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Posts tagged ‘Unanswered prayer’

“Your prayers are not lost”

SOURCE:  Robert Murray M’Cheyne/Tolle Lege

“God’s children, should pray. You should cry day and night unto God. God hears every one of your cries, in the busy hour of the daytime, and in the lonely watches of the night. He treasures them up from day-to-day; soon the full answer will come down: ‘He will answer speedily.’

Christ never loses one believing prayer.

The prayers of every believer, from Abel to the present day, He heaps upon the altar, from which they are continually ascending before His Father and our Father; and when the altar can hold no more, the full, the eternal answer will come down.

Do not be discouraged, dearly beloved, because God bears long with you—because He does not seem to answer your prayers.

Your prayers are not lost.

When the merchant sends his ships to distant shores, he does not expect them to come back richly laden in a single day: he has long patience.

‘It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.’ Perhaps your prayers will come back, like the ships of the merchant, all the more heavily laden with blessings, because of the delay.”

—————————————————————————–

–Robert Murray M’Cheyne, “Fourth Pastoral Letter: Edinburgh, February 20, 1839″ in Robert Murray M’Cheyne and Andrew A. Bonar, Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne (Edinburgh; London: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1894), 193-194.

How will I know God’s answer to my prayer?

Source:  Charles Stanley/In Touch Ministries

 God often answers prayer in the following ways:

1.  “Yes, you may have it.”
2.  “No, that is not good for you.”
3.  “Wait, I have something better for you.”
4. “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9).

When He answers yes, it’s easy to say, “Praise the Lord!”

But when He says otherwise, we have a hard time finding reasons to praise Him.

Sometimes we don’t take “no” for an answer, and we keep praying!  Or we look for a reason why He didn’t answer our request.  But Scripture never says God will give us exactly what we ask for every time.  He is sovereign.  He has the right to say “no” according to His infinite wisdom.  Oftentimes, it’s for our protection.

Sometimes, God wants to answer our prayer, but the timing isn’t right.  As I reflect on my life, I realize that if God had answered certain prayers according to my schedule, I would have missed His best in every single case.  He may have been waiting for me to grow spiritually in some area so that I could more fully experience the blessings He had in store (Eph. 1:3).  Again, He is sovereign, and His timing is perfect.

God also answers “My grace is sufficient.”  We may pray for years, yet our circumstances remain unchanged.  God seems unresponsive and heaven is silent.  In many cases, the problem isn’t the length, intensity, or nature of our prayers. Oftentimes, God is up to something we don’t know about, something much bigger than we were expecting.  Something that may require a different answer than the one we anticipated.

But rest assured that if God isn’t removing your particular “thorn,” His grace is sufficient.  By an act of our will, we can decide to trust that God knows what He’s doing, even when there’s no logical or rational explanation for our circumstances.  The Father is not offended when we ask, “Why?”  But He’s overjoyed when we trust Him, even though He may choose not to explain.

God always answers the prayers of His children.  As we learn to pray, we will learn to discern His methods.

Hindrances In Connecting With God: Bitterness

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Leslie Vernick

There is a huge difference between not understanding God, even complaining to him about our plight, and being bitter with him about it.

Job experienced severe loss, great physical pain, and relationship difficulties that would trigger deep depression in most of us. Job was confused, hurt, and angry, but in all of this, Job did not get bitter toward God. Job spoke honestly about his feelings, all the while hoping in God’s character (Job 13:15; Job 16:19-21; Job 19:25-27).

Although we’d be ashamed to admit it, some of us are in a relationship with God only for what he gives us.

Our bitterness exposes this truth. So does our chronic grumbling and complaining (see Exodus 16:8). When God doesn’t come through for us as we’d like or expect him to, our bitterness says, “God, you’ve failed me. You do not love me very well. You’re not giving me what I need to live my life the way I want or planned.”

This was Jonah’s response to God when God allowed the vine that sheltered him to wither. Jonah became so angry with God that he said, “I am angry enough to die” (Jonah 4:9). Through this loss, God was trying to show Jonah that their relationship was superficial and hindered by Jonah’s self-centeredness and lack of love. Jonah desired God’s favor and love for himself, but he didn’t want to show God’s compassion or love to others.

These painful experiences aren’t meant to drive us from God, but to expose our sin and our incorrect or distorted view of God. Often in our anger, we’re not honestly looking for God. We’re just looking for him to make things better for us or give us what we want. In order to remove this stumbling block, we must learn to humble ourselves, allowing God to be God and draw near to him so that he can change our heart.

