Unanswered Prayer

March 19, 2017

God Answers Prayer, But Not
Always
Prayer
helps us feel closer to God, more connected to the church and extremely guilty
if it is perceived that we don’t do it enough or correctly.  And this is one of the verses that is often
claimed as a promise for praying Christians: 
James 5:16 The earnest
prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful
results.   And no matter what translation you read it in it is just as
powerful, the King James Version says James 5:16 The effectual
fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
While
the New International Version reads:  James 5:16 The prayer of a righteous man
is powerful and effective.
And
it is my opinion that this is the one
of the most encouraging verses for praying Christ followers and in the same
breath one of the most discouraging verses for praying Christ followers. 
Encouraging because it truly is a great
promise, listen to it again: James 5:16 The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and
produces wonderful results.  If you are a righteous person and if you pray
earnestly your prayers will have great power and produce wonderful
results.  And we have all heard
incredible testimonies about the answer to prayers, people healed, love found,
employment gained, children saved, football games won. Obviously, those who prayed were righteous people who prayed earnestly.
But what about when people aren’t
healed?  When love is lost, a job can’t
be found, children continue to wander and the football game is lost?  What then? 
What does that say about the person who prayed?  Are they not as righteous? Are their prayers
not as earnest because the results are not wonderful and not powerful?
This scripture came to mind a couple of weeks
ago in a matter of answered prayer, and because I’m older than dirt I
remembered it in the King James James 5:16 The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.  And
as I thought about it and celebrated it I realized that James didn’t finish the
thought, what he should have written was James 5:16 The effectual
fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, but not always.
Now before you get out your torches and
pitchforks in an effort to run me out of town you need to recognize two
things.  The first is “You can’t” and the
second is that I’m right.  Because no
matter who you are, no matter how righteous you might be, no matter has
fervently you might pray, not all of your prayers have been answered.  And if you were feeling particularly honest
then you would admit that you don’t always understand why not and sometimes you
get a little cranky about it.
If we are truthful, there have probably been times that you felt
like David when he wrote in Psalm 22:1-2 My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away
when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.
And if the truth be known you don’t need a
sermon on how to pray, you’ve got that figured out.  You might not feel comfortable praying when
other people are around or praying out loud or in in public but you have no
problem praying then you know how to pray, it’s just talking to God, even if it’s
as simple as “Dear lord I pray his radar wasn’t turned on, or help my baby get
better, or let me win the lottery.”
But prayer shouldn’t be a shopping list, it
should be a conversation between hearts. 
A conversation between your heart and God’s heart.
And we know why we pray, we pray
when we feel helpless and when we can’t do it ourselves.  So we know the why and the how of
prayer.  Sure we might need to be
reminded that prayer is supposed to be an ongoing conversation with God and not
simply a shopping list of things we want, that it should include some thank-yous
along with the pleases.    Because we’ve
been quoting Meister Eckhart a lot lately he
once said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your
entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
But for the most part we all know how to
pray.    Maybe we don’t do it enough but
most of us do it, even if it’s a prayer like 
Jacob
Astley’s 
“O Lord! thou knowest how busy I must be this day: if I forget thee, do
not thou forget me.”
So here is the question, why aren’t some
prayers answered?  Good question, so I
Googled it and got a whole bunch of reasons. 
Here are some of those reasons:

1. You are out of fellowship with
God.
2. You aren’t trying to please God
3. You have Unconfessed Sin in
your Life
4. You’re praying with Improper
Motives
5. You don’t know how to pray
6. You have a lack of faith
7. You quit too soon.

And well those are undoubtedly reasons;
I don’t think it’s super productive to tell people “The reason that your
prayers aren’t being answered is “you”.
“You” have no faith, or “You”
have the wrong faith or “You’re” just plain sinful.”  “Well thank you very much.” 
But without getting personal
there are some reasons for unanswered prayer and some things we need to
understand about prayer and about limits that God places on prayer.  Now I know that we like to think that the
power of prayer is unlimited, and in theory it is. But remember “In theory
there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.”
But for all practical purposes
there are limits on prayer that are imposed by God himself.
And there are things we need to
understand
We Need to Understand that God
Has a Plan. 
At this point we could say that prayer is limited by God’s will,
but we all have different ideas of what God’s will is, so let’s stick with understanding
that God has a plan for this world.
God’s design for this world is
that we would accept him as our Saviour and so when we die we will live with
Him for all eternity.  From time to time
I hear people talk about healing and occasionally they will say that God wants
everyone to be healthy and within certain limits I still believe that.  
However, the bible does say in Hebrews 9:27 And just as it is destined that each person dies only
once and after that comes judgment.   People do not live forever, that’s a plain and
simple fact of life, and because of that we shouldn’t be surprised when prayers for healing are not always
answered.
In 35 years of ministry I have
discovered 2 things.  The first is that
everybody dies.  The second is that in
most cases everybody dies too soon (Give
Examples)
I believe in the power of God to
heal, and I know that God does heal people, but I also know that not everyone
is healed.  And people die, Jesus died
and was raised to life again.  Our hope is a resurrection hope, that’s God’s
plan for the world and our prayers are limited by God’s plan.  That doesn’t mean that you don’t pray for
healing, but pray knowing that God is in control. 
I love the quote from John Wimber, one of the founders of the Vineyard Church, who
said “When we prayed for no one, no one was
healed.  Now we pray for lots of people
and some people are healed.”
When I was younger I thought that
when you prayed for healing and added “If it’s your will” that it was just a
cop out, that by adding that disclaimer you could always fall back on the “Well
I guess it just wasn’t God’s will.”  But
as I gotten older and perhaps wiser, depending on who you talk to, I’ve come to
understand that ultimately God knows what he’s doing, even if we don’t
understand it or agree with it.  And I’ll
talk about that later.

