Prayer Part 3– Asbury Free Methodist – By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett
October 24th, 2021
Have you ever been there? It feels like you pray, and you seek, yet God doesn’t seem to answer your prayers. I have met a number of people for whom unanswered prayer broke their faith. They prayed for their grandfather, or mother, or someone significant in their life to be healed. But instead of being healed, they died. Their takeaway from that experience was that if God is not going to answer that prayer, then I will not believe in him or follow him. How can God be good and not answer that prayer?
My experience is different from that. I have had so many prayers where God has not seemed to answer, yet, as I look over my life, I see that God has been both faithful and good. I have seen where my perspective has been flawed and where my prayers have been flawed.
Last week we looked at the question “Why Pray?” I gave you five reasons.
- It reinforces our connection to God.
- It grows our faith.
- It changes us.
- It keeps us from falling into temptation.
- We get to actively participate in the Kingdom of God.
Today I want to give you nine reasons why God doesn’t seem to answer prayer. The manuscript for this sermon is on the website, if you want to go back and review this list. The first reason is probably the most import reason on the list.
Reason 1 – We don’t really pray.
James 4:2 (NIV)
… You do not have because you do not ask God.
Pastor Fernandes from Mumbai, India, said, “The greatest tragedy is not an unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.” I am not sure what it is about Canadian culture, but so often, we fail to pray. Maybe it is because of our individualism that is reluctant to ask people for favors; We can sometimes transfer that to God. Perhaps it is because of our worldview where the naturalistic view of the world has pushed out the supernatural. Or maybe, in reactionary to false teaching that says that God always wants you to be healthy and wealthy and never suffer, we failed to pray.
Whatever the reason, we do not have because we do not ask God. (Mark 9:16-29) I am intrigued by the story found in Mark 9. Jesus has just returned from the mount of transfiguration. There he finds some of his disciples, who have tried to cast out a demon, but could not. Jesus then casts out the demon and talks to his disciples about faith. But then he says to his disciples that this kind only comes out only through prayer. It is obvious from the context that Jesus was not saying that they should have had a long prayer meeting while trying to cast out the demon. Instead, he was saying that for this kind of demon to come out, you need to be a person of prayer.
The reason why it sometimes seems that God is not answering our prayer is that we don’t really pray. We may spend a few moments and shoot off some arrow prayers to heaven, but we don’t really pray. The rest of the reasons that I am going to give you are good and true, but they are irrelevant if we are not praying.
We need to learn to pray. The way we learn to pray is by praying. We will look at that in upcoming sermons but let me just say that prayer is an investment. It is an investment of time, of energy, of focus; sometimes, prayer is work. If prayer is an investment, how rich are you?
The second reason that God doesn’t seem to answer our prayer is,
Reason – 2 Wrong motives block our prayers
James 4:1–3 (NIV)
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
Did you catch that? When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
To understand this verse, we need to start with who God is. God is loving and generous, and he just loves to bless his children. He wants his children to have good things.
The James passage is talking about our warped desires. Too often, our desires come out of envy or covetousness. We want what other people have, or we want other people to envy what we have. Check out social media if you want to see if that’s true. Those warped desires get in the way of answered prayer. Prayers offered with wrong motives usually don’t get answered.
The verse is not saying that we cannot ask for things we would enjoy. God loves to bless his children. But if we are self-centred and living in competition with others, we will not see that blessing. Which one of you parents wouldn’t love to bless your kid with a new car? Would you bless them with a new car if you knew that one of the reasons they wanted it was to show off to their brothers and sisters? Would you bless him with a new car if you knew that new car was going to lead them towards living a self-centred life? Of course not. God knows us better than we know ourselves.
God doesn’t seem to answer prayer because we do not pray, and when we do pray, we ask with the wrong motives.
God wants to give us good gifts. He does so with a couple of purposes in mind. The first and primary is to advance the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. Jesus said in
Matthew 6:33 (NIV)
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
The second reason is to help him bless others. Speaking to those who had been given much, Paul says
1 Timothy 6:18 (NIV)
Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.
The third reason is for our enjoyment.
Timothy 6:17 (NIV)
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
Put your hope in God, not in your wealth and then enjoy everything that God has provided for you.
Back to reasons why God doesn’t always seem to answer our prayers,
Reason 3 – Double-mindedness prevents answers to prayer.
James 1:5–8 (NIV)
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
Note that in verse 5, James points out the character of God. The Greek gives the idea the God is a graciously giving, kind God. That is his nature. That is who he is. James also points out that he is generous to all. You can trust him regardless of your race or gender, or station in life. James also tells us how God gives. He gives generously, or some translations say liberally. God is an extravagant giver.
