3 Reasons to Believe an Answer is Coming
“O sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Revelation 6:10 NIV
Everybody wonders at times about unanswered prayer. It’s not uncommon to ask why it is that God never seems to answer some prayers. One could make a Biblical case that certain prayers prayed with wrong motives, lack of faith, unforgiveness, unconfessed sin, and/or not according to God’s etc. will invariably be hindered or delayed in receiving an acceptable answer. But beyond such discernable reasons there yet remains a mystery as to why some prayers are not answered. When faced with the perplexity of unexplainable causes for our prayers remaining unanswered we can easily become discouraged and disheartened in our praying.
Like many, I have prayed for situations in people’s lives that required major breakthroughs – such things as healing or relationship reconciliation, only to see my prayers go unanswered. In addition there are prayers beseeching the Lord for the salvation of loved ones that I have been praying for longer than the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness – still no answer.
There are basically three possible answers to any given prayer: “yes,” “not yet,” and “no.” With this in mind, for years I have kept a prayer journal, with two columns. In one column I write a one sentence summary of the prayer I am praying with the corresponding start date and in the other column I log the result with a date when the answer comes. I would estimate that my journal documents a 75% success rate with both columns filled to my satisfaction – i.e. I got my “yes.” That leaves approximately 25% of my prayers, whether big or small, that have been answered by God with a “not yet” or a flat out “no.” I suspect, I’m not unusual in this regard.
As I have grappled with the unanswered prayers in my life I have found hope and comfort in reminding myself of three fundamental truths. These truths have to do with the fatherly nature of God, the seed nature of prayer, and the importance of keeping an eternal perspective. Whenever I have acknowledged and chosen to meditate upon these truths, the Holy Spirit invariably begins to blow upon the embers of my discouraged heart and once again fan into the flame my passion to persist in prayer. With that great benefit in mind, I offer them here for your consideration with the expectation that they will encourage you the way they never cease to encourage me.
1. THE FATHERLY NATURE OF GOD – He is a loving Father who wants what is best for each of His children, including me and you! Throughout the Bible, and particularly in the Gospels, this portrayal of God as a loving Father is inextricably linked to prayer. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins His quintessential teaching on prayer with the instruction to direct our prayers to “Our father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9 NIV). A short time later, in the familiar “Ask, Seek, Knock” discussion on prayer, He underscores this “loving heavenly Father” aspect of God’s nature when He states “your Father in heaven gives good gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:11 NIV)! He says this as an encouragement to all who feel like God is not answering their prayers the way they desire; specifically for those who think they have received a stone when they’ve asked for bread, or a snake when they’ve asked for fish (Matthew 7:9). It is critical for us to take note and lay to heart what Jesus is saying in the passage. He is seeking to firmly establish in our hearts this truth: we have a heavenly Father who wants what is best for us, and having the power to grant it, intends to do so.
Practically, this means that even though it may appear He has given us a stone when we asked for bread, if we are committed to patiently holding it in faith, it will eventually turn into bread. This means that when our prayers seem to go unanswered, we must nevertheless cling to our Father’s promise that in the end, He will see to it that all things “work together for good” (Romans 8:28). When we experience God’s fatherly love for us we can be assured that there really are no unanswered prayers for a child of God. Even a “not yet” or a “no” are ultimately an acceptable answer because in essence our heavenly Father is saying “There is something better I have in mind for you!”
I invite you to join me in being encouraged by this wonderful truth. Our loving Father’s answer for our unanswered prayers is that He has something better in planned for us!
2. THE SEED NATURE OF PRAYER – Prayers are like seeds sown into the ground, there is a germination time that must be fulfilled before the answer springs forth. Germination is the process a seed goes through, given the proper soil temperature and moisture, in which it breaks forth sending a root down in the soil and a shoot up above ground. God’s timing in answering prayer, like the germination time for seeds, requires the convergence of the right circumstances and His predetermined purposes before the answer appears.
Understanding the seed nature of prayer encourages us especially in those times when we pray prayers and see absolutely nothing happening as a result. Just as we know that seeds sown are germinating and preparing to sprout out of sight, we can be assured that the prayers we sow are also generating answers out of our sight. This infuses us with hope in the “not yet” season just as a farmer waiting with expectation for his crop to come in and mature before the harvest. In both cases, confidence in the germination waiting process, sustains our belief that the day will come when we will enjoy the fruits of our labors.
