Sunday, May 28, 2017

Prayer Does It Make A Difference - Session 10 - The Sound Of Silence

2017 is the year of Prayer at CDG.  The Sunday morning Adult Bible Study Group after a series titled "Prayer Begins With Relationship now looks at the question Prayer Does It Make Any Difference?  We are using a book by the same title written by Philip Yancey.   In his book Philip explores the intimate place where God and humans meet in Prayer. Polls reveal that 90 percent of people pray. Yet prayer, which should be the most nourishing and uplifting time of the believer’s day, can also be frustrating, confusing, and fraught with mystery. Writing as a fellow pilgrim, Yancey probes such questions as: •Is God listening? •Why should God care about me? •If God knows everything, what’s the point of prayer? •Why do answers to prayer seem so inconsistent? •Why does God sometimes seem close and sometimes seem far away? •How can I make prayer more satisfying? Yancey tackles the tough questions and in the process comes up with a fresh new approach to this timeless topic. “I have learned to pray as a privilege, not a duty,” he says, and he invites you to join him on this all-important journey.   These are my notes for the study.   The audio of the study is at the end of the notes.
The Impact of Prayer
 1 Thessalonians 5:15-17 (NKJV)15  See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.16  Rejoice always,17  pray without ceasing,
Prayer is the lifeblood of an intimate relationship with the Father. But believers often have questions about its power and effectiveness. Don’t hesitate to take your queries to the Lord, dig into Scripture for answers, and seek the counsel of a trusted spiritual mentor. Prayer is too important to neglect.
Will God’s plans fail if I don’t pray? God is not subservient to believers or dependent upon their prayers. The time we invest in speaking with Him involves us in the work that He is doing in our lives and in the world, but He will carry on without us.Laboring alongside the Lord is our privilege.
Does my prayer (or lack thereof) impact God’s work? I believe that Scripture indicates the answer to this question is both yes and no, depending upon the situation. There are times when God’s purpose is set. He is in control and has determined the best course. In the Old Testament, the Lord often prophesied what He would do and then brought those events to pass.
In other cases, “you do not have because you do not ask”. There are some good things that He holds back until we put out prayerful hands to receive them. But because God is a loving Father, He also pours out blessings that we wouldn’t even think to request.
Believer’s prayers have tremendous impact, particularly on their own faith and life. Do you understand what an awesome privilege it is to kneel before the all-powerful Father and know that He listens and will respond? God loves to be good to His children and answer their prayers.
Is Anybody There?

I’m sure that we have all, at some time thought that our prayers weren’t even getting out of the room.  There is a saying that my prayers just hit the ceiling and fall back down.    It’s as if God doesn’t hear, or care.  It’s like talking to yourself, there’s nobody there listening.  It’s like  the times when you’ve done something that may have hurt somebody and they have vowed to not talk to you.  You try talking to them even apologizing and all you get is silence.  You keep trying and nothing.  It’s frustrating to the point that you stop trying to talk to them.   That’s what happens when we pray for something especially something very important to us like health, shelter, resources for life and nothing changes.  It doesn’t mean that we stop praying but we do start to think what difference does it make God isn’t listening or if He is He’s not answering.   There was even time  Jesus felt that God had abandoned Him and fell silent.  
Matthew 27:45-46 (NKJV)45  Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.46  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"
 He wasn’t the first one to say that.  That comment is quote from Psalm 22:1
One comment in our book that I think says it all is “I believe God is present in the midst of our brokenness.  I just wish I could feel that presence”.
 We are not alone in feeling like this.  The books of Psalms, Job, Lamentations, talk a lot about people going through difficult circumstances wondering where God was.
Psalm 13:1-6 (NKJV)1  How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?2  How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?3  Consider and hear me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death;4  Lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed against him"; Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.5  But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.6  I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.
Psalm 22:1-4 (NKJV)1  My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, And from the words of My groaning?2  O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; And in the night season, and am not silent.3  But You are holy, Enthroned in the praises of Israel.4  Our fathers trusted in You; They trusted, and You delivered them.
Job 23:8-9 (NKJV)8  "Look, I go forward, but He is not there, And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;9  When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him; When He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him.
Just like when a friend stops speaking to us we often blame ourselves.  “Was it something that I did or said”?  Again the feeling of unworthiness.    But don’t stop praying.

Survival Strategies

Sometimes we are praying selfishly wanting to talk to God on our terms not His.  Are we looking to further our relationship or just the results of that relationship?  One guy said that in our approach to God we should seek Him first and not our own happiness because if we seek Him first we will find happiness.