If you find yourself chronically angry and bitter with God because you feel he’s gypped you out of something you need, understand you’ve fallen for the oldest lie Satan’s used.

Isn’t that what he told Eve? You need more than God already gave you?

How do we change this mindset?  God always loves us and cares for us even when we’re mad at him or involved with other loves, but we might not be noticing it or appreciating it because all we have eyes for is what we’re lacking.

Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, each morning write in your journal three to five specific things you can thank God for. At the end of the day, draw your attention to ways God has shown his love and care for you that day. Thank him. Our relationship with others grows deeper and sweeter when we appreciate them and notice the little things they do for us.

The same is true with God.

The Mystery of Unanswered Prayer

SOURCE:  Gerald Sittser/Discipleship Journal

Sooner or later we all wrestle with God’s silence.

 

Stories of unanswered prayer wear down our defenses until we can no longer dismiss them as the rare exceptions we would like them to be.

Each stabs us with pain, reminding us of personal experiences we would like to forget and raising all the old questions about God’s trustworthiness.

Each makes us wonder if it is worth our while to pray to a God who doesn’t seem to hear our prayers or, even worse, doesn’t seem to want to answer them.

Recently our interim pastor, Bob Mitchell, a former president of Young Life, preached a sermon in which he quoted from a letter he received in May 1955. The letter was written by Jim Elliot, who had recently moved to Ecuador with his young wife and baby daughter to pioneer a new missionary outreach to the Auca Indians.

The Aucas lived in a remote area and were considered hostile to outsiders. Elliot expressed gladness that “the gospel is creeping a little farther out into this big no-man’s land of Amazonia.” He also mentioned that a mutual friend and partner in ministry, Ed, had already left to make contact with the tribe. With a sense of excitement and foreboding, Jim asked Bob to pray for them, especially for Ed: “There are rumors that the same tribe is scouting around there now, so don’t forget to pray for Ed—that the Lord will keep him alive as well as make him effective in declaring the truth about Christ.”

Bob prayed for his friends’ protection and for the success of their ministry. But several months later those courageous friends—Ed, Jim, and three others—were murdered by members of the very tribe they wanted to reach.

Bob’s prayer seemed to go unanswered.

Problematic promises

I have heard similar stories, less sensational perhaps but no less wrenching.

A young Christian prays for guidance but fails to receive any sense of direction.

A mother prays for a daughter’s healing but watches helplessly as she falls prey to the ravages of cancer.

An elderly couple prays for a neighbor’s salvation but sees no results.

It would be easy to discount such stories if these praying people were the peacetime equivalent of “foxhole Christians” who turned to God only in a panic and a pinch. But many people whose prayers go unanswered are sincere, mature believers.

Jesus’ outrageous promises appear to be part of the problem. He promised that if we ask, we will receive; if we seek, we will find; if we knock, the door will be opened (Lk. 11:9). He taught that if we ask anything in His name, He will do it (Jn. 14:14). Jesus’ promises awaken an expectation that our prayers will be answered. This leads to profound disappointment when our prayers go unanswered.

Ironically, the answers to prayer we do receive exacerbate the problem.

If God never answered our prayers, then we would surely stop praying, dismissing it as futile. But we have all had enough prayers answered to know that God is real, willing to meet our needs, and eager to respond to our pleas.

Why does He answer some of our prayers but refuse to answer others? Does God judge our motives, weighing each request according to its polish and purity? Or is He capricious, like a moody monarch? Is prayer simply a vain exercise, nothing more than the haunting cry of our own voice?

Is it our fault?

I do not ask these questions as a disinterested observer. I, too, have experienced the devastation and bewilderment of unanswered prayer.

My wife, Lynda, wanted to have a big family, but she was unable to conceive. Every day I prayed that God would grant us the gift of children. My prayers were finally answered when Lynda gave birth to four healthy children in six years. She was delirious with joy and embraced the calling of motherhood with enthusiasm and confidence.

Every morning I pleaded with God to protect and bless our family. I prayed such a prayer on the morning of September 27, 1991. But something went wrong that day. A drunk driver lost control and smashed into our minivan, killing Lynda; my daughter Diana Jane; and my mother, who was visiting us for the weekend.

To this day I have been unable to understand what made that day different. What prevented my prayers from getting through to God? Did I commit some unpardonable sin? Did I fail to say the right words? Did God suddenly turn against me?

