God's Responses (Part 5)
We've been studying the topic of prayer. God sometimes responds to our prayers with a prompt "yes" or an absolute "no." At other times, He tells us to "wait awhile." However...

The Lord must sometimes respond to our prayers with a "maybe," even when the prayer is from a righteous person and is according to His will. Allow me to elaborate.

God has made us all creatures of free will. Among other things, this means that God will not force His will on any person in this realm. Thus, when we utter prayers that pertain to the choices of others, God's response will be a "maybe." He will not override another person's free will in order to grant your request.

We see a classic example of this conditional response from God in Abraham's six intercessory prayers for Sodom (Gen. 18:23ff). The fate of Sodom was completely dependent on the choices and morality of the men of Sodom. In essence, God repeatedly replied to the patriarch: "Yes, but it all depends."

When we pray for rulers to the effect "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence" (I Tim. 2:2), the outcome of such prayers rests not only with God, but with the choices made by our rulers.

Consider yet another example. When I pray that a certain sinner would come to know the Lord and be saved, such involves more than just God's love for the lost (I Tim. 2:4), the earnestness and frequency of my prayer, or my personal devotion to God. If the sinner will not repent and obey the truth, it is impossible for God to grant my request. God will not force anyone to be saved (and neither will God save the disobedient; Heb. 5:9). Again, God's response to such a prayer must be: "It all depends."

The same is true concerning any prayer that involves the behavior of others (e.g., the prayer of parents that their children will remain faithful when they leave home, the prayer that abortion be abolished, the prayer that national and world leaders may rule wisely, etc.).

When we earnestly pray for the salvation of those who have forsaken the Lord's way, who have made (and continue to make) shipwreck of the faith and who are bent on destroying the church, God can only answer: "It all depends." Will these folks repent? Will they once more submit to the authority of Christ through His word? Will they begin teaching the truth and refuting error? If so, then God's answer is "yes." If not, then His answer is "no." It is impossible for God to answer any prayer in the affirmative--by His self-imposed limitation--that requires Him to override man's free will in order to do so.

Friends, may we always remember that, while God hears all of our prayers, He responds to the prayers of the faithful in a variety of ways. This realization should encourage us to pray more--and more earnestly. Truly, the prayers of the righteous avail much (James 5:16)!