Monday, November 29, 2010

God Doesn't Always Answer Our Prayers


There are times in all our lives when it seems as though God is just not hearing our prayers.  Sometimes that is to teach us patience, but many times it is an indication that something is wrong in our walk with God.  God does promise to answer prayer, but God also has conditions on how and when He will answer us.  Today I want to talk about those things in our lives that can prevent us from hearing from God or God from answering our prayers.  I also want to premise this by saying that God sometimes will answer prayers for the unsaved or even the unrepentant, but those are by His grace and not by His promise. God acts according to His will and sometimes that Will is served by answering the prayers at times when by His Word He normally would not. We can not take those times as a vindication of our backslidden lives, but as a testimony to His grace and mercy. 

First of all, for God's promise to answer prayer, we must be one of His.  We must accept Jesus as Lord and Savior in order for God to hear and answer our prayers. 
Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.  Ephesians 2:11-18 NKJV
Without Christ, we are enemies of God.  Without Christ, we have no right to approach God.  Without Christ, we have no nearness to God.  When we come to Christ, that all changes.  Suddenly, we are in a place of being God's child with all the closeness and intimacy that comes with such a relationship.  In Christ, we not only have the right to approach God, but we are invited to do so.  In Christ, and only in Christ, do we have access to the Father because the only want to approach God is through the blood of Christ.

I assume that most if not all who are reading this are already in Christ and so when God is not answering your prayers, something else is going on.  Am I saying that even as Christians, there are times when God will not hear our prayers?  Yes, though, it is not me who is saying it but the Word of God.  The first thing we need to check is the faith in which we ask.  
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.  Hebrews 11:6 NKJV
What this is saying is that if you want to ask God for something in prayer, you have to believe He will answer.  God is not going to honor a prayer made in the spirit of making God prove Himself to you.  That is the wrong heart.  Our prayers must begin in faith that He is and that He is a rewarded or those who diligently seek Him.  This is not to say that we need perfect faith, as we see in this example where a man brought his son who was possessed by a violent demon and pleaded with Jesus to help.
Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"  Mark 9:23-24 NKJV
The Lord, of course, did heal that boy.  What's amazing here is the grace of God.  This man had wavering faith, but faith in Jesus nonetheless.  He did not come to Jesus asking him to prove Himself and His power, but came in a humble spirit knowing Jesus had power, but knowing his faith needed help.  If you faith is lacking, do not come to the God in the spirit of a lack of faith or in a way for Him to prove Himself, but come to Him honestly and ask Him to help your faith.  If you lack faith when you come to Jesus, then there is no promise of God answering your prayer.  In fact, your lack of faith becomes a hindrance to God's answering of your prayer.
Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. Mark 6:3-4 NKJV
And why did he do no might work there?
Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.  Matthew 13:58 NKJV
Come to the Lord in prayer with the faith that He can and will answer your prayer.  If you do lack faith, come to God about that and ask Him to help your faith.  If you come to Him with no faith and no humility, God has no promise to answer your prayer.

When we come to God, we must ask in the name of Jesus.
"And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it." John 14:13-14 NKJV
This is not that Jesus is our "Abracadabra," but it is a reminder as to why we have the right to approach God in prayer.  We come to God through Jesus.  It is by His blood that we have that access.  Asking in His name is a reminder of that.  It also a reminder of our heart in prayer.  Asking in the name of Jesus, is asking in the nature and character of Jesus.  Our requests need to be in the nature and character of Jesus.  I can not ask for an adulterous affair in "Jesus name." That would just be ludicrous.  God will not answer our prayers that are not in the nature and character of Jesus. 

Another thing that hinders our prayers to God is if we come to God selfishly. 
You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.  James 4:3 NKJV
That is not to say we are never to come to God for help for ourselves.  The Bible tells us that that we are to cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us.  But we really must check our hearts to see the motivation behind our requests.  The guiding principle needs to be how we will use what we ask for, whether it is a need or a want, whether it is something we desire for God's service or something we covet because another has it.  For example, we may ask God to provide much needed money for us to get by and get frustrated when God does not provide.  Why would He not provide?  Well maybe it is because He did provide, but we squandered that provision on gambling or that we will squander His provision on waste.  Maybe we need a car, but we ask for something well beyond what we need and get angry when God gives us nothing.  We have not, in those cases, because we ask amiss.  We are really asking for our own pleasures and not our needs.  We must come to God with a selfless and humble heart and ask God for what we need and be good stewards of what He provides. 

