Unanswered Prayer

Scripture is clear that God answers prayer. As long as we are persistent in our prayer and don’t lose heart, we will see our prayers answered (Luke 18:1-8). As long as we are praying with the right motives, we will see our prayers answered (James 4:3). As long as we have faith and do not doubt, our prayers will be answered (Mark 11:22-24). In Matthew 7:7-8, we read that Jesus taught us to ask, seek, and knock: “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Clearly, God does answer prayer.

Some may say, “But I do all of the things you just mentioned! I persist in my prayers and don’t lose heart. I believe I have the right motives. I have faith and not doubt. So why does it seem that some of my prayers go unanswered, or that the answers I receive are not what I hoped for?” The answer to that question is one that only God can give. When we are dealing with the disappointment, the dejection, or the doubt that may come when we don’t receive the answer to prayer that we hoped for, we may find ourselves in a low place, in a valley. But, in that valley, we have a choice. We can allow those feelings to cause us to lose faith, or we can invite Jesus into the feelings we are experiencing and ask Him to help us with them. We can allow those feelings to cause us to lose trust in God, or we can look at them as a way to grow closer as He helps us to walk through the valley we are in.

When it comes to dealing with unanswered prayer, one of the things we need to remind ourselves of is the purpose of prayer. In the devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers said that we are off track if we insist on an answer to our prayers. He points out that the purpose of prayer is not the answer but rather that we should grab hold of God. So, the purpose of prayer is not about the results of the prayer. It is about bringing us into the presence of God. It is about spending time in His presence, building a relationship with Him as we share our thoughts, our desires, and our needs with Him. It’s about who He is and not what He can do for us.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that God would take away the suffering He was about to endure. But He then prayed that God’s will would be done and not His own (Luke 22:42). When we pray, we should be praying for God’s will to be done, even if that means that we don’t receive the answer we are looking for. And when we receive an answer to prayer that is not what we had hoped for, we need to submit to His will. God knows what we need. He knows what is best for us. And, although sometimes His answer may not be the one we hoped for, it is surely the answer that is best.

After His resurrection, Jesus met two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus. The disciples did not know Jesus had risen and did not recognize Him for who He was, and so they were dejected. As Jesus talked with them, they explained their dejection, saying, “We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.” (Luke 24:21) Why were the disciples dejected? They had hoped that Jesus was the answer to their prayers. Their prayers were for a political Messiah, a Messiah who would redeem their nation from the oppression of the Romans. They would soon find out that their prayer was answered and, although not in the way that they had hoped, in a way that far exceeded all that they could have hoped or imagined.

Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” We may not always receive the answer to prayer that we were hoping for but we can be sure of this: God’s answer to our prayer is the best possible answer, an answer meant to fulfill His plans for us, plans that have our future and our good at heart.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

“Are You Listening?”

I have a question for you. Which is easier? Talking or listening? I’m willing to bet that, if you’re being completely honest, your answer is talking. Here’s another question. Have you ever been with another person, perhaps a spouse or a friend and, in the middle of the conversation, that person says to you, “Are you listening?” Human nature being what it is, when it comes to conversation, the tendency of most people is to talk more than listen. That’s why Mark Twain once said, “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.”

Let’s go back to the conversation I mentioned before. When you were asked, “Are you listening?” have you ever responded by saying, “Yes. I heard you.”?You may have heard what the person was saying. Perhaps you can even remember the words that the person spoke. But were you really listening? The dictionary defines the verb “listen” as giving one’s attention to a sound. The verb “hear” is defined as perceiving with the ear the sound made by someone or something. Do you see the difference? Hearing involves the perception of sound. But listening means more than that. When you are truly listening, you are not only hearing the sound being made, but you are also giving it your attention.

Hearing and listening are two different things. When we hear what someone says rather than listen to it, we are not focusing our attention on the person and what that person is trying to communicate. We may be thinking about what we are going to say next. We may be thinking about what we’re going to have for lunch. We may be looking at a text on our cell phones. We are hearing the words the other person is speaking, but we are not giving those words, or that person, our full attention. We are distracted. We are not listening. Unfortunately, this is true even in our relationship with God. When life seems unfair, when we are dealing with difficult circumstances, and even when we are looking for guidance, we can sometimes be very good at talking to God, but not as good at listening to Him.