We Need to
Understand that God Designed the World
A pastor came into his church one day and noticed a boy at the
front praying, he went over to comfort the child and when the boy was done the
pastor asked him, “I know you were praying but why did you keep repeating Calgary,
Calgary, Calgary?” To which the boy responded, “I just finished my Canadian geography
test and I was praying that God would make Calgary the capital of Alberta.”  Probably not going to happen. 
There have been times that I’ve prayed for 48
hour days and unlimited energy so that I could accomplish all I wanted to
do.  But the sun still set at the usual
time and I still needed my rest.  Step
off a building you will get hurt, because gravity isn’t just a good idea, it’s
the law. 
God created this world with certain laws in
effect. We need our rest, and we need the universe to be a stable place to
live.  Design and order are necessary.  I know that in the book of
Joshua, Joshua prayed and God made the sun stand still but when we pray for
such things we must know that we’re praying for a miracle.  And a miracle
doesn’t require God to violate a “natural law” so much as it requires God to
violate the consistency of the universe.  
Psalm
104:19
You made
the moon to mark the seasons and the sun that knows when to set.
Prayers for God to move outside of those
boundaries affect the very course of nature.
We should not be surprised when our prayers
for miracles sometimes go unanswered.  
We Need to Understand the Primacy of Free
Will 
Who remembers the movie “Bruce Almighty”?    If you didn’t watch it you probably still
know the premise.  Bruce Nolan, played by
Jim Carrey, is a reporter in Buffalo New York who is constantly gripping about
how God treats him, so God, played by Morgan Freeman gives him his power,
temporarily,  to see what it is like to
be God.
Here is the scene where the rules are
explained:  (Clip from Bruce Almighty)  You got that right?  Don’t mess with free will. 
God didn’t violate your free will to force
you to become a Christian and he won’t violate the free well of others to force
them to become a Christian.  Nor will God
force people to give up alcohol or drugs or a destructive lifestyle. 
The greatest gift that he ever gave us was
the freedom to make choices for ourselves and he isn’t going to take that gift
away from someone else simply because you pray for it, no matter how noble your
motives are.  We should not be surprised
when some of our prayers for others go unanswered.  
Now if you’ve ever asked me to pray for the
salvation of a loved one, I will pray for their wisdom, I will pray that God’s
brings people into their path who will share a positive witness, I will pray
that you become a better example of Christ’s love and that you will have the
courage to share Christ with your loved one, but I will not pray that God will
make them a Christian.
Nor will I pray that God will make them stop
drinking, or smoking or cheating. 
We Need to Understand That We Are Not the
Only One Praying
How should
God decide whose prayers to answer. 
During the Super Bowl I wonder how many Falcon
fans were praying as compared to the number of Patriot fans? Do we presume that
more New England fans prayed than Atlanta fans? 
And they have a lot more mega churches in Atlanta, there’s a Wesleyan
Church in Atlanta whose Sunday morning attendance is great then the Sunday
Morning Attendance of every Wesleyan Church in Canada combined.  So And there are more mega churches in
Atlanta than there is in all of New England, so what does that say about their
the prayer lives? 
Probably the great example of this is
weather.  How many people pray for
specific weather requests?  We are
probably all guilty of that, aren’t we? 
Lord let it be a nice day for my wedding, let it be a nice day for the
picnic, let it rain for the crops and snow for the skiers.
What would happen if God granted everyone’s
weather requests?   Can you imagine it?  I mean the weather would
have to be different about every hundred feet!  It would have to be rainy
in this field and it would have to be sunny out behind this house.  It
would have to be twenty-eight degrees down Main Street and there would have to
be a ten-foot pile of snow in every child’s back yard!  It would be
ridiculous!  
And we shouldn’t be surprised that isn’t how
things work!  The Bible tells us that God is concerned about us as
individual people but it also tells us that God is concerned about nations and
groups of people and on some level that means God has to be concerned about all
of us together.   
If you remember in Bruce Almighty, Bruce gets
so overwhelmed with all the prayer requests that he answers everyone’s prayers
with a collective yes and everyone wins the lottery, they each get $17.00.  But that wasn’t what they were all praying for.

