The Diabolical Disappearance of Answered Prayer
The humanistic and pietistic unbelief of the modern church is a leading factor in its current collapse
Dear friends and supporters:
Many years ago my father, a mighty man of prayer, gave me this book, which he had read intently and marked copiously:
Charles Blanchard succeeded his father, founding president of Wheaton College. The man who drafted the foreword to the book, Raymond Edman, was its fourth president.
Wheaton College was the Harvard of Christian colleges. Decades ago it drifted into the accommodationist “new” evangelicalism and today is a theological and philosophical shell of what it once was. But it was once a powerhouse for Christ’s kingdom. Its motto was (and is) Christo et Regno Ejus: “For Christ and His Kingdom.” Charles Blanchard and Raymond Edman were keenly aware that prayer as getting things from God was a vital aspect of the advance of Christ’s kingdom in the earth. In fact, his kingdom simply does not advance without the aggressive, faith-drenched prayer of his people.
In 2020, it’s difficult to imagine a Christian college president anywhere writing such a bold, faith-drenched book. Such simple, fearless faith poses an embarrassment to the minds of many modern well-educated Christians deeply vested in Enlightenment rationalism and soft-core Christian deism, which sees God as so transcendent and aloof as not to be actively, eagerly, and continuously involved in his creation. Since God has given us his word by which to order our lives, and since he’s in complete control of the world, why pray with persevering, expectant zeal that he will change the status quo?
But the marginalization of prayer, and particularly the loss of relentless emphasis on the necessity of answered prayer, infects not only well-educated Christians. It pervades almost the entire sweep of conservative Christianity.
The contrast with our forebears until perhaps as late as the 1970s is most riveting. Church and other corporate prayer meetings were routine. Mid-week prayer meetings were especially common. One rarely hears about them today. Church services that include holy celebration of weekly answered prayers are almost extinct. Pastors rarely preach an entire sequence of messages on prayer. The only two-year commitment to every-week sermons on prayer I know about is one I undertook several years ago. I do not say this with any sense of satisfaction.
It is unsurprising, therefore, that churches coveting success as defined in distinctively American commercialist terms must rely on humanistic techniques like seeker-sensitive programs and therapeutic methods of counseling to maintain attendance — and donations. As with Marxists, when we abandon the power of God, we must employ the power of man, which is vastly inferior and unerringly dangerous.
And not just churches. Individuals only infrequently (perhaps never) speak to one another with great excitement about all God is doing in their lives and families in answering prayer.
As our politics has drifted into radical secularism, even the notion of prayer as civil religion has evaporated from the vocabulary of most of our alleged statesman. They will perfunctorily recognize an annual “Day of Prayer,” but prayers of national repentance, such as Abraham Lincoln offered, would be deemed utterly retrograde and perhaps even illegal, violating “separation of church and state.”
Why is our nation currently roiled in hatred, violence, chaos, and murder? One reason — perhaps the chief reason — is that Christians no longer seek God’s face, expecting answers. They’re no longer eager to get things from God, and he is, therefore, not eager to bestow them.
Prayerlessness in the church is counterintuitive — and, I believe, sinister and diabolical. After all, if our prayer moves God to change the status quo, revealing his mighty power and advancing his kingdom, Satan has a vested interest in the prayerlessness of Christians. What rationale supports this prayerlessness?
The Impervious, Gnostic God
Many Christians live prayerless lives or lives of mechanical prayer because they entertain a defective view God. They believe, for example, that the Father sent his Son Jesus in human form to be touched with the feelings of our infirmities (Heb. 4:15), since he himself as the Father can’t experience such feelings. This is a catastrophically erroneous view. Jesus Christ is the express image, the exact imprint, of the Father (Heb. 1:3). In the Son dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9). To see Jesus Christ is to see the Father (Jn. 14:9). In short, the Son is distinct from, but the revelation of, the Father. The Son does not experience differently from the Father. The fact that the term “experience” postulated of members of the Trinity would gag some modern scholastics shows how far they have drifted from the Bible — and toward the ancient Gnostic heresy. (See Colin Gunton’s Act and Being.)
Jesus alone is not compassionate, emotional, and persuadable, while the Father is indifferent, austere, and unmovable. The life of Jesus Christ is the life of God. To know Jesus Christ better is to know God better.
We do not pray in Jesus’ name because having lived on earth as a human he understands us, while his Father does not, and therefore Jesus’ job is to communicate our frail humanity to the Father. A thousand times no. We pray to the Son because he is the exclusive redemptive mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). The Father understands us just as well as the Son does.
