Andrew Murray on Unanswered Prayers

Prayer is a misunderstood and totally beaten to death subject.

The Bible is pretty clear about prayer, how it works, and what it does.

The problem Christians have is that our experience does not measure up to what it says. And when push comes to shove, we cling to our experience more than the Bible.

One verse that puts things clearly is John 15:7:

If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

Every Christian is going to claim that they abide in Christ; yet every Christian must admit they don’t get what they pray for. Jesus seems to say that getting what you pray for is the proof you’re abiding in Christ. We don’t get what we pray for, therefore, Jesus must be wrong.

It is at this point where creativity joins Christianity. How can we justify our ineffective prayers and still feel good about ourselves? Surely there must be another verse we can throw in to loophole our way out of this jam.

Here’s what Andrew Murray has to say about John 15:7

In all God’s relations with us, the promise and its conditions are inseparable. If we fulfill the conditions; He fulfills the promise.

Now, already I can hear certain Christian heads exploding. “That’s Law! That’s a yoke of bondage! Grace just gives promises; we don’t have to do anything. Christ did it all for us!”

I’m inclined to agree with Murray on this one because that is indeed how the Bible presents things, even in the New Testament. All God’s promises will be realized only if we do things the way He says. God is not mocked; you reap what you sow.

Fully abiding in Him, we have the right to ask whatever we want and the promise that we will get an answer. There is a terrible discrepancy between this promise and the experience of most believers. How many prayers bring no answer? The cause must be either that we do not fulfill the conditions, or God does not fulfill the promise. Believers are not willing to admit either and therefore have devised a way of escape from the dilemma.

They put a qualifying clause into the promise that our Savior did not put there–if it be God’s will. This maintains both God’s integrity and their own. If they could only accept it and hold fast to it as it stands, trusting Christ to make it true! And if only they would confess their failure in fulfilling the condition as the one explanation for unanswered prayer. God’s Spirit would then lead them to see how appropriate such a promise is to those who really believe that Christ means it.

The problem with going with Murray’s idea is that the burden is on us. No one likes burdens on them. We like fuzzy notions of grace and happy thoughts.

But we also know we’d really like our prayers to be answered and for our prayer life to be richer. But as long as we hang on to fuzzy happy thoughts don’t count on your prayer life going anywhere.

The issue is not about getting stuff; the issue is about abiding in Christ. As we abide in Christ we will pray better, more informed, God-honoring prayers.

God does not answer our prayers to feed our flesh. He answers prayers so that we grow in Christ. Answered prayer is not a slot machine payout; it’s a proof that we are abiding in Christ.

The Father intends the answer to be a token of His favor and of the reality of our fellowship with Him.

Your experience with prayer falls short of how the Bible speaks of prayer. Instead of chalking it up to fate and some murky idea of “God’s will,” maybe consider the substance of your prayer, the state of your heart in asking, and your growth in Christ overall.

If these things are going well, I’d fully expect more answered prayer and I fully expect people to be ticked about me claiming that.

5 thoughts on “Andrew Murray on Unanswered Prayers”

  1. Excellent, excellent excellent!!!
    I read your post to my wife and she echoes my above response.

    I’ve recently been trying to address a similar issue on my blog, relating to God’s promises and our reluctance to consider their conditional nature. My own study has been motivated by a very serious personal situation that has made me realise how compromised my relationship with the Lord had become, and how little regard I’d given to abiding in Him.
    In my compromised state I would have insisted that I WAS abiding in Him – and yet now, it has become blatantly obvious how deluded I’d become to allow me to justify myself.

    What I knew in my head wasn’t reflected in my life.

    A key reference for me has become “If we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of Him”

    The importance of this is to start WITH a knowledge of God’s will, giving a secure foundation to the faith we apply in prayer. Instead the usual practice is to pray in ignorance and leave the “will of God” as a potential loop hole to excuse ourselves when our prayer remains unanswered.

    The “downside” of seeking God’s will first, is that we tend to find that His will comes with conditions and if we want to see His will done in our lives we need to fulfil those conditions before God acts on our behalf.
    But too often we prefer to blame God instead of facing up to our own short-comings.

  2. I think most Christians don’t expect prayer to work so we’re not shocked when it doesn’t. We can always fall back on “Guess it wasn’t God’s will.”

    The Bible is remarkably clear that God listens to those who listen to Him. His ears are open to the righteous. The only people who think prayer works are whacky charismatics and they only ask for knee pain to go away.

    We don’t know what to pray for as we ought and I think that’s largely because we’re too fleshly minded. We ask to consume it upon our lusts. Prayer and abiding in Christ go together. If you aren’t abiding, you won’t be asking for the right things for the right reasons, thus they won’t happen.

    Instead of figuring out what’s up, we just give up on prayer. Doesn’t work. Tried it. Then we go back to our flesh and carry on, chalking up its failure to “Well he told us we don’t know what to pray for, guess he was right” and “Must not be God’s will.” Oh well.

  3. Jeff, Thank you for that comment ! Praying for a brother’s healing this morning, I was meditating on a comment in Onesimus’ blog-series on praying for healing, “To Live Is Christ;” that healing rests on God’s word, and God’s will (both of which Onesimus explores in depth).

    I followed the “highly recommended” link there, and read your insightful comments on Murray’s excellent words. Thank you too for that.

    But what gobsmacked me was your above comment: “God listens to those who listen to Him.” That’s word-for-word the thought that came into my meditating this morning. I take that as confirmation I’m hearing God aright, and thank you for it.

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