Why, I have asked myself a thousand times, did my prayer go unanswered?

I have no answer to that question.

I have pondered the traditional and biblical reasons why God does not answer prayer: willful sin (Ps. 66:18), lack of persistence (Lk. 11:5–8), selfish motives (Jas. 4:3). All of these are valid. Unanswered prayer can be our own fault, as we all know. We are well advised to search our souls when God does not answer, daring to discover if we are shamelessly disobeying Him or praying foolishly.

Yet these explanations leave me cold. Sooner or later such introspection must stop. The problem of unanswered prayer is too complex to reduce it to the simple issue of personal sin.

I spent months in torment trying to figure out why God did not answer my prayer that morning. I finally gave up in frustration and exhaustion. Perhaps I deserved what happened. Then again, maybe I didn’t.

I will never know.

But I do know that prayer is intended for the weak, not the strong; for sinners, not the perfect. Jesus did not commend the self-righteous Pharisee who used prayer as a platform to exalt himself; instead, He embraced a sinful tax collector who cried out to God for mercy (Lk. 18:9–14).

Hints and clues

So I am left asking the same question: Why unanswered prayer?

It is a mystery to me.

I find hints here and there that point to an explanation, but I cannot find a definitive answer. The Bible boldly proclaims that God is near and wants to answer our prayers; it also tells us God can seem strangely distant at times (Psalm 88:102).

What clues, then, does God’s Word provide?

First, Scripture encourages us to express our frustrations and disappointments. Nearly half the psalms express lament, some with a great deal of emotion. Jesus had one such psalm on His lips as He died: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1, Mk. 15:34). Jesus did not silence Mary and Martha when they accused Him of failing them, nor did He shame them when they wept. Instead, He welcomed their complaints and wept with them (Jn. 11:1–44). Revelation promises that at the end of history God will wipe away every tear, which implies that we will shed many tears before the end comes (Rev. 21:4).

Second, however distant God seems to be, Jesus urges us to pray with boldness and persistence. He commands us to pray like the woman who approaches an unrighteous judge to settle her case, refusing to take no for an answer (Lk. 18:1–8). Somehow persistence itself builds faith in God, increases longing for God, focuses attention on God, and purifies motives before God. It affects us more than it affects Him. God does not have to be persuaded to answer our prayers; we have to be disciplined to keep asking.

We can see the importance of persistence by observing how children function with their parents. Most of their requests fade as suddenly as they appear. In those few cases when they want something really important to them, they cannot take no for an answer, no matter how long it takes to get their way.

Third, Jesus reassures us that God wants to answer our prayers.

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?

—Lk. 11:11–12

God is our Father. He delights in giving gifts. He is not abusive, turning our requests into occasions to torture us. He overflows with bounty and generosity.

If anything, God is so gracious that He wants to give us the best gift of all. That gift is not some cheap toy that wears out after a week of hard play. God gives us the very best; He gives us what we really need (though not always what we think we need). He sends us the Holy Spirit, which is the answer to all our prayers, even the prayers we do not think to utter.

The Holy Spirit is God’s greatest gift because He enables us to live life well, though our outward circumstances would tempt us to think otherwise. The Holy Spirit transforms us from within.

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

—Lk. 11:13

Finally, Jesus charges us to view life from a redemptive perspective. There is more to life than meets the eye when God gets involved. He works things out for good. Think about how the stories of Joseph, Esther, and Jesus turned out. Could anyone have imagined that Joseph would be reconciled with his brothers, that Esther would save her people from annihilation, that Jesus—who in the eyes of His followers seemed to fail miserably as the Messiah—would save the world from sin and death? We view unanswered prayer from the perspective of our immediate experience and our limited vision. But God is doing something so great that only faith can grasp it, wait for it, and pray for it.

An unlikely answer

There is more to Bob Mitchell’s story than that one ominous letter. Years later Bob attended an international conference for evangelists. He happened to meet an old friend who introduced Bob to a South American evangelist. Bob learned that the evangelist was one of the Auca Indians who had murdered Jim Elliot and the other four missionaries. Bob suddenly realized that his prayers had been answered. The Auca Indians had become Christians.

I refuse to offer trivial answers to the problem of unanswered prayer. No easy answer will mitigate the difficult questions.

The Apostle Paul prayed three times that God would remove some “thorn in [his] flesh” that had tormented him for years (2 Cor. 12:7). God did not answer Paul’s prayer. Instead, He did something even greater. He showed Paul that His grace was sufficient for Paul’s weakness, which seems to us an odd way to answer such a prayer (vv. 8–10).

