daily Broadcast

Unanswered, Part 2

From the series When We Pray

Have you ever prayed, prayed, and prayed for something, and you were disappointed or even a bit mad that God didn’t come through? In this program, guest teacher Ryan Ingram speaks to that feeling as he picks up in his series When We Pray. Whether it’s for a sick relative, a personal crisis, or a global tragedy, learn what to do when our prayers seem to go unanswered.

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Message Transcript

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. Can you just write that down? We live in a fallen world. I want you to jot next to it: Genesis chapter 3. Genesis 1, it begins with God’s creation and He says after each time of acts of creation: It was good. And then when He created humankind and He said: It was very good.

Genesis 2, we see just the intricacies of God’s creative work and then Genesis 3 He created humanity with free will to be able to choose Him or not to choose Him. That’s what all love and relationship requires is the ability to choose. Humanity, Adam and Eve, said, “My will be done. I want that and not You.” And we now live in the fall. We live in a world that was not the way God designed it to be. It’s broken.

In fact, if you’ve got your Bibles, flip over to Romans chapter 8. Romans chapter 8. And by the way, we have some of these trite sayings in Christianity, because we rip them out of their context. And when we rip them out of their context, they are trite instead of being these truths of God’s Word.

The trite saying that we pull out of it is Romans 8:28, “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.”

And even in the midst of a fallen, broken world where this does not work the way God designed it to be, God is still actively working and orchestrating and saying, “Even in the midst of evil and in the midst of injustice, I will work for your ultimate good.” And that’s the reason Paul could say, “I consider this present suffering not worth comparing to what is awaiting us.”

Because what is awaiting you is worth whatever you’re going through. But 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.” Life is hard. In fact, think about this, in the Lord’s Prayer, notice what Jesus prayed, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” You ever thought about it? The reality? Where is God’s perfect will done presently? In heaven. Where is God’s will done imperfectly? Brokenly? Inconsistently? On earth.

And so much of what we see and experience is a result of a fallen, broken world. We’ve got to have a theology of pain and suffering.

Philippians 3:10 through 11. Notice Paul’s prayer here and how different it is than ours. “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of His resurrection,” and there ain’t nobody in here that ain’t going to say amen to that. Absolutely.

The next phrase we could live without. Let’s just drop it. Let’s stop there. “…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. A theology of pain and suffering.

The second theology that we need is the theology of the character of God. I think three fundamental questions come up in unanswered prayer.

First, is God good? Is God great? And does God care? Those are the three existential questions that we begin to wrestle with. Is God really good in the midst of a broken world where bad things happen to good people? Is God great? Like, is He big enough to be able to solve the problem, to answer, and to show up? And does He care enough? Am I even on His radar?

There are three core characteristics of God. And actually under a theology of pain, if I could give you a little book on that one it would be C.S. Lewis’ The Problem With Pain, The Problem of Pain. It a little book, it’s not too intimidating, but an excellent book there. Under a theology of the character of God, a little thin book, A.W. Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy. The wisdom of God, the sovereignty of God, and the goodness of God.

The wisdom of God, Tozer says, “All of God’s acts are done in perfect wisdom, first for His own glory, and then for the highest good of the greatest number for the longest time.” “All of God’s acts are done in perfect wisdom, first for His own glory, and then for the highest good of the greatest number for the longest time.”

Peter Greig in his book God on Mute says this. He says, “When we are scared and hurting, when life feels chaotic and out of control, it is more important than ever to anchor ourselves in the absolute eternal truths that we are dearly loved and deeply held by the most powerful being in the universe. Let this be the great non-negotiable in our lives. The platform for all our other thoughts and the plumbline for our prayers.”

How do we live in the tension of unanswered prayers? First, we have to develop a theology of suffering and pain. And then we have to get rooted in a theology of the character of God – who is God really? Not who we think He is, but who has He revealed Himself to be?

And finally, a theology of salvation and sanctification. A theology of salvation and sanctification.

If you’ve got your Bibles, flip over to Romans chapter 5. Notice this, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We have been justified.

That word means just as if I had never sinned. Justified. It’s a fun way to remember it. Just as if I had never sinned. It’s your right standing with God. No matter what you walked in with, when you receive Jesus as your Savior, your standing with God is justified. Just as if you had never sinned. When God sees you, He sees Jesus.

He says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Amen? Okay, let’s read the next line. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings,” ooh. I don’t like that part, Paul. That’s not very American. We don’t do suffering here. We ignore it. We push it down.

Oh, why? “Because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given us.”

God will not waste your pain. He is not the cause of your pain, but He will not, in His sovereignty, waste your pain. And He will allow it and work through it to help shape you more into His likeness.

James 1:[2] says, “Consider it all joy,” or, “reckon in joy when you face trials of many kinds,” – why? “because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. And perseverance must finish its work so that you’ll become mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

And the pathway, the pathway for us to experience that was actually Jesus’ unanswered prayer. Did you know Jesus didn’t get every prayer answered the way He wants? See, it’s been said God answers every prayer: yes, not yet, and no. And the nos are the hardest ones.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, the night Jesus was betrayed, in the very same three chapters where Jesus said, “Ask whatever you want,” Jesus asked whatever He wanted. And it went unanswered. They went to a place called Gethsemane, which means the oil press. Jesus is in intense pressure, physically, practically, spiritually, emotionally.

Jesus said to His disciples, “‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Peter, James, and John along with Him and He began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ He said to them. Stay here and keep watch.’”

And one of the other gospels tells us He’s so stressed out and overwhelmed He is starting to sweat drops of blood. Going a little farther, “He fell to the ground and prayed that if it’s possible the hour might pass from Him.” I love this. This is the humanity and deity of Jesus all together that He’s fully human. He understands the weight, He understands the cost, He understands what is about to happen and how painful it’s going to be.

And He says, “Abba Father,” He begins with the goodness of God and relationship, because that’s where we begin with Your goodness, You are Abba, You are good Father. I’m related, I’m Your kid. Everything is possible for You. The sovereignty of God, You’re great. And then His personal request, “Take this cup from Me.” It’s all possible. Would You take this cup from Me? I don’t want to go through this. I’m right up to the point and it's only hours away and I don’t want to go through this.

And, yet, what Adam said in the Garden when he was confronted with the apple was, “My will be done,” that brought devastation and destruction. The second Adam, Jesus, in the garden said, “Yet not My will but Your will be done.” Which brought death to Him, but brought life to us. It was actually Jesus’ unanswered prayer that paved the way for our answer to prayer to step into the family of God.

And if you’re here this morning and I don’t ever want to underestimate the amount of pain that’s in the room. And you are walking with unanswered prayers, I want to invite you to just follow the example of Jesus. “Abba,” relationship, “all things are possible. Here’s my plea.” Maybe it’s with your marriage, maybe it’s with your health, maybe it’s with a relationship, a dream, a longing. Maybe it’s the reality that you’re living in the aftermath of devastation. Maybe a divorce, or loss of a relationship, death of a loved one. It’s like, “Take this cup from me,” and you know there’s no answer and no end.

And then this act of surrender. I want my way. And from my perspective, this is the way I think it should work, but I’m going to trust that You are good, that You are wise, that You are all sovereign – yet, not my will be done. Your will be done. I want my way, but I’m going to trust Your way. Help me to trust Your way.