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“I tried praying once but nothing happened.”

“I prayed really hard that mom would be healed and she died. What’s the use?”

“I really needed that job but he wouldn’t give it to me. I doubt he really exists anyway.”

You can add yours to the list. We are a hurting people and when you are hurting, and God seems silent, well…that’s about the worst feeling a person can get.

Unanswered prayers are one of the most difficult of all topics because the pain is real. It’s hard to understand a God that seemingly builds your hopes up and then smashes them to the ground.

Oh, sometimes we can look back and see the reasons. Sometimes we come to a point of understanding. But not always.

There are tons of unanswered prayers in the Bible by some pretty Godly men. Joseph, Moses, Abraham, David…to name a few. My favorite is Job. That guy really got nailed and God never did explain it to him!

So what made them go on? What pushed them through the silence and darkness? I think it was the realization that a bad day with God was better than the best day without him. I haven’t gained all understanding on this yet, but it seems God is more concerned about our faith in him than he is our earthly comfort. That’s not to say he is against earthly comfort of course. He offers plenty. But his main focus is on trusting him and seeing the world through his eyes. The closer we get to God, the more his desires become our own and the wiser our prayers become.

Prayers that match his desires are more likely to be answered.

“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Matthew 21:22

There are certain things in the Christian’s life that I have to admit I struggle with. Perhaps the biggest one is prayer. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the power of prayer. I’ve seen miracles that can only be explained by the working of God’s hand. I’ve seen lives changed. I’ve seen demons flee. I’ve seen people get up and walk when medical science told us they’d never walk again. Prayer works. Jesus’ words are not void. 

On the other hand, I’ve seen parents weep over the casket of a child because their prayers ‘weren’t answered’. I’ve seen the innocent accused wrongly because a judge decided to use his own ‘wisdom’ rather than look at the evidence ‘objectively’. I’ve watched spouses walk away from families while the church prayed things would be different. Prayers offered up to heaven seem to fall harmlessly to the ground leaving lives and bodies strewn in their path. Does that mean I don’t believe in prayer? NO. As I stated earlier, prayer works. I’ve seen far too many personal examples of God’s working to believe otherwise. I believe the Bible to be God’s Holy Word, without error unashamedly. I believe in and take advantage of the promise we have in Hebrews and elsewhere that we can come with confidence before the throne of God to receive mercy and grace in our time of need. I believe our God is sovereign, all-powerful, loving and merciful. I believe my faith is a package deal. You can’t pick and choose which parts of ‘God’ you will believe and which you will not. It’s all or nothing. He believes in you when you fail, all he asks is that you believe in him when he disappoints.

So here are my thoughts on the hard aspects of prayer thus far in the journey. It’s not an inclusive list, I didn’t find them on some tablets buried in the ground. They came from my heart.

When you struggle to believe in prayer, remember that prayer you can believe in means:

  • Your Heavenly Father won’t give you something that’s harmful to you. All of us are like 2 year-old children. We want the things we see in life with little regard for the consequences they bring to us. We see for today, not tomorrow. Why else does lust, addiction and spending beyond our means hold such an allure. Jesus promises us that if we pray for bread, God won’t give us a rock. The opposite is also true. If we pray for a rock to eat, God won’t give it to us. He loves us too much to give us something that will hurt us. Having said that, remember he also will never force you to take the best choice. He loves you too much for that too.
  • Your Heavenly Father wont keep you from going through something that you need to go through in order  grow stronger. None of us like pain. Sometimes we’ll choose painful things because we think that pain will be less than the pain before us, but we never choose pain as the best route.  However, strength never comes without adversity. Walking never comes without falling; good health never comes from willing it to as we over-eat and under-exercise; learning faith never comes without an element of doubt leading to trust. A loving Father knows what it’s going to take to make you strong and he won’t give up on you until he has you strong enough to face what lay ahead.
  • Your Heavenly Father won’t thwart his eternal purpose by keeping you from going through something you need to go through in order to help others on their journey. Your Father’s ultimate desire is to bring all of his children into relationship with him. The only way that will happen is through Jesus Christ. When Jesus left planet earth he left behind a charge to each of us, a challenge to go, to disciple, to reach out to those caught in the web of sin and despair. The most effective ambassadors are those who’ve struggled themselves. Because of his great love for you and others; because of his eternal goal of passionately desiring to spend eternity with your neighbors, he may allow you to go through things so you can more show more passion and more understanding to those who need Jesus.
  • Your Heavenly Father won’t answer a prayer that is contrary to his holiness. This may be the hardest of all for us to endure and understand. He is a holy God. He is a perfect God. Sin can not stand in his presence. Because of this, when sin in in our lives he needs to cleanse us. Not for his sake but for ours. Unconfessed sin keeps us from the passionate relationship he so earnestly desires. We may endure the consequences of our actions, not because he hates us, but because he wants to cleanse us.