It is all a mystery to me, both wonderful and terrifying. It is a mystery that draws us ever closer to God, who, in His glory and holiness and utter beauty, is the answer to all our prayers.

“Unanswered” Prayer From A God Who ALWAYS Answers

SOURCE:  Pastor Mark Driscoll

Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” – Mark 11:23-25

If you have breath, you’ve probably said a prayer that hasn’t been answered. How do we reconcile unanswered prayers with Jesus’ words in Mark?

Unanswered prayer is an issue that challenges believers and non-believers alike and often challenges our perceptions of God’s goodness. C.S. Lewis famously observed, “Every war, every famine or plague, almost every deathbed — is the monument to a petition that was not granted.”[1]

More recently, Philip Yancey confesses to “…obsessing more about unanswered prayers than rejoicing over answered ones.”[2] And it’s not unusual to hear about medical studies showing no real correlation between prayer and physical healing.[3]

Therefore, Jesus’ statements in Mark 11:23-25 provide a difficult problem: do these verses promise that God will answer every prayer, every time?

Two polar views on prayer

In Christianity today, there are two polar views on prayer: prosperity and poverty.

On one hand you have those who preach a false gospel of prosperity, which views God as a cosmic genie who answers our every desire and whim. Want a new Porsche? Pray. Have a debilitating illness? Pray. Need a bigger house? Pray. If you have enough faith, God will grant your wishes. Underlying this belief system is a misunderstanding about faith. It’s assumed that if you don’t have your prayers answered, it’s due to a lack of faith. Jesus promises he’ll answer your prayers if you believe, the teaching goes. So, unanswered prayers must mean a lack of belief.

Unfortunately, this is simplistic, not true, and often damaging, as many people devastated by the effects of sin in this world are deceived into thinking they must work harder in order to earn God’s favor. Only then will he answer your prayers. Even worse, this teaching most often revolves around what is known as health and wealth. God’s will, it’s taught, is to make you rich and healthy. The sign of faith, thus, becomes one’s bank account and material possessions and one’s ability to avoid contracting viruses. This effectively makes anyone poor or sick not victims of sin, but rather victims of a God who doesn’t deem their faith to be substantive enough to warrant answered prayers.

Essentially, the prosperity gospel places the power of answered prayer in our hands and places limits on God’s ability to answer prayer by making him rely on our faith, which is not only unfortunate but also absolutely wrong. God is sovereign over his creation, not the other way around (Isaiah 22:44, 45:5-7; Psalm 115:3, 135:6; Daniel 4:35, Matthew 5:45, Deuteronomy 32:39).

On the other hand you have those who preach a poverty gospel, which views God as cosmic curmudgeon who doesn’t desire to give good gifts to his children. Instead of encouraging people to pray for good things, the poverty gospel teaches an aestheticism that calls for denial of material goods. Want a nice car (or even one that runs)? Sin. Give to the poor instead. Have a debilitating illness? Thank God for salvation, that is enough. Want a bigger house (or even a house at all)? Stop asking. Be glad you have a roof over your head.

Unfortunately, this is also simplistic, wrong, and often damaging, as many people experiencing the effects of sin in the world are deceived into thinking that God is happy to save us but not to enrich our lives in any way outside of spiritual sustenance.

The effects of the poverty gospel result in a people who mark their faith on how little they can get by on rather than the fullness of God’s mercy and love for his children and wrongly views those enjoying God’s blessing as lacking in faith because they don’t sell everything they have and force their children to wear hand-me downs and their spouse to use second-hand tea bags. God is our perfect Father who desires to give us good gifts and to take care of both our earthly and spiritual needs (Luke 11:13, Genesis 12:2, Exodus 23:25, Deuteronomy 7:13, Psalm 67:6).

Tota Sola Scriptura

The distortions on prayer found in both prosperity and poverty theology stem from not taking into account all that the Scriptures have to say on prayer. Those that advocate prosperity theology only take into account those verses that talk of God’s blessing. Conversely, those that advocate poverty theology only take into account those verses that speak negatively about riches and that call for sacrifice.

The answer, as is almost always the case, is a both/and, taking into account all that Scripture has to fully say, and ultimately hinges on a fully biblical view and understanding of God’s sovereignty and his will. A few key verses help us navigate the middle ground of the Scripture’s teachings on prayer.

