How does God answer prayer?
How might I recognize that God is answering my prayer?
How will I know that God has answered my prayer?
What follows is a long excerpt from the Dunamis Project 3 Manual: The Power of Prayer.
Lots of questions
These questions raises a host of philosophical and theological questions. Let us for the time being put these aside and reflect simply upon the means that we find narrated in the Scriptures.
Let us also enter this topic with a deep reverence, for we are facing the mystery of God’s activity among us
In the Bible we find that there are at least five ways that God will work to answer prayer. These are as follows:
1. Through the control of nature – Elijah praying for rain (1 Kings 18:42-46)
2. Through angels – Peter’s release from prison (Acts 12:1-17)
3. Through providential control of human history – God raises up Cyrus the Great in order to set the people free (Isaiah 44:28)
4. Through outpourings of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:29-31)
5. Through God’s people who listen and obey – God answered Cornelius’ prayers through Peter (Acts 10)
There are many examples in Scripture of how God moved to answer the prayers of His people through natural forces.
God is Creator and rules over the processes of nature. He is free to work in and through nature.
Following are two examples of God answering prayer through natural forces:
1. Elijah commanded a drought and then prayed for rain. (1 Kings 18:42-46)
Because of the apostasy and wickedness of the land, Elijah declared that there would be a drought for three years.
At the end of this period of drought, there was a dramatic power encounter between God and Baal, during which Elijah was God’s representative.
After gathering the people on Mount Carmel, Elijah issued the challenge, ” How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”
The altar of the Lord was rebuilt; fire fell from heaven; the prophets of Baal were put to death.
Then came the climax and the big question: Did the God who can send fire down also have the authority to send the rain? Who truly is sovereign over nature, God or Baal?
The power encounter proved decisively that God is sovereign. But the rain came, just as the fire did, through the prayers of God’s faithful servant, the prophet Elijah.
In the story, Elijah prayed while the servant of the man of God seven times went and checked for results. Finally, on the seventh time he saw a small cloud rising out of the sea. There soon followed a tremendous downpour.
2. Jesus, asleep in the boat when the storm came. Luke 8:22-25
He calmed the wind and the waves in response to the desperate pleas of His disciples, “Master, Master, we are perishing!”
How does the Holy Spirit interface with the material realm?
In the case of Jesus rebuking the wind and the waves, there may have been some spiritual principality at work that was attacking them. It could have been a spirit that was stirring up the winds and the waves. When Jesus commanded it to be silenced, then there was peace.
There is the suggestion that the natural forces themselves are not purely natural, but rather are at some level composed of a spiritual nature called “elementals.” Being not just matter but partly spiritual, this provides a point of interface with God’s Spirit.
I do not know how God works through nature.
I do not know how Jesus stilled the wind and the waves or raised Lazarus from the dead.
It is a clear fact, however, that He had the authority to do so, and He chose to do so.
Once, in prayer upon a mountain, I asked God if we, as Christians, had the same authority over nature that He exercised. His answer: “Yes, you do, but only as it is necessary to fulfill My purposes.”
In reflecting upon this answer as well as upon subsequent experience, I believe this was a word from the Lord. At creation human beings were given dominion over the earth. Yet, this dominion was corrupted and severely limited by the fall. As new creatures in Jesus Christ, this original dominion is being restored and may be used for the advancement of God’s Kingdom on earth.
Sometimes God answers prayer through the agency of angels. We see this clearly in the story of Peter being released from prison. Acts 12:1-17
Peter and the rest were about the business to which God had called them.
It was thus in the context of obedience that they were arrested. If they had just been common criminals breaking the law, there would have been no basis for God’s intervention.
Deliverance from prison was not automatically assumed. James had already been killed. Why was Peter freed and not James?
“So Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church,” vs. 5.
In the face of the impossible situation, there is the open door of possibility; it is the urgent prayer of the people.
Was James not covered with this same earnest prayer? Did it take the death of James to drive the church to desperate prayer?
An angel of the Lord set him free and led him out. Why angels? Is it because angels interface with the material realm in a way that is especially needed at that time for instance, unclasping the irons that bound Peter?
