When God Doesn’t Answer
What do you do when God doesn’t answer your prayers? Especially if it’s something serious and you know you’re praying for a good thing? How do you guard against doubting that God is good and right?
Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor of Renovation Church.
We are concluding our “Wireless” series on prayer today and we’re going to be covering a tough subject.
Do you ever pray, but God doesn’t answer you?
And I don’t just mean you pray for more money and a house made of gold, and he doesn’t answer.
I mean, you pray for something that seems to be the right thing to pray for, and yet, God doesn’t answer your prayer.
The thing you prayed for doesn’t happen.
Maybe you pray for your friend to get healed of cancer, or for the saving of your marriage, for your teenager to stop making horrible decisions…and yet, your prayer, doesn’t get answered.
And what do we do about that?
Maybe you’re even praying for something right now, and nothing’s happening…
And if God doesn’t answer your prayer, will that change how you think about God?
Does He still love you?
Is He in control?
Is He even making the right decisions?
When we have something that we’re praying for, and God doesn’t answer it in the way we think He should, the biggest danger we’ll face…is doubt.
Not necessarily that we’ll begin to doubt God’s existence…
But that we would begin to doubt that He loves us…or that He make the right decisions …or we doubt that He’s good…or in control.
This is your enemy, the devil’s, favorite tool to use against you by the way.
It’s the very thing that tripped up Adam & Eve and humanity in the very beginning.
They didn’t doubt God’s existence, but began to doubt that God was good…that He was right.
And so, as it pertains to the subject of unanswered prayer, I believe the best thing I can do for you, is to help you guard yourself against doubting God goodness and His decision-making.
So my aim is to help you do that in a couple of different ways.
First, we’re going to cover some reasons why God might not be answering your prayers, but these might be reasons that might eventually make sense to you as time goes on.
Places where you might be able to say, in the future, “Ahhhh…I see WHY God did that now.”
And then secondly, we’re going to talk about when God doesn’t answer prayer in the way you want Him to, and you NEVER find out why.
Your family member dies young, despite your fervent prayers, and you never find out why.
You moved your whole family somewhere for a new job, and it didn’t work out, and it makes no sense to all of you why you went through that tough year of your life… and it might never make sense to you
How then do you guard yourself against doubting God’s plan?
And it’s good for us to think about this now…even if you’re struggling to think of any major unanswered prayers.
Because if you’re not facing this now…you will in the future.
I often think to myself…when the time comes, and I have to face the hardest suffering of my life…will I be ready for it?
And if God chooses, in the midst of that, not to answer my prayers to relieve my suffering, or to relieve the suffering of a loved one, will I still trust Him as God?
Or will I doubt his goodness?
Will I start to pull away from Him?
THE MORE OBVIOUS REASONS
So we’re going to start this off by covering some of the reasons that God might not be answering your prayers.
We’re going to start with some of the things that might, in time, actually make sense to you down the road.
The first reason he may not be answering your prayers is exactly what we talked about last week:
We may be praying for something that just simply isn’t in God’s will.
It may be a request w/ ultimately selfish motives or just something he hasn’t willed for our lives.
But God isn’t going to answer something that isn’t in His will.
I won’t spend much time here because we just spent 30 minutes on it last week. J
Another reason God might not be answering your prayer…
And this is one that used to get talked about…almost too much…and now, in American churches, we almost never talk about it:
He might not be answering your prayer because you have unconfessed sin in your life.
(Psalm 66:18-19) – NIV
If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; 19 but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer.
The Bible lays out, a number of times, that sometimes when God isn’t answering, it’s because we are unrepentant about something.
Over a century ago, Charles Spurgeon said that “unanswered prayer should cause every Christian to do conduct search warrant on their hearts”
Author Francis Chan, wrote it this way:
He said, “A guy came up to me once and asked me to pray for healing for his health, so we talked to see if he had any unconfessed sin he was hiding from the Lord.”
“I found out he was sleeping around with another Christian”
Chan said to him, “"Let me ask you something. If you were sleeping with one of my daughters out of wedlock, would you have the nerve to come up to me, face me, and ask for a favor?"
The man said he'd never thought of it that way.
Chan said: "You're sleeping with a daughter of God, and now you're going to approach God and ask for a favor…and you want me to come with you?!”