In 1 John, the apostle teaches, “This is the confidence which have in [God], that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him (5:14-15). Elsewhere, Jesus teaches us to pray according to God’s will, asking that it be done (Matthew 6:10), and he exemplifies this in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

As Wayne Grudem reminds us, when we pray, we can first determine God’s will by reading his Word. Thus, we know that we cannot ask God to grant a prayer that is contra to his Word. For instance, if we ask for a new spouse because we’re tired our current one, we know that no matter how hard we pray, God won’t answer, as it’s asking for God to help us sin.

On other matters, we simply can’t know what God’s will is because the Scriptures don’t speak to our request.

However, there are many situations in life where we do not know what God’s will is. We may not be sure, because no promise or command of Scripture applies, whether it is God’s will that we get the job we have applied for, or win an athletic contest in which we are participating (a common prayer among children, especially), or be chosen to hold office in the church, and so on. In all these cases, we should bring to bear as much of Scripture as we understand, perhaps to give us some general principles within which our prayer can be made. But beyond this, we often must admit that we simply do not know what God’s will is. In such cases, we should ask him for deeper understanding and then pray for what seems best to us, giving reasons to the Lord why, in our present understanding of the situation, what we are praying for seems to be best. But it is always right to add, either explicitly or at least in the attitude of the heart, “Nevertheless, if I am wrong in asking this, and if this is not pleasing to you, then do as seems best in your sight,” or, more simply, “If it is your will.”[4]

This means that we can pray for the whole range of needs and wants in life without feeling guilty because we’re free to ask our Father and also free to rely on the comforting truth that he will accomplish his will. This moves prayer from what we do or don’t have to what we can always be assured of, God’s sovereignty and that he will always do what is good for us and his plans in this world (Philippians 2:12-13).

The Context of Mark 11:23-25

As Jesus taught on prayer in Mark 11:23-25, the Dead Sea was visible from the Mount of Olives. It’s easy to see where the imagery of verse 23 comes from.[5] Many of Mark’s references to “the sea” are referencing the Sea of Galilee but also occasionally reference is made to the destructive power of “the sea.”[6]  In 11:23, “Mark portrays Jesus as utilizing the generally destructive power of the sea for his own purposes.”[7]

The reference to moving mountains has parallels in the teaching of early Rabbis,[8] and as the ESV Study Bible says, “Moving a mountain was a metaphor in Jewish literature for doing what was seemingly impossible (Isa. 40:4; 49:11; 54:10; cf. Matt. 21:21–22). Those who believe in God can have confidence that he will accomplish even the impossible, according to his sovereign will.”

However, Jesus’ specific claim that faith could move mountains was without parallel. The restructuring of the natural world was meant to reveal the presence of God’s future kingdom, a thought that was emphasized by the Old Testament[9] as well as other Jewish texts.[10] Therefore, Jesus’ statement in verse 23 was meant to indicate that the day of salvation had already dawned.

Still, Jesus’ words indicate that prayer is effective. In the Old Testament, for example, God caused the sun to stand still in response to Joshua’s prayer (Joshua 10:12-14). Does God desire to answer prayer? Would a father give his child a stone instead of bread (Matthew 7:9-10)? Prayer is indeed effective so long as it is rooted in God’s will—this is why Jesus tells His disciples that “if you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14, emphasis added).

The Burden of Unanswered Prayer

Even in scripture we see the emotional burden of unanswered prayer. The psalmist laments that “I cry out by day, but you do not answer” (Psalm 22:2). Paul’s prayers that God remove the “thorn in the flesh” go unanswered (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Even Jesus’ own prayer to have the cup of God’s wrath removed was not answered (Luke 22:42). We are no better than our savior and can expect that not everything we ask will be granted by God, but just as Jesus rested in God’s will, so can we.

There may be several reasons why God chooses not to answer prayer:

First, there is simple logic: God cannot go against His own character. God cannot build a square circle. Nor can He answer a prayer to approve of sin.

Second, God’s perspective differs from our own. Some suffering is used to reveal God’s glory (cf. John 9:3). We cannot always know God’s purposes; even the very worst tragedies might later be used for God’s glory.[11]

Third, some desires are selfish (James 4:3). God’s greatest desire might not be for our job promotion or the new car. “For prayer is not a means by which God serves us. Rather, it is a means by which we serve God. Prayer is not a means by which we get our will done in heaven, but a means by which God gets His will done on earth.”[12]

Finally, Mark 11:25 seems to assume a condition to prayers of forgiveness: an unforgiving heart may result in a lack of God’s forgiveness.