Another hindrance to our prayer is unconfessed sin.
If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear. Psalm 66:18 NKJV
If you hold onto your sin, God will withhold His answers to our prayers.  God will forgive your sins, but He is not going to answer your prayer when you should be starting with a confession of the sins you hold on to.  This is meant to make us put our priorities in order.  God knows what we have done wrong, He knows our sin as we can not hide it from Him.  Going to Him in prayer for something else while knowingly harboring unconfessed sin in your heart is trying to hide from God something the both of you know.  It is ignoring what God wants to deal with while trying to get something else from Him.  God will not let you ignore the sin in your heart, He wants to cleanse you of it.  He wants to heal you of it, but He can not when you do not acknowledge it.  Confessing our sins to God comes before asking for things from God.  
Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear.But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, And your fingers with iniquity; Your lips have spoken lies, Your tongue has muttered perversity.  Isaiah 59:3 NKJV
Even as Christians, our sin separates us from God.  It does not separate us in the eternal sense as before we came to Christ, but it separates us in our relationship to Him.  God can come through in our prayers, but Isaiah shares here that He will not while our sins separate us from Him.  We must confess our sins to God and allow Him to begin that work in us, then He will hear our prayers.  

Related to unconfessed sin, is living disobediently and rebelliously to God.  
One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, Even his prayer is an abomination.  Proverbs 28:9 NKJV
That's a tough verse.  If we are in rebellion to God, our prayers are an abomination to God.  If you are living in disobedience, the only thing God wants to hear from your is your confession and your willingness to allow God to help you give up that sin in your life.  This may seem harsh, but you have to understand the parental relationship God has with us.  If you have a child that is unapologetically misbehaving, you are not going to do things for him or her until they are back under obedience.  Doing anything else justifies that bad behavior and leads to more and more disobedience.  It is the same way with God.  If we are living disobediently, and God is answering our prayers, it will not lead to us turning to God.  It justifies our sin and leads to more sin.  God wants to work with us to sanctify us and spoiling us as we live in disobedience is counter to that goal.  Conversely, if we turn our hearts back to God, He will hear and answer our prayers.
And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.  1 John 3:22 NKJV
We receive our answers to prayer because we keep his commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.  Just as our Father will punish a disobedient child, He will reward an obedient child.  If you want God to answer your prayer, you have to come to God and confess your sins and allow Him to do that work of sanctification in your life.

We also have to be in God's will to have the promise of God answering our prayers.
"Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him." John 9:31 NKJV
Jesus takes it up another notch here.  Not only does God not hear sinners, but even if you are a worshiper of God, we must be doing His will for Him to answer our prayers.  Again, while this may seem harsh, it is consistent with God's desire to continue the work of sanctification in us.  If we are outside His will and He answers our prayers (unless those prayers are seeking a return to His will), those prayers will take us further from His will.  Think about it, if we are outside His will, anything we ask for will also be outside His will.  If I buy a house that was outside the will of God, and I have a hard time paying the mortgage, why would God provide for that?  Any provision He gives will only serve to keep us where He does not want us to be.  Comforting and providing for us while outside where He wants us to be only helps to keep us there.  His desire is for us to be back in His will, back to where He desires us to be in our walks with Him, and so the prayer first needs to be to get us back there. 

And, finally, sometimes God is answering our prayers, but we refuse to listen.  It is not that God does is not answering, it is that our hearts are cluttered with so much junk that we can not hear from Him.
"Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful." Matthew 13:22 NKJV
I realize this verse is in the context of someone hearing the word of God unto salvation, but I think it is equally applicable to our walks with God.  We fill our lives with sports, parties, activities, entertainment, friends, family, cars, work, and more and while none of those things are bad or sinful in and of themselves, they often fill up so much of our hearts and minds that we can not hear from God.  I know people who can recite scores of games that happened months ago but they can not talk about a sermon they heard hours ago.  If you are cluttering your life with so much and pushing God into some corner of your heart and mind, you will not hear from Him.  He may be speaking, but there is too much noise pollution from what you fill your life with to hear from Him. 

God does promise to hear and respond to our prayers, but that promise is not unconditional. If we are not hearing from God and it seems as through God is not answering prayers, even prayers we know to be promises, we need to check our hearts.  First and foremost, we must have Jesus alone as Lord and Savior.  After that, our requests must be in His nature and character as we ask in His name.  We must also not ask with a selfish heart looking to squander His provision on our pleasures that lead us away from Him.  We must ask our requests in faith that he can and will answer. And we must confess our sins to Him, repent of any rebellion in our hearts, and live in and seek His will.  When we fail to do those things, God is not answering our prayers, He is answering our needs.  We need to be saved by the blood of Jesus or we are forsaken to Hell.  We need to have faith in God or we have no reason for hope in this life.  We need to ask in the nature and character of Jesus and in His name because that is how God will answer.  We need ask for things we will use righteously or we will squander God's provision.  We need to confess our sins because God is faithful and just to forgive our sins.  We need to repent of our rebellion because only God's way will give us peace in this life.  We need to seek His will because there is no greater joy than realizing you are doing exactly what you were created for.  When our needs are met and our hearts are turned back towards God, our desires will match His provisions and watch out because amazing things will happen.  In the end, it is not about God giving answers to our requests but about us giving requests for God's answer.  In the end, it is a realization that He is on the throne and the best place for us is submission to His will.  When you see someone who seems to always have their prayers answered, it is not because they figured out some magical way to ask God for things that they want, it is because they figured out that the place to start is to ask God what He wants.  When you want what God wants, your prayers will always be answered. 
Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.  1 John 5:14-15 NKJV

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