Ron Graham was called home on March 14, 2013. He began writing this commentary before his death and had asked me, Nathele Graham, to continue his service to our Lord by finishing what he began.
“Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Matthew 21:21-22).
Jesus had just spoken a curse on a fig tree for bearing no fruit, and as a result His disciples were astonished. They asked how this could happen so quickly. I can understand their astonishment. Even though they had followed Jesus for a long time and had seen many marvelous things, they still marveled. Jesus always answered their questions and this time He told them that if they had faith and didn’t doubt, they could achieve even more than withering a fig tree. When they prayed they had to believe.
Two key words to focus our attention on in the Lord’s lesson are “believe” and “doubt.”
We need to believe that God hears our prayer. What doubt? Each time a born-again believer prays they must not doubt that God can answer. God is real and our prayers need to be sincere and honest. When we talk to a friend and ask for something – maybe a ride home from work or to borrow something – we always are sincere in our request. We can see that person and hear their voice. We don’t talk to them as if they were an inanimate object or something in our imagination. God is just as real, or should I say even more real, than a person. We must not doubt that our prayers are heard.
“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6).
The Greek word “merimnaō” means to be anxious or troubled with cares. Paul says to be anxious (merimnaō) for nothing, but to take everything to God. We are to do this with prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving. We talk to God (prayer) and ask for what is in our heart (supplication), with thanksgiving.
Are you thankful when you pray? Do you realize that because of Jesus we are able to take our prayers directly to God? That is something to be thankful for…and humbled by. We don’t need an intercessor, or a priest, or anybody. You and I can approach the throne of God and talk to Him through our Lord and Savior.
Throughout the Old Testament there are numerous examples of men and women humbling themselves before God in prayer. One example stands out in my mind, which may lend some understanding as to why some prayers seem to have gone unanswered.
This account is from the book of Daniel:
“In those days, I Daniel was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled” (Daniel 10:2-3).
Daniel was a man who was beloved of God, and prayer was a way of life for him. In this instance he was in mourning for Israel, thus he was in constant prayer. He wasn’t fasting in the fullest sense, but he had determined to refrain from the foods that he enjoyed while in mourning and prayer. His focus was not on himself and his own comfort, but on what he needed to talk to God about. This went on for three weeks.
What happened next is astonishing:
“I lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz: His body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude” (Daniel 10:5-6).
What a sight to behold! Daniel saw an angel standing there. “Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words” (Daniel 10:1).
God had heard Daniel’s prayer on the first day he prayed and the angel had been sent to deliver God’s answer.
We learn by this angel’s own admission that he had been dispatched by God twenty-one days prior to the moment he arrived and confronted Daniel. Why did it take the angel twenty-one days to get from the throne room of God to where Daniel was? His arrival should have been instantaneous. The angel explains his tardiness to Daniel:
“But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia” (Daniel 10:13).
You might ask, “How can an angel be withstood by a mere earthly prince or even a king?” That certainly would be a fair question. By the way, if this had been Jesus He would not have needed Michael’s assistance nor would it have taken twenty-one days for Him to get to Daniel.
Angels are very powerful beings. In the book of 2 Kings we are told:
“And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses” (2 Kings 19:35).
(It may seem as though I’ve moved off track since I began this commentary writing about prayer but just bear with me, my point is coming). One angel during the night killed 185,000 Assyrian troops. Just one angel did this. What human, king or otherwise, can withstand an angel? We can see the power of an angel, so the prince of the kingdom of Persia is not a reference to a human being or else the angel would have had no trouble with him at all.
No, this is referring to a demonic power (a fallen angel) behind the Persian government. This territorial demon withstood the angel who had been dispatched by God to deliver His message to Daniel for twenty-one days until Michael the archangel came to take control of the situation. If it seems if your prayers aren’t answered, perhaps there is some “power” that is in the way of an answer.
How often do we hear of folks complaining that God doesn’t answer their prayers?