Now, of course, we’re all sinners…and God knows that.
But the Bible also says in Galatians that God cannot be mocked.
We can’t blatantly sin in our Father’s face, and than endlessly ask for his blessings.
So if you have unanswered prayer, start with by conducting a thorough search of your sin.
Are you bringing it to God and asking for forgiveness and asking for the help to change?
SOMETIMES HE IS SHAPING US
Other times, God is not answering our prayers because he is shaping us along the way.
In fact, sometimes He WILL answer your prayers…but just…not yet.
Jesus tells us in Luke 18, that when we pray, we ought to be like the widow who just badgers a judge over & over again to grant her justice, and finally, the judge relents.
We’re to keep knocking on heaven’s door when we pray.
And sometimes, God doesn’t answer our prayers right away because I suspect if God answered all of our prayers immediately, we wouldn’t have much of a relationship with Him.
To us, He would just become a nice cosmic vending machine we pressed buttons on to get our desired candy of the day.
So if your prayers aren’t answered right away…don’t doubt.
God’s timing is never wrong.
There is always a purpose.
But what if they’re NEVER answered?
That’s really the question of the day, right?
I read a story recently of a woman who slowly lost her sight throughout her Junior High years.
In the story, she recounts her feelings as a 9th grader riding home in the backseat of her parents’ car after the doctors told her she would soon be fully blind:
Here’s what she wrote:
“In the silence of that difficult ride home from the hospital, my mind was racing. I thought, I'm not going to be able to drive a car. I'm not going to be able to be an artist. I remember the disappointment of that. And I questioned: Are boys going to want to date me? How am I going to finish high school? Will I be able to go off to college?”
And yet, years later, this woman Jennifer Rothschild, who would become a musician and an author, wrote this:
“One of the hardest lessons I've had to learn is that God uses painful circumstances in our lives for good. My hero, Joni Eareckson Tada, who has been in a wheelchair since she was a teenager, makes this point well when she says that God allows what he hates in order to accomplish what he loves. I am convinced that God's grace has sustained me. If healing were sufficient, God would have provided it. But he's allowed me to live with blindness, yet live equally with the sufficiency of his grace.”
She’s referencing the words of the Apostle Paul who says in 2 Corinthians that he was given a thorn in his flesh that tormented him.
We don’t know what that was.
Was it some sort of spiritual warfare?
Others think it was a medical condition.
Some even think it might have been partial blindness.
Here’s what Paul says about it:
(2 Corinthians 12:8-10) – NIV
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
See, often we’re begging God to just ANSWER us, and relieve our discomfort…whether that be physical or emotional…or whatever.
And God says…no.
Because what matters most to Him is that He grows us into a person that relies on Him and loves Him.
And often the path to that kind of maturity and trust…is through refusing to answer our prayers for comfort and the easier path.
And, later on in life, those unanswered prayers may make sense to you.
You’ll see that He did answer.
And you might even thank Him for it.
He always answers in some way.
He’s not distant.
He just often answers differently than we would have.
We must always remember that you and I have neither the wisdom nor the grace to run the universe.
WHAT IF YOU’LL NEVER KNOW?
But what if…you never find out why God didn’t answer your prayers?
Maybe you had a number of miscarriages, and still to this day, you have no idea why it happened.
You don’t see the “good” in what God is doing.
People say, “God has a plan,” and you think, “That sounds like a horrible plan to me.”
How do you guard against doubting that God is good…that He does make the right decisions…that He is in control?
How do you guard against beginning to doubt Him if you never find out the answer to why He didn’t answer your prayers and fix your suffering?
There aren’t easy answers to questions like this.
So what I want to do is look at one of the Psalms of Lament.
There are plenty of these in the Bible.
They’re songs where people cry out to God in their suffering and their unanswered prayers.
We’re going to look in particular at some things in Psalm 22, a Psalm of King David.
And I want to pull out a number of things, 4 in fact, that’ll help us guard against doubt when God doesn’t seem to be acting like we’re requesting He should.
I encourage you to write these down, so they begin to take root in your brain…either for now, or for a time in the future.
We’ll read portions of this Psalm today, and you’ll get a chance to read the rest of it in House Groups this week.
