How long should we ask for God’s help? (Part 2)
In the first installment of this two-part series, we saw that God may make His Will absolutely clear to us to the effect that He will not intervene in the way we hope or wish, and if that is the case, prayers to God to change His Will would be superfluous and futile.
We might not always be able to understand God’s decision not to intervene or fulfill our specific request in a particular matter, because we might not always see what God’s Will or plan might be. We must recognize, however, that His thoughts are much higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). Psalm 92:5-6 says:
“O LORD, how great are Your works! Your thoughts are very deep. A senseless man does not know, Nor does a fool understand this.”
God declares the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). Man cannot do anything against His plan.
Proverbs 19:21 says:
“There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the LORD’s counsel–that will stand.”
Proverbs 16:9 adds:
“A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.”
Proverbs 21:30 explains:
“There is no wisdom or understanding Or counsel against the LORD.”
In Acts 5:38-39, “a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people” (verse 34), reiterates the same message and includes a warning as well:
“‘And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it–lest you even be found to fight against God.’”
We always need to remember that all things work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28).
This might be difficult to comprehend at a given moment in time; but rather than focusing on short-term goals and “quick fixes,” God’s goals are long-term.
Jeremiah 29:11 quotes God’s words in this way:
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
A good example for this truth can be found in Joseph’s life. His brothers had sold him into slavery, but God was behind it so that Joseph could save the lives of many people. We read in Genesis 45:4-8:
“And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Please come near to me.’ So they came near. Then he said: ‘I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.’”
Again, here are Joseph’s additional words to his brothers, as recorded in Genesis 50:19-21:
“Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’…”
We might also think of Esther who was brought to the palace of the king and became his wife so that she could later save the Jews.
Let us review examples which encourage us to keep asking God even though His answer might not have been forthcoming so far, and even though it might appear as if His answer is “No!” But we are to pray day and night with perseverance for God’s intervention until His answer has become abundantly clear.
One might ask: How do I know that God has decided with finality that He will not answer my prayer in the way that I want—that His answer is abundantly clear? The simple response is: Once that final stage has been reached, you will know. If you don’t know, then God’s answer has not become abundantly clear.
Note the example of the widow and the unrighteous judge in Luke 18:1-8:
“Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: ‘There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, “Get justice for me from my adversary.” And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, “Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.”’ Then the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?’”
This would also include the faith that God will hear us when we pray to Him day and night. As Christ mentioned, sometimes it may take a while before God intervenes on our behalf.
In this context, we must realize that God can change man’s hearts, plans and actions. The parable with the unrighteous judge and the widow shows that due to the widow’s perseverance, the judge changed his mind and acted on her behalf. The spiritual lesson is that due to her unwavering and consistent prayer, God responded by influencing the judge to help the widow.
Psalm 33:15 says that God “fashions” or “forms” (Revised Standard Version) or “moulds” (New Jerusalem Bible) or “shapes” (Berean Study Bible) the hearts of men. Strong’s explains that it means, “To mould into a, form, as a, potter, to determine.” Elliott’s Commentary for English Readers agrees, stating: “The Hebrew word rendered ‘fashion’ is that used of a potter moulding clay.”
The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Bible Commentary states: “‘fashioneth’—or, ‘forms,’ and hence knows and controls.” Matthew Poole’s Commentary states: “Having said that God sees and observes all men, he now adds that he rules and governs them; yea, even their hearts, which are most masterless and unmanageable, and yet he frameth and disposeth and inclineth them, this way or that, according to the counsel of his will.”
Of course, as the Matthew Henry Commentary adds, “Some hearts are too stubborn to yield themselves up to his fashioning, and refuse to take the impress which he desires to impart.” When this happens, God will destroy such a person, as a potter destroys the pot which he attempted to make, but which did not turn out right, and so he will use the clay to make another pot.
Still, nobody can prevail against God’s Will, and when our ways please God, He can even make our enemies to be at peace with us (Proverbs 16:7). In the above-quoted parable, God influenced the judge to help the widow—to be at peace with her.
There are additional examples about perseverance and ongoing faith and trust in God for His intervention, even though it may sometimes appear as if God had decided that He would not intervene.
In John 5:2-9, a man was sick for a long time, and he apparently had lost hope that he could be healed, because the human “odds” were against such a possibility:
“Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk.’ And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.”
Another example can be found in John 9:1-7:
“Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And He said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.”
A third example, and many more could be quoted, is recorded in Luke 13:10-17:
“Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, ‘Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.’ And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.’ The Lord then answered him and said, ‘Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound–think of it–for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?’ And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.”
In this context, we should also understand that our prayers may change God’s original intent, and He might change His contemplated actions, as long as such a change would not contradict His overall plan.
Exodus 32:7-14 gives us such an example where God changed His mind, due to the powerful intercession of Moses:
“And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’”’ And the LORD said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.’ Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: ‘LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, “He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth”? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.”’ So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.”
Also note God’s words to Jeremiah in Jeremiah 18:7-8:
“‘The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it.’”
The people of Nineveh responded to Jonah’s warning by turning from their evil deeds, and God did not destroy them.
We should keep praying for God’s intervention, even in seemingly hopeless situations, until God’s refusal to act in compliance with our wishes becomes abundantly clear. As long as there is hope for His intervention and even for a change of His mind or original purpose, we must not give up entreating God.
Note this in Joel 2:11-14:
“… For the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; Who can endure it? ‘Now, therefore,’ says the Lord, ‘Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’ So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and relent, And leave a blessing behind Him…’”
Yes, who knows? Until we know for sure that His answer is “No!,” we ought to continue to entreat God for His intervention.
He can make the “impossible” possible. As long as He has not made His Will abundantly clear to us so that we must cease praying for a certain matter, we ought to continue to implore and entreat God while waiting for Him. In the end, we may stand in awe when He suddenly intervenes for us.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link