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The Reformation Herald Online Edition

Wake Up Already!

Abiding in Christ
The Attitude in Asking
A Bible and Spirit of Prophecy compilation, with comments
B. Montrose
The Attitude in Asking

We live in an age of instant gratification. We want things to happen quickly—fast food, immediate results, online information at your fingertips on virtually any subject, ultra-fast text/cell communication, ready transportation, rush, rush, rush.

You can even find quick answers about the will of your Father in heaven. Just check out the various Bible websites that provide concordance information in any translation, or reap the benefits of the comprehensive research edition of the writings of Ellen G. White and the Advent pioneers. Just think—such a wealth of enlightening information is available to us nowadays at minimal cost!

But here is another question: What about answers to prayer? Are those answers coming faster than ever before, too? . . . Especially on large matters—do tremendous, breakthrough answers to prayer constitute part of the current trend in keeping with today’s increasing pace of things?

To be honest, probably not—at least for most professed Christians. Everything is speeding up, except for that. Why?

A lot of it has to do with our state of mind. God has His wisdom and timing; He will not be intimidated—or even unnecessarily rushed if it’s not for the ultimate benefit of humanity. Above all, He bases His relationship with us largely on what we are inside, not what we profess to be on the outside.

How often do we hear about miraculously answered prayer for people who are living in ignorance and sin. Yet only Heaven can measure the level of accountability required of every individual soul that He has made. One thing is for sure, however: Those of us entrusted with great light have a greater level of accountability for that light.

Requirements for answered prayer

1. Purity of conscience

The first prerequisite to answered prayer is to confess our sins. The inspired psalmist states clearly: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18). The Hebrew word here translated as “regard” signifies many things—including approve, behold, or perceive. That means to be aware of some form of iniquity in the inner life. If we are aware of something wrong in ourselves, we should not just blithely, casually accept that reality—we should do something about it! “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:9, 10).

In view of this necessary requirement, the psalmist was able to continue His declaration, “But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me” (Psalm 66:19, 20).

But what if we are not sure whether or not we have done something wrong? Quite often that is the case, partly because of the deceptive nature of sin itself. As sin blunts our discernment, the spirit of self-justification arises and we are tempted to convince ourselves that we are perfectly—or at least marginally—innocent, when in many cases we may indeed be guilty of some kind of wrongdoing. “Marginally innocent”? That’s an interesting concept. In reality, there is really no such thing. But often the human mind rationalizes itself into spiritually vague territory when it considers that the guilt of another person has surely been greater than “mine.” Therefore “my” guilt must not be so bad. Hmmm. Sounds like a cheap way to try to justify self.

“When sin has deadened the moral perceptions, the wrongdoer does not discern the defects of his character nor realize the enormity of the evil he has committed; and unless he yields to the convicting power of the Holy Spirit he remains in partial blindness to his sin. His confessions are not sincere and in earnest. To every acknowledgment of his guilt he adds an apology in excuse of his course, declaring that if it had not been for certain circumstances, he would not have done this or that for which he is reproved. But the examples in God’s word of genuine repentance and humiliation reveal a spirit of confession in which there is no excuse for sin or attempt at self-justification.

“Paul did not seek to shield himself; he paints his sin in its darkest hue, not attempting to lessen his guilt.”1

The inspired apostle did not paint his guilt in light-colored shades. He might have reasoned that he did not know any better when he committed wrongs against the followers of Christ. But he did not attempt to deceive himself this way—he went ahead and freely acknowledged his wrongdoing. The psalmist did the same:

“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. . . . I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:1–5).

It doesn’t really matter whether our guilt is minimal or huge. The blood of Christ is more than adequate to be able to handle the sins of the whole world. “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1, 2).

Why should we then be ashamed over whether our sin is small or great compared to the guilt of someone else? Sin is sin, period. There is no such thing as marginal or borderline guilt. If we have any measure of guilt, we are guilty. Even if someone else is involved in the guilt, that does not free us from our responsibility.

“If there have been difficulties brethren and sisters—if envy, malice, bitterness, evil surmisings, have existed, confess these sins, not in a general way, but go to your brethren and sisters personally. Be definite. If you have committed one wrong and they twenty, confess that one as though you were the chief offender.”2

Do not confess “in a general way”! That means it’s not enough to say superficially at footwashing time, “Sorry if I offended you in any way.” Well, did you or didn’t you? Sometimes you honestly may not know—in which case such a comment would certainly be fine and appropriate. But many times you may know perfectly well that you likely offended someone. So why be vague and general about it? That is not painting your sin in its darkest hue—it’s whitewashing it to avoid confrontation and personal embarrassment. Does such a habit promote genuine Christian integrity? Does it develop a people in whose mouth is found no guile—a mandatory requirement in this sealing time? (Revelation 14:1–5.) No, it does not.