So, if you see nothing happening as a result of your prayers, be encouraged as you consider the seed nature of prayer. God is secretly preparing an answer that will be released in His perfect timing.
3. THE IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE – We need to reckon with the fact that this life is not all there is. Some prayers will not be answered to our satisfaction in this lifetime. As Christians who believe in resurrection life, death is not the cut off period for answered prayer. Only in heaven, when we finally see Jesus face to face, will we fully comprehend God’s purposeful resolution to the unanswered prayers in our lives.
It is instructive to consider the instance of Moses pleading with the Lord for him to cross over the Jordan and see the promised land before his death. In denying Moses’ plea God’s answer seemed harsh: “That is enough . . . do not speak to me anymore about this matter” (Deuteronomy 3: 26 NIV). But even though Moses only saw it from afar and died having never set foot in the land, it was not the final answer to his prayer or the end of the story. Remarkably, it took fourteen hundred years waiting in heaven, for him to finally discover that God had something better in mind in answer to his prayer. It was not until the coming of Jesus that we see God fulfilling the desire of Moses’ heart, and that far beyond his wildest expectations. Miraculously Moses does eventually set foot in the land of promise when God sends him to take his place with Elijah, atop the Mount of Transfiguration to talk personally with Jesus (Matthew 17:3).
The case can be made that many saints, ourselves included, may have to continue to wait in eternity for the final answers to our prayers . Does that mean that there is prayer in heaven? The book of Revelation, in which the veil is drawn back for a view into the machinations of heaven, indicates there is. When the fifth seal is opened, God shows John the souls of those who have been martyred for their witness, crying out with loud voices. “O sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 6:10 NIV)? What an intriguing and insightful picture as we realize that the answer to their prayers is still germinating. “Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been (Revelation 6:11 NIV). God’s assurance of an eventual answer to their prayers, and compassionate sustaining grace for these precious saints is noteworthy. It should inspire all of us in our waiting.
Dealing with unanswered prayer can be so frustrating and perplexing. But as we’ve seen, realizing the Fatherly nature of God, the seed nature of prayer and keeping an eternal perspective can provide the encouragement we need to keep praying. These three truths convince us that just because we do not see any results, does not mean God has ceased listening or has chosen not to answer us. To the contrary, He just may be preparing an answer that in His timing will prove to exceed our expectations. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV).
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When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” John 21:21-22 NIV
Years ago I was invited to a meeting with a couple of Christian leaders in our city with the purpose of exploring a cooperative ministry effort. I knew each of the men and was familiar with the intensity and dedication with which each led their well established and successful ministries. As I was making the thirty minute drive across town on the freeway I decided to take the time to pray for the meeting. Almost immediately I heard these words, whispered by the Holy Spirit “Stay in your lane!” At that moment traffic was fairly heavy on the four lane stretch of road that I was on and my first impulse was to warily check the lanes on either side of me.
Assured that everything was alright, I figured I would stay in the lane in which I was driving until I needed to exit and turned my attention to what the Lord really intended with the words “stay in your lane.” I knew it was a word of wisdom for me as it related to the meeting. The lane I was being warned to stay in was my lane and focus of ministry. God was reminding me of the importance of fixing my heart clearly on His calling and purpose for my life, and not being drawn or forced out of that lane into the lane of another. Having this quickened in my spirit brought a sense of peace with the realization that there was sure to be pressure in the meeting to change ministry lanes.
When I arrived and the meeting got underway it was readily evident that the two men already had an agreed upon agenda. They had a cooperative plan for a worthy ministry goal which they wanted me to merge into, but which clearly was in a lane beyond the purview of the ministry I represented. To have submitted to their plan would draw me out of the lane of ministry to which God had called me and forced me to function outside of my gifts and abilities. Because of the “stay in your lane” word, I had no trouble politely declining their offer while blessing them in the unique lane of ministry to which God had obviously called them.
There is an inherent danger in taking our eyes off the lane or path God has us on by comparing or compromising our life and ministry with another. God has given each of us unique gifts and grace that are matched to unique tasks and callings. Jesus’ rebuke of Peter, in reference to his comparing himself to John, is a great illustration of this point (John 21:21-22). When He says “What is that to you? You must follow me” He is in essence saying “forget the other person’s lane – just stay in your lane!”
It is akin to the realization young David had to as he prepared to fight Goliath. When King Saul attempted to dress David in his armor, it not only did not fit him, it would have hindered him and likely caused his defeat (1 Samuel 17:38-39). Being drawn into functioning like someone else is always a trap. It inevitably diminishes what we are best at while forcing us into areas we are not good at.