God is just like Jesus.
We sometimes hear that prayer doesn’t change God, but it does change us. No biblical saint would have embraced such well-intentioned drivel. Again and again Moses’ prayer (for example) persuaded God to alter his declared will. One striking instance among many is the Exodus 32 account of Aaron’s fashioning the golden calf-god as Moses was receiving the Law at Horeb. God was furious and told Moses he would consume the nation.
Note the narrative:
Then Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, and said: “Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” So the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people. (vv. 11–14)
It’s folly to ask whether this was God’s decretal (“secret,” eternal) will or simply his “permissive” will. The Bible makes no such distinctions.
When the Bible says that God is unchangeable, it means that he is stable, not that he is static. He’s not fickle, like the ancient Greco-Roman gods. The (over)reaction to that ancient folk religion was the Greek philosophers’ idealistic deity: God is unmovable, unapproachable, so aloof as to be almost more a principle than a person. This is the God of Aristotle. It is not the God of the Bible.
The Triune God can be and is deeply, emotionally moved by the prayers of his people — so moved, in fact, that he moves heaven and earth in order to answer them. When we speak to God out of the depths of our need, we speak to the very depths of his holy emotion.
Further high-sounding nonsense as it relates to prayer is the notion that if God doesn’t answer our prayers immediately, or in a very short time, our petition is not in his will, and persevering in prayer is a refusal to accept God’s will. Nobody in the Bible would’ve dreamed of thinking this way, and it probably is often just a pious excuse for laziness. Jesus himself urged persevering prayer (Lk. 18:1–8). The biblical logic is never merely, “Accept [your interpretation of] the secret will of God” but, rather, “Ask God to do great and mighty things to display his glory”:
“Thus says the Lord who made it [the earth], the Lord who formed it to establish it (the Lord is His name): ‘Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’… (Jer. 33:2–3)
When the Bible speaks of praying according to the will of God (1 Jn. 5:14d), it means the prescriptive will of God, in other words, the word of God. We may never expect God to answer prayers contrary to his word, and we may always expect him to answer prayers based on his specific word. But, moreover, we can expect him to answer a majority of prayers in harmony with his word though not specifically explicated in it. Why? Because God promises to answer the prayers of his people:
This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.” (Ps. 34:6)
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Ps. 37:4)
I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. (Ps. 116:1)
I thank you [God] that you have answered me and have become my salvation. (Ps. 118:21)
Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. (Mt. 18:19)
Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. (Jn. 14:13-14)
Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (Jn. 16:23b–24)
When we need a replacement vehicle for work, or the healing of a sick child, or direction for an important decision, we need be in no doubt that God will answer. To say that a prayer is too small for God to trifle with is to say that God is unconcerned with every iota of our lives. This is profane.
This faux piety is especially egregious when it hardens into resignation theology: accepting (even celebrating) pervasive evil in the world as the will of God and, therefore, refusing to combat it.
This isn’t simply a form of theological cowardice; it is theological perversion.
Refusing to punch back against abortion and economic tyranny and same-sex “marriage” and pornography and Cultural Marxism and “wokeness” (for starters) on the grounds that these are God’s judgment and that we should submissively accept his will is nearly blasphemous. The call of the righteous is to contend with the wicked, not to submit to their depravity (Prov. 28:4).
Prayerlessness and Patriarchy
Our radically feminist and sexually egalitarian times have inspired in reaction new Christian ministries and emphases on biblical manliness and fatherhood. While some of these emphases more resemble pagan folk masculinity than biblical manhood, the renewed stress on manhood in our feminized culture is essential for a full-fledged recovery of Christian culture.
Interestingly, however, this revival of human fatherhood almost never includes a revival of stress on the role of the heavenly Father, notably in his answering the prayer of his children. Fatherhood and answered prayer are cornerstones of “biblical patriarchy.” (Read this on misguided patriarchy.)
Arguably no description of God in the Bible is more pervasive than “Father” and it is at the heart of petitionary prayer. Jesus stated the truth boldly and plainly:
Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Mt. 7:9–11)
We as earthly fathers love our children, and we delight to grant them what they request, unless the request is harmful. If it’s in our power to fulfill our children‘s declared desires, we do it.
