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THE PRAYERS GOD ANSWERS

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, May 22, 2016

“Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months” (James 5:17).


It is interesting that the Old Testament does not mention Elijah praying these prayers. It only tells us that the prophet knew God would answer the prayers which themselves are not mentioned (I Kings 17:1). It seems to me that the prayers of Elijah were given by special revelation to James. But the Old Testament only gives us what the prophet said to King Ahab. Dr. McGee pointed out that prophets spoke to men, but priests spoke to God. Elijah was a prophet, so the Bible only gives us what Elijah said to Ahab. What Elijah said to God was concealed until God revealed it to James. Elijah spoke to Ahab and said,

“As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (I Kings 17:1).

We would not know much about Elijah’s prayers for drought and rain if James 5:17 had not been given to James by inspiration of God (II Timothy 3:16).

The text tells us that Elijah prayed “earnestly” for the drought and the rain. The Greek word translated “earnestly” means “he prayed with prayer.” Thomas Manton (1620-1677) said it denotes “agreement between tongue and heart; the heart prayed and [the] tongue prayed” (Commentary on James, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1998 reprint). I believe it means much more than praying with a loud voice. I think Manton is right that it denotes an agreement of the heart with the words of the prayer. It means that the heart earnestly desires what one says in his prayers.

Over the years I have seen many remarkable answers to prayer. But not everything I pray for is answered quickly. The great answers to prayer have usually come when there was first a strong burden for the thing for which I was praying. It would be something I couldn’t stop thinking about. The old-time Christians called it a “burden,” something that weighs on you, something that deeply concerns you, that you are so deeply concerned about that it keeps coming back to you. And you pray for it until the answer comes.

Christ gave two parables to show the importance of continuing to pray for things that burden us until the answer comes. The first one is called “The Parable of the Importunate Friend.” Importunate means “persistent” or even “troublesome.” It is given in Luke 11:5-13. It’s on page 1090 in the Scofield Study Bible. Please stand and read it out loud.

“And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:5-13).

You may be seated.

The whole parable teaches us to keep on asking and keep on praying until we receive what we ask for. Verses nine and ten say,

“And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Luke 11:9-10).

“Ask,” “seek,” and “knock” are in the present tense in the Greek text. It could be translated as “continue to ask, continue to seek, continue to knock.” Now look at verse 13,

“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:13).

So here persistent prayer will be answered by God giving the Holy Spirit to our “friends” who are in need. Dr. John R. Rice was correct when he said this applies to Christians asking for the power of the Holy Spirit to win souls (Prayer: Asking and Receiving, pp. 212, 213).

But the same teaching is also given in Matthew 7:7-11. It’s on page 1003 in the Scofield Study Bible. Read it aloud,

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:7-11).

You will notice that verse 11 has different words. In Luke 11 Jesus said, “How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” But in Matthew 7:11 Jesus said, “How much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”

The prophet Elijah prayed that it would not rain, and it did not rain for three and a half years. That was the burden God laid on his heart. And, when he prayed, God answered by stopping the rain. Sometimes God answers quickly. At other times God does not answer at first.

I well remember the night God answered my prayer quickly. I was twelve years old. I was sent to live with an aunt and uncle who lived at the top of Topanga Canyon. I went for a couple of months to school there – one of the twenty-two schools I was sent to before I graduated from high school. That’s why I flunked out of college the first time I went. When you are moved around twenty-two times, you don’t learn much. I learned how to read. I learned how to write in longhand. I learned how to add and subtract. That was about all. But there I was, up at the top of Topanga Canyon, living with an aunt who was drunk all the time. One night my cousin and his friend were drinking. In fact, they were pretty drunk. They said, “Come on, Robert. Get in the car and we’ll go for a little ride.” I didn’t want to go, but I was only twelve, and those big guys grabbed me and put me in the back of the car. It was my uncle’s 1940 Ford coupe. It only had a front seat. They crammed me into the narrow space behind the front seat. Then they took off drinking beer and whiskey. The “little ride” turned into a wild, drunken chase down the winding road to the beach. If you have ever been on that road you will have some idea of what it was like. The road winds back and forth like a snake. They were pretty drunk and my cousin was going about sixty miles an hour down the mountain. The speed limit was posted at, I think, 25 miles an hour and they were going 65 or 70. I will never forget it as long as I live. I still have a nightmare about it once in a while. I put my head down and prayed the only prayer I knew at the time. I prayed the Lord’s Prayer all the way down the mountain – with a heavy emphasis on the words, “Deliver us from evil.” At the bottom of the mountain I got out of the car and stood there in the dark shaking. I know it had to be God who saved us. There have been many fatal accidents on that road. I have seen cars that went over the edge and burst into flames below. God saved us in answer to prayer. I knew it then, and I know it now, sixty-three years later! Many times God does answer short prayers like He did that night.

