"When My Prayers Aren't Answered"
Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 11:9-13; John 14:15-27
Pastor Tom Millner
August 8, 2010
In my reading this week I came across an interesting story. A woman named Barbara was reflecting on the time when her father was teaching her to drive. On this particular day, her father took her to the school parking lot for her lesson and her three year old sister was in the back seat for the ride. As Barbara rounded a curve, she cut too short and ran over the curb. From the back seat she heard; "God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food." Barbara slammed on her brakes and glared at her sister in the back to say; "what are you talking about?" The three year old replied; "Your driving is scaring me and that's the only prayer I know!"
When we read scriptures like those for today from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we can see the enthusiastic genesis of the "name it and claim it" movement. After all, isn't that scripture clear in its assertion? "For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." We hear preachers proclaim in prayerful words; "Lord, we know that you love us and want what's best for us, so we ask you in the name of Jesus to give us this day what we ask for." Not only are we setting the trap for God (Lord, we know you love us), but we're using our presumed magic potion (the name of Jesus) to hedge our bets! This prayer neither honors God nor petitions Him for the kind of response that deserves any acknowledgment from Him! Wish granting has become a national pass time for many. Let me drop a coin in the fountain of the Lord and watch the miracle unfold! Folks, these kinds of prayers are not what the scripture talks about, yet it is so easy to be deceived because we seek so desperately to rise above our current state.
This week I caught a portion of an interview with an author who is undergoing chemo for cancer treatment and who tragically lost his mother some years ago. He has written a book that basically asserts that God is a myth and doesn't answer prayers. The evidence; all the suffering in the world, past and present! It's easy to follow that reasoning. When I was growing up, the most influential person in my life was my Grandma Davis. She always encouraged me, always listened intently to me and always lovingly guided me. Her stated prayer to me was that God would take her quickly so as not to linger and be a burden to any of her seven daughters. She suffered a massive stroke and was bedridden for three years, unable to care for herself and unable to talk. Her mind was clear and perfect. She was trapped inside that body, subjected to the bickering, but caring daughters who nursed her round the clock. I remember seeing her for the first time after her stroke and as I approached her bed, her facial expression changed to excitement, but tears rolled down her cheeks. I held her as she moaned to express herself and I responded "I know, Grandma…I'm praying you won't have to suffer." She did suffer for over three years and I was angry with God for what I considered neglect for the fervent prayers of a faithful servant (Grandma). Likewise, I prayed that God would deliver me from the persistent desires that crept into my psyche each time I saw a handsome man. After all, I was married to a loving wife, living the American dream, with no room for what I perceived to be a queer existence. I prayed and prayed, but God didn't answer my prayer – or so I thought! I felt God had given me a snake instead of the fish for which I had asked. I held onto my bitterness toward God and became even hostile toward the Church. I decided to give church another chance and became involved with a large Baptist church in West Palm Beach. It was there that I began to learn that God's love was not all about me, but all about Him loving we who are created in His divine image. It was during that time that I read a book about the Christian walk being one of becoming more like the image of Christ and accepting that God accepts us as we are where we are, for who we are. If that's true, I read, then how dare we not accept ourselves. From that point on, my prayers began to change – and so did my life. Instead of praying for things to change to suit my desires and perceived needs I began to pray for understanding of how God wanted me to live in the presence of His love. As I began to surrender my agenda to His whatsoever, I began to understand more and more the meaning of whosoever! God's not answering my prayers in the way I desired did not prove His non-existence; it just proved I wasn't the god in charge of the heavenly vending machine! The God who created the universe and all its contents, past, present, and future, is far more magnificent than the god of my universe. When I accept that, my prayers change, the answers to my prayers become more evident, and the peace that passes all human reasoning takes hold. The purpose of prayer is NOT to align His will with our desires, but that my surrender is to His will.
Let's go back to today's Gospel reading from John 14 beginning at verse 15 "If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live."
What is this "Spirit of truth"? No, let me rephrase; who is this Spirit of Truth? He is the Holy Spirit, the presence of God, the Counselor promised by Jesus! The focus of our prayers is to be on and in Him. Jesus tells us to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and with all you mind. When we are aligned with Him (His Holy Spirit) our heart's desire is changed, our minds are cleared toward Him, and our soul's are united beyond this temporal existence! Our love then for others changes because our love for self has taken on a more self-less understanding.
Turn with me to Matthew, chapter 6, verse nine. Jesus is instructing here how to pray: 6:9) "This, then, is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, (6:10) your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Let's break this down a bit
- "Our Father" – acknowledges the kinship with God, the divine relationship restored by the act of Christ on the cross.
- "In heaven" – acknowledges His divine place, superior to our own!
- "Hallowed be your name" – Holy is His existence, His being.
- "Your Kingdom come" – His kingdom is now and not yet. That Kingdom exists in the presence of His Holy Spirit! COME, HOLY SPIRIT!
- "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" – my desire to be aligned through the presence of His Holy Spirit in the earthly realm to the divine nature and direction of His eternal existence.
As we go further, we can interpret the format of the prayer in light of the presence and indwelling of His Spirit. Our "bread of life" is being met through and in the presence of His Holy Spirit. Unforgiveness in our hearts is like a blocked artery, choking life giving oxygen to that vital organ. We cannot experience the fullness of His Spirit who is forgiveness in the presence of our grudge, resentment, hatred, and their resulting unforgiveness in our heart. How can God dwell in a place of unforgiveness when His very essence embodies forgiveness that restores relationship with Him? He can't! That's why extending forgiveness to others, no matter how deep the wound or trauma is so vital. Forgiving doesn't mean forgetting and it doesn't mean condoning; but it does mean letting go of the judgment and leaving it in the hands of God. That's not a human trait – that's a God thing!!
I've heard it said that God always answers prayer. He says yes; no; or not now! I think there are other times when He just doesn't answer because we're not praying to God, but to the god of our own desires. That god can't answer a prayer! That god has only self interest at heart –and its dead beating!
It's OK to pray from our heart's desire; for ourselves or for others. The scriptures we read today invite that. Where we falter is in not understanding that prayer is not intended to change God's mind and will, but ours! Prayer is intended to build His Kingdom, aligning earth to Him, not Him to earth. Jesus gives us the perfect model in the "Lord's Prayer" and also in the garden before His arrest. Mark 14:36 "Abba, Father, he said, 'everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.'" What's in your prayer?