Sunday, June 4, 2017

Prayer Does It Make A Difference? - Session 11 - Unanswered Prayer Living With The Mystery

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.

Something I Read This Past Week

I heard about a little boy who went to his dad and said, “I want a little brother.” His dad looked up from his newspaper. “Well, son,” he said, “maybe you ought to pray about that.” So the little guy prayed every night for one month. And nothing happened. He went on praying for two months. Still nothing. He continued to pray for three months, but no brother came, so he finally just quit praying.

Some six months after that, the little boy’s dad took him to the hospital, pulled back the curtain a little bit, and there was a baby brother. “But hold on,” the father said with a smile.

He pulled back the curtain a little bit farther — and there was another baby brother. But he wasn’t finished yet. He pulled it back even farther, and there was a third baby brother!

“Now,” the dad said, “aren’t you glad you prayed?”

“Yes,” the boy replied. “But aren’t you glad I stopped after three months?”

We all go through seasons when we wonder if our prayers are getting through or just ricocheting off the ceiling.

It’s discouraging, isn’t it?

When we don’t see results in our lives or the lives of others, why should we keep praying?

Part of the answer lies in understanding the unimaginable power that God has made available to us as His sons and daughters.

God Has Deposited His Power in Us

This is extremely important to understand. When you finally understand this about prayer, you will become a person of prayer, and it will help you understand how and why we pray — and why we keep praying, even when we don’t yet see results. In Luke 24:49 we read these words from Jesus to His disciples:

Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with [or receive] power from on high.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus essentially repeats that promise,

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.

He is telling the disciples they will have power deposited in them once He leaves the earth.

And that’s only the beginning of the story. Paul expands on that idea in Ephesians 3:20 when he writes:

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works [or resides] in us. (emphasis mine)

It’s amazing how the Holy Spirit structured this verse. You have to understand that He could have left out the three adverbs — exceedingly, abundantly, and above — and the verse would have meant basically the same thing:

“God is able to do all that we ask or think.”

But apparently, the Holy Spirit didn’t think that statement described God’s ability adequately, so He put the word above in front of the word all:

God is able to do both all and above all.

But somehow even that description wasn’t enough. So the Holy Spirit added the word abundantly before the words above all.

God is able to do abundantly above all that we ask or think.

But that still didn’t capture it. So God’s Spirit inserted the word exceedingly before the word abundantly.

As a result, the verse extravagantly describes the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise. The power that God has deposited in us is “exceedingly, abundantly, above all we ask or think.”

Is that your experience in your life, in your immediate situation — that God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that you can ask or even imagine?

Excerpted with permission from Why Keep Praying? When You Don’t See Results by Robert Morris, copyright Robert Morris.

Last week in our discussion we decided that we really can’t explain why some prayers are answered and others not answered.  We said that we know why some of them may not be answered, become some are frivolous, others are selfish, sometimes sin blocks communication.  Those unanswered prayers are on us.  Some unanswered prayers are because we live in a lost world with violence and the potential for tragic accident.   Like our prayer in the morning before leaving the house for safety of our family and there’s a tragic accident or they get caught in  a crossfire, or like the kids in Manchester they are the victims of a terrorist attack.   The reason for other unanswered prayer is quite frankly a mystery.  

Here are some mysterious unanswered prayers from the Bible:

Moses’ asking to go into the Promised Land was not answered, while on the other hand He answered Moses prayers of intercession for the people.  Moses was being disciplined because of his outburst at the rock, but God had relented in disciplining the people in answer to Moses’ prayers.

David’s prayer for Bathsheba’s and his first son was not answered and the child died but on the other hand they later had a son, Solomon, who became king after David.

2 Samuel 12:15-16 (NLT)15  After Nathan returned to his home, the LORD sent a deadly illness to the child of David and Uriah’s wife.16  David begged God to spare the child. He went without food and lay all night on the bare ground.

2 Samuel 12:18 (NLT)18  Then on the seventh day the child died. David’s advisers were afraid to tell him. “He wouldn’t listen to reason while the child was ill,” they said. “What drastic thing will he do when we tell him the child is dead?”

1 Kings 1:28-30 (NLT)28  King David responded, “Call Bathsheba!” So she came back in and stood before the king.29  And the king repeated his vow: “As surely as the LORD lives, who has rescued me from every danger,30  your son Solomon will be the next king and will sit on my throne this very day, just as I vowed to you before the LORD, the God of Israel.”

God didn’t answer Moses, Job, Jonah, and Elijah’s prayers to die.

