Christianity 201

September 29, 2020

The Mystery of Unanswered Prayer

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.” – John 14:1

Every once in awhile, my mother speaks to me from the grave.

Before you change channels, let me explain.

In her later years — and even some not so later ones — she had a habit of writing fragments of hymn lyrics on scraps of paper. Her thing wasn’t Amazing Grace or How Great Thou Art, but those older, richer hymns that nobody bothers with anymore unless Chris Tomlin ‘discovers’ them.

The green piece of scrap paper read,

Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

It’s a line from “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart” (full lyrics below) and it somewhat captures one of the things I’ve been wrestling with since the pandemic began. I’m convinced that what keeps people from crossing the line of faith, and what causes others to wander from the fold, is not the allegiance of Evangelicals with a particular political party, the injustice of police interactions with people of color, or the tornadoes, floods and brush fires.

I think it’s more personal. I think it’s unanswered prayer. The time they reached out to God and God didn’t appear to come through for them in the desired time-frame. (Click the date-links in each to read in full.)

It’s been a recurring theme here at C201.

In December, 2011, we quoted from Steven Furtick’s book, Sun Stand Still:

…I’ve seen couples who had been labeled infertile give birth to healthy boys and girls. I’ve seen people lose their job, pray, and quickly land a new job that paid twice as much and required a fraction of the travel as the last job.

Sometimes—a lot of times—it goes that way. Faith works. Prayers produce. Praise God. There’s nothing better.

But sometimes—a lot of times, honestly—it goes the other way. Sometimes the sun doesn’t stand still. Sometimes the sun goes down.

Sometimes you pray your best, most honest, heartfelt prayers—and there is no answer. Or the answer is no. Sometimes, even though your motives are pure, your desire is good, and your need is urgent, the breakthrough doesn’t come. The turnaround moment doesn’t occur. The cancer spreads. The finances get tighter. The marriage feels more lonely. The kids grow more distant…

Also in December, 2011, we borrowed from Jon Swanson:

Jairus had a dying daughter. He went to Jesus. Jesus started coming to his house. Jesus was distracted by a different miracle. And then someone says, “never mind, she’s dead. Leave him alone.”

Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid; just believe and she will be healed.” The next thing we read is that Jesus arrives at the house.

Between those sentences, between “she will be healed” and Jesus arriving was a very long walk for Jairus.

…“Just believe” was all that Jesus told Jarius to do. We often turn that into some kind of measure, and we think that if we believe enough amazing things will happen. If they don’t happen, it’s our fault, because we didn’t believe enough. In this case, believing was simple. It just meant walking with Jesus all the way home…

…Jairus walked home with Jesus, ignoring the apparent certainty of her death.

Not every child is raised. But every promise is kept.

In January, 2012, our guest author was Robert Moon:

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

There are many things that hinder answered prayer, one of which is praying prayers we shouldn’t pray. Some prayers involve other people, and we forget that GOD deals with each of us individually, and it is not our place to control other people. There are myriads of reasons for seemingly unanswered prayer, and one of the most difficult one is time, waiting until the time is right in GOD’S eyes and not ours.

It is good to have a scripture in mind with a promise of answered prayer before I pray, and yet the answer is not always apparent. When this happens I never allow this to affect my relationship with the Father for faith in HIM comes far ahead of faith for things. Learn this secret when praying whether successful or not, allow your faith to grow exceedingly in GOD for this is what James 1:3 was talking about “You know that such testing of your faith produces endurance” and that is truly important.

I have heard of mothers who prayed for their children for many years and some have died before their prayer was answered. It would have seemed to have been an ineffective prayer effort but in reality it was victory.

In March, 2012, some powerful thoughts from an anonymous writer:

“I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:13, NKJV)

We all go through disappointments, setbacks and things that we don’t understand. Maybe you prayed for a loved one, but they didn’t get well. Or maybe you worked hard for a promotion, but you didn’t get it. You stood in faith for a relationship, but it didn’t work out. One of the best things you can do is release it. Let it go. Don’t dwell on it anymore. If you go around wondering why things didn’t work out, all that’s going to do is lead to bitterness, resentment and self-pity. Before long, you’ll be blaming others, blaming yourself, or even God. You may not have understood what happened. It may not have been fair. But when you release it, it’s an act of your faith. You’re saying, “God, I trust You. I know You’re in control. And even though it didn’t work out my way, You said, ‘All things are going to work together for my good.’ So I believe You still have something good in my future.”

