Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.
~ Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791 ~

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Has God ever answered your prayer?

Christadelphians often talk about the "power of prayer". For many it is an essential tool when going through difficult times. They say it provides comfort, and reassurance. It is said that prayer is how we talk to God, and that God talks to us through the Bible. Some Christadelphians believe that God talks to us through events in our lives, or even by putting words in our head. Others interpret things they experience as little "messages" from God, perhaps in answer to a recent prayer.

A personal relationship with God

Prayer then seems to be a very personal thing. It is considered an essential part of having a personal relationship with God, which is something many Christadelphians aspire to. And one thing many, if not all, Christadelphians appear to agree on is that prayer is effective. It's not that they believe God will always answer their prayer. But they certainly believe God hears their prayers. And they believe he does answer some of them.

If prayer is supposed to be a means of communication, then by definition that communication must be bi-directional. Otherwise it's just a one-sided conversation, which as we know from experience with people is not particularly satisfying. I don't know of any Christians or Christadelphians who believe prayer is a one-sided conversation. The overwhelming view appears to be that every prayer is heard by God, and answered at his discretion and according to his purpose.

But the point I want to focus on is the idea of two-way communication. Suppose you and I had a conversation, but everything I said to you was in code, or in a language you didn't understand. Would it be a productive conversation? Would it benefit either of us in any way? I doubt it. So likewise in order for prayer to really be effective, it is important that communication in both directions is clearly understood. We've all had conversations where we thought we understood what was said, only to find ourselves embarrassed when we realised we heard wrong, or jumped to the wrong conclusion. How certain are you that you have not misinterpreted answers to your prayers? Would you say that God's chosen method of communication with you is effective?

Biblical views on prayer

The Bible makes some very specific claims when it comes to prayer.

I've listed several of them below:

God will respond to prayer in a similar way to how we respond to the requests of our own children.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:7-11 NET

Prayer (with faith) can wither a fig tree, and more.
Jesus answered them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, if you believe, you will receive.
Matthew 21:21-22

Prayer can cast out unclean spirits.
Now when Jesus saw that a crowd was quickly gathering, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” It shrieked, threw him into terrible convulsions, and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He is dead!” But Jesus gently took his hand and raised him to his feet, and he stood up.
Then, after he went into the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we cast it out?” He told them, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
Mark 9:25-27 NET

Prayer is sometimes said to have been verbally confirmed by an angel.
An angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense, appeared to him. And Zechariah, visibly shaken when he saw the angel, was seized with fear. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard...
Luke 1:11-13 NET

Some apostles had a specific time set aside for prayer.
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time for prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon
Acts 3:1 NET

James says that requests made for selfish reasons will not be granted.
You do not have because you do not ask; you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, so you can spend it on your passions.
James 4:2-3 NET

James also says that prayer can heal sick people, and even result in their sins being forgiven. Then, in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of prayer, James gives the example of Elijah whose prayers both caused and ended a three and a half year drought!
Is anyone among you ill? He should summon the elders of the church, and they should pray for him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick and the Lord will raise him up—and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain and there was no rain on the land for three years and six months! Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land sprouted with a harvest.
James 5:14-18 NET

Does God answer the prayers of people in other religions?

As a Christadelphian I was used to citing the example of Cornelius, who in the early verses of Acts 10 was not yet a Christian but whose prayers were answered by God. So it would be no surprise to Christadelphians if God really did answer the prayers of those in other religions. But how do you know it isn't the reverse happening when your prayers are answered?

Here are some anecdotes given by people from a few popular modern religions:

Sometimes, though, your answer will be no. In that same section of the Doctrine and Covenants, God says that “if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong” (9:9). This “stupor of thought” will mean that you are still confused and uneasy about the situation you are praying about. 
Once when I was in college, I wanted to participate in a study abroad program. I was praying to find the means to go, but I could never decide on the best way to fund my trip. Eventually I realized that I was having a stupor of thought and that if things weren’t lining up, then perhaps I shouldn’t even be going. Once I decided not to go on the trip, I felt at peace and another plan for the summer presented itself to me.
--- * ---

