Speak the word only

Prayers unanswered?

One reason Christians don’t get answers to their prayers may be that they are only praying and not “speaking the word.”

In Matthew 8, Jesus commended a Roman centurion for his faith. Why? The centurion recognized authority when he saw it.  He acknowledged Jesus’ authority over sickness and disease and he knew the enemy – disease in this case – would also.

He said to Jesus, “speak the word only and my servant will be healed.” So he did – Jesus said “Go, it will be done just as you believed it would.” And it was – “his servant was healed at that very hour.”

James 5:17-18 recounts the story of Elijah, Ahab, drought and rain. These verses talk about prayer and faith. But take look at the original story in I Kings chapters 17 and 18. This shows something unexpected: Elijah didn’t pray for God to stop the rain or to re-start it.

He himself spoke the words that stopped the rain, and three years later re-started it. He said to Ahab “As the Lord God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (17:1) And there wasn’t.

Well then, did Elijah pray at all? Obviously he did, but I think his prayer went something like this: “Oh God, what can I do!” (About the evil king Ahab.)

God answered with a set of odd instructions:  Go see  Ahab.  Speak to him about rain…

Odd or not, Elijah obeyed. Now, did it take a lot of faith to go tell King Ahab there would be no rain – or even dew – for several years, unless he himself, Elijah, said so?

I don’t know about a lot of faith, but it would sure take guts!

Yet James 5:17 says Elijah was a man just like us. Human, not superhuman. His faith was demonstrated by his obedience; by the words that he spoke.

Matthew 28:18-20 is the “Great Commission,” Jesus’ instructions to the apostles to make disciples of all nations. Not just converts – disciples. Students. Followers. Obeyers.  And verse 19 is very specific:  “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

What does everything include? Look at Matthew 10, Mark 6 and Luke 9:  (1) Preach the kingdom. (2) Heal the sick. (3) Raise the dead. (4) Cleanse the lepers. (5) Cast out demons.

Okay, how were they supposed to do all that? He had already showed them how. For three years they had been observing him do those things.  Seventy disciples already had practice (Luke 10).

So they obeyed Jesus and followed his example in doing so.

No matter what else they did, when confronted with people in need they “spoke the word.” They did not ask God to do what Jesus had plainly told them to do. See these examples:

  • Acts 3:6 –  Peter spoke to the crippled man,  commanding him to walk, and he did.
  • Acts 9:34 – Peter spoke to the paralyzed man, commanding him to get up, and he did.
  • Acts 9:40 – Peter spoke to the dead girl, commanding her to get up, and she did.
  • Acts 13:11 – Paul spoke to the sorcerer, saying “you are going to be blind,” and he was.
  • Acts 14:10 – Paul spoke to the lame man, commanding him to stand up, and he did.
  • Acts 28:8 – Paul prayed first, then laid hands on the sick man and healed him.

Many extraordinary signs, wonders and miracles were done when the apostles and disciples obeyed Jesus.  (Stephen – Acts 6:4, Paul and Barnabas  – Acts 15:12.)

Now, we are instructed to pray and most of us have no problem with that – we do pray. But sometimes we only pray about situations when we should also “speak the word.”

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“Pray not for this people…”

Jeremiah-Lamenting-the-Destruction-of-Jerusalem-1630-RembrandtJeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, Rembrandt 1630.

God’s laws were given to his people for their protection. The Ten Commandments contain the most practical spiritual, emotional, and economic laws imaginable.

Yet throughout history, many of God’s people have either rebelled against or ignored those laws, to their own detriment.

One day as I was re-reading the book of Jeremiah, several verses stood out…

In Jeremiah 7:16 God tells Jeremiah, “So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you.”

Again in Jeremiah 11:14 God says, “Do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.”

And in Jeremiah 14:11-12 He reiterates, “Do not pray for the well-being of this people. Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague.”

Did you realize these verses were in the Bible?  Many times Christians are commanded to pray, to intercede — yet here God told Jeremiah not to. Why?

Because over and over the people had been told the consequences of breaking God’s laws and they had ignored the warnings. So now they wouldn’t be getting any more warnings, they would be getting the consequences. War. Famine. Disease. Captivity. (Or fires, tornados, floods, earthquakes, typhoons…?)

Prayer without intervention, without corresponding works and without repentance on the part of God’s people, just isn’t enough.

Is the day coming when God won’t hear our prayers for the United States?

In Jeremiah Chapters 42-43, a group of people requested Jeremiah to ask God for them what they should do, whether they should stay in the land under the rule of Babylon, or whether they should take the easy route and go to Egypt where they would be “safe.”

They declared that whatever God said, that’s what they would do. (42:6) So, Jeremiah asked God what they should do.

God said if they stayed put in their own land they would be okay, but if they went into Egypt they would be destroyed. Jeremiah gave the people God’s answer, but they didn’t like it. Instead of staying put like God told them, they went to Egypt and forced Jeremiah to go with them — and sure enough, they were destroyed.

Jeremiah is called the Weeping Prophet because he was grief-stricken over the sin of his nation, over the fact that the people kept ignoring God’s warnings. At one point he wanted to quit because the people were ridiculing him.

In Jeremiah 20:7, he said “I am in derision daily, everyone mocks me.” In verse 9 he says, “Then I said, I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any  more in His name. But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forebearing, and I could not refrain.” He continued warning the people, though they continued ignoring his warnings.

What might this mean for us today?

Unless we keep speaking out, standing up and intervening, and unless the people of our nation heed the warnings, there may come a day when God tells us to quit praying.

(Reposted from February, 2007 – still appropriate.)