The success of movies such as ‘Fireproof’ and ‘The War Room’, reveal that many earnest Christians yearn for healthy relationships. There is a widespread search for a solution to the fractured and tortured friendships and families of today’s post-modern world. The premise of these popular movies, and of many spiritual self-help and motivational books and speakers, is that if you just pray long enough and hard enough, God must do a miracle. Throw in lots of kindness, loving and giving; and you have a recipe for the perfect relationship. Love conquers all, right?
Unfortunately, these modern-day fairy-tales forget one key condition of humankind … our free will. God created Adam and Eve with access to both the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He gave them the ability to choose Him. As we know, they chose the wrong way, and ever since, humankind has been grappling with scores of wrong decisions. “Wherefore, as by one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Romans 5:12.
The sad reality is that there are many sincere, loving Christians praying for healing with their spouse, friend, parents, siblings, children and even the church; and yet, no measurable difference is seen. Our Christian culture’s focus on positive testimonies can cause them to feel demoralised and deficient.
Doubts swirl, and thoughts such as, “I did the thirty-day challenge and he still wants a divorce”, “I fasted two days a week for six months and she still won’t talk to me” or “I have prayed twice a day for 20 years with no change” are common. With hurting hearts, they approach their church family, only to sometimes be told they must be at fault, or else God would listen. They are left burdened and condemned, a pariah misunderstood.
Now God certainly does expect us to ‘pray without ceasing’ and to ‘confess our sins’ but is it true that miracles are dependent upon our own works? If we tick all the spiritual boxes will God wave a magic wand and domestic bliss will prevail? For a clear answer, let us study a few Biblical examples.
The Children of Israel
One corporate example of a failed relationship is the children of Israel after the Exodus from Egypt. God had performed many miracles through Moses and Aaron and now He planned a triumphant entrance for Israel into Canaan. He was willing for the Israelites to receive the Promised Land, but the Israelites had other plans. Their moaning, whining and rebellion lead to 40 years of aimless wandering, whilst all the original adults gradually died off (excluding Caleb and Joshua). By today’s Christian standards, Moses looks like an abject failure. The constant rebellions, the rift with his wife and his siblings, and the final ignominy of an unmarked grave before the borders of the Promised Land are hardly hallmarks of a Hollywood hero.
Yet Scripture records him as the meekest of men (Numbers 12:3) and millions have revered him throughout the centuries. We read of his constant intercession on behalf of the Israelites and of how he sacrificed worldly fame and luxury for their good. We know his prayers were righteous. We know it was God’s plan for the Israelites to prosper. We know Moses did everything he could to bring reconciliation. So why the apparent disconnect?
The answer is revealed in the final plea Moses made before his death, saying, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deut 30:19).
Simply put, the Israelites exercised their right to choose and instead chose rebellion and death. It is a clear case of God saying ‘Yes’, but Man saying ‘No’.
Ahab & Jezebel
Another example of Man’s free will is the tortured relationship between Elijah, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Elijah devoted his life and ministry to “saving” Ahab and, by association, Jezebel. Instead, he was rewarded with a price on his head, exile and near starvation. Even after 3 years of prayer and fasting, the triumph on Mount Carmel resulted in Jezebel decreeing his death. He fled miserable and depressed into the wilderness. Not exactly the stuff of Facebook Memes.
Thankfully for Elijah, he managed to avoid the self-help books of his day and he allowed God to comfort him. Ultimately, his apparent failure was not because he was deficient in love or kindness, or that he was praying the ‘wrong’ thing. His eventual translation into heaven also shows that Elijah had no ‘hidden sin’ causing Ahab and Jezebel’s rebellion. Alternatively, Ahab’s confrontation with Elijah after the terrible drought reveals his wayward heart,
And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel? And he [Elijah] answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and thou has followed Baalim (1 Kings 18:17-18).
Ahab and Jezebel exercised their freedom to choose ignoring the offer of Salvation, and just said, ‘No’.
