By Alvin VanderGriend
Have you ever thought about all the different ways that God has at his disposal to answer prayer? He can work naturally or supernaturally. He can use people, angels, or natural forces. Being eternal he can shape history and arrange circumstances over many years so that they converge in an answer that seems to us to come just-in-the-nick-of-time. And, when he answers a prayer today, he knows what the consequences will be for all of life’s tomorrows.
In answering prayer God the Father always begins by working with his Son Jesus Christ. Christ is in charge of all earth operations. Paul said, “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church” (Ephesians 1:22). “To be head over everything” means that he is responsible for answers to prayer. Jesus acknowledged as much when he said: “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may being glory to the Father” (John 14:14). So, no matter what you are praying for, Jesus is the first responder. When you pray, Jesus acts.
When it comes to answering prayer, however, Christ never works alone. He always works through the Spirit to accomplish the Fathers’ will. The Spirit, in cooperation with the Father and the Son, is also always involved in answering our prayers. Already in Old Testament times the Spirit was active in conveying God’s gifts to people. When God had a message to deliver, it was the Spirit who prompted men and women to speak the word (2 Peter 1:21). When Moses needed help in leading Israel, God took some of the Spirit that was on him and placed it on seventy other prospective leaders (Numbers 11:16-17). When Jesus was preparing to leave he promised the disciples that he would ask the Father to send them another Counselor—one who would do for them everything that Christ had done (John 14:16-17). When they needed power, the Spirit would provide that (Luke 24:49). When they needed wisdom or revelation, the Spirit would give them that (Ephesians 1:17). When they prayed for filling, for fruit, for spiritual gifts, or for help in prayer it was the Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son, who delivered. When you pray the Spirit moves!
God also uses angels as his representatives in answering our prayers. While the Holy Spirit is normally the one who acts when the need is in the inner world of heart, soul, and mind; angels, directed by the Son and the Spirit, are typically the responders when help is needed in the natural world. They open prison doors (Acts 5:18), shut the mouths of lions (Daniel 6:22), protect from scorching fire (Daniel 3:25), and guard believers (Psalm 91:11). God’s Word tells us that they are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). Many times angels are sent in response to prayers. When Jerusalem was surrounded by the Assyrian army, King Hezekiah prayed and God sent an angel to strike a death blow to that great army (Isaiah 37:14, 36). When Peter who was being held under guard in Herod’s most secure prison “the church was praying earnestly to God for him.” In response God sent an angel who effortlessly dealt with guards, shackles, and prison doors and set Peter free. As history comes to a close it will once again be the prayers of the saints and the activities of angels that activate the final cataclysmic upheaval (Revelation 5:8, 8:4-5). When you pray God may just say to an angel “go and do it.”
A fourth and common way that God answers prayers is through persons. God loves to use persons in his kingdom projects. In response to the cries of the Hebrews in Egypt, God sent Moses. In response to Moses’ “slow of speech” complaint, God sent Aaron. When Jesus saw that there was a plentiful harvest and too few workers he said: “Ask the Lord of harvest to send out workers into the harvest field” (Matthew 9:38). When it was time for the gospel to break out of its Jewish boundaries, God responded to the prayers of Cornelius’ and sent a person—Peter. Sometimes when we pray God sends a person—a person directed by Christ and empowered by the Spirit.
A fifth way that God answers prayer is through forces of nature, often forces that defy the normal laws of nature. When Israel was trapped between the armies of Egypt and the Red Sea, God heard their cries of desperation and opened a path through the sea on dry land (Exodus 14:19-31). When Joshua needed extra time to complete a mission he prayed and God made the sun stand still (Joshua 10:13). When Elijah asked for fire to fall on his water-soaked sacrifice on Mt. Carmel, God sent a fire that evaporated the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the soil, and the water (1 Kings 18:38). There are no limits to what God can do in response to the prayers of his people. Sometimes when you pray God uses the forces of nature in surprising ways.
In fact God can use whatever means are necessary in any way he chooses. We can never standardize what he does or predict exactly how he will decide to respond. He may choose to answer our prayers by any one of the above means, or by any combination of them. Think about the combination of means the Lord used in bringing the gospel to the Gentiles. When he answered Cornelius’ prayer he first sent an angel to give him directions, and then gave Peter a vision in the sky to prepare him. That was followed by a word from the Spirit convincing Peter to go. Finally, Peter himself became God’s human answer as he went to preach the gospel to Cornelius and his waiting group in Caesarea (Acts 12:5-7, 11).
Thank God that we don’t have to figure out how he’s going to answer our prayers. We can leave that up to him. But we do have to trust that he will answer, and that in his own time and in his own way. That he will do!
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