Peter’s temptation to compare himself to John is the same temptation we all face. It can lead to compromises we will eventually regret. This is why Paul writes “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12 NIV). Simply put, the comparison game is just not wise!
Do you know the lane God has called you to abide in as you serve Him with the unique gifts and abilities He has given you? Are you staying in your lane while finding joy and fruitfulness? Or, are you struggling outside your assigned lane in a lane God never called or equipped you to function? If you feel frustrated, oppressed, compromised, or trapped in what you are doing to serve God, you just might be in the wrong lane.
If you do sense you are in the wrong lane, maybe Paul’s question to the Galatians applies to you. “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth” (Galatians 5:7 NIV)? In other words, who or what forced you out of your lane? Have you been deceived through comparing yourself to someone else into trying to do something you are not equipped or called to do?
Give heed then to Jesus’ words to Peter who was more focused on John than Jesus – “What is that to you? You must follow me.”
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Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man. Luke 21:36 NIV
In my previous blog post “What can the righteous do?” I established that the moral foundations of society are being destroyed all around us; and that the mandated response of the righteous, as spelled out by Jesus, is to watch and pray.
The question of the hour now becomes, why does it seem that this priority to watch and pray is not being heeded by the Church? My use of the word “Church” refers primarily to expressions of the Body of Christ in Western culture including both the Church universal and individual churches. In order to answer this question, and propose a remedy, it is necessary first to understand the dynamics that have shaped the typical Sunday morning church service in the West in recent years.
In the past forty years there have been two movements within the Church that revolutionized Sunday morning services, most notably within evangelical and protestant expressions. The first was a worship movement which began with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the Charismatic Renewal and Jesus Revolution of the 1970s. It was marked by a proliferation of Spirit inspired praise songs that lifted the corporate worship experience into a new realm of God’s presence and made extended, Christ exalting worship the center piece of a church’s Sunday service. It continues to this day and reflects the Biblical precedent of Revelation throne room worship.
The second dynamic that changed the Sunday morning service is best described as a movement that embraced relevance and excellence for the purpose of evangelizing the unchurched. The result was a shift of focus in service planning, from us (churched) to them (unchurched), and it was fueled in the 1990s by the church growth and seeker sensitive movements. No matter where church leaders fall in their opinion of these two influences, the salient redemptive feature was that the Church once again began to think about evangelizing lost friends and neighbors. For good or for bad, most evangelical churches continue to this day to seek to communicate “relevance” through their messages and “excellence” through their facilities, programming, and every aspect of their ministries.
Visit any given church, on any given Sunday, in any given community in this nation, and I would venture to guess that the dynamics I have just described in the two previous paragraphs will permeate every aspect of the service. At the outset there will be a worship band leading twenty to thirty minutes of engaging praise and worship. Excellence, relevance, and visitor friendly will be the bywords. Greeters will meet you at the door, and a visitor center and aroma from a coffee bar will draw you in. The meeting place will have a contemporary design, with one or more large projection screens, state of the art sound systems and upholstered chairs. The service will include a friendly individual or two giving announcements, a greeting time, and special music selection presented during the offering. The sermon will follow a text from the Bible, with a view to some practical application in the Christian life, with a few personal illustrations thrown in by a pastor dressed in jeans. There will be an opening and/or closing prayer, and even perhaps an offer for some personal counsel or ministry to those seeking it.
Has this been your observation? Now think about it, is there a glaring omission from this picture? There is for me, particularly given the premise stated at the outset of this article – that the moral foundations of society are being destroyed all around us; and the mandated response of the righteous, as spelled out by Jesus, is to watch and pray. The reality is, church services that fail to address the chaotic disintegration of our world that every righteous soul is vexed with day in and day out, and offer no opportunity for meaningful prayer and intercession as a remedy, have ceased to be relevant. A prayerless church is an irrelevant church because it is not adequately preparing its people for the trying times in which we are living.
While we have all benefitted from what God has done through the movements of past years in awakening the church to worship and to reaching the unchurched, it is now obvious we desperately need a new move of God to awaken the church to prayer. Leaders of a prayerless church are like the crew on a sinking ship who are more concerned with the passengers comfort and entertainment than mustering them to the life rafts. It’s time to muster people to watch and pray rather than sleep and play.
