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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Why? Making Sense of God's Will: When Prayers Go Unanswered.


Last week we began a new series Why? Making Sense of God's Will and we looked at God and Suffering. This week we look at an experience almost as common as undeserved suffering, namely the fact that sometimes our prayers go unanswered.



Many have cried with the Psalmist in today’s reading: My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. Many have clung and continue to cling to the many promises of Jesus that go along the lines of our reading from John: If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. They’ve clung to that promise, but found that what they ask has not been done. Many have prayed with Jesus: Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me but found the cup not taken away. So today, in our series Why? Making Sense of God's Will we look at When Prayers Go Unanswered.

Let’s look first at why prayers sometimes go unanswered; then what to do when prayers go unanswered; and finally we'll close with the simplest and most powerful of prayers for when we are desperate. But first a preparation for how we will end: we'll end with an invitation, perhaps with our unanswered prayers in our minds, to bless the Lord. The Hebrew root of the word translated as "bless" (barak) in the Bible originally meant more literally "to kneel," as in paying homage to a superior. So how do we bless the Lord? By kneeling ... and I'd like to suggest upfront that we allow folk at the end to bless the Lord in this way, if the Spirit so leads them. That might mean making way for them to move to an aisle, or to come forward. We undertake to not look at you as if you are crazy, but to recognise and respect that you want to worship God in that way. So, back to our subject:

Why do prayers go unanswered?

1. Our reading from Luke’s gospel gives a straight forward answer which is the first reason our prayers sometimes go unanswered: What we are asking is simply not God’s will. There is much to say on this subject which is why it is the subject for next week when our series continues with: God's Will for Your Life.

2. Often God is hearing and His answer is to call other people to action ... but they refuse to act out God's answer to your prayer, so it appears that God hasn't answered. Edmund Burke said: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Sometimes our prayers for change or for good or better things to happen, don't happen because people remain silent 
Why did slavery, apartheid, abuse of women in Westminster, etc continue? "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Why did and does evil in the church continue (eg RC indulgences which continued for years before someone called Luther eventually responded to God's call and led to the Reformation, Lutheran participation in Holocaust; abuse of power today?  "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Sometimes your prayers for justice/healing/comfort aren’t being answered because someone else doesn't respond to God when He speaks and asks us to do something.

Are you listening for God's message to you which might well be the answer to someone else's prayer?

3. Sometimes our prayers aren't answered because we don't follow the simplest Scriptural instructions. Is anyone sick, asks James in chapter 5 of his letter? Call the elders and ask them to anoint you with oil.

4. Sometimes our prayers aren't answered because we don’t remain in the Lord ... perhaps we’ve never been taught what it means, and how to, remain in the Lord. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. Perhaps we've never been properly discipled and we think that remaining in the Lord just means I must keep believing in Him. But if that's what Jesus meant, then that's what He would have said, as He in fact does on one occasion say: Believe in God and believe also in me. So, He doesn't say "If you believe in me ... ", He says "If you remain in me ..." In trying to understand this, we need to move from the "Why do prayers go unanswered" to the "What to do when our prayers go unanswered." 

What to do

1. Remain in the Lord: If your neighbor is having trouble with his car, you might think he's just having some bad luck. And you might be right. But if you found that he was adding water to his petrol now and then, you wouldn't blame the car or the manufacturer for it not running, or for running in fits and starts. You would say that the car was not built to work under the conditions imposed by the owner. And you would certainly advise him to put only the proper kind of fuel in the tank. After some repair work, perhaps the car would then run fine. When our prayers seem to go unanswered, a good place to start, is to look at what you're putting into the tank of your Spiritual life. It too is not meant to run on just anything you may give it. If it doesn’t work at all, or only in fits and starts, that is because we do feed it properly. We are perhaps misinformed about “our part” in remaining in Him. Now I spoke about this in a different context on Reformation Sunday when I said their are some specific ways of "remaining" in Him. The most common can be remembered with the letters: PSSFF ... Prayer, Scripture, Sacraments, Fellowship and Fasting. These are ways we remain in Him. Let me put it another way, the way we described earlier this year in our series on Discipleship. We saw that the goal of discipleship is to become like Jesus and we can become like Christ by doing one thing – by following him in the overall style of life He chose for himself. If we have faith in Christ, we must believe that He knew how to live. We can, through faith and grace, become like Christ by practicing the types of activities He engaged in, by arranging our whole lives around the activities He himself practiced in order to remain constantly at home in the fellowship of His Father. That was how He remained in His Father, that is how we remain in Him. Which leads to:

2. Read the Gospels and NT afresh with eyes that look for the simple instructions and you'll find several, eg Call the elders, or, ask in my name, etc.

3. Sometimes we just need to keep on praying; Luke 18:1-8.  “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?” This is called nagging prayer ... and Jesus teaches and recommends it.

4. While you keep on praying, perhaps be the answer to your or somebody else’s prayers.

5. Finally, remember what we saw last week: there is power in the name of Jesus, so call out His name.

You might want to do that right now. Perhaps you are so weak in some area and so tired of getting no answer, that you can only whisper His name ... you know what, It doesn't matter ... He hears. Perhaps you have the strength to call out His name ... or perhaps you have reason to shout out His name ... feel free to do that.

We close with Whisper His Name


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