Unanswered, Part 1
From the series When We Pray
We've all had those unexpected phone calls, sudden revelations, or tragedies that cause us to cry out to God in desperation – “Please, please help!" But in this program, guest teacher Ryan Ingram asks: what do we do when God seems to be silent to our frantic pleas? As we continue his series, When We Pray, Ryan will help us navigate the complex and painful subject of unanswered prayers.
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About this series
When We Pray
Developing Intimacy with God
If you are like most Christians, praying is often a confusing, mis-prioritized, and forgotten part of our faith journey. But in this series, guest teacher Ryan Ingram will guide us to a healthier, more beneficial view of prayer. He will debunk common misbeliefs about talking to God, how to practice stillness, and what we are to do when our prayers seemingly go unanswered. If you genuinely want to strengthen your prayer life, this teaching will help!More from this series
Today, we are actually going to dive into the deep waters of unanswered prayers knowing that as we step into this room we all in some way have deep longings and places where we have just longed for God to speak, longed for God to move. And, yet, it just felt silent.
And I want to navigate as best and as wisely as I can and I also acknowledge this is a big subject. This isn’t a sermon, this is a series. And so, we are not going to try to cover all of it. And I want to resource you. I have been reading this book for the last several weeks. It’s called God on Mute by Peter Greig. It’s a great book. Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer and talking about his journey.
He's a Charismatic Anglican in England who led this 24/7 prayer movement, global, international movement and seeing God heal and then at the same time, His wife had a brain tumor and then after surgery has debilitating seizures and seeing God not heal in that circumstance. And just a powerful, incredible resource. And so, if you’re in the season of those deep waters, I hope today brings some clarity and some encouragement, but I also encourage you, dive deeper.
John 14, 13 to 14. It says, and this is what Jesus is saying the night He is betrayed before He is about to be crucified. His final words to His disciples and He’s encouraging them, strengthening them, equipping them for what is ahead. And He says this, “And I will do whatever you ask in My name so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask Me for anything in My name and I’ll do it.”
And isn’t that the tension of our soul is you’re like, Okay, Ryan, I get like we’ve talked about in His name. Like, that’s in line with the character and the will of God in the line of His character and name. But I’m pretty sure, doesn’t seem like I’ve been praying for healing for my marriage and I haven’t seen it yet.
And maybe you were a kid and you were praying that your parents would get back together. Like we get stuck in this world of these promises, these passages, that how incredible that Jesus actually says that when you pray, it effects change, and God actually moves on our behalf. And you’re like, “Yeah, but why is just some of the time?”
We have the stories and we have seen it. And for many, you probably have experienced a tangible answer to prayer. But why is it some of the time, not all of the time?
In our time together, I want to just ask a couple questions and then leave us with Jesus’ unanswered prayer. A couple questions. The first one is why some prayers go unanswered. The second question is how do we live in the tension of unanswered prayers? And then we are going to conclude with actually Jesus Himself had an unanswered prayer and how it informs us in our daily lives today.
Well, why some prayers, why do they go unanswered? Why do some prayers go unanswered? And these are more, I want to just go over some conditions of our heart that actually create barriers or roadblocks in our prayer. The first is simply this and it’s so obvious, but it’s really true is we simply don’t pray. We worry, we worry a lot about it, don’t we? We anxiously hope. I wish… We talk a lot about it. We tell everyone about it. But we don’t pray. Jesus said in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, search.”
First question why some prayers go unanswered is have I really prayed? I mean, have you really brought it before the Lord? Have you really come before? Have you sought Him? Have you said, “Yeah, no, no. I’m setting my face towards You and I’m going to cling to You and I’m going to search after You and I’m going to call upon You.” Have you really prayed?
The second reason some prayers go unanswered is we have unconfessed sin. Psalm :18 says, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” He wouldn’t hear me. If I had cherished sin in my heart. If I live in a way that is contrary to the wills and the way of Jesus, if I have habitual, consistent sin. We’re not talking about perfection here. We are talking, though, about being honest and confessing and repenting. 1 John 1:9 says, “If you confess your sin, He is faithful and just and will forgive us and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
1 Peter 3: says, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,” he’s quoting a psalm here, “and His ears are attentive to their prayers. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Now, if you read the context of 1 Peter 3, men, in particular husbands, listen up. Because Peter addresses husbands and says, “Husbands, if you do not honor your spouse, God will not hear you.” Mm-hm. This should have been, like, an amazing “amen” by, like, a number of you ladies in here, by the way.
Like, there’s a way that when you treat another human being, there’s a way when you treat your spouse that it actually breaks connection and creates a barrier in your prayer life. See, first reason some prayers go unanswered is because we simply don’t pray. The other is we harbor sin in our life. We have unconfessed sin where we need to come before. He’s eager, eager to cleanse us.