Jonah 4:8-9 (NKJV)8  And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah's head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, "It is better for me to die than to live."9  Then God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?" And he said, "It is right for me to be angry, even to death!"  

1 Kings 19:4 (NKJV)4  But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, "It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!"

Paul is an example of somebody actually telling us how he dealt with the disappointment of not having his thorn in the flesh removed in answer to his prayer.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NKJV)7  And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.8  Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.9  And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.10  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

We’ve also talked a little about what might have resulted if all prayers were answered the way that we wanted them to.  We can each think of our own experiences but let’s look and some biblical prayers that were unanswered.  

Jesus prayed, three times, that He not have to drink the cup prepared for Him that would have meant a horrible death by crucifixion.  

Matthew 26:39 (NKJV)39  He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will."

What if that prayer had been answered?

What about David’s prayer that Bathsheba’s and his son live;

Had he lived Solomon may not have become king, the temple built, etc.  

What if Paul had been healed of his thorn in the flesh?

It looks like Paul himself thought that he would have had a problem with pride which could have completely changed his ministry.

We May Need To Take Another Look At how we See The Promises Of The Bible
Photo credit:  Keep Believing Ministries - Ray Pritchard

Here are some:

Mark 11:22-24 (NKJV)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.

Matthew 18:19 (NKJV)19  Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.

John 14:12-14 (NKJV)12  "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.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.

There are some qualifiers to some promises.

John 15:7 (NLT)7  But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!

The one we just read in John 14:12, “he who believes in Me”...

1 John 5:14-15 (NLT)14  And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him.15  And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.

Am I remaining in Christ?

Am I making requests according to His will?

Am I obeying His commands?

Remaining, His will, and His commands all speak to our companionship with God.  The more we know Him the more likely our prayers will align with His will.

How do we know His will?

This is something from a post that I wrote in a post “How Do I Know God’s Will for Me?”

1. God leads us through His written Word.
Psalm 119:105 (NKJV) 105  Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.
Whenever you see the phrase "This is the will of God" in Scripture, you can count on it: that's God's will. You also know that to disobey is to reject His Word. Other clear indications of His leading are the precepts and principles in Scripture.
Precepts are clearly marked statements, such as "Abstain from sexual immorality." That's like saying, "Speed Limit 35." What is speeding? Anything over 35 miles an hour. That's a precept.
You will never, ever go wrong in consulting Scripture. Just be sure you pay close attention to the context. Don't use the "open-window method," letting the wind blow across the pages of your Bible and then closing your eyes and pointing to a verse and saying, "This is God's leading on that." If you do that, you could end up with "Judas went away and hanged himself" as your verse for the day! Don't go there.
2.  God leads us through the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit.
Proverbs 16:9 (NKJV) 9  A man's heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.
That inner prompting is crucial, because much of the time we just can't figure it out.
Proverbs 20:24 (NKJV) 24  A man's steps are of the LORD; How then can a man understand his own way?

John 14:15-17, 26 (NKJV)15  "If you love Me, keep My commandments.16  And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever--
17  the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. 26  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.

3. God leads us through the counsel of wise, qualified, trustworthy people.
This does not mean some guru in Tibet or a serious-looking stranger at the bus stop. This refers to an individual who has proven himself or herself wise and trustworthy and, therefore, qualified to counsel on a given matter. Usually, such individuals are older and more mature than we are. Furthermore, they have nothing to gain or lose. This also means that they are often not in our immediate family. (Immediate family members usually don't want us to do something that will take us away from them or cause us or them discomfort or worry.)
4. God leads us into His will by giving us an inner assurance of peace.
Colossians 3:15 (NKJV) 15  And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.
The will of God for our lives is not some high-sounding theory; it is reality. We have looked at some of the ways God leads us into His will. Now comes the bottom line: we have to live out His will in the real world.
Doing God's will demands a decision. And that decision requires faith and action. You can't see the end, so you have to trust Him in faith and then step out. You have to act. Faith and obedience are like twins; they go together.
Hebrews 11:6 (NKJV) 6  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.
Remember that one of the things I always talk about is context, context, context,

A lot of people believe that everything that Jesus said was to and for everybody including believers today and I’m not sure that’s true.  

Luke 10:17-20 (NKJV)17  Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name."18  And He said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.19  Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.20  Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven."

Matthew 10:1 (NKJV)1  And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease..

