Tough Questions - Real Answers: Why Didn't God Answer My Prayer
Tough Questions – Real Answers
Why Didn’t God Answer My Prayer?
April 29, 2007
A pastor named David Asch often went to the library to study. On a recent trip he saw a car with a bumper sticker was parked in the first space, so it was unmistakable – you saw it the moment you pulled into the parking lot. It confronted you as you walked to the parking lot from the library.
The bumper sticker read, in large, loud letters, “Nothing fails like prayer.” Nothing fails like prayer.
Now, it is one thing not to believe in prayer, or to think those of us who do pray are misguided or even foolish. But to go to such lengths to ridicule and discourage prayer is something else altogether.
You have to wonder, what happened to this person? What prayer didn’t get answered the way they wanted it to and caused this crisis of faith? What had happened to cause them to conclude that God didn’t care about them?
Before we can answer this question about prayer we must first understand the nature of prayer. It is so much more than a heavenly 800 number or the secret language of a magic lantern in which a genie lives who will give you three wishes. It’s much more than simply a method of getting whatever we think we need or want at the moment.
Before you can understand why God didn’t answer your prayer you must first explore the nature of your relationship with Him.
Marriage is a Metaphor for the Christian’s Covenant with God
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.”
One of the metaphors that is used to describe our bond with God is the idea of a marriage. Here in Revelation John speaks of the church as the bride who is wedded to the Lamb of God in a forever covenant.
Now, a covenant is a contract between too parties. It is characterized by four distinctive elements.
Every Covenant has Four Distinctive Elements
An AGREEMENT is reached
VOWS are exchanged
A SYMBOL is given
A PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENT is made
A covenant which includes four distinct characteristics:
There is an agreement between the parties of the covenant. In marriage it is to share a life and to build a home. In our covenant it is to share a life and to build an eternal home.
There are promised that are made with witnesses who will attest to the making of the covenant. In marriage we say vows, promising to be faithful until death. In our covenant with God we accept his promise of salvation through Jesus and commit ourselves to him as our Lord in life.
There is a sign which seals the covenant. In marriage it is a ring. In our covenant with God it is our baptism in water in which we picture our death, our burial, and our resurrection with Him.
There is a public acknowledgement which proclaims to the world that a covenant has been made. In marriage we have a license at the county court house. In our covenant with God we share the Lord’s supper in which we remember what Jesus did for us, renew our covenant with God and proclaim our faith in him.
This establishes the covenant we have with God. But everyone knows that this is the easy part. It’s easy to get married. It’s a lot tougher to be married.
These four distinct characteristics create the relationship – but living out day after day is the real key to any relationship – whether it involves your marriage to your spouse or your covenant with God through Jesus.
Relationships are hard work and sometimes confusing. We fail occasionally – or often to understand what the other person wants, needs, desires, and hopes for. The answer? Good communication involving not only the passing on of information but the sharing of feelings, hopes, fears, dreams, and desires.
Prayer is the conversation in our relationship with God. Prayer is the communion and communication in our relationship with God. Think of it as the glue that holds us together with him.
Sometimes we talk to God and it certainly seems as if he is not there – that he is not listening and he doesn’t even hear our prayers let alone answer them.
But there are some reasons. They are simple and significant. Let’s look at the different possible reasons that God didn’t answer your prayer.
The first is pretty harsh.
Are You Offending God?
17 “…Is it a trivial matter for the house of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here? Must they also fill the land with violence and continually provoke me to anger? Look at them putting the branch to their nose!
This is from a preacher in the OT named Ezekial. He is speaking to the people of Israel after the destruction of their country due to their idolatry and their rejection of God.
This rejection was evidenced in every part of their family life, their business ethics, their culture and it had even spread into the temple itself.
The had become more and more focused on themselves and less and less devoted to God and his ways. They had become more and more Godless and had gotten to the point that they were blatant in their disregard of God – so much so that they were deliberately offensive to God!
Look at the phrase, “They put the branch to their nose.” This was originally to My nose (appai, being changed to appam). The earliest and most primitive text was toned down the awful extent of Judah’s sin. The original harsh words of Ezekial were softened and made politically correct!
What Ezekial was saying was that the “branch” of the Asherah were being set up in the temple grounds. The Asherah was part of the worship connected to Baal, a Canaanite God. Trees were planted in groves and then shaped or cut into poles to represent Baal. What exactly they looked like we don’t know but it’s clear that when this was done on the temple grounds that they putting the stench of idolatry right there.
