Let’s begin part 1 of 2 by looking at what the Lord Jesus told Paul about how prayer works today in the dispensation of grace:
26 “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
27 “Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
28 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:26-28).
For those of us in the dispensation of grace, God never promises that He will give us everything that we ask. You can abundantly prove this by simply reading through the letters written by the Apostle Paul. He wrote thirteen letters, from Romans to Philemon, and we never read a prayer promise like “Whatever you ask,” or “ask what you desire.” Instead we read that “We do not know what to pray for as we ought”(Rom. 8:26).
God has promised to “work all things together for good” in our lives, but He hasn’t revealed HOW He is going to do that. He has promised it, and we take that by faith and believe that He is working all things—even the “tragedies” of life—together for good for us; but we often don’t see it. But as Paul wrote, “We walk by faith and not by seeing.”
Since we don’t know how God is going to work all things for good, we don’t know exactly how to pray. How could God promise us that He will answer all our prayers, if He tells us up front that we don’t even know what to pray for?
Paul’s letters contain many testimonies of unanswered prayers. He knew how to pray in the dispensation of grace, and did not become discouraged his prayers remained unanswered. He believed that his Father in heaven had everything under control and was working all things together for his good. Furthermore, he gives us a great testimony of unanswered prayer in 2 Corinthians 12:
7 “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
8 “Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
9 “And He said to me, `My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10 “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
We see in verse 7 that God allowed Paul to suffer with this “thorn in the flesh,” some physical suffering that came from Satan. And even though Paul pleaded repeatedly for the Lord to remove the problem, it was allowed to serve a good purpose in Paul’s life. We know this because of the Lord’s reply to the prayers. He did not say, “Whatever you ask you’ll receive, if you have faith!” No! Not at all. The Lord told Paul that His grace would be enough and that His power will bring spiritual strength in weakness.
It is common to want the Lord to just fix the problems. He wants to show the sufficiency of His grace, and the magnificence of His power working in our lives so that we can bear the fruit of an overcoming life that gives Him glory.
Paul’s entire outlook suffering changed as a result of this prayer experience. He goes on to say that he learned to take “pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
We must learn from the bible that it is not God’s will to take away all of our problems or to fix all of our weaknesses. Instead, it is God’s will that in all the circumstances, He will give us all the grace and strength that we’ll need to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”, “who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil 3:14,21).