Proverbs 20:12 says, “Ears to hear and eyes to see – both are gifts from the Lord.” God gave us ears so that we can hear. But those ears are not simply for hearing. In all three of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), as well as in the book of Revelation, Jesus is quoted more than once as saying, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (Matthew 11:15, 13:9, 13:43; Mark 4:9, 4:23; Luke 8:8, 14:35; Revelation 13:9). We were given ears not only to hear, but also to listen and understand. And in order to do that, we need to give our full attention to the one to whom we are listening.

God wants to hear what we have to say, but He also wants us to hear what He is saying to us. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God!” In order to truly listen to God and understand what He says, we need to give Him our full attention. We need to “be still.” The Hebrew word translated as “be still” in Psalm 46:10 means “release” or “let go.” If we are to listen to God, if we are to understand what He says to us, we need to release or let go of the things that may distract us from truly listening. We need to find a time and a place that are free from distractions. We need to let go of things in our lives that may prevent us from listening to God’s still, small voice. That could mean lifestyle changes. If we are to truly hear what God has to say to us, if we are to listen and understand, we must give Him our full and undivided attention. We must “be still.”

What’s in a Name?

In the famed tragedy by William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet are in love. The problem is that their families, the Montagues and the Capulets hate each other and so, Juliet, who is a Capulet, is forbidden to have any association with Romeo, who is a Montague. Their love is forbidden solely because of a name. In one scene of Shakespeare’s play, Juliet says, “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Juliet is pointing out that Romeo would still be the wonderful person she believes him to be no matter what his name was. She is asking what is so special or significant about a name.

When it comes to the name of Jesus, there is great significance to the name. Scripture is quite clear about that! In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul tells us that the name of Jesus is the name above all other names (Philippians 2:9). Paul goes on to say in Philippians 2:10-11 that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” So when it comes to names, the name of Jesus Christ is not just significant. It’s the most significant name there is. The name of Jesus is so significant that, in the Gospel of John, we read that Jesus taught His disciples that they should pray in His name. And He told them this not just once but three times.

In John 14:13-14, Jesus said, “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” Then, in John 15:16, Jesus said, “You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.” And finally, in John 16:23-24, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.” Clearly, such emphasis on praying in His name tells us that there is an importance to it.

What makes it so important to pray in the name of Jesus is that, when we do, we are praying with faith in the authority of Jesus and praying for the authority and power of Jesus to be manifest in the situation we are praying about. Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). There is power in the name of Jesus (John 17:12). Jesus taught His disciples that they should call on that authority and power by praying in His name. When we look at the book of Acts, we can see that this was a lesson they learned and understood.

In Acts 3, a man who was lame from birth sat each day at the Temple gate called Beautiful to beg from the people going into the Temple. One day, as Peter and John were about to enter the Temple, the man asked them for money. After telling the man to look at them, Peter told the man that he had no money to give him but what he did have to give the man was even greater–the power and authority of the name of Jesus. So Peter told the man to get up and walk in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene. Soon the man was running and jumping and praising God, healed from the lameness he had dealt with all his life. Later that same day, when Peter and John were questioned as to what power or by whose name they had healed the man. Peter’s response, found in Acts 4:10 showed that he fully understood the authority and power of Jesus name: “Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.”

When we call on the name of Jesus in prayer, we are calling on that same authority and that same power that Peter called upon. When we call upon the name of Jesus, we are calling on the only name given by God by which each one of us must be saved (Acts 4:12).

Using God’s Gifts

When you receive a gift from someone, whether it be for a birthday, an anniversary, or for no special reason other than the desire of the giver to present you with a gift, that gift is generally meant for you and you alone. We’re not given gifts of jewelry, clothes, books, or flowers for the purpose of giving them to someone else. But what about a gift like a coffee maker, a food processor, or a set of dishes? Those are gifts that we are given for the purpose of using them to serve others by providing them with food or nourishment for the body.

God gives each one of us certain gifts that, just like that coffee maker, are given to us for the purpose of using them to serve others. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” The gifts that God gives us are not used to feed the body, like the food processor or the dishes. God’s gifts are used to feed the spirit, to serve others by helping us to encourage them, comfort them, disciple them, and build them up in their faith.