This was his temple and the branch of the Asherah tree had been put right under the nose of Jehovah God. The stuck their sin of idolatry right in his face.
Sin is offensive to God. But to blatantly and continuously thumb your nose at God is really offensive to God.
The sin that God will not abide is not the sin itself but the blatant, in your face, continued rejection of his presence and his ways.
Look at what it does to the relationship. Marriage is not destroyed by the offence itself but by the hardened heart that refuses to love.
I need to ask you some very important questions. If God is not hearing your prayers is it possible that you have turned from him? Have you hardened your heart against God?
Let me ask this question – Have you given your love, your worship, your time, your treasure, your talents to someone other than to God himself and then expect him to come running when you offer up a prayer asking for a better job or relief from the pain in your back?
Look at the next verse.
18 Therefore I will deal with them in anger; I will not look on them with pity or spare them. Although they shout in my ears, I will not listen to them.”
Frankly, it is the blatant rejection of God’s love that really ticks God off. So much that he can’t and won’t hear the prayers of that person… not that they sincerely pray at all anyway!
When there is anger in a relationship because of the sin of one party against the other the result is a total and complete breakdown of “hearing”.
If you are in a marriage that is marred with continual anger and hostility you can rest assured that there is an injury involved and that the pain of that injury has been vented toward you.
When marriages go harsh and anger replaces intimacy it is often because someone has not been loving the one who is angry. It is just that simple.
The only way to bleed off that anger is to humbly seek forgiveness and to change your ways. That’s true in marriage and it is true with God.
The difference is that in marriage we have no guarantee that the relationship can be restored while with God we have the assurance that he will forgive us. Don’t abuse that assurance by continuing to be blatantly offensive to God!
Repent! Change your ways! Put him first in your life. What does that mean? If you love him I think you can figure that out!
But this is the extreme example. Let’s look at another problem. This one is for the men. Guys Listen up…
Are You Thoughtful about How You Treat Your Wife?
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
1 Peter 3:7
Now, I know what you are thinking, guys.
What does this have to do with God not hearing my prayers?
The idea here is really very simple – and significant. The way you treat your wife reveals a lot about your character.
When Peter speaks of the “weaker” partner here the word actually used is not partner but a jar, pottery, or a dish. In other words recognize that your wife is made differently than you. Physically, you’ll find that she is not as strong as you are and part of your role as a good husband is to love her, to cherish her and to protect her.
How we treat our wives reveals the character of our souls and sometimes fellows that revelation is a bit embarrassing. Part of that love is in loving her – her way. With my wife, loving her means treating others well. She doesn’t go for flowers and jewelry (Thank you, Jesus!) but she does want me to treat others patiently and with kindness. Unfortunately, I can be very dismissive and harsh with people at times. I know that’s hard to believe… but it’s true!
There are times I can offend my wife and not treat her thoughtfully by how I treat others…
This past week my wife and I went to a restaurant and enjoyed a meal together. During our time there I got a little irritated at the level of noise in the place – especially one particular loud woman who was reading the menu out loud – in its entirety!
Have you ever read a menu aloud? I mean really? Do people talk like that in real life? I don’t think so. Listen…
Grilled Italian Chicken Caesar Salad
Hail, Caesar! A generous portion of grilled Italian chicken tops this classic mix of romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese, garlic croutons and Caesar dressing.
Shrimp ‘N Parmesan Sirloin
The best of both worlds - land and sea! Our 9 oz. House Sirloin is crowned with grilled garlic shrimp, rich Italian cheeses and herbs. Served with garlic mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus and toasted side bread.
Viva Italia! Lightly breaded chicken breast topped with marinara sauce and a layer of mozzarella, provolone, and Parmesan cheeses. Served with pasta marinara and toasted side bread.
This lady read pages of these descriptions out loud in a rather grating voice – it went on for a long time 10-15 minutes! Eventually I turned around to offer up a glare and express my irritation but what I saw was an older woman reading to her blind and apparently hard of hearing husband…
What I displayed was not irritation – but a lack of compassion and caring. At the least I should have investigated before I allowed myself to be annoyed.
I should have cared about this couple and their time together having a nice meal out and enjoying their moment together instead of worrying about myself and my momentary situation.
God did not put me here for me. We’re made for one another. We’re designed for love and for relationship. It’s not about me – it’s about God and others.
God wants us to share the love that he has given to us with the others in our world and listen that extends first to your partner in life.
