and
b) of others that pretended that they wanted their health while, in reality, they were trying to present themselves as victims of others and, therefore, do nothing and be served by others…
God who gave us ears to listen, He can hear; God who gave us eyes, He can see us; God who loves us and that promised to hear us, HE will hear us; God who gave us intelligence and some other mental capacities, He who is Omniscient, cannot be deceived by anybody! Many of our prayers, whether in church or in private, are very often lacking fervency. And when I say ‘fervency’ I do not mean screaming, tremors of hands, alleluias, eloquence, speaking in tongues etc. but I mean compassion and sincerity. John Bunyan wrote: “When thou prayest, rather be thy heart without words than thy words without heart”.
We are often asked to pray for a certain person. After having prayed we completely forget his problem. Why? Because our heart was not and is not in there. We have ignored and neglected what is written in that parable: “who cry out day and night to Him…”! Do we pray, do we shout, do we cry, for our problems and for the problems of others DAY and NIGHT? Do we pray in a spirit of faith according to the exhortation of Hab.2:3, “For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”
I have good reasons not to be in accord with the way in which some believers pray for the sick people «massively». A little oil or even without oil and some words and one hurries to repeat the same procedure to the next… A ritual in series! Do they apply what God’s Word commands us by the epistle of James, which says: “Is 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. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (Jas.5:14-16). Only the Lord knows how many times the prescribed procedure of calling of the elders of the church is not followed, how many times our prayers are not prayers of faith, how many times the confession of sins of one to another and the reconciliation have not taken place in advance, how many times the prayer is not a fervent prayer and how many times the one who prays for the sick has not put in order his own spiritual life with the Lord, with his/her conjoint etc! The prayer of the JUST will be granted, “For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.”! (1Pe.3:12). I have good reasons to believe that if certain “sick” people are healed or delivered or spiritually revived, this is not so much due to the one who has prayed for the sick but it is due to the sincere and fervent desire of the “sick” to be healed, delivered or spiritually revived, desire to which the merciful Lord responds by His grace!
It would be very useful to add at this point the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Only the tax collector, who standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ Only the tax collector went down to his house justified … “healed”, “delivered” or “spiritually revived” (Lu.18:9-14).
If the followed procedure was the good one, would there not be more tangible blessings, as well as an increase of moving healing testimonies? I DO NOT PUT ALL CASES IN THE SAME BASKET, BECAUSE I KNOW THAT THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS!
How many times do we wait in vain for the blessing of the Lord as Saul that told Samuel that he had executed the command of the Lord, while he had transgressed it (1Sam.15:13)? How many times, while we lift our hands, the Lord does cover His eyes from us because there is bitterness in our hearts or there are lies that are expressed in such a way that even the best diplomats would have envied? How many times is not the Lord ashamed of us because there is a lack of respect of keeping our promises towards Him and towards our neighbours both as far as their substance and their presentation are concerned? And what should we say about an unforgiving spirit? Are the prayers of those that rob God of His tithes going to be granted? (Mal.3:8). Is it written in vain that, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear:” (Ps.66:18). God’s Word tells us: “The effective, fervent prayer of a RIGHTEOUS man avails much”. This word means that only the prayer of the one that has been justified by Christ’s blood and that leads a righteous life is effective and avails much! This truth does not annul the eternal principle that “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (Joel 2:32; Ac.2:21 et Ro.10:13). May the Lord help us to understand the difference!
Very often, not to say too often, the requests concern mainly demands for healing of the body. These prayers are laudable! There are, however, many people in the context of our churches who are psychologically and/or emotionally sick! In addition, how many souls are spiritually either soundly sleeping or captivated by anxiety and the worries of the everyday life! But if we first seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness all blessings shall be added to us (Mt.6:33), the healing included (Mal.4:2), except God decides otherwise for reasons of His, as for example, in the case of the apostle Paul.
Very often, we neglect to pray to the Lord to send labourers into the harvest (Mt.9:38 and Luc 10:12); pray for those that govern us (1Tim.2:1); pray that the church may become glorious on the earth (Esa.62:7); that the Lord opens doors for the ministry of the Word (Col.4:3); for persecuted Christians and for their persecutors; not to enter into temptations or tests; for the work of sanctification in our life; so that we may lead a calm and restful life so that His Word may have free access in the world; for a sincere reconciliation of divided families and of divided churches; that our countries get rid of false and erroneous religious traditions; for the fullness of the Holy Spirit (Lu.11:13); and that the Lord may destroy the works of the Devil!
In closing this short message, I want to add at this point or rather reiterate something with regard to Christians: I do not believe in the healing and the deliverance of those that have not put their life in order before the Lord: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.” (1Co.11:28-32).
I believe that, normally, if we do not confess our sins and that if our conscience condemns us we will not be healed or delivered by the Lord, unless the healing or deliverance leads to an unbeliever’s salvation or to other reasons that we ignore but which constitute part of the unsearchable judgements and ways of the will of God. In other words, I do not believe that the Lord will hear us if we do not first seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness. Of course, it is clear that certain sicknesses are not bound to sin. What should we say about people that live in open or hidden sins and who enjoy a good health (Ps.73) or for innocent children who suffer from serious diseases etc., etc? The Lord knows what and why! It is He that reigns! Nevertheless, we must humbly admit that the sickness of many people is the result of their spiritual situation. They reap the bad things they have “sown” and the bad choices they have made in their life… In principle, I do not believe that we can be pleasing to God if we do not apply the procedure prescribed by God in Jas.5:14-16 and 1John 3:20-21 that we have already mentioned!
May God give us the spirit of discernment to know when it is necessary to insist by the prayer of faith and when to commit, in all confidence, all our needs into the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ and leave everything THERE being anxious for nothing (Philp.4:6-7 et Ps.37:4-5): There is no better prayer that the one that comes from the bottom of our heart and in line with the prayer that our Lord taught us: “Thy will be done”! May the Lord guide our heart so that we might never be lagging in diligence but be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer (Rom.12:11-12). The Word of God confirms that if His words abide in us and if we present ourselves to God as being alive from the dead and our members as instruments of righteousness to God there will be only blessings! Also, His Word consoles us and gives us the assurance that even if we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God (Rom.8:26-27). May God help us to transform the Bible into prayer, to understand that prayer is not an act but an attitude as well as a position of abandonment of our goals, of our projects and especially of our will in the hands of our just and merciful God!