By Norman P. Grubb
ONE problem of importance remains. What about the baffling occasions when the stand of faith is taken and nothing happens? All people of faith have such experiences, times when either no answer comes, or only a partial one.
A common explanation is to say that God's answer has been "No". This is unsatisfactory. It is not much' more than a neat side-step. It is correct on only one condition: that God has actually said "No" to the petitioner, and he knows it. The famous case of this was when Paul asked three times for deliverance from the thorn in his flesh, and God's answer was a refusal. But not a bare negative, far from it, for "all the promises of God are yea". The "refusal" consisted of a revelation to Paul that it is in a man's weakness that God's strength is made perfect; and, seeing this, so far from showing mystification or disappointment, Paul thanked God for the answer and "took pleasure" in his infirmities. An answer indeed, the blessing from which has echoed down through the ages. If God really does say "No," we may always be sure it will be that kind of "No" which is in reality a much greater "Yes."
It is along this line that the solution must be sought for on every occasion of unanswered prayer. First of all, we must hold it as an unassailable corner-stone of our faith that "all the promises of God are yea". We must never let go of that. If baffled, we must just first say with Paul: "Let God be true, though every man be false;" and, with Job: "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him." We must stand to it that, even if we should not see the answer till the Day declare it, yet God has answered. The one thing which never must fail is our faith which declares His faithfulness.
We must also be on the alert to recognize the answer when it does come. The ways of God are as fresh and varied in grace as in nature. He is always original. He plainly warns us that His ways are not our ways, and it is possible to miss seeing the answer or even to refuse it, because it does not come through the agency or in the manner we expected. God's answers usually come so quietly and naturally that only those who are looking for them can recognize them for what they are. To anyone else they seem ordinary occurrences. This was how Naaman almost missed the healing. Surely the prophet would do something dramatic. But to go and bathe like any common villager in Jordan l and for the message to come through the prophet's servant! Not in wind, earthquake or fire did God speak to Elijah, but by a still small voice. And all those who live in a relationship with God in which answers to prayer are a constant occurrence become accustomed to seeing things just "turn up". Indeed, God will always use the natural, if He can, for He is the God of nature and order. That is why He will not answer a prayer for us which we can answer for ourselves. We must do what lies in our power first, and then we can look to Him to do what we cannot. In numberless instances, men begin to ask God for things, and before long the inner Voice tells them that they are the answer to their own prayers.
It is easy to get into bondage over unanswered prayer. Something must be wrong with the one who is praying. Sin is there, or presumption, or unbelief, or, more commonly still, it is not the will of God. It is a favorite method of the enemy to dishearten, so that we shall give up praying with faith for anything. The answer to all this is: Keep believing. "Fear not, only believe." "'Tis looking downward that makes one dizzy," as the poet writes. Such is the abounding grace of God that He always has the perfect, positive answer to every prayer, even the wrong prayer, even the mistaken prayer; and to the soul who will wait steadily on Him He will make that answer so plain that he can thank Him fully and be satisfied, even as we have seen Paul do. Only wait long enough. Only ask in faith, nothing wavering, for to such he gives His wisdom liberally and upbraideth not.
Some things, we must remember, are much harder to obtain than others. Material things are the easiest. Jesus said that the daily necessaries of life come to those who trust, without asking for them at all. They are just "added" to those who seek His kingdom first, by the Father who feeds the birds and arrays the flowers, and who all the more certainly knows the needs of His own children before they ask. The provision of material needs, indeed, is, according to Jesus, the fulfillment of a spiritual law. If we give, it is given to us, and so superabundant is the heavenly measure that for our mere moderate giving we receive a return "pressed down and running over." Paul said the same when he reminded the Corinthians that "he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully."
Note also that this return "shall men give into our bosom." (Luke 6:38) It is the outworking of an inner spiritual law. Give to men and men give to us. By some means, we know not how, the Spirit moves in men's hearts so that the response to the giver is far greater than the gift he gave. Not, indeed, response from the actual recipient of the gift. The way the Spirit seems to work is that, when we receive a gift, we are moved to show our gratitude. Often we cannot in any way recompense the kind donor: it may not be either seemly or possible. But the spirit of recompense is stirred within us and a way opens up to recompense another, really as an act of gratitude to God for the former gift; and thus giving and receiving, receiving and giving, flow on round the world. Giving is really like the circulation of the blood. It comes back to the starting point. What we give comes back, only in greater abundance. What we hold unnecessarily to ourselves chokes the inflow. Give, to receive, to give again, to receive again, to give again, and so it goes on. All the industrial problems of our day, the inequality of possessions, the poverty, have their ultimate source in the fact that this golden secret was lost in the fall, when grab and keep, in place of give and receive and give again, became man's only method of getting provision and security. A simple rule is: if in need, give.
"Life ultimately consists in circulation," writes one: "whether within the physical body of the individual or on the scale of the solar system; and circulation means a continual flowing round; and use of possessions is no exception to this universal law of all life. When once this principle becomes clear to us, we shall see that our attention should be directed rather to the giving than the receiving. We must look upon ourselves, not as misers' chests to be kept locked for our own benefit, but as centers of distribution. If we choke the outlet the current must slacken, and a full and free flow can be obtained only by keeping it open. The generous feeling which is the intuitive recognition of this great law of circulation does not make its first question in any undertaking: How much am I going to get by it? But, How much am I going to do by it? And making this the first question, the getting will flow in with a generous profusion. We are not called upon to give what we have not yet got, and to run into debt; but we are to give liberally of what we have, with the knowledge that by so doing we are setting the law of circulation to work."