Third is we come with the wrong motives. We come with the wrong motives. James, the brother of Jesus writes this, “You do not have because you do not ask God. And then when you ask, you do not receive because you ask with the wrong motives that you may spend what you get on your own pleasures.” Come with the wrong motives. It goes something like this: God, if You give me this job, then I will bring You so much glory in it. God, if I close this deal, I’ll be able to give so much more to You!
Let’s just be honest. None of us pray with a hundred percent pure motives. So, for example, this morning as I’m preparing, one of my prayers is, God, would You speak powerfully through me that Your Word would bring life and hope and shape those who hear it? Now, at the same time, there is a motive inside me that I have to be honest about that, yes, I long for God to speak through me, but I also at the very same time long for Him to speak through me so that you think well of me.
Isn’t it amazing how we can pray very spiritual prayers and yet still have this tension of motive? See, of unconfessed sin, you ask the question: Is there anything in me that is not of You? With our motives, you simply begin to ask: Do I have anything in me, like, is there any motive that is not of You? Where is the mixture? Let’s just be honest, most of our prayers have it!
That’s okay. Here’s what you do with it: You go, God, and this was what I did this morning, this is a really deep-water subject and I long for You to speak. And at the same time, I acknowledge myself, in my brokenness, in my proclivity that I want people to think well of me. And I just used “proclivity” as a big word to impress you that I know words. Hello. Sinful. Human! Right? And you acknowledge that motive and you bring it before your heavenly Father.
Have I honestly evaluated my motives? We just don’t pray, we have unconfessed sin, we come with the wrong motives. The final one will kind of shock you a little bit. We fail to practice generosity and justice. You find this throughout the Old Testament specifically Proverbs, Psalms, prophets. You see it in the life of Jesus.
Proverbs 21:13 says this, “Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.” Jesus would give us the Great Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And the second is like it.” That “and” is a conjunction in which it is in the tense that we’d say, “The second cannot be taken from it. It is intricately linked.” Like, you cannot love God and not do the second. And we think we can. The second is, “And love your neighbor as yourself.”
My vertical love and relationship with God always expresses in love to His people and to the world around me. When we fail to do justice, to love mercy, to be generous; when we think that all that we have is just ours for our own sake instead of all that we have has been given by God – we are simply a steward. And so, my time, my talent, my treasure, all that I have is Yours. And You placed me on this planet, for such a time as this. You have equipped me and so, I am going to unleash generosity because You have been so generous to me.
And the heart of the Father is to bring about justice, to restore those who are broken and hurting, with no voice and no hope.
And so, why do some of our prayers go unanswered? We just don’t pray, we have unconfessed sin, we come with the wrong motives, or we fail to practice generosity.
And so, the reality is is how do we live in the tension of unanswered prayers this side of eternity?
And what I want to do is just real briefly outline some theological ideas. And hopefully whet your appetite to go deeper. Because we don’t have time to dive into the depths of these waters, but I hope to just, like, get your toe in it just a little bit, you know? So that you go, like, Oh, there is more. There’s more than what I have thought there was.
And so, I want to talk about three theologies we need to embrace in the tension of unanswered prayers.
The first theology is a theology of pain and suffering. Church in America, we need a theology of pain and suffering. And we have adopted bad theology. Bad theology will corrupt you and kill you. The American theology around pain and suffering is if I follow Jesus, my life will work out right. That is not true. The belief is God exists to meet my needs and make me happy. God exists for His own glory, not yours, by the way.
Pain, hardship, and suffering means that God has failed me. And so, this produces a fragile faith that cannot withstand the storms of life. That is the theology that we have adopted in American Christianity, that if my life is not working out right, God has somehow failed me. And yet no other world religion has a better explanation of the problem of pain and suffering than Christianity. And no other world religion has a God who suffered as well. And we worship the suffering servant who came and suffered on our behalf.
Well, a theology of pain and suffering, we are not going to go real deep into this. But let me just give you one little kind of banner, if you will. First, we live in a fallen world.
If you’ve got your Bibles, flip over to Romans chapter 8. Romans chapter 8. “And God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purposes.” And people say, “And God works all things together!” And people say it and it’s cliché. But it’s cliché because it’s pulled out of its context. Let’s get to the context.
“I consider,” verse 18, “I consider that our present sufferings,” so Paul is undergoing present suffering. He is writing a letter to the church in Rome who is undergoing present suffering. They are in the will of God, and they are suffering. Those aren’t contradictory. “…are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us, for the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subject to frustration,” why? Back in the garden when humanity chose their own way, creation was subject to frustration, “not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it,” us! “…in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from the bondage to decay and brought into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in pains of childbirth right up into this present time.”
We have to understand in this life, someone once said famously, “You will have,” thank you four of you. Isn’t that funny? That’s the promise of Jesus we don’t quote a lot.
Like, we are banking on all these other promises; Jesus promised it. “In this life you will have trouble.”
Philippians 3:10 through 11, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of His resurrection.”
The next phrase we could live without. “…and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” I want to know the power of the resurrection and participation in His suffering. Because if I’m going to follow in the ways of Jesus, I follow a suffering servant.