And some of those prayers are selfish.  If you are praying that you will get that
great job you are praying that someone else won’t.  If you are praying that someone you know gets
into surgery sooner because of a cancellation what are your prayers saying
about the person who had to cancel?  And
where will they go in the line-up.  And
what are we praying when we are asking for an organ donation for someone.
We Need to Understand That God is Probably
Smarter Than Us
Outside of
the limits that are on prayer we also need to realize that God created the
universe and most of us have a hard time putting our kids toys together at
Christmas. This would lead me to believe that God is smarter than we are.  Often prayers aren’t answered because it
wouldn’t be in our best interest.  Just
for a minute ask yourself what would happen if every prayer you had ever prayed
had been answered.  Who would you be
married to, what would you be doing for a career, where would you be living.
Sometime we just have to believe that God
knows best.  Maybe
St. Teresa of Avila had it right when she said There
are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.  Which is very similar to the words
written by Garth of Oklahoma who said “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers,  Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man
upstairs That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”
Have you ever made a purchase or decision
that you regretted soon afterwards?  You
know, buy a computer or phone and the upgrade comes out the next week.   Start
dating Mr. Right and then meet Mr. Right 2.0. 
Jump at a job opportunity and the company folds a month later.  Order the burger and then see the nachos at
the table next to yours. 
Sometimes God is waiting for even greater
things for you, more than you can imagine right now.
What
should we do when our prayers aren’t answered?

That wasn’t all that helpful, was it?  Learning why our prayers might not be
answered.  So what do we do when the sick
friend or loved one doesn’t seem to be getting any better, and the wayward
child still hasn’t come back to God. 
Does the fact that there are limits on our prayers mean that we should
just give up?  By no means.  Here are a few suggestions.
1.  Be Patient
First of all and maybe most importantly, be
patient.  Many of the things that we pray for we expect to happen
overnight. “Lord teach me to be patient” we pray one evening and expect to
have the patience of Job by daybreak! Be patient!  Just because it didn’t happen today doesn’t
mean it isn’t going to happen tomorrow, or next week or in a year.  A request delayed is not a request denied.
2.  Trust God
     Be patient but also trust
God’s wisdom.  Every child knows that there are times when parents say
“no” and that there are demands that parents don’t fulfill.  When it looks
like a prayer isn’t being answered don’t get your knickers in a knot!  God
hasn’t fallen off His throne.  The angels sent to guard you didn’t take a
wrong turn on the trans-Canada and wind up in going to Florida for the winter.
Whatever is happening for whatever reason God knows. Trust His wisdom and
goodness.  I always go back to a story I
heard years ago.  Two women were talking
and one say “Maybe God will be good and will heal your little boy.”  To which the second responded and said “God
will be good whether he heals my little boy or not.” 
Can we trust the wisdom of God even when it
runs contrary to what we think should happen?
3.  Ask Why or Why Not 
If a prayer isn’t being answered and God
knows why and what’s happening then we should also ask for some insight.
 We’re often told “don’t question God.”  True, it isn’t healthy to
doubt God’s intentions, but often I hear this kind of thing said of situations
when we should ask God.  If God knows then we might stand to learn
something if we ask.
What if we stopped and asked, “God why didn’t
I get that job?”  or “God why don’t I
have a relationship right now?”  
Think about a child who begs continually to
eat sweets. What would happen if they asked why? Think of what they might learn
about nutrition and discipline and about always getting what we want!
 Think of how much more they could know than that “mean old mom won’t let
me have what I want.”  
It’s the same way with God.  When we don’t
get what we ask for it’s a good idea to ask for more information.   And as parents you know that sometimes the
answer is “Because I say so.”  And
sometimes God’s answer is very simply “Because I say so.”
4.  Keep Praying  
     Perhaps the best thing we
can do when a prayer goes unanswered is to continue praying. Keep praying!
 But remember prayer isn’t just asking. 
It’s a conversation.  Sometimes we
see God as a giant vending machine, you put in a prayer, pull out a healing,
stick in a prayer pull out a solution. 
Have you ever had someone in your life that
every time you see them they ask for something? 
Gets a little annoying doesn’t it. 
Sometimes prayer is just talking to God, telling him about your day and
thanking him for all he’s done for you.
It’s easy to get discouraged when a prayer
hasn’t been answered. It gets hard to keep praying when we don’t see direct
results, but we ought to keep praying because the Bible and our experience both
tells us that God answers prayers.  Every time we pray there is the real
possibility that God will do something about our request.
Be patient! Trust God’s wisdom and goodness!
 Ask Why!  Keep Praying!

And as Jesus said John 13:7 Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but
someday you will.”

And Jesus still reminds us of
that promise 2000 years later.