If you’re not in one yet, I encourage you to sign-up THIS week. Today in fact.
There are only 4 weeks left, so this is a FANTASTIC time to give it a trial run before they re-launch in the Fall.
It’ll give you a chance to start meeting people at Renovation.
Let’s take a look:
(PAGE ______ )
(Psalm 22:1-2) – NIV
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? 2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.
Look at the honesty in talking to God there.
This not sugar coating, or beating around the bush, or putting on a fake spiritual smile.
Here’s the first thing to help you guard against doubting God’s goodness (or that He is right in his decisions): We must admit, that we are not God, and we only see the tiniest fraction of God’s story --- We don’t know God’s plan
If you want to write it down, just write: Fraction of the story
(Psalm 22:27-28) - NIV
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28 for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.
After complaining for much of the Psalm, David admits that God is the one with perspective.
He is the King on high…ruling over all.
You and I…we see a fraction of the story.
We see a couple of seconds of God’s entire movie…
It would be like if a young person, who knew nothing of the history of WWII turned on the TV, and there was a movie on about WWII.
If they saw only 5 seconds of the movie and saw an American soldier killing a German Nazi solider in battle…they might think, “What a despicable person that American!”
But they would know nothing of the broader story…
Of how much of the entire planet was engaged in battle.
Or that the Allied Forces were coming together to stop the German army and save the Jewish people from a horrific genocide
And in our limited perspective, we don’t see the whole story.
There’s no way we can.
We’re 1 person out of 7 billion .
We live in 1 geographic area out of thousands.
We’re living during 1 limited time of history.
How could we possibly even begin to understand what God is really doing?
And so when God doesn’t answer your prayers, know that He has something greater in mind.
Timothy Keller, who’s a pastor that I listen to almost every week, told a story once of praying SO hard to marry this one particular girl, but it didn’t’ happen.
And he said, he learned over the years that when we make a request, “God gives us what we would have asked for if we knew everything he knows”
But we don’t.
So for now, we have to trust in His purposes.
(Romans 8:28) – NIV
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i]have been called according to his purpose.
And you can’t try and fit that verse into the American dream. It won’t work.
Because the timeline Paul is writing about is longer.
He’s talking about God working it all out…for HIS purpose…for all time.
You’re not going to watch a loved one die, and stand there as God doesn’t answer your prayers, and say, “You know what, God will work this out for me in a few years”
It’s not going to happen like that.
But God is working for the good of his Final story.
We just won’t get to look at the whole story until we meet Him.
But do you trust Him?
Can you guard against doubt here?
Here’s a second thing to guard against doubt: Learn from others.
Specifically…learn from those who’ve known him longer and know him deeper than you do.
King David not only looks back to his own past to learn (we see that in verses 9-10), but also to others.
(Psalm 22:3-5) – NIV
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. 4 In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
There are a couple of phrases in here that start with YET…as David is talking himself back into trusting God.
He finds solace in the fact that people who knew God better than He did, trusted in Him…even in hard circumstances.
This is why something like House Groups is important.
I often hear stories of those who have been married for 20-30 years giving great, Godly advice to those who are frustrated with their marriage, in the first 5 years.
As Christ followers, we need more than just a message on Sunday…we need people who can speak directly into our lives.
Here’s a third way you must guard against doubting God’s decisions when prayers go unanswered: Talk about it.
This entire Psalm is an example of it.
Think about this: David, who’s entirely famous, is composing a Psalm about his own personal struggles, for others to one day see.
And there are plenty of Psalms like this in the Bible, not to mention the laments of Jeremiah and others.
“These ought to be great examples to us that when we are frustrated at God for not answering our prayers as we see fit, the one thing we can’t do is to stay silent.
Doubt only grows in the dark.
Have it out with God.
Tell him how you really feel.
After all, a lament just demonstrates how deep your relationship really is.
You don’t share your grief and frustration with strangers, but with those you love.
Those who are truly close don’t just stuff their feelings inside; they share them with one another
Sit down, and write, or talk it out, or go for a walk, and say, “God, I don’t get this. I don’t get this at all. And, honestly, I’m not happy about this…and I don’t want to hide my feelings from you! YET…I know you’re God…help me trust you”
There’s something really cathartic about that.
