Spiritual Gifts: An Implication for Unanswered Prayer
by John Piper
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).
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 small groups (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.
Seeking all his fullness with you,