The God of Hope Behind the Answer We’d Rather Not Hear

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May 31 2016
Author: Pastor Bill Henderson

Supplemental teaching for session Five of Wayne Grudem’s 20 Life-Transforming Truths

For every dramatic story of answered prayer, there seems to be no shortage of stories of unanswered prayer. Sometimes the sky above is like brass against which the arrows of our puny prayers ricochet back to earth. So Christians have sincerely asked, “Why is that?” First, it’s probably worth saying that while we may feel that our prayers have fallen on deaf ears, strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as unanswered prayer. Once we realize that God hears every pin drop in His universe our false feelings are exchanged for the reality that God can simply answer, “No, never,” just as He can say, “No, not yet.”

The following are just a sampling of some biblical reasons for why God may choose to give us the answer we’d rather not hear:

1. Sometimes it only seems as though God says, “No,” to our prayers but quite simply we haven’t even bothered to pray. James warns us: “You do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2). When sin clouds our judgment prayer takes a hike. James says to his Christian readers, displaced from their Palestinian homes and embroiled in envy-driven in-fighting, “Hang on a sec, in the first place you haven’t even talked to God about this!” Let us learn that “No” is not “No” when prayer is not prayed. And the straight forward solution to prayerlessness is to start praying and let your first prayer be a prayer of repentance.

2. Sometimes God says, “No,” because our motives are messed up. James says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3). Self-gratifying motives create an impediment to prayer. The end goal for prayer is always God’s glory never personal vainglory. So we must take honest stock of our heart’s intentions. David says, “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call on Him in truth (Psalm 145:18)

3. Sometimes God says, “No,” because our hearts have become a hiding place for sin. God is serious about the connection between our obedience and our prayer lives. If we’re stingy in our compassion and generosity to the poor God will suppress His answers to our prayers (Proverbs 21:13). If we have an unforgiving spirit God will not answer our prayers for forgiveness (Matthew 6:15). If you’re guilty of maltreating your spouse your sin clogs the conduit of answered prayer (1 Peter 3:7). Listen to David’s telling reflection: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!” (Psalm 66:18-20). God’s holy nature forbids Him from answering the prayers of those who are not morally fit to receive answers. But David had taught his son well because Solomon echoed his Dad: “He who conceals his sin does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

4. Sometimes God says, “No,” because the timing isn’t right. This was the lesson that Jairus learned when, with reckless abandon, he made his earnest plea to Jesus for his daughter’s healing (Luke 8:40-56). But Jesus indulged another needy woman with a uterine hemorrhage en route to Jairus’ house, so upon arrival, Jairus’ bedridden daughter was found dead. Why? Not because Jesus had forgotten her, but because the Son of God runs on a different clock. He ran on Jesus-time, not man-time. And the famous story ends with some of Jesus’ disciples and her parents in the bedroom watching Jesus raise her from the dead. Jesus was “late” in man-time, but right on time as far as God-time is concerned.

So sometimes God doesn’t share our urgency but “later” doesn’t mean “never.” Sometimes it may appear as though God is saying, “No,” but He’s just saying, “No – for now.” Therefore, we have to learn to trust Him and even though we responsibly make plans we defer to His calendar and clock. Otherwise, we’re like the little boy in the car who can’t see over the dashboard but cries, “Hurry up, go faster, Mom,” when she is already going the speed limit, and “Why are you stopping, don’t stop” when a school bus has just stopped in front of her. Spiritually we’re too young to see the road signs and too small to see what lies ahead. So we do best to trust the Lord in His infinite wisdom, priorities, and purposes; His delays prove Him timeless and timely.

5. Sometimes God says, “No,” because He can’t say “Yes” to two prayers when they are contradictory. Once when I was visiting a family at the bedside of a loved one who had slipped into a coma, it became obvious to me that they were praying at cross-purposes to one another. Some were praying, “Lord, take her home and deliver her from this body of death.” But others were praying with equal sincerity, “Lord, bring her back to us and give her the measure of health she once had.” Another time, I sat in the Toronto Sick Kid’s Hospital and prayed alongside a Vancouver family that God would supply a heart for their 16-month-old son. Meanwhile, I quietly knew that our prayers for a timely transplantable heart could possibly be in opposition to the prayers of another couple elsewhere in the country who were equally pierced with emotion and vying for the life of their child. But it can’t be both ways; a heart can’t be shared.

Even a solitary individual can pray contradictorily. Recall the story of Job. In the midst of his acute suffering, he flip-flopped in his prayers. On the ash pit of anguish, wishing he was either never born (3:1-4) or stillborn (3:11, 16), Job sank into a depression which led to a graphic suicidal prayer (6:8-9). Yet a few months later, Job’s prayer rolled over on all fours, and he began to pray for recovery: “I stand up in the assembly and cry for help!” (30:28b). Graciously, God said, No,” to his suicidal prayer, but we know from Job’s epilogue (42:7-17) that God said “Yes,” to his prayer for recovery. Job thankfully discovered that opposite prayers don’t attract.

So aren’t you glad that God doesn’t answer all our prayers with a green light? Even though some of life’s prayers are emotionally loaded for us, we ought to be thankful that God is God and we are not. Somehow, with His infinite aerial perspective, God looks down with a panoramic sweep knowing the beginning from the end and He reconciles all the prayers we voice. He alone is able to make impossibly difficult decisions that are lightyears beyond our wisdom and experience. Therefore, we trust that the Judge of all the earth will do right even when incompatible prayers are made, and someone somewhere must discover the God of hope behind the answer we’d rather not hear.

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