We may have the gift of speaking, a gift that we should use by allowing God to speak through us. We may have a gift for helping others, a gift that we should use by tapping into the strength and energy God gives us to do so. When we use these gifts to serve others, we are building up the body of Christ, building up God’s children. Whatever gifts God has given us, the ultimate goal in using those gifts is to bring glory to God through His Son, Jesus. (1 Peter 4:11).

When we think about the gifts that we give to others, or that others give to us, there are a great variety of gifts to choose from, as well as a great variety of places or sources from which these gifts can be obtained. The gifts that God gives us are spiritual gifts of which there are, as Peter points out in 1 Peter 4:10, a great variety. In 1 Corinthians 12:4, Paul says that there are different kinds of spiritual gifts. But, unlike the earthly gifts that we give and receive, the gifts that God gives all come from the same source. They come from the Holy Spirit. And, as Peter pointed out, they are given to us to serve one another and glorify God. Look at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11:

“A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.”

God gives each one of us spiritual gifts according to our own abilities. Our responsibility is to be faithful in using those gifts as we serve one another and give glory to God. When we use our gifts faithfully in this way, we will one day receive the wonderful gift of hearing the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Prayer: Lifestyle or Lifeline?

On the TV game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, a contestant is asked a number of multiple-choice questions on a variety of subjects. As the monetary value of the question being asked grows higher, the questions become more difficult. To help with those difficult questions, the contestant is given three methods of receiving help with the answer, called “lifelines.” If the contestant is stuck and not sure of the correct answer, he or she can poll the audience, have two of the incorrect answer choices removed creating a 50/50 chance at getting the right answer, or call a friend for help with the answer.

When it comes to dealing with problems or trials in life, how many of us look to use a “lifeline” for our answers? Maybe we “poll the audience,” by seeking the advice of others or looking at the way in which others handled similar problems or trials? Maybe we look at the possible solutions, eliminate some and then play “eenie, meenie, minie, mo” with the remaining solutions hoping for a 50/50 chance at choosing the right one? Or maybe, just maybe, we “call a friend” by going to God in prayer, asking for His help with the solution to our problems.

I’m sure you can agree that the third option, the third “lifeline,” is the best to use in dealing with the things in life that we can’t solve on our own. But here’s another question: Should prayer be treated as a “lifeline?” Should we look at prayer as a last resort, the thing that we turn to when we can’t deal with life’s difficulties in our own power? Should prayer be a “lifeline” or a lifestyle?” Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be turning to God when facing a dilemma, when we are stuck between a rock and a hard place and don’t know where to turn. We should do that! But that should not be the only time we turn to God in prayer.

Prayer should be a lifestyle. It should be something that we do as naturally as breathing, eating, sleeping, or any of the things we do to stay healthy and alive. Scripture tells us that we should be devoted to prayer (Colossians 4:2), we should be faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12), and we should pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Acts 2:42 tells us that the early church devoted themselves to prayer. Jesus prayed (Matthew 14:23) and He taught His disciples to pray (Luke 11:1-4).

Prayer is an important part of the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. As I said before, it should be a lifestyle and not simply a “lifeline.” Think about it. Let’s say that you had a close friend who came to you or called or visited you only when he had a problem. When all was well, he all but ignored you. How would you feel about that relationship? Would you feel it was a bit one-sided? God desires to be in relationship with us. He wants us to spend time with Him. He is always there for us when we need Him in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). But He wants us to seek Him first, to spend time with Him before we bring our problems and our requests to Him. He knows what we need and He wants to give it to us (Matthew 6:31-33). And so, prayer should be a lifestyle, not a lifeline.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

There are some things that need to be done repeatedly. Take laundry, for example. We wash our clothes, we dry them, we fold them, and then after we’ve worn them, we do it all over again. Wash. Dry. Fold. Repeat. And unless you don’t mind walking around in dirty clothes, it’s a process you will do at least weekly, right? Wash. Dry. Fold. Repeat. Wash. Dry. Fold. Repeat.

Among the many things that Scripture teaches us we should do as believers are to be joyful, to be consistent in prayer, and to be thankful. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, the apostle Paul wrote: “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” In other words, “Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks. Repeat.”