Although we know that nothing is impossible for God that He is also sovereign and will do what He wants or allows not us.  For example on page 237 Philip appears to be saying that it’s foolish to pray that God would shift the orbit of planet Earth to counteract global warming.  You may think that comment is extreme but let me share something.  Here is what a member of Congress said:

GOP congressman on climate change: God will 'take care of it' if it's real

WASHINGTON — Michigan GOP Rep. Tim Walberg isn’t concerned about the effects of climate change — if it exists — because God will “take care of it.”
Walberg was speaking to constituents in Coldwater, Mich., last week when he was asked about climate change.
Walberg, who has previously questioned the existence of global warming, first joked that he could take some global warming at home in Michigan because it was too cold and some global cooling in Washington because of the humidity.
Walberg then conceded that the climate was changing, before adding that wasn't anything new.
“I believe there’s climate change,” Walberg said, according to a video of the exchange obtained first published by the Huffington Post. “I believe there’s been climate change since the beginning of time. I think there are cycles. Do I think man has some impact? Yeah, of course. Can man change the entire universe? No.”
“Why do I believe that?” he continued. “Well, as a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us. And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.”
In this and other things we pray about maybe we should be asking God what we can do to help end crime, or addressing environmental concerns.   We’ve mentioned a couple of times in the study that prayer causes us to see what God wants us to do in His kingdom to bring His objectives, not ours to pass.
Sometimes We Just Have To Wait
Lamentations 3:25-26 (NLT)25  The LORD is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him.26  So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the LORD.

Isaiah 40:31 (NKJV)31  But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.

Galatians 6:9 (NLT)9  So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

Daniel waited three weeks for an answer to his prayer.  Remember when we studied the book of Daniel?

Daniel 10:12-14 (NLT)12  Then he said, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer.13  But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way. Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help me, and I left him there with the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia.14  Now I am here to explain what will happen to your people in the future, for this vision concerns a time yet to come.”

Jeremiah waited ten days before receiving an answer.

Jeremiah 42:4-7 (NLT)4  “All right,” Jeremiah replied. “I will pray to the LORD your God, as you have asked, and I will tell you everything he says. I will hide nothing from you.”5  Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the LORD your God be a faithful witness against us if we refuse to obey whatever he tells us to do!6  Whether we like it or not, we will obey the LORD our God to whom we are sending you with our plea. For if we obey him, everything will turn out well for us.”7  Ten days later the LORD gave his reply to Jeremiah.  

Moses waited six days before God spoke when he went up on Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 24:15-16 (NLT)15  Then Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it.
16  And the glory of the LORD settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from inside the cloud.

If we think about it God often acts slowly to accomplish His purposes the way the He wants to complete them:

2 Peter 3:8-10 (NLT)8  But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.9  The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.10  But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.

Why Are Some Prayers Answered Miraculously and Others Not At All?

Whether our prayers are answered the way we want them answered or answered at all we can always count on the fact that God can make use of whatever happens.  Here’s something written by British author John Baille:

Let me use disappointment as material for patience.
Let me use success as material for thankfulness.
Let me use trouble as material for perseverance.
Let me use danger as material for courage.
Let me use reproach as material for long suffering.
Let me use praise as material for humility.
Let me use pleasures as material for temperance.
Let me use pain as material for endurance.

When Paul, in Romans, was trying to explain why God was now making Gentiles his people along with the Jews he didn’t want the Gentiles to become arrogant.  God was not going to forget about the Jews.   The mercy that God was showing the Gentiles through Jesus is the same mercy that the Jews are going to experience.  Paul’s point was that God’s decisions are are beyond our capacity to understand.  It’s the same when trying to understand why He answers some prayers and not others.  Here’s Paul’s conclusion:

Romans 11:33-36 (NLT)33  Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!34  For who can know the LORD’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice?35  And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back?36  For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.  

God writes the script,m mankind just the actors.  The fact that God wants a relationship with us and listens to our prayers at all is a gift of grace, and in Philip’s words “a generous invitation to participate in the future of the cosmos.”

Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)8  “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.9  For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

The Master Weaver

Our lives are but fine weavings,
that God and we prepare,
each life becomes a fabric planned,
and fashioned in his care . . .
We may not always see,
just how the weavings intertwine,
but we must trust the Master’s hand,
and follow His design.
For He can view the pattern,
upon the upper side,
while we must look from underneath,
and trust in Him to guide.
Sometimes a strand of sorrow,
is added to His plan,
and though it’s difficult for us,
we still must understand.
That it’s He who flies the shuttle,
it’s He who knows what’s best,
so we must weave in patience,
and leave to Him the rest . . .
Not till the loom is silent,
and the shuttles cease to fly,
shall God unroll the canvas,
and explain the reason why.
The dark threads are as needed,
in the Weaver’s skillful hand,
as the threads of gold and silver,
in the pattern He has planned.

Bible Study Audio

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