DOES PRAYER HAVE VISIBLE RESULTS?
Jesus insisted that prayer should yield visible results. It is not just a Christian concept, but human nature demands it. In his Sermon on the Mount He said this, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Mt. 7:11)? King Hezekiah faced death. He prayed to the God of Israel and the Lord added fifteen years to his life (II Ki. 20:1-6). I, too, cried to the Lord when I was twelve, twenty-one and in my sixties with cancer and God granted me extensions. I am proof that the results of prayer are visible; not just because I am alive, but also with what I am doing to help others answer their own prayers.
Godly people are visible evidence that prayer is effective. Jesus’ own prayer came through in his followers (Jn. 17:20). It is by what we do, that we prove we are Jesus’ followers (Jn. 15:8). We honor God and each other by what we do and produce (Mt. 7:16-20). Good deeds are the visible evidence that prayer is at work in our lives. Jesus told those, who kept looking for faults in him to look at what he was doing. His works were the evidence that He was in league with his Heavenly Father (Jn. 10:38). Whether we like it or not, we judge ourselves by the faults of others, even if it is a tiny splinter in their eyes. To us, their specks are larger than our beams (Lk. 6:37-42). When I was a boy, dad marked the doorposts to see how much we boys had grown. When I grew up, I no longer measured myself; yet, “with the measure we measure, we shall also be measured” (Mt. 7:2). We are always in danger of being Pharisaic in contrast to the tax collectors (Lk. 18:9-14).
All people, including Christians, look for visible evidence. It is not our faith, which requires convincing, but our behavior and treatment of each other. How can we make our prayers and our behavior into our faith to be more visible? When Jesus left, He did not say, “Keep on believing in me and you will convince others;” instead He did this, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another, as I have loved you. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (Jn. 13:34-35). Again, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” How can we show ourselves? “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey (practice) my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (Jn. 15:8-10).
We all are open books, with hidden closets and sooner than later, we spill the things we did, which shame us. Of course, the world, without Christ, no longer regards shame as sin. Even Christians that can repent and make restitution have been led to believe that God accepts them as they are. In that case, we urgently need to re-evaluate our prayers. Empty lamps do not give off light, like the five foolish virgins (Mt. 25:1-13). It is unfortunate, that we live in a land, which restricts our Christian light or love to sanctuaries and homes. It is not at all what Jesus had in mind. “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him” (Lk. 8:16-18). We ought to take to heart the fact that if we stop loving, it too will be taken from us. Our life is like a lamp, which needs constant oiling in order to remain lit. “In the same way,” said Jesus, “let your light (love) shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven “ (Mt. 5:16).
So, we get up and sing a few songs; we say a few prayers, be kind to each other and thank God for allowing us to do so. As a preacher, I have thrown in a few nice words to my listeners so I too can earn a word of praise. But then, I am supposed to be better than the average man. The truth is that being good to those that are good to me, gains me nothing (Mt. 5:46-47). Loving in order to be loved, gains me nothing. God loved us in Christ, while we were not loveable (Ro. 5:6-8). He forgives those who crucified him (Lk. 23:34). The question is can we love the unlovable that ridicule and abuse us? Do I send those that did harm to us to hell or pray for their forgiveness? Scoffers have tested our faith, and we were faced with a choice whether to judge or to forgive the evildoers. We opted to forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing. They live under the influences of evil, which feeds on others. It is our prayer that they too may find themselves on the wrong road and repent and mend their ways before eternity shuts their door to salvation. Earthly justice may not catch up with them, but their own deeds shall either bless or condemn them (Ro. 2:1-10). May our ignorance they used against us not contribute to their condemnation?
The first followers of Jesus, the Christ, had a brutal enemy by the name of Saul. Our Lord Jesus turned him into a visible product of faith for us (Ac. 9:1-31). We know him by the name of Paul and admire his insight on Love, not just in I Corinthians 13, but particularly his application in Romans 12:9-21. “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people, who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Unfortunately, we live, at a time, when the line of demarcation between good and evil has been shaded and obliterated. Similar to the days of Noah, evil is in the saddle (Mt. 24:37-39). Paul was familiar with such people. “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power” (II Tim. 3:2-5). It is almost necessary to be a little evil in order to be saved (Ro. 3:23). The question Paul asked, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase,” many have taken literally (Ro. 6:1). Jesus had come to save the lost (Lk. 19:10). The lost sheep of Israel were not the sinners (Mt. 10:6). They were the common people whom the sinners regarded as ignorant and cursed (Jn. 7:49). They were the mob or the world that had gone after Jesus (Jn. 12:19) and could cause the Romans to end their lucrative existence (Jn. 11:48). The leaders were the sinners and children of the devil (Jn. 8:42-47). They were and still are so absorbed in themselves by mental blindness, that they fail to recognize their need to face reality. They do not live in the world their people live in. It was a Pharisee or a religious leader to whom Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (Jn. 9:41). In the modern vernacular it means, “They are unredeemable.” They have lost the visible insight required for their own salvation.
John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, had a tremendous visible insight and he shared it gladly. If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding (insight), so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true – even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (I Jn. 5:15-20). We humans of course do not always agree on what the insight might be. Perhaps this incident could shed some light. At the very first meeting, the new pastor suggested that the congregation invest in a chandelier. Silence fell on the audience. Then, one brave leader objected. “No!” He said forcefully. “I am against it.” “Why” asked the minister? “Well, first, nobody in church can spell it; second, nobody can play it; and third, what this church needs more above else, is more light” (Mur.46). Someone wrote this poem that says it all:
“I met a stranger in the night
Whose lamp had ceased to shine?
I paused and let him light,
His lamp from mine.
A tempest sprang up later on
And shook the world about.
And when the wind was gone
My lamp was out.
But back to me the stranger came –
His lamp was glowing fine!
He held the precious flame,
And lighted mine!” (Kn.204).