Finally (for today) from August, 2012 from Kevin White:

…God can seem alien to us at times, even cruel. His understanding exceeds our own far more than a human father’s exceeds that of the youngest child. His ways are infinitely more unsearchable than that of a dad who holds his kid down to receive a shot. Indeed, we would know hardly a thing about God unless he revealed it to us.

So sometimes, it is hard to see the goodness in what Cowper described as “a frowning Providence.” And yet, a key part of God’s self-revelation is that he watches his people, neither slumbering nor sleeping. Like a nesting hen, sheltering the hatchlings. He is a loving Father who gives good gifts. And yet the world is full of snakes.

This difficulty is made worse when we just don’t understand what is happening. When friends and family suffer. When natural goods, rightly desired, are placed out of reach. When we see that one of the greatest impediments to our flourishing is staring at us in the mirror. It is hard to see how a loving Father can be watching over all of that.

Instead, it is easy to covet, easy to resent. It is easy to say that it is all wrong, and should not be happening. Not in the sense of, “it is a fallen world and I long for paradise,” but in the sense of “what kind of God could allow this?” Or to wonder if our concerns are too small for God to notice. For the Christian, that attitude is doubly false, since Jesus Christ himself, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” says that God pays mind even to the fall of a sparrow.

And yet, there is an odd thing about invoking God’s providence in difficult times. It is a classic piece of bad comforting to simply tell someone, “God is in control.” Even so, recognizing, resting in, and/or wrestling with God’s control over circumstances can be a powerful form of reassurance. Why the disconnect?

I think it is because the trite statement is a shortcut. In some ways, it merely restates part of the presenting problem. How is this bread and not a stone? Too easily, it skips all the messy business of “rejoice with those who are rejoicing, mourn with those who are mourning.” It skips straight to the pithy takeaway and moves on.

Part of the answer is that we live in a sinful and fallen world. The restoration of all things is not here yet. All accounts will be settled, but we have at best a foretaste of that reality. Some of our suffering comes from our own bad decisions, or from our own weakness and limitation. And much more comes with living in a world that is systemically corrupted and distorted by sin and the curse that it brought…


Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
Oh, let me seek Thee, and, oh, let me find!

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heav’n-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.

October 12, 2012

You Don’t Have Because You Don’t Ask

John 14 : 14 (NIV)  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

John 16 : 23 (NIV) In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

John 16: 24 (NIV) Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

John 16: 23-24 (The Message) “This is what I want you to do: Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I’ve revealed to you. Ask in my name, according to my will, and he’ll most certainly give it to you. Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks!

We are commanded to go to God with our needs — our prayer petitions — and leave them before him. But what are our expectations of what happens next?

There are many people who believe that God’s intervention in the affairs of humankind are an extreme rarity. The world is simply what it is, and that is the answer to the question, “If God… why all the suffering in the world?” We live in a fallen world where there is bound to pain and sorrow; flood, fire and famine; doom, defeat and despair.

(That was a cheery paragraph; I’ll have to remember that one.)

There are other people who believe that God certainly hears our prayer requests and that this is the end in itself: That God wants to be in communication (or fellowship) with us. He wants us to tell us when and where it hurts. He wants each situation to bring us back to him. He wants us to come to him when we are ‘burdened and heavy-laden.’

Still others believe that while God’s intervention is rarity, miracles do exist; they just don’t happen every day. We’re talking about genuine miracles here, not things contrived for the glare of the television lights or the crowd in the arena. 

Further up the ‘hope’ ladder are those who would say, ‘God is positive disposed and favorably inclined to give us what we ask.’ Why this doesn’t happen may be related to the complexities of other situations we can’t see, or a lesson that we need to learn before the answer comes. But absent those factors, God’s default position would be to give us what we come to him asking.

And there are those who believe that God is constantly orchestrating more details in the lives of his people than anything we can possibly imagine; that there are constantly situations where God is even giving us ‘answers to requests we haven’t made;’ or that life consists of many seen and unseen coincidences, defined as, “Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.”  This view ranges from the dramatic holding on to the hope of healing even when doctors say the situation is incurable; to the trivial belief of some that God is truly willing to intervene in life on Planet Earth so that you will get a parking space next to the mall entrance.