Conclusion

To answer our initial question, Jesus’ statements cannot be taken to mean that God will grant every prayer for every person at every time. Prayer, therefore, has less to do with obtaining things and more to do with an ongoing life with God.

A helpful matrix I like to use when it comes to prayer is yes, no, and later. When we pray, God answers sometimes yes, sometimes no, and sometimes later—just as a father does with his own children. Sometimes the later is later in this life. Sometimes the later is in the life after this life. But God does hear and answer every prayer. We must be content with his answer and trust in his sovereignty. For example, one friend of mine was praying for years and finally was healed from an illness that plagued him. Another died and was then healed forever in the presence of Jesus after praying the same kind of prayer for many years.

At the end of the day, the real purpose of prayer is not to obtain things from God, but to relate to God. Philp Yancey writes:

Prayer has become for me much more than a shopping list of requests to present to God. It has become a realignment of everything. …In prayer, I shift my point of view away from my own selfishness. I climb above timberline and look down at the speck that is myself. I gaze at the stars and recall what role I, or any of us, play in a universe beyond comprehension. Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God’s point of view.[13]

Still, we should seek God in prayer for all things. As the writer of Hebrews says, “Draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help [us] in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). To not seek God for our needs and desires is not a mark of maturity, but the absence of it.

Jesus’ message in Mark 11 is that a relationship with God is greater than a religious system. It’s purchased by His blood. We may therefore enjoy the benefits of God’s kingdom, including access to God’s throne. When we see prayer in this light, even unanswered prayers become a part of our relationship with God.


[1] C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.  (United States: Mariner Books, 1964), p. 58.

[2] Philp Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make a Difference? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), p. 16.

[3] Benedict Carey, “Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer.” New York Times, March 31, 2006.  Appearing online at http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/health/31pray.html?pagewanted=all.  Accessed November 7, 2011.  The article sites six studies that do not seem to show correlation between patients’ healing and prayer.  This simply reflects the cultural expectation that prayer yields near-immediate results.

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), p. 383.

[5] William Lane, The Gospel According to Mark.  (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 410.

[6] Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, Narrative Space and Mythic Meaning in Mark, (New York: Harper and Row, 1986), 58-9.

[7] Ibid., p. 78.

[8] Rabbinical texts include the following statements:

T. Sol. 23:1 A demon says to Solomon: “I am able to move mountains;” b. Sanh. 24a.: “You would think he was uprooting mountains and grinding them against each other,”b. Bat. 3b: “I will uproot mountains;”

[commenting on Lev 6:13] Lev. Rab. 8:8: “[Samson] took two mountains and knocked them against one another”

Cited in Craig Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20.  (Grand Rapids: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2001), p. 189.

[9] Cf. Isaiah 40:3-5; 45:2; 49:11; cf. 54:10; Zechariah 14:4-5.

[10] Pss Sol. 11:4; Bar. 5:7.

[11] An excellent perspective on this is the well-known post on the Desiring God website entitled: “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.”  Written February 16, 2006.  Appearing online at http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/dont-waste-your-cancer.  Last accessed November 7, 2011.

[12] Norm Geisler and Thomas Howe, The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992), p. 374.

[13] Yancey, Prayer…, p.  29.

How Can I Pray In The Midst Of Pain?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal

1. “Save me, O God… I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched” (Ps. 69:1, 3).

When you are having difficulty formulating words to pray, read through the psalms and pray along with David and the other psalmists. I have found the following psalms especially helpful during times of pain and darkness: 6, 10, 13, 22, 30, 31, 40, 42, 55, 56, 69, 84, 88, 118, and 145.

2. “Pour out your hearts to him” (Ps. 62:8).

Be completely honest with God about your feelings, struggles, and pain.

3. Be assured that God’s purpose, even in times of testing, is “to do good for you in the end” (Dt. 8:16,NASB).

Surrender your suffering to God daily. Pray that His purposes would be accomplished and that He would be glorified through your suffering. Believe that He works all adversity both for His glory and our good as we accept all from His hand.

4. “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Ps. 19:7).

Ask God to guide you to specific promises in His Word that will speak to your pain and sustain you during this time.

5. “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mk. 9:24).

Confess areas in which you are doubting God and His promises. Ask for faith to believe His Word.

6. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Ro. 8:26).