Many people seem sincerely discouraged when they think their prayers are not answered. They’ve asked God for healing or asked for help in some way but don’t seem to have any indication that God hears their prayers. Did Daniel give up praying after a few days? Was he even discouraged because God seemed to be silent during the twenty-one days leading up to the face-to-face encounter with the angel sent from God?
I am sure Daniel would have continued in prayer no matter how long it took for an answer. Remember, the angel told Daniel that God heard his prayer when Daniel began to pray and chasten (humble) him. It was the angel who carried that answer that was delayed by a territorial fallen angel.
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).
Could it be that just as Daniel experienced a delay because of a wicked angel we might also experience a delay of an answer from God due to a wicked angel standing in our way?
“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).
James tells us that we must put forth our all when we pray. He says “fervent prayer.” There is power in the prayers of a righteous, fervent prayer warrior. Daniel was a prayer warrior as were all the prophets of the Old Testament. They had a direct line to God through effective, fervent prayer. So do we. But doubt and unbelief will certainly hamper our receiving a clear and immediate response.
As in Daniel’s case, we may also experience a certain space of time between when our prayers are presented and when they are answered. Daniel heard nothing from God for twenty-one days then an angel showed up and spoke with him. We may wait twenty-one years for a response from God, or twenty-one seconds. Those who think God doesn’t hear our prayers or that He doesn’t respond because we are not important enough are badly mistaken. How can God not hear the prayer of a born-again believer in Christ when His Holy Spirit indwells us and our prayers are fervent, and without any doubt?
God is not far removed from His children. He’s very close. We don’t need to yell to get God’s attention. We don’t need to speak out loud, although that can sometimes help us to focus our thoughts. God lives in us and knows even our innermost thoughts, so we can pray in silence. Even before we formulated the words to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, God had already heard those words since they had to be formulated in our brain before we could speak them. Before we can even vocalize our words He’s justified (saved) us.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul says to put on the whole armor of God. He goes through the various pieces of armor that we need in order to be soldiers in service to our Lord. He finishes by saying, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18a).
Do you pray always? Do you pray in the Spirit? It’s with all your heart or nothing, it’s all your mind, soul, strength, or it’s all for naught.
Although we are admonished to always pray, sometimes when we pray we need to be alone and focus our thoughts on God. Sometimes we need to go into our prayer closet to do that. Find a quiet time to speak with God. Guess what? God is listening. Why? Because we are focused on: Him. The mind is not being bombarded with outside influences and He’s the center of our attention. That’s where God wants to be. He takes center stage because that’s His domain.
Before I close I need to make another point. God fulfills the needs of His children, but He doesn’t necessarily give us everything on our terms. After all, He knows what’s best for each of us.
“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Paul prayed to have a “thorn in the flesh” taken away, but God said, “No.” Like Paul, I have prayed so often for my body to be healed, as has my wife and so many dear friends. My wife made an observation that every time I feel better I start working on hobbies or something that diverts my attention from the work God has given me to do.
I love serving Jesus and get more pleasure from that than anything else in my life. My weakness is used for God’s glory, and that is what is important to me. Prayer isn’t some way of telling God what He will do for us but we must earnestly pray, and like Daniel, humble ourselves before God and seek His will, believing that our prayers are heard. God is not there to serve us, but we serve Him and know that His ways are much higher than our ways.
What do you pray for? God wants to hear from us and it is good to just chat with Him. But do examine what you are asking Him for. Are your prayers selfish? It isn’t bad to pray for things you want, but remember God knows best. If you really want a new car, it’s okay to talk to God about it. But let Him lead you. There may be a better car for you than the one you want. Don’t tell God what to do and be disappointed if He doesn’t do things your way. God can see tomorrow, but we are blinded by today.
Does God answer prayers? Paul tells us to pray without ceasing. But friends, when you pray and ask God to intervene in your life’s problems or you pray for a friend or brother with an illness, at the very least first turn off the TV. God knows you love Him and He knows you want a relationship with Him, but He won’t play second fiddle to Oprah Winfrey, football, or the walking dead.
God bless you all,