by John R. Rice
Dear Christian, I am probing in your heart and life trying to help you find the reasons for unanswered prayer. What sin of yours hinders your prayers and shuts out the blessing God would give you?
Self-will is another horrible sin which means that God cannot have His way in your life and cannot give you His best. I recall the case of Saul, the first king of Israel, who was commanded to go out and utterly destroy the Amalekites. God said to him, “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass”! (I Sam. 15:3). If that seems to you a hard command, then I remind you that you do not hate sin as God does. This wicked, idolatrous nation had long deserved extermination. God’s long-poured-out mercies had been rejected. If any of the nation were left alive, they would be a temptation and snare to Israel. Even their property should be destroyed as an awful reminder to Israel of how God hated sin and was certain to punish it.
But Saul came back leading King Agag, alive, behind his chariot and with a great number of sheep and oxen as a spoil, which he said he intended to offer as sacrifices to God. But, oh, how the wrath of God mounted up against Saul for his disobedience! Hear what God said to him through Samuel.
“And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king” (I Sam. 15:22,23).
Immediately thereafter Saul pled with Samuel to go worship with him. Saul admitted his sin. He even laid hold upon the skirt of Samuel’s mantle, as Samuel turned indignantly away, and rent the mantle. Despite all Saul’s professed repentance, God rejected him as king. David was anointed to take his place, and Saul went steadily downhill until his suicidal death in disgrace, with his sons, who but for Saul’s self-will might have reigned after him.
How moving is the story of how Saul tried to pray, but because of his self-will, his disobedience, God would not hear! God said to him, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” God does not want our money nor our work nor our promise one half as much as He wants our hearts surrendered to the will of God, and an obedient surrendered spirit. The Lord said through Samuel, “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” Rebellion, stubbornness, self-will in dealing with God is certain to block the answer to our prayers and shut up Heaven against us!
If there is a single matter, then, about which God has a controversy with you, I beg you, dear Christian, surrender your will at once, repent of your wicked rebellion, your self-will, your insistent disobedience. It is more important to hearken to God, to obey from the heart, than to give money, to sing, to pray, to preach, or toil. It is a sad, sad fact that many active church people, some, no doubt, really born again, live at a far, guilty distance from the conscious presence of God and do not know the constant joy of answered prayer.
God called one man to preach; and he said, “Lord, I have no money to go to school. I must take care of my family. Lord, I’m too ignorant. But I will be a Sunday-school superintendent.” But God would not use him as a Sunday-school superintendent. god did not want work for its own sake; he wanted obedience.
A young friend of mine felt clearly led of God to preach the Gospel. He had been only to the eighth grade in school, was now married, and felt his ignorance, his limitations, his poverty. It was a long fight of unbelief that God could use him, of rebellion against the long years of preparation, of holding on to the career and money-making he had planned. But at last when he had surrendered tearfully to the full will of God, this young preacher told me, “Brother Rice, if I do not preach, I can’t even live like a Christian!” He meant that God would not give him happiness, would not answer his prayers if he did not surrender to the full will of God.
A daughter was bitter over the death of her beloved mother. She complained and mourned and querulously asked, “Why? Why?” She felt that God had not been fair to her mother, had brought unnecessary suffering to herself; and there was rebellion in her heart against God. But the Bible lost its sweetness; the day-by-day conscious presence and fellowship with the Holy Spirit left her. God did not seem to hear her prayers, and doubts of every kind beset her. She could not find any peace until she confessed her sin to God and said, “Thy will be done,” about her mother’s death.
Beloved Christian, there is no way you can please God, no way you can have the sweet communion with Him to get your prayers answered if you are in rebellion against the known will of God.
Has God turned His face away from you as He did from Saul, refusing to hear your prayers or bless you because of a stubborn self-will that rebels against God’s play for you? Oh, then I beg you, surrender today your poor will to God’s good will. Trust Him! His will for you is wiser and sweeter and richer far, and happier than any way you could plan! And no matter what other trouble or grief or loss might come, in His will you may always have the consciousness of His approving presence with the Holy Spirit ungrieved, manifesting Himself to you, and with the daily knowledge that your prayers are heard!
by John R. Rice