When you are at a loss for words but heavy in heart, ask the Holy Spirit to pray for you in ways you are unable to pray.

7. “He always lives to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:25).

Take time to intercede for others as Jesus is doing for you.

8. “I am in pain and distress… I will praise God’s name in song” (Ps. 69:29–30).

Listen to and sing worship music that will remind you of God’s love and power, even in the midst of sadness and pain.

9. “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).

Though you may have many unanswered questions about your suffering, begin praising the Lord for what you do know: that He is good (Ps. 119:68), that He is in control (1 Chron. 29:11), and that nothing can separate you from His love (Ro. 8:38–39).

Why Won’t YOU Bless Me?

Why does God sometimes withhold the one thing we long for so desperately?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Mark Littleton

All through the Church there are Christians who live in sorrow. They’re not necessarily poor. They don’t lack health or friends or pleasure. But there is something, perhaps just one thing, that they yearn for. It’s a blessing they can never obtain by their wits, schemes, perseverance, or charm. Only God can grant it. Nevertheless, for some reason God refuses to answer yes.

Though they pray, though they ask others to pray, though they listen to tapes, read books, and even slip into manipulation and threats on occasion, nothing changes.

I think of Judy. A vivacious, kind woman. She, sings, dances, and organizes special events at church that I all enjoy. She’s attractive and interesting. She has an excellent career. But unlike many women today who live happy and productive lives singly, she wants a husband. Yet, she is approaching her late thirties and has not found a man she feels would be right for her. She’s struggled with depression, anger, frustration, and simply learning to wait. She’s even “given it over to the Lord.” It would be easy to tell her, “He’ll come along,” or “Look at it as a blessing.” But I have also known that loneliness. It’s an ache.

I think of Doug. Converted several years ago, he is zealous, exuberant, excited about Jesus. But the shrill cry of his heart is, “Lord, bring my family to Jesus. Don’t let them perish.” His father is old. His mother is embedded in religious ritual. There isn’t much time left. But God seems not even to have moved, let alone converted.

I think of others. Chuck—out of work, yet nothing opens up. Don and Mary—strong Christians, but their teenaged children reject Christ and the faith. Brenda—her alcoholic husband shows no interest in the gospel, Jesus, or even her love.

And I think of Hannah, the woman “of a sorrowful spirit” (1 Sam. 1:15, KJV). She knew well what it was to cry for God’s blessing and to watch her prayers crash to the ground in resounding no’s from Heaven.

Have you been there?

Often, you’re obsessed with that one desire. You can’t shake it. Even though you tell yourself, “What’s it matter? It’s only a little thing,” it doesn’t work. It is the only thing that matters.

Hannah’s desire for a child built in her mind over the years to a gigantic crescendo. As she aged, she became deeply depressed. While some women would have gritted their teeth and plodded on, Hannah was ready to give up. The question seemed to screech through her mind daily: Will I die never having brought a child into the world? For her, life wasn’t worth living if she couldn’t become a mother.

If your happiness is marred by a deep longing, I have good news for you: The desire for and delay of God’s blessing—of any kind—can actually launch you into a deeper and greater fellowship with Him. Why does God sometimes delay, sometimes withhold, a legitimate blessing? Hannah’s story offers us much insight into the problem.

TO DEVELOP HOLINESS

God was more concerned about making Hannah a woman of God than a mother for God. Becoming a mother isn’t difficult. It’s turning mothers into the likeness of Jesus that takes work.

Scripture teaches that God is sovereign. Paul tells us in Eph. 1:11 that He “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” He is Lord of all. Nothing that comes to pass surprises Him, catches Him off guard, or stumps Him. He planned it all from beginning to end. Nothing escapes His scrutiny and control. He’s in charge.

Applied in Hannah’s circumstances, this means that not only was God aware and concerned about her problem, but He, in His perfect wisdom, had planned it this way for His own purpose: the development of holiness in her life.

We all tend to rebel against this truth. “You mean God made her barren?” “You mean He put her through all that pain?” “You mean God is the cause of all this trouble?”

Not the cause. But yes, it was part of His plan. In order to develop character in Hannah, God orchestrated the events of her life toward that end. To bring about true godlikeness in her life, He withheld the blessing.

Look at the byproducts of Hannah’s time of trial: patience, endurance, a fervent prayer life, intimate knowledge of God, a passion for holiness. Would these things have come apart from her pain? In order to produce a Samuel, God first had to produce a Hannah.

