Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion;
to you our vows will be fulfilled.
You who answer prayer,
to you all people will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
of your holy temple.
- Psalm 65:1-4
And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.
- Philemon 1:22
“Why does God answer prayer? Let’s not imagine it’s because somebody was good. We Protestants think we don’t believe in saints, but we do. We canonize them: we have Saint George Mueller, Saint C. H. Spurgeon, Saint D. L. Moody, and Saint A. B. Simpson. We get the idea that God answers prayer for them because they are really good. They would deny that fervently if they were here.
“Nobody ever got anything from God on the grounds that he deserved it. Having fallen, man deserves only punishment and death. So if God answers to prayer it’s because God is good. From His goodness, His loving-kindness, His good-natured benevolence, God does it! That’s the source of everything.”
- A. W. Tozer, The Attributes of God
I have written before as to whether we are asking in our prayers for being within the will of God, specific to us.
I remember a story a pastor told in a sermon fifty or more years ago, a story about a young girl. She hated her brown eyes, and she knew that God could change her eye color to blue, if she just asked. One night she prayed fervently, to borrow a word from the Tozer quote. The next morning, she rushed to the bathroom to gaze at her blue eyes in the mirror, but she was crushed when her brown eyes stared back at her. This disappointment did not shake her faith in God. She grew up to become a missionary. When she arrived at the village where she would live, all the people in the village had brown eyes. That night she praised God for not granting her that wish so many years before. With blue eyes, she would not have fit in with her new neighbors. God had a plan for her, and blue eyes was not in that plan.
We might say the same thing about the Apostle Paul in the quoted Scripture above from Philemon, but being ‘restored’ is a word with many meanings. The book of Acts basically ends with Paul’s Roman imprisonment. He wrote several of his epistles, including Philemon and Philippians, while in prison in Rome. Some think that Paul was released, so that he could take his missionary journey to Spain, returning to Rome, and prison, to be beheaded in 67AD, seven years after writing Philemon and Philippians. I mentioned Philippians because of similar wording in Phil. 2:24 of a hope to return and confidence that God would set to it. There is no Biblical record of such a missionary trip to Spain, but many hold to that idea. Thus, ‘restored’ might not mean restored to Philippi or Colossae, where Philemon lived. It might have meant getting out of prison.
Then again, the doors of the Apostle Paul’s prison cell seemed to be a revolving door in the early years. People came to him. He sent them back with messages. The movie, Paul, Apostle of Christ, chronicles Luke sneaking in and out of the prison, gathering the information that would become the book of Acts. It could be possible in the movement of people in and out of Rome that Philemon came to visit, acting as a messenger for the Colossians. The epistle to the Colossians was written roughly in the same year as Philemon and Philippians, while in prison. Restoration then would be meeting Philemon again.
The third method of restoration that I will mention is restoration between the Apostle Paul and all the churches he started in Heaven.
In the first case, the history of the Apostle Paul, as the experts can determine, did not happen in going back to Philippi and Colossae, but could have for the trip to Spain. The second might have happened. The third, as all believers know, did happen. But if Paul was thinking that he would be released from prison and travel back to Asia Minor, the Biblical historians do not record that journey at all.
Why bring it up? Tozer mentioned that prayer is answered because God is good, not because we deserve it. Who knows what great things could have happened if Paul had returned to Asia Minor, but that was not God’s plan. I wrote about God’s Eternal Purposes about a week ago. God did not grant Paul (a great man of faith) that request, because Paul had already planted those churches and those churches had to grow on their own strength. The strength being from God, the sinew being the believers that Paul left behind and encouraged in his letters.
So, what of us? We are no Moody or Spurgeon. Okay, I had a vague knowledge of A. B. Simpson, but I had to look up Mueller. Yet, these giants of Christendom in their day could compare to others over the centuries. But as for me, I am hardly a name mentioned by many. Yet, if God loves me and knows the number of my hairs, which is getting easier to count these days, God could grant a request of mine, within His will and His eternal purposes. If we won a large cash prize, I know that my wife will give a lot of it away to the grandchildren for their education and then give most of the remainder away to charity. Don’t come knocking at the door, it is already gone, at least in her mind. But maybe God’s purpose is for the grandchildren to get the money for their education by other means.
Our prayers should be predominantly Praise to God, Confession of Sins, and Thankfulness. Psalm 65 mentions answered prayer at the beginning, but the psalm is all about praises to God, only one reason being that He answers prayer. Yet, we tend to offer up requests to God with far too much regularity. In trying to keep our requests within God’s will, it really does not change our prayers. We do not know God’s will much of the time, especially regarding us. The Bible says a lot of things in general, but I don’t think He mentions my name in there. We should study the Scriptures and determine how others in the Bible handled the same kind of issues that we face. We need to find out as much as we can about God’s will. Then we can fervently pray for our contribution to God’s eternal purpose.
God is good. He might just answer our prayer.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.