The final example can brook no opposition because it involves our LORD and Saviour Jesus Christ and the infamous Judas Iscariot. Inspiration records Christ’s frequent pleadings with Judas to repent and commit his heart wholly to God. It also charts the steady disintegration of their relationship. With mounting horror, we read the fatal consequences of this fracture and bitterly mourn that Christ’s entreaties fell on deaf ears.
We instinctively know that Christ did pray long enough, loved hard enough and gave of Himself enough. There was absolutely nothing else He could do. It is God’s will that ALL are saved, even the archetypal villain, Judas.
“The LORD is not slack concerning his promises as some men count slackness: but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9).
Peter’s betrayal and subsequent repentance reveals that there was hope for Judas after his heinous sin. Christ’s blood is sufficient for all (2 Cor. 12:9).
During his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus revealed His understanding of Man’s right to choose when he lamented,
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” (Luke 13:34).
Judas, however, declined the offers of mercy and love. He declined to humble his heart and admit his wrongs. He declined the ultimate sacrifice on his behalf. Judas chose to reject Christ and said, ‘No’.
A Lesson For Us
So, what to do then when your prayers appear to fall on deaf ears? When you have searched your heart, repented and tried to rectify your sins? When you KNOW you are praying a righteous prayer that aligns with the will of God? This is something I cannot answer, but I can offer some suggestions.
Firstly, do not despair. Draw close to Jesus and focus on your relationship with Him. Broken relationships hurt; but, our Heavenly Father promises to be a judge to the widow and a father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5).
“The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).
He can supply all your needs (Phil. 4:19). He is also omniscient and sees what is done in secret, when the eyes of the world (and church) are turned away (Mt 6:60. Allow Him to heal your heart and look forward to an eternity spent in His presence.
Secondly, accept that you can do nothing in your own strength. Most relationship advice concentrates on what we should do to ‘fix’ things, a type of salvation by works. It gives the impression that we, alone, have the power to force God or other people to change. Of course, we should confess our sins (1 Jn 1:9), pray without ceasing (1 Th. 5:17) and love our enemies(Lk 6:35); but, we are not responsible for the choices of others. Prayer allows God to constantly remind us and our loved ones of His mercy and grace and is a means of building our relationship with Him. Prayer is NOT a wishlist or a system of bartering. Remember, that God gave us a free will and just like He did not force the Israelites, Jezebel or Judas to repent, He will not force our loved ones to either.
Thirdly, do no compare yourself with other people. It is wonderful when God does a miracle and a parent is reunited with a child, or a brother with a sister; but this is often the exception and not the rule. For every testimony, there are countless other faithful Christians praying with no visible results. Our naive perception of religious failure negates the reality that God is in control and that man has a free will. These apparent failures are rarely promoted in church or Christian media, leading to the belief that God is a sort of omnipotent Santa Claus rewarding ‘nice’ children to the exclusion of the ‘naughty’ ones. Instead of comparing and despairing, we are instructed to refer to Jesus as our example and ‘wholly lean on His sweet Name’.
Finally, if we are confronted with someone who has apparently been interceding in vain; be kind. Church and Bible studies should be places of support and encouragement. Unfortunately, they are often used to tear down and condemn the saints, rather than edify them. Christians faithfully praying for healing in relationships are already hurting, and do not need well-meant allusions to a ‘lack of faith’.
It is always God’s will that none should be lost, and He earnestly desires that we may dwell together in unity (Ps. 133:1). He also knows the beginning from the end (Rev. 1:11) and can discern the thoughts of the heart; He is not arbitrary but loving and merciful (Deut. 5:10). Encourage your brother or sister in Christ and offer to pray with them and for them. “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
Always remember that sometimes God says ‘Yes’, but Man says ‘No’.
Annie Rose is a freelance writer who lives in Queensland, Australia with her husband and children. She has been active in the Seventh-day Adventist church for the past nine years.