Note: Here is a great devotional thought from John Piper (below with my own thoughts added) about Spiritual gifts and the implications on unanswered prayers. I have thought about this for a long time over the years, especially after everything we experienced before, during, and after Caleb’s accident. I’ve come to the conclusion that our beliefs in the Churches of Christ, when it comes to cessationism (the belief that God doesn’t work miraculously today–that He only did such things in biblical times), really limit the potential power of God in our lives. Who knows the many untold times God has desired to answer our prayers, but they were left unanswered because we rejected the means through which God desired to answer them.
“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” – Acts 2:17
First, let’s just remind ourselves of some truths about spiritual gifts from 1 Corinthians 12. Then we will notice a simple implication for unanswered prayer.
1. God wants us to know about spiritual gifts.
“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed” (1 Corinthians 12:1).
2. Objective truths about Jesus govern subjective spiritual experiences.
“No one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).
3. Different Christians have different spiritual powers given to them by the Holy Spirit.
“There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4).
4. For example, these different spiritual powers include the following:
“Wisdom . . . knowledge . . . faith . . . healing . . . miracles . . . prophecy . . . ability to distinguish between spirits . . . tongues . . . interpretation of tongues”(1 Corinthians 12:8–10).
5. The Spirit of God is sovereign over when and to whom he gives such powers.
“All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11).
6. The aim of all the gifts is the common good of the church.
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”(1 Corinthians 12:7).
7. The variety of gifts is like the variety of our body parts, such as eye and ear, hand and foot.
“For the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Corinthians 12:14).
8. Therefore, if a spiritual power is not used, it’s like the human body not hearing.
“If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing?(1 Corinthians 12:17).
9. Therefore, we should avail ourselves of the spiritual powers God gives us through others.
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Corinthians 12:21).
Now consider the implications of this for unanswered prayer. There is more than one reason why we may pray for things and yet not receive them. Reasons may include 1) because we don’t trust God (James 1:6); 2) because the answer would not glorify Christ and sanctify us as much as something else (2 Corinthians 12:8–10); 3) because the answer is coming later than we think (Joseph waited 13 years before he saw the reason for his afflictions, Genesis 37–50).
But here is a reason we may not think of very often. God may intend to give us the blessing we long for not directly in answer to prayer, but indirectly in answer to prayer—through the spiritual gifting of another believer. And the reason we don’t receive the blessing is that we don’t avail ourselves of the power God intends to channel through the gifts of his people.
For example, the gifts Paul mentions include wisdom and healings and miracles. This implies that God intends that sometimes wisdom and healing and other sorts of miracles come into our lives through other believers ministering to us. If this were not true, there would be no point in spiritual gifts. They are one way God brings about the “common good” of the church.
If we pray and pray for some change we want to see, but we never consider seeking the ministry of a fellow believer, we are like the eye that says to the hand, “I have no need of you” (1 Corinthians 12:21).
So in your [church or] small group, (which is the most natural place for such ministry to happen), seek the fullness of God’s “good” (1 Corinthians 12:7), and minister to each other—and seek to be ministered to—in this way. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good (I Thessalonians 5:19-21). Be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues (I Corinthians 14:39). In fact, everyone in the church is given permission to prophesy as long as they take turns doing it so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged (I Corinthians 14:31). And when it comes to tongue-speaking, two–or at the most three–should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret (I Corinthians 14:27).
On this same note I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the Ephesians when he told them: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Similarly he said to the Corinthians, “ God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues” (I Corinthians 12:28).
Where are all such leaders today? We all see teachers. But where are the apostles? Prophets? Those who work miracles? Where are those who speak in tongues? Do our prayers lack a certain quality, a certain power, due to our denial of such modern-day “miracles?” Are we missing out on the answers to some of our prayers because theologically we live in direct opposition of I Thessalonians 5:19-21 and quench the Spirit and treat prophesies with contempt?
Perhaps we would do well to remember the warning of Paul in I Thessalonians 4:8 where he said: “Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.”
What do you think? Feel free to write your thoughts or questions below.