TO TEACH US PERSISTENCE

Hannah’s experience brought out a second truth about why God delays His blessing. Wanting a blessing teaches us to persist. Hannah soon discovered there was no one who could help her but God. The doctors offered nothing. Her friends had given up. Even her own husband, who was normally so supportive, finally came to the place where he said, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (1 Sam. 1:8). Hannah found there was only One who could do anything about her problem.

Yet, although God seemed to refuse to bless, to say no to her requests, Hannah kept coming back. Verse 3 says they came “year after year.” Same prayer. Same requests. Same hope. Same answer. She didn’t give up.

In this regard, many Christians fall prey to a Satanic ploy that says, “Well, I prayed about it. God didn’t answer. So I guess it’s not His will.” And they give up. But is that what God intends?

The lack of a speedy answer to prayer is no reason for laziness in prayer. Many times we see people in Scripture pleading with God, believing they could influence His decisions. It wasn’t that they thought they could change His eternal will. They didn’t know His will! No one knows God’s eternal will until it’s history. There is never a reason to think, Whatever He wants will be. So why pray? Rather, Hannah thought, This is what I want, Lord. You said, “Ask.” So I’m asking.

As a sophomore in college in 1970 I wanted to buy a car. My father and I talked about it at length. We considered an MG, but he reminded me that I’d only be able to take one passenger to and from school. We cruised around the used car lots looking for my dream machine.

One lot featured a 1959 Dodge. “A good family car,” the salesman told us. Dad liked it. I nixed it. We looked at another MG. “Too much money,” said Dad. I said, “I can get a loan.” “From who?” he asked. I gave him a long, mournful look, then gave up.

Then one day someone called and told Dad about a lady who was selling a 1965 white Ford Mustang. “Four on the floor, 289 four barrel, less than 40,000 miles. Creampuff condition. It’s for you.” He raced me over. We checked it out, drove it around. I had to have it. We bought it, and I screeched off into the sunset.

I often think of seeking God’s blessing as like that time with my dad. It’s a process of working together. There’s give and take. There’s discussion, examination, hope, despair, a crisis, a climax. Prayer is an earnest discussion between two persons who love one another. You work out a solution to a problem that both believe is the wisest course. Had Hannah not gone through a time without blessing, she might never have learned to pray with power.

TO GIVE US GOD’S BEST

That brings us to a third principle: Lacking God’s blessing for a time may lead to far greater blessing up ahead.

God loved Hannah so much that He wouldn’t give her second best. He could have landed six kids in her lap by the age of sixteen. But He made her wait, for a reason. He wanted her to bear a Samuel. Not just some nameless kid like Peninnah’s boys. Samuel, a prophet of God. Sometimes God’s best blessing is the one preceded by the greatest pain. God loves us too much to let us get the goods too easily.

My friend Bill Scott told me about a birthday he had as a child. For years he had begged his parents for a horse. But as time wore on, he gave up on it. Shortly before his twelfth birthday, his Dad asked him what he wanted. “Blue jeans,” he said.

When he pranced downstairs on the morning of his birthday, he was ready to tug on those blue jeans. But his father simply asked him to go out to the barn. Bill asked where his present was. “You’ll get it,” Dad said. “But go out to the barn first. Make sure there’s plenty of hay.”

Bill was upset. He wanted those blue jeans. He threw such a corker, his dad finally said to his mother, “We’d better get this guy some blue jeans.” She rushed him out and bought a pair.

Dressed in his Levi finery, he was ready for the barn. He ambled out and discovered a horse in the stall by the hay, saddled and ready to go. He ran back to the house and shouted, “There’s a horse out there.” “Right,” said Dad. “It’s yours, Bill. For your birthday.” Bill was astonished. He wanted blue jeans, and his father wanted to give him a horse.

You have to think about that. We fight God all the time about such things. We want what we want when we want it! And God doesn’t want to give us what we want. He wants to give us the things we can only dream about.

What blessing are you seeking now? How long have you waited? Two years? Five? Ten? Maybe you need to ask, “What is God trying to give me that I haven’t thought about?”

In the end, Hannah’s lack of a blessing became one of God’s greatest blessings. God withheld lesser blessings to give her the greatest of all: not just a son, but holiness, intimate knowledge of God, a sweet and gentle spirit.

So what blessing are you seeking that God simply refuses to give?

Perhaps the real question is, what do you see God doing in your life now that proves it’s worth the wait?

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