James says that when we ask, we must believe and not doubt. A person like that is double-minded. Double-minded people do not receive from the Lord.
I find it interesting that in the book of James, he calls for believers to rejoice in their trials. He acknowledges that God works through suffering. So when James is talking about faith, he is not saying that if you have enough faith, all your problems will be solved.
What James is calling for is a faith that trusts that God is good even when life is not. And when you pray trusting that God is good, you will find that God is generous.
Let me talk to you for a moment about double-mindedness.
2 Kings 17:33 (NIV)
33 They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.
That is double-mindedness: serving God and serving other gods simultaneously. Jesus said,
Matthew 6:24 (NIV)
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Trying to serve two masters at the same time is double-mindedness. We love God, and we love the world. We want to live our life on our terms, but we want God to rescue us when we get into trouble. We want Jesus as savior but not as Lord.
That is double-mindedness. That is trying to serve God and other gods simultaneously. This is what James says, such a person should not think that they will receive anything from the Lord.
Reason 4- Prayers Contrary to God’s will and glory, Thwart answered prayer
Here are a couple of verses to start with.
1 John 5:14 (NIV)
14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
John 14:13–14 (NIV)
13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
Asking in Jesus’ name does not mean tacking Jesus’ name onto the end of a prayer. Asking in Jesus’ name means praying a prayer that asks for something that Jesus would sign his name to. Jesus is all about glorifying the father and doing the father’s will. So, when we pray in Jesus’ name, we are praying in a way that will bring glory and honor to the father. We are praying in a way that is synonymous with God’s will.
There is an exception to this. In Numbers Chapter 11, It tells the story of agitators among the people of Israel who began to crave food other than the man of the God miraculously provided every day. God became angry with their constant complaining and whining. Moses tells the people
Numbers 11:18b–20a (NIV)
…The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. 19 You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, 20 but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, …
Here is how the Psalmist remembers that incident.
Psalm 106:15 (NIV)
15 So he gave them what they asked for,
but sent a wasting disease among them.
Sometimes God will answer prayer that we insist on and make it clear that we want our way rather than God’s way in order to teach us a lesson. Sometimes God will answer our prayer, not because it’s best for us to get what we have asked for, but he knows that in the long run, we will learn that he knows what is best for us.
I find that a sobering thought. Yet, I know that God is not a trickster. He is not out to get us. But he does want to teach us.
The next reason goes along with that.
Reason 5 – Sinful behaviors obstruct answers to prayer
Peter 3:10-12 (NIV)
For, whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. 11 He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
Did you catch that? God is attentive to the prayers of the righteous but not to those who do evil. This is not saying that you have to be perfect before God will answer your prayers. If that were the case, only Jesus would have seen answers to prayer in the Bible.
What it is saying is that prayer and holy living go together. What has always defined the people of God is not perfection. What has defined the people of God is a desire to do right and hearts that are quick to confess and repent when we do wrong. Holiness matters to answered prayer.
Things like unforgiveness, rebellion, mistreating others in word or deed gets in the way of answered prayer. The best way to deal with this is to keep short accounts with God. It is a good practice to start prayer off by worshipping God for who he is and then asking God to search our hearts to see if there is anything that we need to confess.
God is always gracious to forgive. Be quick to confess. Be quick to repent. God is attentive to the prayer of people like that.
Reason – 6 Individualism may obstruct our prayer.
There are a couple of problematic kinds of people when it comes to prayer. There is the kind of person who always wants you to pray for them, but they are not praying for themselves. That is kind of like getting your friend to do your homework for you.
There is another kind of person who never asked for prayer for themself. They forget that they are part of the body of Christ. God has so connected us that when one of us is hurting, It affects all of us. Each one of you who is a follower of Christ is part of the body of Christ. God has made us in such a way that we cannot be self-sufficient. We need each other. We need each other’s spiritual gifts. We need each other’s prayers.
Listen to Paul’s words,
2 Corinthians 1:11 (ESV)
You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
If Paul thought that he needed the help of the people of God, then don’t you think that you might need help as well.
Now I get that some prayer requests need to be handled with confidentiality. We should not put that so and so and so and so are having trouble in their marriage out on the prayer chain. That would not be good. For those kinds of requests, call a few people that you trust to pray.
But there are all kinds of other requests that should be put out on the prayer chain. By the way, we have a prayer chain that operates by phone and a prayer chain that operates by email; if you would like to be on either, contact the office. The prayers of the people matter. Do not let individualism get in the way of answered prayer.
Reason 7 – Inaction may frustrate answers to prayer.