Now is no time for religious games. We are not to include in our prayers the token statement, “Forgive our sins” without honestly seeking to know what those sins are and taking serious steps to eradicate them. We need to study God’s word to know His will, we need the eyesalve of spiritual discernment to see how it applies to us, we need faith to believe that God will forgive our shortcomings, and we need love to be courageous enough to apologize to others. “One of the greatest hindrances to our spiritual success is the great want of love and respect evidenced for one another.”3

If we are going around with a dirty conscience (i.e., any unconfessed, known sin), there will certainly be a delay in receiving answers to our prayers, except if they would be according to the multitude of idols (Ezekiel 14:4), which should be an answer we wouldn’t want if we are truly serious about our salvation.

2. Wholeheartedness

“In order to do the will of God, we must search His Word, that we may know His doctrine, and put to the task all our entrusted ability. We must be diligent in prayer, and fervent in simple, wholehearted service to God.”4

“Today we need men of thorough fidelity, men who follow the Lord fully, men who are not disposed to be silent when they ought to speak, who are as true as steel to principle, men who do not seek to make a pretentious show, but who walk humbly with God, patient, kind, obliging, courteous men, who understand that the science of prayer is to exercise faith and show works that will tell to the glory of God and the good of His people. . . . To follow Jesus requires wholehearted conversion at the start, and a repetition of this conversion every day.”5

Half-heartedness gets us nowhere. The apostle James exhorts us:

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 1:5–8; 4:8).

“God is behind every promise, and we cannot dishonor Him more than by questioning and hesitating, by asking and not believing, and then by talking doubt. If you do not immediately receive what you have asked for, will you go on in sullenness and unbelief? Believe; believe that God will do just what He has promised. Keep your prayers ascending, and watch, work, and wait. Fight the good fight of faith. Say to your heart, ‘God has invited me to come. He has heard my prayer. He has pledged His word that He will receive me, and He will fulfil His promise. I can trust God; for He so loved me that He gave His only-begotten Son to die for me. The Son of God is my Redeemer.’ ”6

“If we would only take the Lord at His word, what blessings might be ours! Would that there were more fervent, effectual prayer. Christ will be the helper of all who seek Him in faith.”7

The Lord declares: “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11–13, emphasis supplied).

“The infinite wisdom and power of God are exerted in our behalf. The heavenly host are surely fighting our battles for us. They are always looking with intense interest upon the souls purchased by the Saviour’s blood. They see, through the sacrifice of Christ, the value of the human soul. It is always safe to be on the Lord’s side, not halfheartedly, but wholly. It is this halfhearted, indifferent, careless work that separates your souls from Jesus, the source of your strength. Let this be your prayer: ‘Take everything from me, let me lose property, worldly honor, everything, but let Thy presence be with me.’ It is safe to commit the keeping of the soul to God, who reigns over all heaven and earth.”8

3. Surrender and submission

The last statement above now brings us into another point that is essential to answered prayer: Submission to God and surrender to His will. Even Christ Himself needed to do this during His earthly life on earth as He “fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. . . . He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done” (Matthew 26:39, 42).

“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5:14, 15, emphasis added).

Sometimes we may wonder why answers do not come, but we are warned, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3).

4. Humble contrition

“Humility and reverence should characterize the deportment of all who come into the presence of God. In the name of Jesus we may come before Him with confidence, but we must not approach Him with the boldness of presumption, as though He were on a level with ourselves. There are those who address the great and all-powerful and holy God, who dwelleth in light unapproachable, as they would address an equal, or even an inferior. There are those who conduct themselves in His house as they would not presume to do in the audience chamber of an earthly ruler. These should remember that they are in His sight whom seraphim adore, before whom angels veil their faces. God is greatly to be reverenced; all who truly realize His presence will bow in humility before Him.”9

“Angels from the world of light are near to those who in humility seek for divine guidance.”10

“What we need is men of prayer, men who in quietness and humility, without any display or excitement, are overcoming self.”11

“When we fall, all helpless, suffering in consequence of our realization of the sinfulness of sin; when we humble ourselves before God, afflicting our souls by true repentance and contrition; when we offer our fervent prayers to God in the name of Christ, we shall as surely be received by the Father, as we sincerely make a complete surrender of our all to God. We should realize in our inmost soul that all our efforts in and of ourselves will be utterly worthless; for it is only in the name and strength of the Conqueror that we shall be overcomers.