Oddly enough, telling God that you’re doubting Him is actually the best way to deal with your doubt.
And that’s the pattern we see laid out for us in Scripture
And fourthly, here is perhaps the greatest thing you can do to guard against doubt when your prayers go unanswered: Remember this: God will always answer your most important prayer request.
Let me take a minute to explain.
Many of us feel as if there is a line God can cross…where if God doesn’t work our lives work out to a certain standard….
if God goes beyond what we think is a respectable threshold for suffering (and He won’t answer our prayers for relief in the midst of it!)
If our money runs out, or our marriage ends in heartbreak, or our children die before us (despite the fact that we begged God for it not to happen)…then God must not really be good…or make the right decisions…and maybe…He’s not worth following!
In our pain and frustration we cry out to God and we say, “Do you not see my pain here?! This hurts. This hurts terribly! And worse yet God, I feel like you could have stopped it!
They didn’t’ have to commit suicide…you could have stopped it!
Why did you make me sick like this! I asked you to take this away from me!”
At the core of our deepest unanswered prayers, we’re asking, “Don’t you care? Aren’t you good?
Do you love me or not?
Let me be clear: He absolutely loves you.
He loves all of his children…so deeply.
And I can prove it to you.
The problem is we let earthly pain (both physical & emotional) blind us from seeing a deeper love.
Let me put it this way: Let’s say you were going for a walk in a remote and isolated area, and the terrain was quite hilly, rocky and slippery.
And let’s say that you got distracted for a moment, and slipped and fell 20 feet down into some sort of cavern where no one was likely to find you.
And during the fall, you scratched up your body with cuts, and bruises, and maybe even broke your arm.
And after 48 hours of being alone, frightened, and in serious pain, you begin to feel like you could very well potentially die in the cavern in which you are currently stuck.
And after 2 days of crying out to God, God hears your prayer, miraculously sends His Son Jesus to rescue you and pull you out.
Let me ask you a question: If that was the case, would you still say to God, “Why don’t you care? Aren’t you good? Do you love me or not?”
You would never say:
“God, I’m just not sure I can trust you anymore after my broke my arm…I’ll never be able to write again…
Or “God, I’ll never sleep the same again at night after that experience…How do I know you’re good?”
You wouldn’t say that!
You would say, “Surely you are the God that loves…you miraculously saved me from death!”
And in the same way, here’s how you can know God’s love:
God will always answer, 100% of the time, your most important prayer request:
That is a guarantee of His love. He will 100% of the time answer your most important prayer request: To save your soul.
(Romans 10:13) – NIV
for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
100% of the time, he will answer that prayer for people.
And listen, as painful as this world might feel, every thing we face on this earth is just a minor flesh wound compared to the eternal suffering, ETERNAL suffering, that we deserve in hell.
And God says, despite all that we’ve done, if we just call out to Him, we believe that He sent his son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for us…he’ll save us…and bring us to the Kingdom of Heaven instead.
And fascinatingly enough, Jesus himself quotes the very Psalm we’ve been studying, Psalm 22, when his flesh is being wounded on that cross.
He says, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
But knowing the whole arch of the Psalm now, we see His cry is just a homage to faith in God despite his current pain.
Jesus can say, “This experience is terrible, but like King David, I will trust in you…because you, in time, will resurrect me from the dead. Through this pain, you will give the opportunity to billions to be resurrected from the dead!”
He’s saying, “God, I feel the pain, but I won’t lose trust in you because of my pain”
This is exactly what we read earlier from Joni Eareckson Tada, “Sometimes God allows what he hates (the death of his own son!), in order to accomplish what He loves!
And friends, whatever suffering may happen in your life…even if God does not answer your prayers the way you want in the midst of it, DO NOT DOUBT that God loves you!
Let go of having to tell God that he must not be good and He must not be right because of these temporary flesh wounds you’ve experienced.
As colossians says, “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness!”
What more could we ask for?!
Like Jesus, trust Him, even when it hurts.
Someday, in His presence, all of the other minor details will make perfect sense.
But until then, trust in Him.
He will always answer the most important of our prayer requests: To be rescued (to be saved)…
And may the knowledge of that incredible love always cause you to trust in Him and believe in his goodness.
Let me pray.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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