By Nigel Johnston
Chief Executive Officer, Compass Christian Centre
One of the questions I often get asked nowadays is “Does God really answer prayer?” It is a very genuine question that unfortunately is rarely brought up within church circles and not often taught. So, in line with my title, I am going to briefly look at this topic and hopefully answer this question in doing so.
A good starting point is to visit what is commonly called the ‘mid-week’ meeting, or the Prayer Meeting. Too often over many generations, this has been the least well attended meeting within the life of the church. But I wonder if we had a deeper understanding of what prayer is and witnessed the evidence that God still answers prayer in the most incredible ways, would we view our prayer life or that of the church differently? Would we be queuing up to get in because we see how vital and real prayer actually is?
Let’s go back in time for a moment to the early centuries of the church. Two problem areas that the early church fathers had to contend with were 1) legalism or traditionalism and 2) Gnosticism. We find much of Paul’s letters battled against the attacks of traditional Jewish beliefs with all their legalistic ‘do’s & don’ts. But the General Letters of the New Testament often battled with a belief of what was to become known as Gnosticism. This was a prominent heretical movement which grew to its heights mainly within the 2nd century. Partly of pre-Christian origin its doctrine taught that the world was created by and ruled by a lesser divinity and that Christ was merely an emissary of a remote supreme being who enabled the redemption of the human spirit.
But what has this got to do with our topic of prayer? Well, it’s this – Gnosticism gradually crept into the thinking of the early church and became a very prominent problem, and to some extent, part of this belief system, I believe, has crept back into the thinking of many believers today. How come? The clue is in their belief of a ‘remote supreme being’, a being who is called God but is out there somewhere and does not have much interaction with the human spirit. You can pray to him, but don’t really expect much in return.
I wonder if we are honest with ourselves is our thinking in there somewhere regarding the whole topic of prayer. When we do pray are we may be like those from Acts 12 who prayed for Peter’s release, yet it shows how they prayed in ‘glorious unbelief ‘when they wouldn’t believe the servant girl that Peter was at their door.
Let me share a bit about my own faith journey with God and how He has had to shake me and stir me to bring me into line with His word and the reality of Him answering prayer.
Growing up in Belfast, it would be quite true to say that most people went to church, whether it be to the Catholic chapel or the many Protestant denominational forms of church. I learned all the Bible stories and have to say I loved them, but I simply cannot remember ever being taught about the depths of prayer or spiritual expectations of what God can do through His people.
In fact, looking back it seemed that those who I was taught by held to a belief that the mighty works of God were for the past and not particularly relevant today. I became a Christian understanding that I was a sinner, but my salvation experience wasn’t complete along with my understanding of God.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote an incredible insightful book entitled ‘Spiritual Depression’ where he takes the reader through the whole experience of salvation (well worth a read for all Christians). For me, it took God to step in to teach me and take me through His word as well as come under the influence of some Godly individuals.
The question I had to ask myself was – Do I believe the Bible is in fact God’s word? If it is, then am I seeing today the leading of God’s Spirit and the working out of answered prayer in miraculous and supernatural ways? You see, in my experience, all that I was used to of church could be explained away, but the ministry of Jesus and so much that took place within the early church was unexplainable to man. This understanding was what would shape my life.
After my wife Robyn and I finished studying Theology, we worked for some time in mission to the British Military and then within the local church. I had a growing love of teaching God’s word and was called to do so within various churches around Northern Ireland and into the south. It seemed to me that the path of teaching was the way that was opening up for me. I was witnessing lives being powerfully touched by God including healings and others being set free from years of bondage. I felt so privileged to be used in such ways.
In 2010 we moved into a beautiful home with large gardens, and we wanted this home to be used for God’s purposes. But God had other plans, for within one year He made it clear to us that He was taking us to Scotland to head up the work of Compass in Glenshee. It was hard to understand why He was uprooting us from everything we were involved with. I remember standing in the garden questioning Him about what He was asking of us and He spoke to me so clearly, “It was Me who got you into this home, far beyond what you would have ever expected. Where I am taking you remember what I did for you here for I will do so much more for you there. The battles you will fight are My battles and I will deliver you”. So, we packed up and left everything we knew behind and set off for Glenshee. And the battles began – physical and spiritual!
Looking Back The Last Twelve Years
Since we came to this work, I can testify that God has answered many many prayers. He has miraculously provided for us and the work in ways that just didn’t make human sense. We have seen Him win strong spiritual battles and overcome problems that seemed to us insurmountable. I praise God that I have prayed with individuals and seen them wonderfully healed in ways that have left medical consultants scratching their heads in confusion. We have seen young people set free from fear and anxiety and we keep praying that He would keep using us in such wonderful ways. You see, there is one thing that God keeps asking of His people throughout the whole of scripture and it is one word – ‘OBEY’. He still says to us all today,
So, Is There Anybody Out There?
There sure is and He is the most wonderful God if we could only obey Him and fully trust His word and pray without ceasing. He asked me one morning if I was putting Him first in all I was doing with Compass – to my shame I realised I wasn’t and I had to repent of that. I wonder if you made a list of present life priorities from 1 to 10, where would Jesus come on that list? How much of your life do you put before Him? You might even find He doesn’t even make the top 10.
Why not stop and put things right, get into His word more and ask Him to give you more faith to believe what He can do through you. Can we dare to believe what Jesus said to His disciples can happen through us today? – John 14:12
and verse 15,
Do we love Him enough to obey Him and commit ourselves to a deeper prayer life for His glory. Let Psalm 48:8 be your testimony to others –
Header photo by Daniel Leman on Unsplash
Article published April 2023