 That’s the short list. There are no easy answers. There are times we’ll never understand his actions. There are times we won’t even know how to pray. Circumstances may change our view of God, but they will never change God’s love for us.

 PRAYER: Father I confess to you that I don’t understand your actions in my life. I thank you and praise you that in spite of my limited view and my weakness you still love me. I worship you for the fact that I can approach your throne even when I question your actions. Thank you for the grace to go on. Amen.

And after you suffer for a short time, God, who gives all grace, will make everything right. He will make you strong and support you and keep you from falling. He called you to share in his glory in Christ, a glory that will continue forever. 1 Peter 5:10 (NCV)

I was at a conference on church leadership a few months back. The keynote speaker had just recently published a new book. In his presentation he told us about some of the struggles that he’d had between his college years and the present.

Then, he and his wife were living in a one room apartment in which they shared the kitchen and bathroom with their landlord. The basement ‘apartment’ smelled bad, they continually battled mold and rodents. It was cold and damp in the winter and cold and damp in the summer.

Now, he’s speaking around the world to executives of some of the most profitable companies in the world. While I have no idea what his financial situation is now, I’m quite sure he’s better off now than in the apartment days. At the end of his presentation he directed the over 200 of us to his table where there were several piles of books. He told us how much the book was and then made a statement that went something like this, “There’s a basket there by the books for the cost of the book. There are order forms in case you’d rather order it later. But if you don’t have the money today, take the book. If you can pay me later, thank you. If you can’t, I remember the ‘apartment days’ and how hard it was to make ends meet. Take the book as a gift from me to you. God Bless!”

With those closing words he left the stage. He’d given a wealth of good information in his presentation, but to me at least, the most powerful words he spoke were at the end because those were the words of grace.

Too many times in our lives we ask ‘Why?’ We do good things with a sincere heart. We pray earnestly and humbly for God to change relationships, improve our business, or heal the disease in a loved one. When he doesn’t respond as we hope we get angry, bitter, and resentful. “What good does it do to serve him when he does this stuff to me?” we say either to others, or inside ourselves.

Think for a moment of the words in 1 Peter 5:10. The “God who gives ALL grace…” Not just some grace. Not limited grace. Not conditional grace. Conditional grace isn’t grace at all because grace by its very nature is unconditional. Peter, the man who denied Jesus knew better than most. God’s grace is given so we might endure. Grace is ours so we can be strengthened, encouraged, lifted up and one day, rewarded. For now, our trials make us stronger so that we may make others stronger in their journey.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus. Even though the trials I’m going through are difficult, I thank you for them because I trust you enough to know that these trials will make me stronger so I can strengthen my brother. Forgive me for my grumbling, my worry and my complaining for they are signs of a lack of trust. Empower me to live for you. Amen.

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. James 5:16

A young mom sits alone in the waiting room, waiting for the doctor’s report. Her husband is 1,000’s of miles away. She’s alone. She’s scared. She’s worried for her baby. She earnestly pleads to her Lord Jesus for healing. Moments later the doctor enters. The look on his face tells her the answer. She breaks down in tears as he gently explains the baby’s last moments of life on earth.

A dad tucks in his young children. He looks at the clock. “Where is she tonight? Why hasn’t she called? She promised this wouldn’t happen again. How can she do this to her kids, to me?” He goes to the living room and kneels by the couch and prays, once again, for her. Her unfaithfulness to him hurts, but her unfaithfulness to the kids and to Jesus hurts even more. Earnestly he prays for her safety and for her deliverance. Hours later she comes home drunk, and it’s obvious she’s been in another man’s arms, again.