One striking difference between our Christian forebears and us is their repeated emphasis on prayer and our comparative de-emphasis of it. They prayed frequently and fervently. We pray infrequently and languidly. They called prayer meetings. We call staff meetings. They had revival and reformation. We have apathy and apostasy. A leading reason for these distinctions is that they were inclined to believe what God said about prayer. We are often less confident in God’s word when it comes to his promises about prayer. A blunter way to say this is: we commit the sin of unbelief. Prayer changes things. When we pray, we are asking God to change things. And when he answers our prayer, he does change things. This brings us to a most telling fact that we don’t often consider: if we are perfectly willing to accept the way things are as God's unchangeable will, we will never be people of prayer.
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God is even more eager to fulfill his children’s desires. (Or do we believe that we are better parents than God?)
Whenever a faith-enriched Christian mentions God’s delight to grant his children’s request, a popular pious rejoinder is that offering such prayers is self-centered. We should not ask God to do good things for us, but rather ask him to bring glory to himself at our expense. Would any human parent ever dream of making such a callous, sadistic assertion? Of course not, so apparently we think we are better parents than God. This response is not merely misguided; it is pernicious.
God rejoices to see his children rejoice. He isn’t most interested in seeing his children suffer. The idea, prominent in some circles, that God continually scourges his children to make them better Christians is slanderous. It destroys the tender Fatherhood of God.
It is true that all good fathers discipline their children when necessary (Heb. 12:26). But no father delights to do this any more than is necessary, and since God’s Fatherhood is far superior to ours, he delights in it even less.
The reluctance to embrace audacious prayer is driven partly by aversion to the “prosperity gospel” or “health-and-wealth gospel,” according to which God exists to glut his children with all of life’s lustful bounty that their carnal minds desire. But the Bible is quite clear that such an approach is wrong. God does not answer prayer to satiate our own lusts (Jas. 4:3). More significantly, we learn from James 5:16 that it is the effectual prayer of righteous persons that obtains answers in heaven’s court. Righteous people pray righteous prayers.
But when his children make their simple, faith-enriched requests known to him, and when they let others know of the requests, and when the Fatherly tenderly answers, he does two things: (1) increases the faith of all of those who observed the answered prayer, and (2) brings glory to himself by exhibiting his power in the earth.
To say that this process is self-centered is to have things just backwards. It is the idea that not praying big, capacious, risky prayers is God-honoring that is self-centered.
Answered prayer is a palpably God-centered event.
Our motto should be: Pray big. Expect big.
Our Father delights in nothing less.
Perhaps the most potent weapon against a Western Christianity barraged by oppressive COVID-19 political edicts, “wokeness” theology, Black Lives Matter, and monument-toppling Cultural Marxism is vigorous, faith-infused, expectant, persevering prayer.
If the Bible is true, then we can expect that when with simple, honest, obedient faith we cry out to God for material provision, he will supply it. When we beg God to heal the sick, he will heal them. When we implore God to convert our unbelieving friends and relatives, he will convert them. When we pray and fast for God to send revival in the church and reformation the culture, that’s just what we will see. And if we do not receive these answers, we should persevere in prayer, and we should not warp the Bible to conform to our paltry experiences but ask whether we have not met the conditions God lays down for answering prayer.
Memorize these words from E. M. Bounds, the greatest writer on prayer in the history of Christianity since the Bible was completed:
Four things let us ever keep in mind: God hears prayer, God heeds prayer, God answers prayer, and God delivers by prayer. These things cannot be too often repeated. Prayer breaks all bars, dissolves all chains, opens all prisons and widens all straits by which God’s saints have been holden.
We do not really believe the Bible if we do not believe God’s promises to answer prayer.
Last week Sharon and I escaped to the lovely Eastern Sierras. Our home and the CCL office near Yosemite were near the vortex of triple-digit temperatures, raging wildfires, oppressive smoke, and Pacific Gas and Electric’s infamous “rolling [electrical] blackouts.” Sharon suffers from respiratory ailments, so we decided to take our work over the mountains. Thank you for praying. We got needed work accomplished — in a reasonable ambiance.
Last week I mentioned I’d hoped to address “Total Revolution,” the goal of the newest New Left in family, education, art, science, entertainment, politics, law — and the church. Next week that hope should be fulfilled!
Much gratitude, in our prayer-answering God,
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(Dr. Ardel Caneday and I address vital questions. This was a succinct, wide-ranging conversation discussing everything from the interpretation of Romans 13, radical 2-kingdom theology, the nature of the church, whether the church should cancel public worship,￼ whether the civil magistrate is bound to God’s law, the Founders’ view of human nature, the diabolical basis of coronavirus fear, and much more. The password is: 1j$@^=S#)
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