My prayer life was much simpler when I saw God as a vending machine. I put in a prayer and made a selection. If it came out, His answer was “Yes.” If it didn't come out, His answer was “No.” If I didn't know which selection I should make, but was hungry for something—anything—then I was okay with whatever He wanted to dispense. But I usually knew what I wanted, and always hoped He would answer with a “Yes.”
Some of the time (actually most of the time) when nothing came out I would go for the same selection with a different kind of prayer, as if I was putting a different dollar bill into the machine. Thankfully, He resisted my selection. Otherwise, I would have probably destroyed myself by my own choices. Can you relate?
If we want our yes to mean “Yes” and our no to mean “No,” then we must understand God's heart for His own yes and no. Since we don't have much of a problem when God says “Yes,” I'll start off with when He says “No.”
Just because God doesn't answer a prayer doesn't mean He is saying “No.” His silence could mean no, but from my experience His silence means: “Mike, you're asking the wrong question.” When He is silent I no longer ask the same question in a different way or with more intensity; I ask a different question.
If you are not getting an answer from God, it is quite possible you are asking the wrong question. Let me illustrate in just one area of many where I was asking the wrong question—healing the sick. Follow with me as I go through the process of moving from the wrong question to the right question, and moving from no results to results.
I have always taken Jesus' instructions in Matthew 10:8 seriously: “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” I hear His instructions as if He is speaking to me just like He spoke to His disciples. I make no differentiation.
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12 ESV)
And not only should I be able to do what His disciples did, I should be able to do the same works He did.
I certainly qualified as a “whoever.” But I had no idea how to go about, in this instance, healing the sick.
When I first thought about healing the sick, I assumed Jesus was just talking about praying for them. Easy enough… when I saw someone who was sick I would ask, as long as the subject came up during our conversation, if I could pray for him or her. And hopefully, I would remember, during my next prayer time, to ask God if He would heal the person. I guess I was never serious about getting a literal yes or a no, because if the person didn't get well then I assumed God was saying “No.”
But then I began to realize that maybe I was supposed to pray, on the spot, for someone who was sick. That's what they did in the Bible, anyway. So I would ask God to heal the person, he or she would thank me, and I would leave—hoping for a yes, but settling for a no if the person didn't get better.
My frustration however, began to build because few (if any) of the people I prayed for were healed, other than by time or by the medical community—and what did prayer have to do with that? Did my prayer only help them feel like someone cared? I had much higher expectations.
And then I realized I had a more active part to play. Yes, there are plenty of Biblical references to simply praying for the sick, but I had always thought of this kind of prayer as a passive (or better stated, helpless) request. Even thought I might be begging at the top of my lungs, I was basically helpless to do anything but beg. I didn't see any other kind of action possible.
But I had completely missed it. To pray for the sick was anything but passive. It was an aggressive action, executed with authority. I was supposed to heal the sick. I was supposed to lay hands on the sick and they would recover (see Mark 16:18). I had a direct and active part.
Please understand: God wasn't saying “No” when healing didn't take place. He wasn't answering at all, because I was asking the wrong question. God was essentially saying, with His silence, that He would not dignify my question with an answer. He would not add any validity to my question by answering it.
Here is where it became very easy to be offended at God. It wasn't like I was asking Him to heal someone for my own selfish reasons, such as wanting a guy to live long enough so he could at least pay off what he owed me. No… it is obvious why He wouldn't dignify such a request with an answer (see James 4:2–3). I was however suffering from a lack of understanding.
If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear. (Psalm 66:18 NKJV)
“Mike, what does praying for someone who is sick have to do with regarding iniquity in my heart?”
To regard iniquity is, in part, to pant (hence to exert oneself, usually in vain; to come to naught). In other words, when I ask the wrong question, God's objective is to get me into a position where I can ask the right question. Otherwise, I'm just going to be wearing myself out by pursuing an answer where there is no answer. He's not going to encourage me to stay in a wrong mindset where I will get no results. Does this make sense?
So I had to look for another question to ask. Apparently healing the sick was not just about asking God to do it. I had to consider something bigger. Please remember: “What you will not consider you most likely will not experience.”
And as I began to consider something bigger, I began to understand that healing was a part of Jesus' work on the Cross. I began to see a similarity between health and forgiveness. Sin and sickness (as well as everything else) were both fixed on the Cross.
The provision for forgiveness for all of mankind has already been accomplished by Jesus. But it does no one any good until it is activated. It is the same with healing.
When a man asks Jesus to forgive him, Jesus does not have to crawl back up on the Cross; the man only has to activate the forgiveness already present. If he doesn't submit his life to Jesus his sin remains—even though it is already paid for.
When a man asks for healing, the healing does not have to materialize in Heaven and come to earth. It is already present in the man and only has to be activated. If it is not activated the sickness remains—even though it is already paid for.
I know this can sound pretty weird if you're not used to this perspective. But sickness is not the permanent resident in anyone's life. Sickness is the unwelcome guest who is keeping health in the closet. Throw out the sickness and health remains.
So I changed my question. I no longer asked, “Lord, will you heal…?” I asked instead, “Lord, what do You want me to say… what do You want me to do…?” And He answered me.
His part was already done. My part was not. I was not waiting on Him. He was waiting on me. As soon as I understood my responsibility and authority to heal the sick, and began to ask my questions within that framework, He began to answer. Instead of being frustrated by no results, Sherrel and I began to see results—small at first, but increasing over time.
Before we continue tomorrow, would you please think about the questions you've been asking God, that He has not answered? Maybe He's not been saying “No.” Maybe you've been asking the wrong question.
Have a good day,