Remembering my parents’ teachings, I started to pray. As I struggled for breath, my prayers became more desperate and earnest. 
Into my mind came a voice that said, “Run.” ... 
As I staggered over the top of a hill, I saw a lone car in the process of making a U-turn. I croaked out a noise and waved my arms. The car stopped, and even though I couldn’t speak coherently, the kindly couple in the car seemed to understand, invited me in ... The couple told me that they had been sitting in their home in Tooele and felt that they should take a drive—in the middle of the storm!
--- * --- 

Once while traveling with my two boys we stopped to stretch our legs and when we came back to our car it wouldn’t start. We were three hours from home and two hours from our destination and we didn’t know a soul where we were. After trying to start the car several more times, I looked over at my oldest son Tim who was five at the time and I said, "We need to pray and ask God to make our car start." After we prayed, I looked at Tim and I said "Well here we go." Would you believe the car started on the very first try. I wish you could have seen the look of surprise and wonder in my sons’ face. Because of that object lesson from heaven, he will never forget that God really does hear and answer our prayers. Whether for something very important or as simple as making a car start.
 --- * ---

I wished from the core of my heart, Oh Allah! Will I ever get enough leisure time to study and understand Your Message?
After I made this wish, within a few months all the hindrances that stood in the way of my marriage were settled automatically, and I got married. Soon after that left my job.
 --- * ---

Likewise, there were many prominent men and women of this Movement who were renowned for the acceptance of their prayers, and they used to be approached by Muslims outside this Movement to pray for them in particular matters. The vast improvement in the material condition of the Muslims in the last hundred years, and the failure of the powerful movements which tried to discredit Islam as a false religion and to lure its followers to other faiths, has come about through the prayers of the righteous.

What do other religions say about unanswered prayer?

What I found even more interesting were the reasons given by people in other religions for why some prayers are not answered.

Prayer is our spiritual lifeline! We must keep the channels of communication open with our Heavenly Father at all cost, including learning to accept and understand the place unanswered prayers have in His plan for us. 
I like what Elder Gene R. Cook said above, “When we face these trials, we must double our faith lest we lose it.”
 --- * ---

Your knowledge is limited. But Allah’s knowledge is unlimited. You might think you want something right now, but Allah knows better when it is right to give it to you. 
Perhaps He didn’t give it to you at that time because it would bring you more harm than good. Perhaps He wanted to test you and had you been patient with the test, He would have rewarded you with something better. Only Allah knows.

Did God ever answer my prayer?

When I was a Christadelphian there were many times when I felt that my prayer had been answered by God. On some occasions I was moved to tears by it. I saw the hand of God in my life almost everywhere I looked.

That was, until someone once asked me a question that made me stop and realise that there were many other ways the events could have unfolded, that I had not considered. When I did consider all of the possibilities, I found that I could come up with several scenarios that were very different and yet I still would have felt that they were signs of God at work in my life. But the more such scenarios there were, the less sure I could be that any one of them couldn't have happened by mere chance, or circumstance. The more I thought about it, the more I realised I had no way to tell what was coincidence, and what wasn't.

Previously I had assumed that the less probable an event was, the more likely it was to have been miraculous. But what if I had calculated the probability wrong? And were all improbable events miracles? What about probable events - could they be miracles too?

Over time these doubts began to grow, and I started thinking up ways that I could be sure that there really was a god out there who listened when I prayed. Actually, I started wondering if all those times I was praying I was actually just talking to myself - and that made me feel a bit silly. I had to get to the bottom of this. Merely looking for answers to prayer wasn't sufficient, because if I was the one deciding what was an answer from God and what wasn't, how could I know I wasn't mistaken, or simply credulous? I had no way to distinguish between real answers to prayer and false positives.

Part of me felt that perhaps I just needed to have faith and forget about trying to know for sure. But that felt a lot like wilful self-deception. After all, the same approach would have produced the same results no matter which deity I prayed to. And it would have produced the same results even if there was no one listening.

The next logical step was to realise that without positive evidence, I had no good reason to believe in prayer. I remain open to the possibility that prayer really works, but I am also skeptical, given that all religions make similar claims, and I still have not found a reliable way to rule out false positives.

Has God ever answered your prayer?

So what about your experience of prayer? Have you ever had a prayer answered by God? If so, I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Feel free to remain anonymous if you wish.