All the way through scripture, you see people combining prayer with action. Nehemiah prayed about returning to Jerusalem. But first, he had to take a big risk in talking to the king. Esther prayed and fasted for three days, and then she appeared before the king uninvited. That was a huge risk.
There is a time to wait on God and not move ahead of him. But oftentimes, prayer without action is as defective as action without prayer. When we are praying for something or someone, it is good and proper two ask the Lord what he would have us do in this situation.
Reason 8 – Better answers mask answers to prayer.
Sometimes we conclude that if God’s answer to our prayer request doesn’t match exactly what we wanted, that he didn’t answer our prayer. But suppose I had a teenager who asked for a bicycle, and I responded by giving him a car. Did I match his request? No. Sometimes God gives us immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.
Now suppose you ask God for a car, but God provides someone else to drive you to work and to pick up groceries, has God answered your prayer. Not in the way that you wanted. But if you were to take the money that you saved on insurance and gas and maintenance and save that money, it would not be long until you could afford a car. In the process, God has taught to something.
Paul asked for relief from his thorn in the flesh, and God gave him grace that was sufficient. Jesus’ disciples asked him to save them from their oppressors, and Jesus said I’ll do one better I will save you from yourselves. God often skips over short-sighted prayers with a better answer. Sometimes those better answers mask answers to prayer.
Reason 9 – divine timing delays answers to prayer
Actually, reason number 8 is what we’re going to look at next week.
There are probably a number of other reasons why prayers go on answered. But I believe that one of the ways that the devil slanders the name of God to his people is that they think that God is not good because he hasn’t answered prayer.
I want you to know that God is good. Sometimes there are reasons that our prayers are seemingly unanswered. If you have been praying for something for a long while, it is right and good to ask God if there is anything that is hindering your prayers. He may have even shown you something as I have been speaking. Press into that.
Now I do realize that sometimes we will not know the reason for unanswered prayer until we get to heaven. But, sometimes I think we use that mystery to keep us from pushing into prayer – and allowing God to teach us about prayer.
Here is what I know. God is good. He wants the very best for us. So often we fail to believe that. Would you take a look at today’s reasons and ask God if there is something that is getting in the way of your prayers.
Reason #1 – We don’t really pray.
Reason #2 – Wrong motives block our prayers
Reason #3 – Double-mindedness prevents answers to prayer.
Reason #4 – Prayers Contrary to God’s will and glory, Thwart answered prayer
Reason #5 – Sinful behaviors obstruct answers to prayer
Reason #6 – Individualism may obstruct our prayer.
Reason #7 – Inaction may frustrate answers to prayer.
Reason #8 – Better answers mask answers to prayer.
Reason #9 – Divine timing delays answers to prayer
Sermon Questions – Why God Doesn’t seem to answer our Prayer.
Sermon Questions – Why God Doesn’t seem to answer our Prayer.
October 24 – Prayer Part 3
1. What are you thankful for this week?
2. What are you praying about this week?
Digging in – Today we are looking at reasons why God doesn’t seem to answer our prayers. As you reflect on these reasons – ask God about your own prayer life.
Reason 1 – We don’t really pray.
Read James 4:2 – Why do you think that we don’t really ask God for what we want/need?
Reason 2 – Wrong motives block our prayer.
Read James 4:1-3 – What wrong motives are identified here? Can we pray for stuff we want?
Gods purposes for answering prayer are
- Advancing his kingdom (Mat. 6:33)
- To Bless others (1 Tim. 6:18)
- To provide for our enjoyment (1 Tim 6:17)
Reason 3 – Double-mindedness prevents answers to prayer.
Read James 1:5-8 – What is double-mindedness? (2 Kings 17:33) (Mat. 6:24)
Reason 4 – Prayers contrary to God’s will and glory thwart answered prayer.
John 14:13-14 – What does it mean to pray in Jesus’ name?
Does God sometimes answer prayers we insist upon – even when they are not what he sees is best for us? (Numbers 11:18b-20a, Psalm 106:5) How does that make you feel?
Reason 5 – Sinful Behaviours obstruct answers to prayer.
Read 1 Peter 3:10-12 – What does this say about unanswered prayer?
Reason 6 – Individualism may obstruct our prayer
Why are some reluctant to ask people to pray for them?
Read 2 Corinthians 1:11 – What does Paul say about prayer in this verse?
Reason 7 – Inaction my frustrate answers to prayer.
What do you think of the quote “Prayer without action is as defective as action without prayer.”
Reason 8 Better answers mask answers to prayer.
Can you think of an example of this?
Looking at the list, what would be the primary reason your prayers would get thwarted?