Today I will be skipping forward and looking at unanswered prayer, I had intended to talk about this later in the week, but I believe God gave me a bit of a nudge this morning!
Over the last couple of weeks, through the wonders of Zoom I have been able to join a group from Eastwood Baptist Church as they journey through the Prayer course (one of the 24/7 prayer resources) this has been led by my friend Jo, who is a Minister in training. As part of the course we watch a video, today the subject was unanswered prayer.
We were not even 15 minutes into the session when I heard something that stopped me in my tracks:
Jesus lived/lives with unanswered prayer!
This was not something that had ever really occurred to me. We all know that in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed for God to take away what was going to happen, then prayed those amazing words, yet not my will, but yours be done. So technically Jesus didn’t get what He asked for, yet His prayer was indeed answered as God’s will was done.
The prayer of Jesus that really stands out to me as unanswered is in John 17:20-23
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one. Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, that they may be one as we are one -I in them and you in me-so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me”
Wow what a massive, amazing prayer, for everyone to be united and together as one in Christ. We see glimmers of this in the world and we all have our part to play, however the truth is that over 2000 years later that prayer has not been answered fully YET!
How do we feel when our prayers do not seem to be answered? Have you been praying for something and the answer seems to be no, or maybe worse still all you can hear is silence?
There can be many reasons why our prayers don’t seem to be answered. Like our own lives, the Bible is full of unanswered prayers, just look at the Psalms, how they cry out in anger, hurt and frustration and even question God, I guess that we have all had times in our own faith journeys where we too feel that way?
The Prayer course says that there are 3 possible reasons for prayers to go unanswered
World– What we are asking for goes against the natural way the world was created to function. Could you imagine if every couple who married got the sunny day they prayed for? We would be living in drought, also that would mean the farmer who is praying for rain would not have his prayer answered!
War-We know through reading our Bible’s that there is a spiritual war going on. We see Jesus being tempted by the devil in the dessert. Something that many of us wrestle with is how the God who is love allows suffering, we only need to look at the book of Job to realise that what we are seeing/feeling can often be much bigger than we can understand.
Will-Sometimes we just have to accept that God knows best, think back to Jesus as he prayed in Gethsemane, yet not my will, but yours be done. Jesus knew and understood that the Father had a bigger, better plan than He could imagine or understand. How many times have you prayed for something and it seemed to go unanswered, then a while later looked back and realised why it wasn’t answered?
We must be mindful to remember that God’s silence does not equal His absence, in the great commission Jesus says “Behold I am with you always, to the end of the age”
In Deuteronomy we are told “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you or forsake you”
I am sure you can think of many more scriptures that assures and reminds us of Gods steadfastness and His love.
So what can we do when our prayers seem to be unanswered?
I am sure many of you have heard that sometimes Gods answer to prayer can be like traffic lights, Green is yes and it is all systems go, Amber is wait up not yet, but soon, and Red is a no.
There is a stretch of road on Broadmayne by the town centre, there are a few junctions that are controlled by lots of lights. Sometimes it might help for us to think of our prayers like that stretch of road, when our light is Red and we are stuck, somebody else has a Green light and can go. When the lights are Amber, it gives us time to pause and see what is going on, maybe notice the pedestrians (My family, particularly enjoy looking specifically to see what the firefighters are doing, as they always seem to be busy) or even take a little break as we may be weary from the journey and when the light is Green, say thank you and carry on with the journey. What a mess it would be if everyone had a green light at the same time!
Thinking specifically about different people being at different lights, this could inspire us to ask others to pray for and with us, and for us to do the same for them. This may be a way to help us to try and understand prayer, but we must be mindful that one of the great mysteries of God is that He is just too big and awesome for us to understand. These ideas are simply there to help us, try and make sense of things as we journey through our life of faith together.
Some of you will know that running used to be quite a big part of my life, at that time I used to take part in events. One event took almost a year to train for. I ran 4 times a week during that year, various distances, and speeds. In addition to the running I made sure I ate well, had good shoes, I rested and made sure my sleep was right. It was not only me that lived this life but my whole family adapted as they supported me during that time. On the event day I achieved my goal, however the triumph was not on that day, but in all the work that led up to it. Perhaps this could also be the case with our prayer, I am led to think about the persistent widow, some things can’t and wont happen overnight, we have to put the work in. Likewise, our God is a good and awesome God, so sometimes things may happen overnight, we just don’t know until we ask!
We need to be mindful of our listening as well as our asking. Have you ever experienced a toddler who really, really wants something? They could win a prize for persistence, they have single track thinking and make a LOT of noise to make sure everyone knows what they want. Now the persistence in that situation is amazing (frustratingly so, if you are on the receiving end) however there is often a problem. Toddlers get so caught up in asking for the thing they want, that they inadvertently switch their ears off and stop listening. The child who is screaming for a chocolate bar in that shop, will not hear you when you say if they wait for the next shop, they can have a multi-pack of chocolate. They are so set on hearing what they want, they do not register that what you are offering may take longer but is better. Can our prayer life also be like that, do we switch off to God?
When we question God on why our prayers are not answered, this is not a weakness in faith, it is a strength as we are recognising that even in our dark times, we know He is still there. Faith is knowing what God can do, Faithfulness is knowing He may not do it, but following Him anyway. It is at those times where we step out in faith and follow that we grow, regardless of if we receive the answer we wanted or not!
We often see disasters in the world, and in our own lives and we can find ourselves asking why things did or didn’t happen. Maybe instead of asking why, we asked God to show us where He is in those situations, we would see, understand and draw closer to Him than we would have done than would have been possible if He answered the why!
Lord, we thank you that you are great and awesome God,
Help us to be persistent in our prayers, to grow in faith and to recognise your voice when you call.
We may not always understand, but we place our trust in you, help us to follow you more closely and lean on you more fully
In Jesus name we pray