But other times we have to wait, sometimes for a long period, before the answer comes. At the age of seventeen I decided not to be an actor and go into the ministry instead. There was no emotion involved, no feeling of any kind. I don’t even remember hearing about being “called” to preach. Maybe somebody said it, but I never heard it. Back then they always talked about “surrendering” to preach. Pastors talked about going through a big struggle and finally “surrendering” to be a pastor. Well, I didn’t go through a struggle at all. I just thought acting was stupid and worthless, and I surrendered to preach, whatever that meant! I submitted myself to the will of God. That’s what led me to the Chinese church, to become a missionary. I read the life of James Hudson Taylor, the great pioneer missionary to China. And I knew that he was a great role model for me to follow.

So I went to the Chinese church and threw myself into every kind of service that was available. I even became the church’s gardener and janitor, cleaning the floors, setting up the chairs, anything I could do to serve God. During that time I bought a paperback copy of extracts from John Wesley’s Journal, published by Moody Press. I read it through, almost like it was the Bible. I didn’t realize it at the time but it gave a graphic picture of what happened in the First Great Awakening. Wesley’s Journal made me very interested in the subject of revival. I was too young and inexperienced to know how rare revival had become by the early 1960s. I was naive, simple-minded enough to think I could pray for revival and it would happen. So I prayed for revival to come to the Chinese church. I prayed for it every single day. I prayed for it aloud in every prayer meeting. When I was asked to say grace at meals in the church my whole prayer was for God to send revival. It was the main thing I prayed for all through the 1960s. I really was not too surprised when revival came, beginning suddenly at a summer camp in the late 1960s. I knew it would come because, with childlike faith, I had prayed for it. A few years before he died Dr. Murphy Lum reminded me of those prayers. He said, “Bob, you were always praying for revival, even when no one else was doing it.” Then he said, “Bob, I believe the revival came because you kept on praying for it.” But by the time he said that I had almost forgotten about it.

Revival at the Chinese church became a burden in my heart. I believe God put that burden in me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And I prayed for it until God answered me. The old-time Christians called that “praying through.” It is importunately, persistently praying – until God answers and you receive what you asked for! Jesus said,

“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that [keep on asking] him?” (Matthew 7:11).

Again, Jesus said,

“And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Luke 11:9, 10).

“Ask,” “seek” and “knock” are in the present tense in Greek. That means, “continue to ask, continue to seek, continue to knock.” Dr. John R. Rice said, “A child of God has a right to...persistently, insistingly plead the promises of God and refuse to take a denial, until that which is needed...is received from God. Oh, may God’s people be encouraged to pray, pray, pray – may they be encouraged to PRAY THROUGH!

Keep on praying
   Till you pray it through,
Keep on praying
   Till you pray it through,
God’s great promises
   Are always true,
Keep on praying
   Till you pray it through.”

(John R. Rice, D.D., Prayer: Asking and Receiving, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1970, pp. 213, 214).

Dr. R. A. Torrey, in his great little book, How to Pray, said the same thing. Dr. Torrey said,

      God does not always give us things at our first effort. He wants to train us and make us strong by compelling us to work hard for the best things...He does not always give us what we ask in prayer in answer to the first prayer. He wants to train us and make us strong people of prayer by compelling us to pray hard for the best things. He makes us pray through.
      I am glad that this is so. There is no more blessed training in prayer than that which comes through being compelled to ask again and again, over long periods of time, before obtaining what we seek from God. Many people call it submission to the will of God when God does not grant them their requests at the first or second asking. They say, “Well, perhaps it is not God’s will.”
      As a rule, this is not submission but spiritual laziness... When a strong man or woman of action starts out to accomplish a thing and does not accomplish it the first or second or one-hundredth time, he or she keeps hammering away until it is accomplished. The strong man of prayer keeps on praying until he prays it through and obtains what he seeks... When we do begin to pray for a thing, we should never give up praying for it until we receive it (R. A. Torrey, D.D., How to Pray, Whitaker House, 1983, pp. 50, 51).

