When payer goes unanswered

person wearing red dress

Imagine if we were given everything that we ever asked for in this life. What would happen if we were literally given everything that we wanted? It probably wouldn’t take long for there to be global chaos. Our theme this year is straining toward the goal. One of the reasons we have to strain is because we are often denied and we lose a lot. If we count the losses in our life we quickly realize that life if full of losses. We lose health, loved ones, wealth, and so on.

But what happens when our prayers go unanswered? David experienced unanswered prayer. When Bathsheba gave birth to her and David’s first child, the Lord afflicted the child. “David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground” (2 Samuel 12:16 ESV). For seven days David prayed and fasted but “on the seventh day the child died” (vs. 18). David’s servants were afraid to break the news to him. Imagine praying all day, every day for a solid week. Imagine praying that your child gets better and then he dies.

David suspected that the child died and he asked the servants. They confirmed that the boy died. “Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped” (vs. 20). It certainly wasn’t easy to worship. I doubt David was jumping for joy. But he loved God regardless and worshiped even when his prayer was not answered. Of course we know that David’s live was blessed but it was not an easy path. David would face many very difficult years after this.

Ask With Proper Motives

close up of hand over white background

James warns against worldliness. He says that passions wage war within us. He says, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so your fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2 ESV). He also says that when we do ask we don’t receive because of poor motives: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (vs. 3).

The opposite is true, though. We will receive if we ask with proper motives. James says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (vs. 6). When we humble ourselves and ask with proper motives, God will grant it to us. God wants us to be able to help others. He wants us to have abundance so that we can provide for the needs of others.

If we humble ourselves, distance ourselves from worldly desires, and genuinely want to help others God will provide for our needs and grant us what we ask of him. God’s will is that people be taken care of and ultimately be saved. When we work to this end, God blesses abundantly.

The Humble Prayer

Free hands praying in church

Our theme this year is God First. This quarter’s focus is on God and you. As children of God, we can’t talk about our relationship with God without focusing on prayer. Prayer is vital to our faith, spiritual health, and for building our relationship with God. Without prayer, we have no communication with God. Jesus showed the importance of prayer in the garden when he said to Peter, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41 ESV).

When God established the Temple as his house, he told Solomon that he will tune his ear to the people who humbly pray and seek his face: “. . . if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). God promises that “Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place” (vs. 15).

Over and over God is calling his people to repent, pray, and seek him. God always says that he heals them when they seek and pray. A case-in-point is when Hezekiah prayed for the Israelites when they repented but celebrated the Passover in a way that was not commanded. Hezekiah poured over the people in prayer “And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people” (2 Chronicles 30:20).

Mount Up With Wings Like Eagles

black and white eagle

Isaiah wrote during a very dark time in Israel’s history. As an 8th Century prophet, he witnessed the Assyrian invasion of the North in 722 B.C. These were troubling times for Israel, with a host of deaths, wars, and immorality. It seemed like the fires that were burning all over Israel had fuel dumped on each one, exasperating an already terrible problem of idolatry and oppression.

But God’s message in Isaiah 40 was one of comfort for the few who remained faithful. Isaiah begins his message to Jerusalem: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2 ESV).

God’s message is clear: those who need comforted will receive comfort and hose who are weary will be strengthened. “But they who wait for 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” (vs. 31). God saw the exhaustion on the people who were sorrowful from all the destruction. They were waiting for God to intervene and do something. No doubt, many people lost family members to war.

God is the same God he was yesterday. If we are weary, God will comfort and give strength.

The “Black Eye” Widow

brown wooden gavel on brown wooden table

Jesus gives us a parable in Luke 18 of the persistent widow. In this story, a widow comes to a judge and is pleading for help. The judge did not fear God nor did he respect man. But the widow didn’t give up. Day after day, she came to him, saying, “Give me justice against my adversary.” For a while the judge would not entertain her request.

After a while, though, he said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming” (Luke 18:4, 5 ESV). The word choice here is interesting. She keeps “bothering” the judge. The word used here means to wear one out by overworking them. Then he says he doesn’t want her to “beat me down” by her continual coming. The word here literally means to give someone a black eye. It was an idiom used for someone who was relentless.

The incredible thing is that Jesus is using this widow as an example of how TO pray! “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?” (vs. 7). Jesus is telling his followers to be like the “Black Eye Widow,” to keep coming to God over and over again. We shouldn’t be afraid to be bold and persistent in our prayers!

Where Two or Three Are Gathered

women praying beside green trees

Matthew 18 can be a tricky chapter. Jesus begins by saying that the greatest in the kingdom must become like little children. Then he says that it would be better for someone who causes any of the little ones to suffer to have a large millstone tied around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Then Jesus goes into a discourse on the necessity for mercy. He tells the parable of the lost sheep, followed by a story about the brother who sins against his other brother. He says if that brother sins against you, go and show him his fault. If he listens, you have won your brother over. But if he refuses, you should take one or two others along with you. If he still refuses, the brother is to be brought before the church.

Then Jesus tells them, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:19, 20 ESV). This verse has been used out of context to “prove” that it’s only necessary for two or three people to be present to worship God. But that is far from the point of the passage. The point is that there is power in the witness of two or more people. Whether we are disciplining, worshiping, or praying, there is power when two or three gather.

This is important for those of us who pray for others. James says that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Christians need to work together, not isolated from one another. When we work together God is present and powerful!

Meditating On His Word

silhouette of man at daytime

Meditation is not a word we use enough as Christians. Given its frequency in the scriptures, it’s surprising that we don’t encourage each other to take time to mediate. We may associate meditation with a practice that was common among ancient monks. They literally meditated day and night, and were exceptionally disciplined in the practice. But what about today? The more we are distracted by constant information, devices, and the noise of life, the more we are losing the connection with God through mediation.

Mediation, prayer, and reading scriptures (the Law), were all intertwined. There were several words used in Hebrew that translate to mediation in English. These words range in meaning from musings (“reflection”) to whispering in the heart to moaning, uttering, or speaking out loud. Mediation does not take on only one inward, silent form.

The Psalms are full of references to mediation. For example, Psalm 1:1-2 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Similarly, in Psalm 19, David says, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

Over and over again, people meditate on God and His word, even keeping watch in the middle of the night. There is something to be said about meditating on God’s word. It completely shifts our paradigm. It moves us from takers to seekers. It causes us to reflect daily on the goodness of God. When our attitude changes, we are far more prone to helping others. Selfishness fades in the discipline of meditation.