When God Answers Prayer

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“Immediately” is the spice-word of the miraculous. Any healing Jesus does is exciting, but the instantaneous ones carry exponential weight and wonder. To illustrate what I mean, let me begin with one that lacks this powerful adverb.

Luke 17:12-16
12 And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:
13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.
14 And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God,
16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. KJV

As with all narratives in Scripture, this one is loaded with multiple lessons. From the story, we can gain insights into spiritual authority, faith, obedience, rejection, quarantine, asking and receiving, loud prayer, obedience, confirmation, religious conformity, discrimination, prejudice, healing, and miracles. But this particular story is most often employed to teach thankfulness above all else. Indeed, all the other aspects I mentioned are enlisted to strengthen the impact of the man’s thankfulness. He wasn’t just a man being thankful, he was a grateful Samaritan. The others should have been grateful as he was because they weren’t all just healed, they were healed of leprosy. The nuance of their healing (“they were cleansed”) having taken time (“and it came to pass”) is overshadowed by the light of obedience (“as they went”) which highlights the intentionality and passion of the Samaritan’s thanks (“when he saw that he was healed, turned back,”).

Let us now examine another leper to see the impact of “immediately.”

Matthew 8:1-4
1 When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him.
2 And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
3 And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
4 And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. KJV

Unlike the account in Luke, this narrative is primarily used to teach about healing.[1] Both narratives share many of the same ingredients: leprosy, prayer, healing, priestly inspection, and worship. For all of that, Matthew’s “immediately” exponentially elevates the miraculous beyond Luke’s narrative. In Luke, ten lepers are gradually healed as they obey Jesus’s spoken command and from this we preach on thankfulness more often than not. In Matthew, one leper is instantaneously healed and from this we preach on the miraculous touch of Jesus. With “immediately” one healing through the laying on of hands gets more miracle messages per mile than ten gradual healings done through the spoken word alone. Clearly, cleansing ten lepers by a command is the greater miracle. But “immediately” makes all the difference in the world.

In the Charismatic expression of the Christian faith, immediacy of manifestation is the practical definition of the miraculous. When the dumb speak, the lame walk, the blind see, or the deaf hear in immediate response to ministry, few are those who doubt it the work of God. And while most—Charismatic or not—will still give God the ultimate credit when a saint testifies about being healed, any reference to medical examination or healing over time brings a shadow of doubt over its having occurred through direct spiritual agency. When God answers prayer colors our spiritual perception.

I share all this to illustrate how our theology is intimately tied to our experience of time even though we seldom acknowledge it. Would anyone ever experience a crisis of faith without a clock or a calendar? The time between promise and fulfilment is the scale of testing and the measurement of faithfulness. The Church has been equipped with great instruction on the power of the promise and the need to be faithful, but what of time itself? Consider the two phrases below.

  1. When God answers prayer …
  2. When does God answer prayer?

The first statement is easily read as a declaration of faith. That God answers prayer is a given. The second statement smells of the skeptic, apparently questioning God’s ability to answer prayer at all. These perspectives come readily to us because we are used to contemplating them. Most saints have confidence in the power of prayer and have experienced doubt while waiting on God’s response. Though these convictions and trials are important dynamics in our Christian walk, what I wish to center on is actually the “when”—when God answers pray, when does God answer prayer? Understanding time itself, the very fabric of when, is important to our theology.

Alan G. Padgett, professor of systematic theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, makes the following observation regarding time’s place in the field of theology:

“The relationship between God and time may seem an obscure subject.  Yet the more one studies it, the more convinced one becomes that this doctrine plays a key role in our grasp of the relationship between God and the world. How we understand God’s relationship to the world, in turn, is a central part of any theistic worldview.” [2]

In other words, how the Lord relates to us in time is central to our understanding of God and our walk with Him. It impacts our perspectives on free will, foreknowledge, and predestination. It colors our understanding of His sovereignty and omniscience. It shapes our view of hope and defines the sojourn of our faith.

Psalm 90:1-4
1 Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.
3 Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.
4 For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. KJV

Our God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, is before time and beyond time. But to say He is outside of time is to deny His relationship with us and the ultimate expression of His love—His dynamic physical entrance into the space-time continuum of man.

1 Timothy 3:16
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. KJV

[1] I am speaking from the Pentecostal/Charismatic experience. While belief in supernatural healing is common in the Pentecostal tradition, the Luke narrative cited is still primarily used to teach about thanksgiving even in Pentecostal circles.
[2] Alan G. Padgett, “Eternity as Relative Timelessness”, God & Time, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. © 2001 by Gregory E. Ganssle, p. 92.

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