But there is another side to this. Your prayers will not be answered if your heart is not right with God. I took my family for a vacation in Cancun, Mexico in early January. One day, while they went to look at the Mayan ruins, I stayed alone. I read a book about the revival on the Isle of Lewis from 1949 to 1952. I prayed and wrote a sermon. When we got back I announced that we would hold evangelistic meetings every night. As you know, God was in it. It started with Dr. Cagan leading his 89 year old mother to Christ. That was a real miracle because she had been a hardened atheist for many years. Then Dr. Cagan’s mother-in-law was hopefully converted – at the age of 86. We know by statistics that conversions almost never occur in people over seventy. Here, in a few days, two women in their late eighties were saved. Remarkable! Then, one by one, 11 young people were hopefully saved. Then a few days later, there was another hopeful conversion. Fourteen people were saved in a few days.

But then I read Romans 12:1 and 2 and applied it to those who were saved in the church years before.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1, 2).

When you have been preaching as long as I have you learn to feel the response of the congregation. What I felt wasn’t good. I saw young people clench their jaws tight and look down at the floor. I sensed a deep resistance and defiance of Christ, as though they would never submit to Him. It sent a cold shock through my heart. It felt almost as if they needed to be converted again. That is the case when people let the things of this world take the place of Christ in their hearts. The heart becomes almost as hard as it was before the initial conversion. The heart must be broken again and yielded to Christ anew.

Rebellion reigns in the hearts of those who refuse to yield repeatedly to Christ. He said to take up your cross “daily, and follow me.” There must be a “daily” yielding to Christ, or our hearts will grow cold and stubborn. It is wrong to think, “I’m saved now. I no longer need to yield my life to Christ.” How different that is from what the Apostle Paul said, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice... unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Only then can you “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1, 2). To know the will of God you must offer yourself as a living sacrifice to Him, and not be conformed to the world.

The heart that is not yielded as a “living sacrifice” to Christ will be a divided heart. The Bible says, “Let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord” (James 1:7). Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Jesus is calling you to deny yourself. He is calling you to follow Him. Oh, how many times in life I have lost the joy of my salvation because I was not willing to deny myself and follow Him! But, oh, how the joy of the Lord has come back, time after time, as I presented myself as a living sacrifice to Jesus! I am praying tonight that you will do that too. I have loved the song Mr. Griffith sang nearly all my life. As a lonely, confused teenager, tears came to my eyes whenever I sang those words,

O to grace how great a debtor
   Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
   Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
   Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
   Seal it for Thy courts above.
(“Come, Thou Fount” by Robert Robinson, 1735-1790).

Are there some here tonight who know you should deny yourself anew – and take up your cross and follow Jesus anew? Are there some of you who should “yield your bodies” as “living sacrifices” to the Lord? If God is speaking to you like that, in a moment, I am going to ask you to leave your seat and kneel here at the front of the auditorium. Come and dedicate your life anew, as a living sacrifice to Jesus, who died on the Cross to save you. Come on down here and yield your heart and life to Jesus anew and afresh. Come and confess to Him any rebellion or sin in your heart and life. Come and ask Jesus to forgive you, and renew your obedience to Him. As we stand together, you come and kneel here, and pray. While Mr. Griffith sings that hymn softly, you come.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
   Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
   Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
   Sung by flaming tongues above;
Praise the mount – I’m fixed upon it –
   Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer,
   Hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
   Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
   Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
   Interposed His precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor
   Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
   Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
   Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
   Seal it for Thy courts above.

If this sermon blessed you Dr. Hymers would like to hear from you. WHEN YOU WRITE TO DR. HYMERS YOU MUST TELL HIM WHAT COUNTRY YOU ARE WRITING FROM OR HE CANNOT ANSWER YOUR E-MAIL. If these sermons bless you send an e-mail to Dr. Hymers and tell him, but always include what country you are writing from. Dr. Hymers’ e-mail is at rlhymersjr@sbcglobal.net (click here). You can write to Dr. Hymers in any language, but write in English if you can. If you want to write to Dr. Hymers by postal mail, his address is P.O. Box 15308, Los Angeles, CA 90015. You may telephone him at (818)352-0452.

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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: James 4:1-10.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Come, Thou Fount” (by Robert Robinson, 1735-1790).