To liberate souls by prayer, however, or to move a company to repentance or revival, is a far more difficult task than getting material things. There is an enemy to overcome. The one who spoke to Daniel in a vision after his three weeks' fast said he was prevented from coming for twenty-one days by satanic opposition. There is man's will to be moved. How a free will can be compelled by prayer to make a certain choice, and yet remain free, is a point more of philosophical than practical interest. We know no adequate explanation; but we know that the Bible presents us with the unsolved paradox of God's almightiness and man's free will, and tells us to believe both and act on either as the need arises, and both prove true!
Both these citadels need storming, and the history of the Church is crammed with evidence that only by travail of soul, by prayer and fasting, by a faith that wrestles on towards heaven against storm and wind and tide, are brands plucked from the burning; by the mother who agonizes through nights and days for her boy, and, when he comes back at last to God, tells him that she always held him fast in her faith and love; by the minister or praying group who seek God's face till they find Him for an outpouring of the Spirit which will melt and fuse and revitalize the Christians, and start a saving work amongst the unconverted. And each such persistent prayer is but a mirror of that One Whose "strong feet", in the classic lyric, The Hound of Heaven, "followed, followed after with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace, deliberate speed, majestic instancy", until at last "the Voice above their beat" was heard by the piteous fleeing soul:
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea;
And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing,
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee
Save Me, Save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might'st seek it in My Arms.
All which thy child's mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!'
Halts by me that footfall: Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His Hand, outstretched caressingly?
Ah fondest blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me!"
- Francis Thompson
Perhaps the most baffling problem of all in relation to unanswered prayer is the problem of physical healing. We have to face the fact that the responses to living faith recorded in the Bible were nearly always both instantaneous and complete. But that is not so to anything like the same extent in response to present-day faith. Honest investigation shows that, whereas there are genuine cases of faith healing, there are also many hundreds who have prayed and believed, have been anointed and had hands laid upon them, and there has been no deliverance. There are others, not a few, who have experienced temporary relief, only to see the malady return again after a while.
Yet we have a clear word of Scripture on the subject. Nothing could be clearer in James 5:15: "and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up."
For this we can give no adequate reason, but what we cannot explain we can obey. "The prayer of faith shall save the sick." What does "the prayer of faith" entail? More than asking, supplicating, hoping, as we have already learned. Indeed, this expression "prayer of faith" is plain evidence that there is praying which is not of faith. This qualifying expression implies that what is asked is also received, recognized as one's possession here and now, reckoned on as a present reality. Faith calls the things that be not as though they were.
Apply that now to a need of physical healing, coupled, if it is a help to faith, with the anointing with oil or laying on of hands mentioned here and in other places, for these are merely an outward sign of the inward act of believing. Healing is asked for, healing is received by faith, on the authority of these verses.
What then? Are we to keep looking for the outward manifestation of the healing of the body? Just here may lie our common mistake. If faith means believing we have received, do people keep looking for what they already have? Do they not rather bear witness to their faith by thanksgiving and testimony, and maintain themselves in the attitude of having rather than seeking and expecting?
To receive healing by faith is to reckon on the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus at work in our mortal bodies, and in our souls and spirits. We count on His life, we realize Him as our life. We don't live in a strain, hoping, wondering, doubting. Faith will be a fight in times of physical suffering and weakness, at other times it will be a rest; but we walk by faith, that is all that matters.
And the outcome? The way in which God manifests Himself in response to faith is His affair. Manifest Himself He will, for faith is a law of the spiritual realm. In some, there will be the miraculous healing. In some, and there are very many, the real root of the trouble is not physical at all, but nervous or spiritual. The consequence to these of the steadfast attitude to faith will be to quieten nerves, relieve fear, remove hidden sin and consequent hidden condemnation (James 5:15, I6). The attention of the sufferer will more and more tend to be centered upon the positive fact of God's life in the body instead of upon negative and destructive mental occupation with the disease. It may often be found that, nerves, mind and heart becoming rested in Him, the symptoms of the disease quickly disappear.
Indeed, many prove that the regular health of the body has been enormously improved since a positive reckoning on the fact of God's life coursing through the physical frame has replaced the old fears, for instance, of cold weather, and infection. Fear, we might almost say, is the first form of disease, and faith the first form of health.
Finally, there are those in whom the answer is not manifested physically. The answer is manifest, but it is "My grace is sufficient for thee; for My strength is made perfect in weakness." The resurrection life of Christ is seen, perhaps, most strikingly of all in spiritual victory over physical suffering; the oppressed becomes the blessed, the one in need of comfort becomes the comforter, the one in need of bedside ministration becomes the shining minister of a triumphing Christ.
Moreover, it must ever be remembered that God has not promised the redemption of the body in this age. That is for the age to come; a hope of future full deliverance which saves us, Paul says, while we "groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body." Death, therefore, comes to all, and, in facing the possibility of death in ourselves, or, still more difficult, in our loved ones, we must be sure that we have the fully victorious attitude of faith: that, in spite of human pain and sorrow, we see the glory of being with Christ, we stand ready for that final leap of faith-into sight, into the arms of our Beloved-and we can rejoice when others cross the bar, congratulating them, even as Paul asked the Christians to do for him when he was to be offered as a sacrifice for them. If a loved one is prayed for, even believed for, and is then taken home, faith must burst right through the veil and see the perfect answer in eternity: "On the earth the broken arcs; in the heaven, a perfect round."
It is faith that matters, not the way the answer comes. Faith is the victory, be it manifested in sudden healing, in a new general standard of health, in a victory of spirit within a still-ailing frame, or in triumph over the grave.