Thankfully, the move of the Holy Spirit to awake a slumbering church is already gaining momentum. God is alerting His people like the five wise virgins to begin storing up oil in their lamps through a praying lifestyle. In the past thirty years the number of ministries devoted to being houses of prayer has grown from 25 to over 10,000! There are now 24/7 houses of prayer throughout the world including a presence in every Muslim nation. God is birthing a hunger for prayer and intimacy with Him that is unparalleled. Although championed by forerunner type of ministries it is now setting churches afire for prayer as well.
Would you join me and countless others in praying for this prayer movement to continue to grow and increase? Pray specifically for the churches in your area, particularly that their pastors might awaken their slumbering churches by making watchful prayer a top priority in their services.
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When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? Psalm 11:3 NIV
I don’t know about you, but I find this to be very unsettling and thought provoking question. It comes in the context of a prophetic Psalm that was penned by David, but inspired by the Holy Spirit, describing the very days in which we are now living. It refers to a crisis situation where the moral foundations upon which a society or a nation has been built are being systematically overthrown and destroyed.
The scenario which Psalm 11 describes is one in which demonic forces of darkness are launching wicked and violent attacks specifically targeting God’s people and the righteous ways of God they represent. Does that sound familiar? Any God fearing person who has any awareness whatsoever of what is going on in their community, the nation and the world cannot help but acknowledge that we are presently under such concerted assaults. As a consequence, we can certainly identify with Lot who while living in Sodom and Gomorrah experienced his righteous soul being vexed daily by “the lawless deeds he saw and heard” (2 Peter 2:8 ESV).
What then should the righteous do when confronted with such unsettling, perplexing, and ruinous circumstances that threaten our very existence? Right at the outset in verse one David suggests that we have two alternatives, either take refuge in the Lord or flee to the mountains for safety. He offers the idea of fleeing with the phrase “How then can you say to me: ‘Flee like a bird to your mountain?’” It is obvious, from the way he says this that fleeing to “your” mountain, wherever or whatever that may be, is not a viable option.
It is noteworthy that these two options in the face of harm are a recurrent theme in the Scriptures, with the “mountains” typically representing a self-reliant, God-rejecting choice. We see this also in Psalm 121and in Revelation 6. Fleeing to the mountains without really taking refuge in God is a prescription for disaster. That is exactly what happened to Lot and his family (Genesis 19).
That poses an important consideration – what then are “your” mountains, to which you as a flitting bird tend to flee? Truth be told, we all have them – mountains of our own choosing to which we are prone to retreat. It is critical to identify them because that can go a long way toward helping us avoid fleeing there, rather than turning to the Lord as our refuge. Often they are a form of escapism where we medicate our stress or pain or fears with behavior that is at best self-serving and at worse sinful. Sometimes our mountains are places where we choose to hide in a cave and go about our business pretending as if nothing is at peril anywhere. Such behavior may be bliss, but it does nothing to prevent, prepare for, or prevail over evil.
The answer of course is to make it our lifestyle and confession, just like David, that “in the Lord I take refuge” (Psalm 11:1). That is great advice, but how practically does a person do that? One of the simplest explanations of what it means to take refuge in the Lord comes from the Lord Jesus Himself just days prior to His arrest and crucifixion. It is found in the Gospel of Luke where He describes the perilous times that will mark the last days before His return. Here with sobering detail He predicts shakings in the heavens and on the earth, wars, persecution, anguish and perplexity that will affect every living being. He also warns against deception, anxiety, and escapist sinful excess. Then with urgent clarity Jesus spells out what it means to take refuge in Him. “Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36 NIV).
Watch and pray! Could it be any clearer? Three simple words, describing how to take refuge in the Lord, spelled out by the Master Himself. But this is not the only time Jesus said this. He also gave this same advice to Peter as He agonized in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He specifically called out Peter with this warning: “watch and pray so that you will not enter into temptation” (Mark 14:38 NIV). These words undoubtedly had a dramatic and lasting effect on Peter, who heard them twice within days but failed to heed them. We know this because years later in his first epistle, he reiterates this exact same advice to all the believers scattered throughout Turkey and to us also upon whom the end of the ages has come! Peter wrote “But the end of all things is at hand: be therefore sober minded, and watch unto prayer” (1 Peter 4:7 KJ2000).
In summary, it has been readily established that the moral foundations of society are being destroyed all around us; and that the mandated response of the righteous, as spelled out by Jesus, is to watch and pray. It is comforting to know that being a person of prayer is the very best way to prepare for and position ourselves for the dark days that are coming upon us.
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