Sunday, September 16, 2007

Prayer Failed? Don't Look to the New Testament

The other day, someone reading my blog was upset about what I had written on prayer. She had lost her son and she was the type who would take what I said and blame herself for her failed prayer. Once again, I became aware of how difficult it is to teach on the prayer of faith. I asked God to help me answer her pain, but I had to admit to her that He gave me no response.

If you include Jesus commanding sicknesses away as His type of praying, none of His prayers for healing went unanswered. If you omit one prayer of Paul’s, I don’t think there are any instances of prayers in the New Testament not being answered. (As to Paul’s prayer about his thorn in the flesh, I am among those who thinks his thorn was the persecution he suffered. I know other’s think it was an illness, however his statements are ambiguous at best). Therefore, if I tried to explain a failed prayer, I would have to go outside the New Testament to make up an explanation. There are no examples to point to.

So, I fell back on a story. When I first started learning to pray for healing, God put me together with three of His experienced prophets–all itinerant mountain preachers/prophets. They invited me to their regular prayer meetings.

Shortly after beginning with them, I read an article in Charisma Magazine by the Rev. Jerry Falwell in which he was outlining reasons why sometimes God did not heal. The article irritated me and I wrote a letter in which I said the following: “Babe Ruth was known as the home run king but he was also known as the strike out king. When I pray for healing, I would rather go for a home run every time. Even if in doing so I would sometimes strike out, I still would rather go down swinging.”

Charisma published my letter, and the night it arrived was a prayer night. Arriving a little late, one of the prophets entered the room saying, “Don I had a vision about you. It was strange. I saw you in a baseball cap and God said to tell you that you would not strike out.”

With no experience of prophecy that on target, I went ballistic. I accused all three of them of conspiring together in order to sell me on prophecy and I did not think that was funny. However, in a few moments, experienced psychologist that I am, I could see total confusion written on every face.

Not one person in that room knew what I was talking about! The poor young man who had given the prophesy had never even heard of Charisma Magazine! I spent a lot of the next hour apologizing and asking for forgiveness for my false accusations. (In atonement, I later bought the prophet a year's subscription to Charisma.)

When one of the presidential candidates was asked recently if he would be willing to be a vice-president, he indignantly responded that you don’t run for president thinking about being vice-president. No, and you can’t hit for the bleachers already making up your excuses as to why you might strike out. You can’t pray the prayer of faith if you are thinking of what you will tell yourself if you fail. Like Paul, I have to be true to the heavenly vision given me.

Unfortunately, in our Christian walk we have to become grownups. If we have a failed prayer, we can not look to the New Testament for our explanation. The only thing we can do when we fail is dust ourselves off, pick up another bat and practice, practice, practice.


Kathi said...


It's hard to answer someone's pain, especially in the face of "Every time Jesus prayed, He got results".

But speaking academically, while that is 100% true, there were also times He DIDN'T pray (knowing what the answer would be?) - for example Mt 13:58 - "Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief."

There were a couple of instances in the Epistles where you've got to wonder... 2Ti 4:20 - "Erastus stayed in Corinth, but Trophimus I have left in Miletus sick." (One would assume Paul laid hands on Trophimus before leaving him there)

Leads me to conclude that a) there's factors outside the belief of the one doing the praying involved, and b) while the Apostles surely saw miracles and answered prayer (and so should we), prayer isn't going to MAKE God do something if He's got good reason not to at that time.

Some sleepy thoughts, anyway...

Father Don said...

Kathi, Thank you for these thoughtful observations. You really added something to my thinking when you reminded me that Jesus did not pray for everyone.

Now looking back over what I wrote, I can still stand by the observation in the title, that is when there is a failed prayer, we cannot refer someone to the NT for explanatory examples.

On the other hand, Jesus did seem to know when to pray and when not to.

I was reminded of a time I was laying the whip over all my church members to pray harder for a member of the choir with melanoma. The members were beginning to get irritated with me. Finally, my wife said, "you better go give him last rites because he is going to die." I refused to hear it. Instead I got on my treadmill. Suddenly, while not even thinking about the man, I experienced the Lord say “You can stop paraying now. I am going to take him home.” Startled, I grabbed my priestly objects and drove to his house. We prayed together and the next day, he had a beautiful passing with all his family around him singing hymns as he left. God later filled in a few blanks for me by way of explanation specific to this person.
Reading your comment, another thought that came to mind was that I had always said God’s answer to Job would not be the sort of general answer that would satisfy me. However, because it satisfied Job, I have always believed it was not what God said to him but that He answered Him. It was not the content that satisfied; it was the relationship.
Anyway, because I am not spiritually advanced enough to know when God is going to heal like Jesus did, I will just have to keep swinging, counting on Him to teach me. Bottom line though is I have always felt we need to be careful what we say to one another at funerals. I don’t know that I have ever heard someone say something that God specifically told them to say and that is dangerous to people’s spiritual life.

Blogger said...

Kathi, Adding another thought. At least Jesus never failed to heal anyone who approached him for healing.

Margo Carmichael said...

I agree with you about Paul--it was persecution. Paul was not one to mince his words. He would have told us if it had been sickness or eye problems. He did mention his large handwriting once, but he didn't say his eyes were diseased.

And he was not ambiguous. He told us what was causing his troubles--a messenger of Satan. I read that as an angel--that's what messenger means, right?--of Satan. A demon. One who stirred up trouble wherever Paul went. And that's a sure sign Paul was doing something good! To say the least. : )

Father Don said...

Margo Thanks for the comments. Yes, we agree about no ambiguity. Before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on me, I had gone with what I was taught in a Baptist seminary, that is that Paul had an eye problem which was evidence that he could not get his prayer for healing answered. That Scripture was always used to prove that even Paul could not get healing. However, after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on me and the eyes of my understanding were opened, I was able to see that Paul said exactly what you said he did. Those of us brought up as Baptist have to do a lot of unlearning before the Holy Spirit can become our teacher, rather than our old theology professors.