In accounts of angels they often do something that requires involvement with the natural order, but do not require circumventing the natural law. In the case of Peter this meant opening doors, loosing leg irons, and leading him in a dazed state out the prison doors into the street.
How many of us have had encounters with angels?
When Peter showed up at the place where people were praying, they were astonished that God had actually answered their prayers. Is that not similar to our reaction of amazement when God actually does answer our prayers?
In Isaiah 40:12-31 there is a majestic vision of God as sovereign Lord over all things. It is He who directs the courses of nations.
“Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the isles like fine dust…All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. …who brings princes to naught, and makes the ruler of the earth as nothing.” (Isaiah 40:15, 17,23)
This conviction that God reigns over nations and determines the course of world events is expressed in the words of American patriot, Patrick Henry, who declared in his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech, “There is a God who presides over the destinies of nations.”
Here we touch upon the doctrine of providence and enter the realm of mystery.
While not knowing the exact mechanisms of how God works, He nonetheless uses governments, presidents, kings and dictators to work out His purposes.
In Old Testament times, Cyrus the Great was seen as the instrument that God used to bring the people out of bondage in Babylon.
“Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: I am the Lord, who made all things, who stretched out the heavens alone, …who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.'” (Isaiah 44:24,28)
What of world rulers today? Does God still use them today as He did Cyrus? I believe so.
The cries of oppressed Christians in the Soviet Union went up to God for over seven decades. They have received a dramatic answer in two unlikely men: Ronald Reagan, who did not flinch at calling the Soviet Union an evil empire and, then, launched a costly, massive and destructive military buildup. The second man was Gorbachov who, in an attempt to preserve the communist system, released the very forces that overthrew it.
Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:29-31)
Believers are empowered for witness, and God works in healing and in signs and wonders.
The primary way that God answers prayer is through the Holy Spirit guiding someone else to do or say something.
Cornelius was a devout man who feared God and prayed constantly to God. (Acts 10:2)
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.
The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa. (Acts 10:1-8)
The angel appeared to him and told Cornelius that his prayers and alms had ascended as a memorial before God.
Cornelius first had to start the answering process by acting in obedience to the first command of the angel, which was to send men to Joppa and bring Peter. (Acts 10:4-7)
Notice that he sent two servants and a devout soldier, another person of prayer whose name we do not know.
God gave Peter a vision to prepare him to overcome the barriers of a Jew eating with Gentiles. (Acts 10:9-16)
About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. (Acts 10:9-16)
The Holy Spirit spoke to Peter telling him to go with the men whom Cornelius had sent. (Acts 10:17-23)
While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.
While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three[a] men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”
The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. (Acts 10: 17-23)
Peter acted in obedience and, overcoming a lifetime of prejudice, went with them. God honored this obedience by pouring the Holy Spirit out upon them as at Pentecost. (Acts 10:44-48)
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongue sand praising God.
Then Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. (Acts 10:44-48)
This is a remarkable story revealing the various means that God used to answer the prayers of these people. The key, however, was the role of Peter, who had to obey.
Just as we pray for something or someone, we need to be ready to be a part of the answer. It is often in our obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit that the prayers of others are answered.
I have cast about for an analogy of how God answers prayer, whatever the means. The best one that I have found was given by Bob Whitaker. He compares answered prayer to cultivating a garden.
While there are some times that prayers are answered immediately, as when Jesus commanded the wind and the waves to be still, most answers come as the result of a process, such as growing a garden.
Cultivating a garden is a process of active waiting. First, the soil must be prepared, then the seeds planted. Then there is the rain and sun, the rooting out of weeds and keeping away of pests. Finally, after many steps, one may receive a harvest.
So, too, it is with prayer. God has generally chosen to work through human beings. This means that there is a process of preparing and of getting things in place for an answer.
In response to the cries of the oppressed Hebrews in Egypt, God sent a baby named Moses. Before there could be an answer, Moses had to grow up and spend 40 years in the wilderness.
Prayer takes time because God must prepare us, as well as bring the elements into place that will constitute an answer that is to His glory.
This material above is taken from the Dunamis Project 3: The Power of Prayer, in an section teaching on intercessory prayer. If you would like to learn more on the subject of prayer, see information below
How to take this Dunamis Project on the Power of Prayer if you can’t wait
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