…Parking spaces notwithstanding, I fall into the latter camp. I have to pray believing that my prayer is not only making a difference in me, but also in the situation. Regardless of statistical odds or past prayer performance, I have to go to him with an ultimate faith that he is willing and able to execute deliverance from whatever situation is pressing in. This is the faith of children; what it means to ‘come as a child,’ and it’s a faith that is not double-minded, but believes without doubt (See James 1:8 and 1:6 and Mark 11:23) and without wrong motivation (see James 4:3).

(Deliverance is a better way of defining the situation. If you are praying for money for a specific need you are praying for a deliverance from poverty with respect to that financial issue.)

…The greatest danger I see is in not asking at all. Not coming to God to bear our souls and cry out for help or mercy because the petitions we brought before him last month were not answered in the affirmative. I believe God will respect our tenacity in prayer; our willingness to go to him even in the absence (so far) of the answers we sought before.

He longs to see faith that is lived out in a concrete assurance of things not apparent (Hebrews 11:1).

PW

 

 

 

December 10, 2011

Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me

Joshua 24:23 “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.” (NIV)

I love Elevation Church pastor Steven Furtick.  I love his passion. I love his desire to deal with integrity with God’s word.  This post appeared at his blog this week under the title When the Sun Goes Down.

I wrote a book last year making a bold assertion: I have seen the sun stand still. I stand by it. I’ve seen God answer plenty of prayers with a miracle. I’ve seen people physically healed in a way that left doctors speechless. I’ve seen couples who had been labeled infertile give birth to healthy boys and girls. I’ve seen people lose their job, pray, and quickly land a new job that paid twice as much and required a fraction of the travel as the last job.

Sometimes—a lot of times—it goes that way. Faith works. Prayers produce. Praise God. There’s nothing better.

But sometimes—a lot of times, honestly—it goes the other way. Sometimes the sun doesn’t stand still. Sometimes the sun goes down.

Sometimes you pray your best, most honest, heartfelt prayers—and there is no answer. Or the answer is no. Sometimes, even though your motives are pure, your desire is good, and your need is urgent, the breakthrough doesn’t come. The turnaround moment doesn’t occur. The cancer spreads. The finances get tighter. The marriage feels more lonely. The kids grow more distant.

Sometimes the sun keeps sinking down, down, down…and no amount of hoping, fasting, or right living can stop it.

Remember, before Joshua ever saw the sun stand still, he had to watch in agony as the sun set slowly on an entire generation. Yes, God gave him the privilege to lead the charge into the Promised Land. But not before he was forced to endure forty years of wilderness wandering because of someone else’s hesitancy. It wasn’t his fault or his lack of faith. He believed. He wanted to obey. Joshua even did everything he could to persuade Moses to see the situation through eyes of faith. But that generation couldn’t see through the doubts and dangers. So Joshua didn’t get to inherit the promise for a long, long time. Joshua spent a large part of his life living in the shadow of a setback. And I imagine there were days when he wondered whether the sun would ever shine again.

Maybe you’re living in a similar shadow right now. You thought you’d be a lot closer to completing your life goals by now. And you’re pretty sure that you’ve done your part to make it happen. But someone else let you down. Something snuck up from behind and knocked you out cold. A crisis came along and crippled your ambition to do great things for God…or even expect anything good from him at all.

These seasons of setback can be fatal to your faith. It’s easy to lose your way when the sun goes down. You can easily slip into a deep spiritual sleep in an attempt to escape the pain.

Or you can choose to convert your times of crisis into the greatest opportunities of your life. It all depends on how you see your crisis—and whether you seize the chance that lies before you.

I can’t in good conscience promise that God will make the sun stand still every time you walk in audacious faith. Your faith does not control God—in fact, human faith on any scale can never put divine providence in your back pocket. That means that, sometimes, people you love will get sick and they won’t recover. You won’t achieve everything you attempt. You’ll have to absorb and manage some pain you didn’t create or invite or deserve. You’ll have days filled with frustration and misery.

Audacious faith does not guarantee a crisis-free life. But audacious faith does enable you to seize the opportunity to see God’s glory in the midst of every crisis in your life.

Even when—and maybe especially when—the sun goes down.

This post was adapted from Sun Stand Still: What Happens When You Dare to Ask God for the Impossible.  For more information on Sun Stand Still, visit www.sunstandstill.org