If you have any experience of praying, you will know that there are times when we ask God for something and then we receive it, sometimes even immediately. But then there are times when we pray and pray, yet nothing happens. It is as if God is silent, and we are left asking ‘did God hear me? why didn’t he give me what I asked for?’
This is part 4 of a series of sermons exploring the essential questions on prayer. So far we have been looking at how God invites us to talk with him and bring him our requests. But many of you reading this will know that there are times in our spiritual conversation when it feels like God has stopped listening to us. We ask and but don’t receive, we seek but don’t find, we knock on a door but it remains shut.
So if we are wanting to grow in our home prayer life we need to understand how God answers our prayers. Because the truth is that God does hear all our prayers and answers every one of them, but not always in the ways we are wanting or expecting. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14 (NIV)
There are three ways God responds to our prayer; yes, no, and wait. Sometimes we pray and immediately we receive what we asked for, like when we pray about our worries and then instantly have peace about our troubles. When we pay attention we see that God answers ‘yes’ to our prayers all the time. We just don’t always realise it because we forget what we pray for and take some things for granted. But if you’ve eaten food today, that’s God answering your prayer to give you your daily bread. So remember to say thank you, “Pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 (NIV)
Other times God responds to our prayers with a ‘no.’ Before we think about some of the reasons why that might be, we need to remember who God is. We can sometimes think of praying to God like writing our Christmas letter to Santa Claus, and if we are really really good then he will give us anything we ask for. Or maybe God is like Aladdin’s Genie, and if we say the right words in the right order, and rub our Bibles at the same time, then he has to grant our wish. But God is not our servant, it is not his job to answer our prayers. He is our creator, we exist to do his will and glorify his name, not the other way around.
The right image to have of God in prayer, the picture Jesus gives us, is that of a loving parent, a perfect Heavenly Father. Imagine if a parent automatically said yes to every request their child makes, it would be a disaster! If the thing we are asking for is not good, or could be harmful to ourselves or for other people then, like any good parent, God will say ‘no.’ God wants the best for us and he has good plans for our lives, and sometimes he says ‘no’ because he has something much better planned for us. I can think of times when I have prayed to get a certain job, and God said, ‘no.’ At the time I was disappointed. But years later I look back and see the better things God had in store for me, and I am now so thankful that he did not give me what I asked for.
But sometimes the years go by and we still cannot understand why God did give us what we were asking for. Like when we pray for the healing of a loved one, and the healing never comes. All we can do is trust that from God’s eternal perspective it happened for good. And in our pain go deeper into prayer and bring our questions and our tears to our Father in Heaven, just like the Psalmist who prayed, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Psalm 13:1 (NIV)
But not every response that’s not a ‘yes’ is a ‘no’, a lot of the time God replies to our prayers with ‘wait.’ This happens when what we ask for is good but the timing is wrong, or we are not ready to receive it just yet. And this can be frustrating for us, because we want everything now. But the reality is the faith grows in the waiting. The more we wait, the more we pray, and the more we pray, the more our hearts becomes aligned to God’s will, and his desires become our desires. God’s plans are better than our plans, and his timing is perfect. In the waiting we learn to examine our hearts and our motives, we repent of our sins, and we discover the freedom of surrendering to God’s will.
Two things I would encourage you to do as we think about how we can apply this to our home prayer life. First is to pray for the things we know God will respond positively to. How do we do that? By asking God to do what he has promised. The Bible is full of God’s promises, if we ask for what he has promised he will always say ‘yes.’ (Click here for a list of 6 prayers God always answers)
Secondly, keep praying. Jesus taught his disciples to always pray and never give up. God is a loving and powerful God, and he is doing big things in this world and in your life. Today could be the day when ‘wait’ becomes ‘yes.’
May your ‘Yes’ teach me gratitude.
May your ‘No’ give me understanding of your will.
May your ‘Wait’ grow my faith.
Spirit teach me how to pray and never give up.