Focus - Focused Faith in a Blurred World
Why don’t you always answer our prayers?
Announce Katie Wolford
How many of you watched the National Championship Game between Duke and Butler last Monday Night? I confess to you that I did not watch all of it. It suddenly dawned on me that the game was on and so I start watching with about seven minutes left. Wasn’t that an amazing game? As in allot of games it came down to the very last second. Let’s watch the final 3.6 seconds one more time. (Gordon Hayward Desperation 3[i])
Now here’s what I was expecting! I first thought the ball was going to go in. But what I was expecting was Jim Nantz to say something like… “Will Gordon Hayward’s prayer be answered? NO! I’m curious? Is there such a thing as unanswered prayer? Have you ever prayed a prayer that you thought just clanged off the back of the rim? Richard Mouw, in Philip Yancey’s book, Prayer, tells a story about a tourist who observes a devout Jewish man praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The Jew rocks back in forth with closed eyes, beating his chest, sometimes raising his hands. When he finishes, the tourist asks, “What do you pray for?” The Jew responds, “I pray for righteousness. I pray for the health of my family. I pray for peace in the world, especially in Jerusalem.” The tourist asks, “Are these prayers effective?” And the Jew responds, “It’s like talking to a wall.”[ii] Is that a fit description of most people’s prayer life? When I talk to God I don’t seem to get through. I find that when my prayers are dry or lifeless – it has more to do with me than with God! Last week we began a new series called Focus - Focused faith in a blurred world. We surveyed the teenagers of this church asking them their questions about God. Last week the question was, “Jesus, what was it like to die?” This morning the question is “Why don’t you always answer our prayers?” Well, my first response to that question is whose to say that he doesn’t? Jesus taught us that there’s usually a question behind the question. Maybe the better question to ask is “Why don’t you always answer our prayers the way I want?”
The truth is – God does answer prayer. Elijah prayed over a dead child and the kid came back to life. Elijah prayed that it would not rain and it did not rain for 3½ years. Joshua prayed and the son stood still. Hannah prayed for a child and God gave her six – her first being Samuel the prophet. Daniel prayed and God shut the mouths of hungry lions. Jesus prayed over Lazarus and Lazarus came back to life.[iii] The truth is God does answer prayer. And sometimes his answer is YES. Turn in your Bibles today to 2 Kings 20! Who needs a Bible today? Does anyone here like history? I like history and the Bible is full of history – actually the events of the Bible make history. Let me show you. Find verse 1 in 2 Kings 20. (In those days Hezekiah) Hezekiah was the 13th king of Judah.[iv] You can put this in ink – the date here is 701 BC. Historical records confirm that in 701 BC the Assyrians will invade Judah, but fail to conquer the city. The reason they fail is because of King Hezekiah’s trust in God. But before the Assyrians invade – the King faces a huge personal problem. Go back to verse 1. What do you do in the face of bad news? Nobody likes bad news. Do you reach for a bottle? Pop some pills? Do you clam up? Become fearful? Do you call up a friend? Look at what Hezekiah does? (Vs 2) Hezekiah prayed. Now what did he pray? Man, that’s a good prayer. Hezekiah does a wonderful thing here. He gives us one reason why God answers YES sometimes and NO other times. The Bible makes it clear there are conditions for our prayers to be effective. This condition is called “walking with God or abiding in Christ.” This is what Jesus said in John 15:7: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.” The question is – are we abiding? Is there any fellowship? Gene Barron said, “If our prayers are to be effective… We must be living in Him, and His words must be living in us.”[v] God’s word says I do not have to be a slave to an angry, bitter heart. If you come here on Sunday and put on a smile only to wear a frown when you get home – don’t expect God to say yes to you very often. As a matter of fact if you have unconfessed sin lurking in your heart the Psalmist tells us in Psalm 66:18 that God won’t even listen to your prayers! But God did listen to Hezekiah’s prayer. Go back to verse 4. (Read 4-7) God gives Hezekiah 15 more years. 15 more years to do what? Party? To travel around the world collecting rare species of butterflies? To figure out global warming? NO – to serve God’s purposes!
