The title of this chapter is a back-door acknowledgment that there are some prayers that God will not answer. I repeat: God does not answer every prayer. (See Jeremiah 7:16; Psalm 66:18; 1 Peter 3:7.)
In fact, God will not listen to some prayers; much less answer them. This is why the prayer recorded in Nehemiah 1:5–11 is such a helpful example for us.
Nehemiah was preoccupied with God’s tendency to ignore certain prayers. “Let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant,” he prayed (v. 6a). Near the end of his prayer he urged God, “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant” (v. 11a). Of course, God has no ears; his statements are called anthropomorphisms. They express divine reality in physical terms. God is a spirit (John 4:24) and does not have eyes and ears. Yet Nehemiah ascribes these physical features to God to make a graphic statement of how displeased God is with some prayers.
Think about it. God finds some prayers so unacceptable that He plugs His ears so that He cannot hear and covers His eyes so that He cannot see. But that did not happen to Nehemiah. God heard and answered Nehemiah’s prayer. And this God-breathed transcript of Nehemiah’s prayer teaches us the kind of prayer God answers.
Now, let me be clear about something before we go any further with this discussion of answered prayer. Do not expect this chapter to give you an easy formula for answered prayer. I hate religious formulas. They domesticate biblical truth, trivialize God’s sovereign ways, and rob the walk of faith of its intended sense of adventure. So don’t expect any shortcuts to answered prayer here. I plan to give you the long, scenic route to answered prayer.
Here it is: God typically answers prayer that is offered by a person who is totally committed to Him. Answered prayer is the natural overflow of a committed life. The life of the one praying is more important to God than the words of the prayer. Why did God answer Nehemiah’s prayer? Nehemiah’s prayer did not move the hand of God because he said the right words the right way. God accepted Nehemiah’s prayer because God accepted Nehemiah. It was not what was being said as much as it was who was talking.
James 5:16b puts it this way: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Translation: God is not moved by wordy eloquence, vain repetition, emotional intensity, high volume, name-it-and-claim-it, or any other religious hocus-pocus. But when a person whose heart is right prays, God’s ears are open, God’s eyes are attentive, and God’s hands are outstretched to answer their prayer.
The question is: What must I do to get God’s attention in prayer? How should I pray to win God’s approval? Is there a way to pray that moves God to act? I don’t know about you, but when I pray, I don’t want God to cover His eyes or close His ears. I want God to take off His cosmic headphones, as it were, silence the angels, lean over the balcony of heaven in full attention, and begin reaching for His divine resources to answer my prayer.
H. B. Charles Jr., It Happens after Prayer: Biblical Motivation for Believing Prayer (Chicago, IL: Lift Every Voice, 2013).
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