Matthew 6:33 (NKJV)33  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

That includes happiness.  This is one of our favorite scriptures

Psalm 37:4 (NKJV)4  Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

Rather than dwelling on why God is silent maybe we should think about what we can learn from His silence.
 There is a comment in the book on page 204 by Henry Blackaby “You can respond to the silence of God in two ways.  One response is for you to go into depression, a sense of guilt, and self-condemnation.  The other response is for you to have an expectation that God is about to bring you to a deeper knowledge of Himself.  These responses are as different as night and day.”
 When we talk to somebody we always want a definitive answer, and that’s what we would like  with God.  When we ask God to show us His will, we don’t mean to show us where we can find, or learn Your will, we mean we want a specific sign, like go to this place at this time for this reason.  That could happen but in most cases it won’t.  An interesting observation from our book on page 205.   In the Gospels people approached Jesus with a question 183 times whereas He replied with a direct answer only three times.  Instead, He responded with a different question, a story, or some other indirection.
 John 3:4-12 (NLT)4  “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”5  Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.6  Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.7  So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’8  The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”9  “How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.10  Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things?11  I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony.12  But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
 John 14:5-7 (NLT)5  “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”6  Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.7  If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”
 Luke 10:29-30 (NLT)29  The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”30  Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

Evidently Jesus wants us to work out answers on our own using the principles that He taught and lived.  Prayer, I find, often operates in the same way.  In the difficult and sometimes frustrating act of pursuing God, changes occur in me that equip me to serve God.  Maybe what I sense as abandonment is actually a form of empowerment.  

What we really want, and the reason that we get frustrated and think that God is not listening is that we want things to happen the way that we want and when we want.  I’ve been looking for a way to talk about this tendency in us and I found  something that Martin Luther said.  This starts on page 209:
 “When we try to dictate to God the time, place, and manner for him to act, we are testing him.  At the same time, we’re trying to see if he is really there.  Doing that is putting limits on God and trying to make him do what we want.  It’s nothing less than trying to deprive God of his divinity.  But we must realize that God is free - not subject to any limitations.  He must dictate to us the place, manner, and time.  
 When we are not hearing from God we can lean on the faith of others.  I know that we always ask others to pray for and with us, and when we aren’t hearing from God it’s even more important that we lean on others.  The Bible talks about the importance of fellowship with others.  
 Matthew 18:19-20 (NLT)19  “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you.20  For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”
 The early church was always together praying for each other.  
 Acts 2:42-47 (NLT)42  All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.43  A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.44  And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.45  They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.46  They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—47  all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.  
 James 5:16 (NLT)16  Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.
Galatians 6:2 (NLT)2  Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.
Forget out pride at these times.
 When we feel that God is not listening we can always look at the Bible for others who may have gone through similar times where God appeared absent.  We can lean on the fact that God is faithful, just and loving.   The best example of that is Jesus.