“If we believe in the power of Jesus’ name, and present our petitions to God in His name, we shall never be turned away.”12

“He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer” (Psalm 102:17).

Remember some of the petitions that were warmly accepted when the Son of man lived on the earth: The centurion who requested that his son be healed (Matthew 8:5–13); the father of the demon-possessed boy (Mark 9:7–29); the Syrophoenician woman whose daughter was vexed with a devil (Mark 7:24–30); blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46–52)—all these approached the Lord with great humility of heart, acknowledging their unworthiness, and pleading for mercy. Their petitions were readily granted.

The Lord assures us:

“To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). The humility factor is why fasting is sometimes recommended as a helpful accompaniment to prayer.

“Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).

This humility is not limited to our relationship to the Almighty—it also encompasses our relationships with one another. We are bidden: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3).

“God grants no pardon to him whose penitence produces no humility, and whose faith does not work by love to purify the soul. We need to study the example of Him who was meek and lowly, who, when He was reviled, reviled not again. A vindictive spirit will not be indulged by a true Christian. Parents should teach their children to be patient under injuries. Teach them that wonderful precept in the Lord’s prayer, that we are to forgive others as we would be forgiven.”13

5. Keeping it all in perspective

As mentioned, God has His timing, and He knows what is best. We need not behave like spoiled children demanding of Him. Patience is a quality that we definitely need to cultivate now more than ever, for “here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12). Jesus tells us, “In your patience possess ye your souls” (Luke 21:19). “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:3, 4).

“Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).

The servant of the Lord explains: “There are precious promises in the Scriptures to those who wait upon the Lord. We all desire an immediate answer to our prayers, and we are tempted to become discouraged if our prayer is not immediately answered. Now my experience has taught me that this is a great mistake. The delay is for our special benefit. Our faith has a chance to be tested to see whether it is true, sincere, or changeable like the waves of the sea. We must bind ourselves upon the altar with the strong cords of faith and love, and let patience have her perfect work. Faith strengthens through continual exercise.

“We must pray more and in faith. We must not pray and then run away as though afraid we should receive an answer. God will not mock us. He will answer if we watch unto prayer, if we believe we receive the things we ask for, and keep believing and never lose patience in believing. This is watching unto prayer. We guard the prayer of faith with expectancy and hope. We must wall it in with assurance and be not faithless, but believing. The fervent prayer of the righteous is never lost. The answer may not come according as we expected, but it will come, because God’s word is pledged.” 14

“Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him.”15

If in doubt . . .

The promises of God are real—and so is the assurance: “Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). “Whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3:22). “All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Matthew 21:22).

“The same compassionate Saviour lives today, and He is as willing to listen to the prayer of faith as when He walked visibly among men. . . . It is a part of God’s plan to grant us, in answer to the prayer of faith, that which He would not bestow did we not thus ask.”16

“You feel that you have neglected duties, that you have not prayed as you should. You seem at a distance from Jesus and think that He has withdrawn from you; but it is you who have separated from Him. He is waiting for you to return. He will accept the contrite heart. . . . As far as it is in your power to do so, cleanse the soul temple of every defilement, and then look to the ‘Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29).”17

1 Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 641.
2 The Review and Herald, December 16, 1884. [Emphasis added.]
3 The E. G. White 1888 Materials, p. 41. [Emphasis supplied.]
4 Testimonies on Sabbath School Work, p. 76.
5 The SDA Bible Commentary [E. G. White Comments], vol. 1, p. 1113. [Emphasis supplied.]
6 The Youth’s Instructor, May 10, 1894.
7 Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 202.
8 Testimonies to Ministers, p. 148. [Emphasis supplied.]
9 Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 252.
10 The Desire of Ages, p. 141.
11 The Review and Herald, June 29, 1905.
12 Ibid., February 5, 1895.
13 Ibid., May 7, 1895.
14 Our High Calling, p. 134. [Emphasis supplied.]
15 Steps to Christ, p. 93.
16 The Great Controversy, p. 525.
17 The Review and Herald, July 1, 1884.