Pastor Smith listens for the clock to chime. Late again. He wonders where she is. Doubt and worry lead to anger. “Why God? Why can I see you work so strongly in the lives of those in the church and not her? Why do the prayers of her mother and me for our own daughter go unanswered? What has caused her to make these choices that are so radically different from her brother and sisters?” His prayer is interrupted by a door bell. A squad car sits in the driveway. Not again.

It’s been a brutal fight. She’s come to realize why some parents steal their kids to protect them from an angry abusive spouse. All the signs have pointed to her request for her kids to spend less time with their dad have been positive. She has her church praying, her family praying. She’s prayed for his change of heart as well. Then the judge reads the verdict. Her heart melts as the tells the kids the verdict and holds them through terror filled sobs.

Although these stories are fictitious they happen every day. Good people praying earnestly for loved ones. Righteous, faith-filled, Jesus loving moms and dads, pastors, teachers and auto mechanics. Every walk of life. Every denomination. Every country in the world. Praying to a God they trust and believe in for answers that never happen. Where are the wonderful results? Where is their loving Father when they need him most?

Some, to be sure, look at these things as being the final straw. Some turn from him, or blame themselves, or act out in anger. But the person of faith accepts God at his word. Were their words prayers of faith? Yes. Were they asking selfishly? Not from a human perspective anyway. Faith isn’t about believing God answers prayer. Faith is about trusting and accepting God’s answer when it goes against every thing we’d hoped for.

PRAYER: Father God, my prayer today is for my brothers and sisters. For those of us who struggle with our faith from time to time because our prayers aren’t answered as we’d hoped. Help us to trust your answers as best when they seem to be the worst. We know you are a God of hope. We love you. We trust you. Help us grow in that trust. Amen.

Yes, everyone who asks will receive. Everyone who searches will find. And everyone who knocks will have the door opened. Matthew 7:8 (NCV)

Do you remember when you were a little child as Christmas approached? Maybe your parents brought you to the local mall to ‘meet Santa’. The beamed proudly as you sat on some strange man’s lap and told him all the things you wanted for Christmas. Do you remember the disappointment when there was no pony under the tree? When you didn’t get the ball glove you told Santa about? By the way (side trip!), did you ever wonder why, if Santa knew when you were sleeping, when you were awake, and how well you behaved, he had to ask what you wanted for Christmas? 

There’s a tendency in our human nature to think of God in the same way we grew up thinking about Santa Claus. He gives good gift if we are nice and bad gifts, or no gifts, if we are bad. Two things for you to remember. Santa Claus isn’t real (sorry for the disappointment so close to Christmas) and, secondly, God isn’t Santa Claus.

When Jesus talks about our relationship with the Heavenly Father he talks about commitment and endurance. Your Heavenly Father is committed to you. Period. In our world that’s hard to really comprehend. Sadly, fathers in our society are portrayed as bumbling idiots more intent on watching football than building relationships. Many of us men have lived up to that image.

I’ll say it again. Your Heavenly Father is like no other father you have ever known. You are his one priority. You are his pride and joy. Nothing else matters. So, when you are struggling with life ask. Not just once. Your Father is committed to you. Be committed to him. Don’t just ask once and forget about it. Persistent prayer, committed conversation with your Father helps you to see his feelings as well as evaluate your own.

Secondly, seek. Not occasional glances. Not hurried requests. To seek means you look deeply at every possible solution to find what how God wants to bless you.  It’s too easy to pray once and figure if we don’t get what we want, God doesn’t care. Fact of the matter is, you may be asking him for a stone when he really wants to give you bread. You may be longing for a snake without realizing it when all the while he wants to give you a fish.

Unanswered prayer is really God’s way of telling us he has something better in mind. Grace teaches us to realize he will never let us down. Faith says we’ll trust his wisdom over our desires. It takes time. It takes commitment. It takes trust. God has all the time in the world. He’s totally committed to your well-being. All he asks is for your persistent trust.

PRAYER: Father, when I pray it’s so easy to be lured into the trap of thinking you are a vending machine god that gives according to what I put into our relationship. Help me to have the wisdom to seek your direction and the courage to follow it. Amen.

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April 2023
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