Did any of you see the movie Bruce Almighty staring Jim Carrey? Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, a TV news anchor wanna be and a typical complainer of life. God is tired of his constant complaining so he gives Bruce his power. Remember folks, this is a movie. One part that I especially liked was when people started praying to God – to Bruce. He kept hearing all these voices crying out to him – after all, he’s God. Carey can’t handle the “noise” anymore so he makes all prayers come to him in the form of email. After he receives millions of requests he decides to say YES to all the prayer requests – only to find that YES sometimes (depending on the circumstances) is the worse possible answer you can receive. Let’s go back to our question. Why doesn’t God answer our prayers? He does and sometimes the answer is NO! Turn now to Luke 22:39. Nearly 725 years have passed. Jesus is about to die on the cross. Jesus finds himself doing again what he did quite often – praying! (Read 39-42a)
Jesus makes a request of God, his father. “Dad, please take this cup from me.” Cup in the Old testament often referred to God’s wrath. “Dad, spare me from your wrath!” Isn’t that request reasonable? “I don’t want to die. I especially do not want to suffer before I die!” And God’s answer to his son’s request was NO! Oh I despised hearing NO as a child. And I’m not too crazy about hearing NO as an adult. Jesus made a prayer request to his father. We send up prayer requests to God all the time. “God, I want a bigger house, a better car, and a nicer husband. God. I’m overweight – just make the pounds fall right off me.” Sometimes are prayers are self serving, materialistic and immature and GOD says NO! Claudia Minden Weisz put in this way, “I asked God to take away my pride and he said NO! He said it’s not for him to take way but for me to give up! I asked God to give me patience and he said NO! He said patience is a byproduct of perseverance. I asked God to make me happy and he said NO. God blesses, but happiness is up to me.”[vi] Sometimes it’s obvious why God says no. Other times are prayers are genuinely sincere, but God still says NO! WHY? Go back to Luke 22:42. If you want your prayers to be effective always pray according to God’s will! I forget that sometimes. I forget that God’s will is better than my way. I forget that God created the day for him, not for me. You see that’s what prayer does for me/ for us – prayer reminds us that God is the Creator and we’re his creation. God knows everything and we know very little. He’s all powerful and in comparison we’re not even the least bit powerful.
Grab your newsletter for me and locate a little note called Pray for Faith! Faith Pruden is a little eight (actually she’s six and will turn seven on July 27th ) year girl living in Westerville. She has cancer. (Faith was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer on February 19. Her oncologist has given her 6 months to live.[vii] Faith does not know her timeline, but she is aware that her body is sick.) A fund raiser has been organized for Faith and her family this Thursday, April 15 from 5:00 to 9:00P.M at Rita's located at 520 S. State Street in Westerville. All proceeds will be used to help defray medical expenses. To find out more about Faith go to http://www.faithswishlist.com/about Now how many of you will pray for this little girl? I figured you would. My only other question is how will you pray – what will you ask God to do on behalf of this 6 year old girl? You could pray – “Dog gone it God – heal this little girl. I demand that you heal her. She’s just six. This isn’t right! I know what she’ll be like at 13, 16 and 21. God, I know what’s best so do what I say!” I DON’T RECOMMEND THAT! That kind of praying is about as good as you rubbing a genie’s lamp and demanding three wishes. God is not a genie here to do our bidding! Here’s a better more effective prayer. “God, I bring Faith to you right now. I pray God that you would do the miraculous in her brain. The doctors say that there is no hope but your word says that you are actually our hope. God, please allow Faith to live longer in this world, but may your will be done!” And why do we want God’s will for Faith’s life or your life or my life? There’s no better way to really live! I’m reading a little book right now called FOCUS! I’m reading the spiritual growth survey results of 80,000 people from 376 churches.[viii] One question really caught my eye. What do people want and need from the Senior Pastor? The survey said – you want a great sermon. More than anything else you want a moving message. You want to hear God’s word. You want me to make you laugh. Did you hear about the chiropractor who was seeking a new name for his practice and decided to sponsor a contest and asked his patients to enter. One name worth mentioning but did not win was, “The Twist and Shout.” What you want from me is a great sermon, but what you need from me is to be spiritually challenged. I am to challenge you each week on what it means to become more like Jesus and do you know what Jesus did – Jesus prayed! What do you need to pray about today? Come pray for Faith Pruden! Come pray for those four missing miners.
[ii] Philip Yancey, Prayer, 116
[iii] Gene Barron, Invited into His Presence, 158-159
[iv] Rose Publishing, Bible & History Timelines, 700BC
[v] Gene Barron, Invited into His Presence, 45
[vi] Gene Barron, Invited into His Presence, 167
[viii] Greg L. Hawkins, FOCUS, 11, 51