How easily we treat our spouses as if they don’t matter. How easily we take them for granted and ignore their needs.
Listen, this is offensive to God… Just as my wife is offended when I am dismissive of others, God is offended when we are dismissive of our wives – to the point that Peter says that it hinders our prayers.
Let’s look at another problem that can cause a disconnect with our relationship with God.
Do You Really Trust God?
6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord…”
In a marriage the presence of suspicion is an acid that eats through the fabric of the relationship. Instead of trust that bonds two people together there is fear.
It is the fear of being hurt that pushes us away from one another. You see, to avoid the pain we push away so we can’t get hurt.
If you tell someone to touch a live electrical wire they’ll get a jolt that will leave their fingers throbbing for hours.
Now give them another wire and tell them that it might or might not be live and see how they handle it.
If they pick it up at all they’ll treat it like it as robin’s egg in a springtime nest.
When there is trust in a relationship we walk with confidence and act with assurance. But when we have failed to be trustworthy our guilt betrays us.
Do you remember the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? After they ate an apple from the tree of knowledge they covered themselves with fig leaves and hid in the bushes. Their guilt betrayed them.
Our doubt, our fear, our lack of trust in God is betrayed in our prayers to him.
When we say “if” it is your will it is not the “if” that communicates to God our desire to have what is best according to his plan but it is the “if” of doubt that he can do anything, or it is the “if” that wonders whether He even cares.
And what are you praying for anyway? Do you pray for wisdom? Or do you pray for stuff!
John puts it this way:
Do You Really Trust God?
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”
1 John 5:14-15
Do you really trust him or do you think that your way is the best way and if God knows what’s good for him he’ll give you what you want. And if he doesn’t you’ll fling your self to the floor and throw and 911 tantrum!
Are you committed to God or are you the double-minded man or woman who comes to God – just in case nothing else works out?
Listen, you and I need to learn to trust that God has our best interests in his heart.
Ruth Bell Graham, the wife of Billy Graham once said, “If God answered every prayer of mine, I would have married the wrong man seven times!”
God does not want you to come to him only partially but wholly and completely. And when you come to him he really wants you to come to him with trust asking for the things that will be most helpful to you – not stuff!
Now there is one last problem that can cause a breakdown in our relationship with God that we must discuss.
Do You Really Love God?
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
Many husbands and wives were married not for love but for convenience.
Some men marry some women because they are looking for a mother who will wash their laundry, cook their food, and feed their kids.
Some women marry a man because they are looking for a father, or to get out of their house or because then need someone to rescue, take care of or fix.
This isn’t love – it’s manipulation of another to get the affirmation and significance from them that you seek.
It’s self-love not selfless love.
A good marriage has at its core a selfless base. We want what is best for that person regardless of the cost.
So what of your relationship with God? What do you pray for? Why do you pray the prayers you pray? Do you pray for your own benefit or do you pray for the sake of the kingdom of God.
The Lord’s prayer is often called the model prayer because it teaches us how we should pray…
Our father, which art in heaven. Hallowed by thy name…
It begins with acknowledgement of the relationship we have with God, His position in the universe, and His place in our life.
So many people speak to God in such a way that it is obvious that they are using God, manipulating God to get what they want.
God please give me this and give me that.
In my ministry at St. Joseph, MI there was a lady who asked me to pray that she would win the lottery and then she tried to bribe me with a promise that if she won she’d give the money needed to pave the parking lot.
In my ministry at the Lake Superior Christian Church in Marquette, MI a young AF captain told me that she didn’t give an offering to God in church because they thought God wanted her to give to buy things for herself and then asked me to pray for God’s blessing on her.
I was so surprised by the audacity of her request that I just stood there with my mouth flapping in a kind of silent imitation of a fish sucking water until she turned and walked away from me.
Gabe and his snacks… Chloe… I love you even without the snacks. Now, I think she was being a bit of a brownie but it makes the point!
When you pray – what is your motive? Is you motive love for God and his ways or are you trying to bribe God to get what you want? It does makes a difference.
I’ve been asking you questions all morning. Let me change the pace and make a declarative statement.
God Loves You and Wants You to Have An Abundant Life – Now and Forever
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
In fact he can and will give us far more than we ask for. All we need to do is to be his. It is that simple and that significant.
It comes down to three simple statements.
I BELIEVE HE CAN.
I BELIEVE HE WILL.
AND EVEN IF HE DOESN’T, I BELIEVE.
Do you believe? Have you given Jesus your life? Invitation to prayer and salvation.