When should we rejoice? When should we be joyful? In 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Paul tells us that we should be joyful always. Not just when things are going great. Not just when we feel like all is well with the world. We should be joyful in all circumstances, good and bad. We should be joyful when we are in the best of health and we should be joyful when we get concerning news about our health. We should be joyful when we have plenty and we should be joyful when we have nothing. But how can we be joyful in the bad times? Psalm 28:7 gives a great answer: “The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” We can be joyful in the bad times because God is our strength, God is our shield, and He is there to help us.

When should we pray? On Sundays? A couple of times a week? Once a day? 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says that we should never stop praying. When it comes to prayer, we need to look at the example of the early church. Acts 1:14 tells us that the early believers got together with one main purpose, to be united in prayer. Paul tells us in Colossians 4:2 that we should be devoted to prayer. Prayer should be as much a part of our daily lives as breathing is. In Luke 18, Jesus told His disciples the story of the persistent widow who went to the judge repeatedly in order to seek justice against an adversary. Jesus told this story to show them, and us, the importance of continually praying and never giving up (Luke 18:1). But this is not because God takes delight in making us ask for things over and over again. Persistent prayer, praying without ceasing, builds our faith.

And when should we give thanks? When we’ve received what we seek from God in prayer. When we are completely satisfied? Yes, we should be thankful in those times. But, as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we must be thankful in all circumstances, good or bad. Why? Because giving thanks in all circumstances is God’s will for each and every one of us who belongs to Christ. A thankful heart is also a heart of worship. Psalm 50:23 says that giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors God.

So, every moment of every day, those of us who follow Jesus Christ, who believe that He died for our sins and is the Lord of our lives, should remember to…

Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks. Repeat.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

“Pray for Those Who Persecute You”

On Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, three Christian churches in the island country of Sri Lanka were bombed during Easter services, resulting in the death of over 200 people. These bombings are yet another example of the persecution of Christians around the world. According to Open Doors, an organization that ministers to persecuted Christians, every month, an average of 345 Christians are killed because of their faith, scores of churches are burned or attacked, and many believers are held without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned. And, when believers around the world suffer, each member of the body of Christ suffers with them (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Of course, persecution is nothing new to the church of Jesus Christ. The first recorded persecution of Christians took place in the first century when a believer named Stephen was stoned as a result of his faith in Christ. Stephen was arrested and brought before the high council on a false charge of blasphemy (Acts 6:11-14). When the high priest asked Stephen if the charges against him were true, Stephen gave the council a history lesson which ended with an accusation of his own, as he said, “You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.” (Acts 7:51-53)

The infuriated leaders dragged Stephen out of the city of Jerusalem and began to stone him. Stephen became the first follower of Jesus Christ to give up his life for his faith. As Scripture tells us, a great wave of persecution began that day, scattering the believers throughout the areas of Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1). That persecution was led by Saul, a young Pharisee whose zeal for the traditions of his faith led him to go from house to house, dragging people from their homes and throwing them into prison (Acts 8:3). But Saul would soon find out that it was not just these Christians that he was persecuting. As he persecuted the early church, he was also persecuting the Son of God, Jesus Christ. As he rode along the road to Damascus with the intent of arresting the Christians who had fled there and bringing them back to Jerusalem in chains, Saul had an encounter with Jesus.

As he got near to Damascus, a bright light shone around Saul and he fell to the ground. He then heard a voice say, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” When Saul asked the voice who he was, the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Blinded, Saul got up and headed for Damascus (Acts 9:3-9). From that point on, Saul would never be the same. His life was changed, as was his name. He became Paul, the apostle responsible for writing the largest part of the New Testament, the man who helped to spread the gospel throughout the known world of his time, the man whose inspired words detail the very foundations of our Christian faith. And not only that but, as a follower of Christ, Paul went from persecutor to persecuted.

As we hear about the persecution that we see in this day and age, as we hear about tragic attacks such as the ones in Sri Lanka, we need to pray. We need to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world, especially those in countries that are antagonistic toward those who believe in Jesus Christ. We need to pray for ourselves. In this country, we are not subjected to the kind of persecution we see around the world. But that may change. The world is getting darker and our faith may be tested. So we need to pray that we will stand firm in that faith. And we need to pray for those who persecute Christians. We need to pray that they, like Paul, will have a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. And we need to pray that they will receive God’s forgiveness. Stephen’s final words before he gave up his life for his faith were, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” (Acts 7:60). May that be our prayer as well. After all, in Matthew 5:44, Jesus Himself said, “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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