On page 210 Phil says “Prayer invites us to rest in the fact that God is in control, and the world’s problems are ultimately God’s not ours.  If I spend enough time with God I will inevitably begin to look at the world with a point of view that more resembles God’s own.  What is faith, after all, but believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse?”
 The Dilemma of Unanswered Prayer - Whose Fault Is It?
 No matter how we spin it it’s hard, if not impossible to answer someone whose prayer doesn’t get answered.  Saying that he always answers with either yes, or no, or wait, doesn’t really fly.  A No is an unanswered prayer and wait is really not an answer either.  When you pray for a relative or friend and what you prayed for doesn’t happen, as far as you were concerned your prayer wasn’t answered.  We always pray that God’s will be done, but that doesn’t help somebody who hasn’t studied as we have, or a new Christian who has been told that God always answers prayer and then something they pray for doesn’t happen.  It also doesn’t help when somebody that we are talking to about salvation that asks why what something that a Christian, that they know prayed for something went unanswered.  We have to be careful when we throw things around from the Bible, without realizing or knowing what it really means.  For example:
 Matthew 21:22 (NKJV)  And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive."
 John 14:13-14 (NKJV)13  And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.14  If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.
 Mark 11:24 (NKJV)24  Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.  
 New we all know people who have prayed for extraordinary things and those things came to pass.  We may even have some things that we have prayed for and when they happened, we have no doubt that it was the answer to prayer.  I’ve told you about  the time I got an audible answer to a question.  I can also tell you about times that there was no way Ruth and I would have survived financially if a prayer hadn’t been answered.    But we can also give examples of prayers that were not answered either ours or people that we know.   Ruth and I prayer for her recovery from cancer and she died of complications from pneumonia.  I have prayed and am still praying for some things that have not been and may never be answered.  
 The example of the man with the club foot that is in Philip’s book, beginning on page 216,  who really was talking about his own experience of grabbing the scripture we just read in Mark.  He was so crushed when after praying he still had his club foot  He lost all faith.  That may not be as much of an exaggeration as you think.  I’ve told you about Ruth and her anger with God, but I didn’t tell you how different her response to God was after our son died.  I could have just as easily clammed up after Ruth died because our prayer wasn’t answered.   
 Some people blame themselves for unanswered prayer.  We hear, especially from the word of faith, or prosperity movements that all you need is to have enough faith and every prayer that you pray will be answered and if it isn’t it’s your fault for not having enough faith.  They use scriptures like.
Mark 9:23 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes."  
 Mark 11:20-24 (NKJV)20  Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.21  And Peter, remembering, said to Him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away."22  So Jesus answered and said to them, "Have faith in God.23  For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.24  Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.
The problem is not in believing that God answers prayer, we know that he does.  The problem is that He doesn’t answer every prayer.  He heals come people and not others.  He blesses some people with great opportunities in answer to prayer but does not answer the same prayer for others.  Another question is why when several people are praying for the same thing only one person gets the answer and the other doesn’t.  Examples include Christians on opposing sports teams praying for victory but only one team wins.  Does that mean that God likes Lakers over Clippers, of course not.  God seems to be inconsistent doesn’t He?
There Are Some Things That We Do Wrong When Approaching Prayer.
Some of our prayers are just frivolous like wanting our sports team to win, or for a parking space, especially when someone older or with a disability is also looking for a parking space near the door.  I have heard people pray that it not rain on the day of their wedding, while at the same time the reservoirs that supply the city are running dry.  Or we pray because we haven’t done what we should have done.  We blow our money on buying lottery tickets and then pray give us this day our daily bread.  James addressed this.
James 4:3 (NKJV) You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
We sometimes pray for something that is totally outside God’s will or totally against a specific commandment.  I know of some men and women that have prayed that couples split us so that they can have their spouse.  I have also heard of people praying that somebody gets sick so they can have their position or job.  I’ve also heard of people praying that other’s die.  If God is who He says that He is those prayers will not be answered.  
The bible records some requests that were not answered because they were totally outside the will of God or were selfish.  
Mark 10:35-40 (NKJV)35  Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask."36  And He said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?"37  They said to Him, "Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory."38  But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"39  They said to Him, "We are able." So Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized;40  but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared."
Luke 9:51-56 (NKJV)51  Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem,52  and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him.53  But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem.54  And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?"55  But He turned and rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.56  For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them." And they went to another village.
Self serving prayers put the focus on us and the things that we want not on the things of God.
Sin disrupts communication with God and blocks God hearing us.  Saul is an example after he disobeyed God.
1 Samuel 15:3, 9-11, 28, 34-35  (NKJV)3  Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.' " 9  But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.10  Now the word of the LORD came to Samuel, saying,11  "I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments." And it grieved Samuel, and he cried out to the LORD all night.  28  So Samuel said to him, "The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. 34  Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house at Gibeah of Saul.35  And Samuel went no more to see Saul until the day of his death. Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul, and the LORD regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.
David talks about sin disrupting communication
Psalm 66:18 (NKJV)18  If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.  
So does Isaiah in delivering God’s message to Israel:
Isaiah 1:15-17 (NKJV)15  When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.16  "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil,17  Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.
Phillip also believes that how we respond to those in need also helps in how God receives our prayers.  I’m not sure about that but he does point to a couple of scriptures that seem to indicate that it does.  One of them is the one we just read in Isaiah 1:17.
Another is;
Malachi 2:14-16 (NKJV)14  Yet you say, "For what reason?" Because the LORD has been witness Between you and the wife of your youth, With whom you have dealt treacherously; Yet she is your companion And your wife by covenant.15  But did He not make them one, Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.16  "For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one's garment with violence," Says the LORD of hosts. "Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously."
1 Peter 3:7 (NKJV)7  Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.
Proverbs 21:13 (NKJV)13  Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor Will also cry himself and not be heard.
His point is that how you treat your neighbor, who was created by God, will have some effect on how God receives your prayers and worship.  
Sometimes It’s Best That Our Prayers Are Not Answered
A very important observation.  If God answered every prayer of every Christian every time He would in effect be turning the world over to us to run.  He would be turning His sovereignty over to man and that would not be a good thing.  No matter how good we think we are or how much we think we are asking in God’s will.  We have to remember that man operates in time and space and God operates outside of time and space.  We don’t know everything and God is Omniscient.   During days of the Crusades I’m sure that those who wanted to take the Holy Land back from the Muslims prayed and thought they were doing God’s will.   George Bush as much said that the Gulf War was a Holy War but he forgot about the Christians in Iraq.  God is not a genie.  
What if General Robert E Lee’s prayers were answered?  Lee was a devout Christian but Grant was the opposite.  All of us have examples of our own prayers that if answered our lives could have taken another turn which we would not have liked.   There’s the line in a Garth Brooks song, which I would have never know if I hadn’t read this book because I don’t necessarily like or listen to Country-Western music:
“Just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care.  Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”
Yes we know that some prayers go unanswered and often to our dismay.  It’s impossible for us to say why in all cases and therefore hard for us to convince others to continue to pray and sometimes it’s hard for us to continue.   What we hang on to is the faithfulness of God who has told us that no matter what is going on He is always with us, and that He has our best in mind.  It may not look like it at the time but a time will come, when there will be no need to pray because we will be with God and won’t need to ask Him anything.  Until then He’s with us and everything that happens He is going to work together for good in that we are being conformed to the image of His son.
Deuteronomy 31:6 (NKJV)6  Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you."
Hebrews 13:5 (NKJV)5  Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
Jeremiah 29:11 (NKJV)11  For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Romans 8:28-30 (NKJV)28  And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.29  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.30  Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (NKJV)16  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.17  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.18  Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Revelation 21:1-8 (NKJV)1  Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.2  Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.3  And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.4  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."5  Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful."6  And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.7  He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.8  But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

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