Why Doesn’t God Answer My Prayers?
Sycamore Creek Church
April 14/15, 2013
Today we continue in our Why series dealing with the question: Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? I recently came across this prayer written by Tina Fey in her book Bossy Pants. Here’s a slightly edited version:
“The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter”
First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.
May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.
When the Crystal Meth is offered, may she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half And stick with Beer.
Guide her, protect her when crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock ‘N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.
Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels. What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it…
May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.
Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen. Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, For childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day – And adulthood is long and [making out] in cars will wait.
O Lord, break the Internet forever, that she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers And the online marketing campaign for…Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.
And when she one day turns on me and calls me a [witch] in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that…I will not have it.
And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back. “My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.
Do you think Tina Fey’s prayer will be answered? If not, why not? Well, we all have prayed prayers like this or other prayers. And whether you think God will answer Tina Fey’s prayer or not, you’ve prayed prayers that you thought God could and should have answered but didn’t. You may have even claimed Jesus’ promise in John:
I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
John 14:13-14 NRSV
It seems that God did some pretty amazing things in scripture. He made the sun stand still for Joshua. I can barely comprehend what that might mean for the laws of physics. He saved Daniel in the lion’s den (and I’m not talking about a porn shop off the side of the highway). Jesus regularly healed people, especially children who were dying or deeply suffering. If God answered these prayers, why doesn’t God answer my prayers for the same thing?
I think about the issues I wrestle with on a daily basis. Sometimes I find myself as a pastor in a paradox. I am often praying for people to be healed when I have my own health issues too. I’ve prayed for body parts to be made well all the while having a bum back that continually gives me problems with aches and pains. What’s up with that?
Maybe you’ve prayed for a girlfriend or boyfriend but none came along, especially the hottest girl you were praying would dig you. You prayed to pass a class in school but you didn’t pass it. You prayed to be healed of a disease but weren’t. You prayed to conceive a child but didn’t. You prayed for your parents not to get divorced, but they did. You prayed for a loved one to come to know Christ, but he only got further away.
If you’re here today as a guest and are not a Christian, you may have the impression that Christians pray and ask for things and always feel like they get what they’re asking for. But that’s not true. Just because you seek to follow Jesus doesn’t mean you experience all your prayers being answered. I certainly don’t. Just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you don’t ask, Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? That’s the question we’re here to deal with today. I’d like to make four suggestions of why it might be that God isn’t answering your prayers. Each one begins with the word “maybe” because it might be this or it might be something else entirely. So here are four reasons why God might not be answering your prayers.
Maybe God isn’t answering your prayers because you have a broken relationship. Our horizontal relationships with those around us matter for our vertical relationship with God. It’s not like you can compartmentalize your spiritual life from your day to day life. Your day to day life is your spiritual life! Jesus tells us that when it comes to something like forgiveness, how we forgive others will have an impact on how we experience forgiveness from God:
Listen to me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you will have it. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.
Mark 11:24-25 NLT
John, one of Jesus’ closest followers, reflects on how our horizontal relationships affect our vertical relationship, saying you cannot say you love God if you hate your brother:
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters,are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sisterwhom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.
1 John 4:20 NRSV
Peter, another of Jesus’ closest followers, takes this idea and runs with it in your family:
In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat her with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. If you don’t treat her as you should, your prayers will not be heard.
1 Peter 3:7 NLT
And some of us husbands may not be married to someone who is “weaker” than we are. So you better watch out on both fronts!
The book of Proverbs, a collection of wisdom sayings, takes this into the realm of our relationship with the poor:
Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.
Proverbs 21:13 ESV
Have you been paying attention to the new pope, Pope Francis? I really like this guy. During Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, he took the time go and wash the feet of youth who were in prison. He washed and kissed their feet! And he broke with tradition by washing the feet of young women. Now here’s a pope who has his ear to the cry of the poor. You better watch out for what Pope Francis is praying for!
Christina Rossetti, a 19th century English poet, sums this up nicely when she says:
I pray for grace; but then my sins unpray
My prayer: on holy ground I fool stand shod.
The way we treat those around us has consequences for our prayer lives. Maybe God isn’t answering your prayers because of the broken relationships you aren’t paying attention to.
Maybe God isn’t answering your prayers because you have the wrong motives when you pray. For example, a man was circling the block searching for a parking spot. Finally, after the third time around, he prays, “God, if you help me find a parking spot, I will go to church every Sunday and tithe ten percent of my income.” Immediately, a spot opens up, and the man prays, “Never mind, I found one.”
James, Jesus’ brother, says:
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.
James 4:3 NRSV
OK, let’s be honest. How many of you have prayed to win the lottery? Now let’s be really honest. What were your real motives? To live a life of luxury or a life of generosity? My dad still to this day plays the lotto. When we were kids he would bring home lotto tickets and give them to us to fill out. One time when my family was having some financial troubles I came within one number of winning $14,000,000! I picked the number 19 instead of 29. Instead we got $2500. Not bad. My dad was bummed at the time, but recently I asked him about it, and he says he gives thanks to God that we didn’t win the lottery. He thinks it would have torn our family apart. And he’s probably right. Most people who win the lotto don’t lead happy lives. Winning the lotto seems to have a negative effect on many who win it. Perhaps that’s because if they were praying to win the lotto, they were praying in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. I’m reminded of Garth Brooks’ song Unanswered Prayers:
Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers
If we turn to the book of Proverbs again we read that our motives are known by the Lord:
All one’s ways may be pure in one’s own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit.
Proverbs 16:2 NRSV
Maybe God isn’t answering your prayers because your motives aren’t the best.
Maybe God doesn’t answer your prayers because you don’t believe God will do it. Whenever I think of belief and unbelief I think of the Grand Canyon Sky Walk.
You can say you believe that it will hold your weight, but your belief is shown by your actions of walking out on the glass, 4000 feet above the Grand Canyon floor!
A father comes to Jesus looking for his child to be healed from a spirit of seizures that throws him into water and fire. He asks Jesus to heal him if he is able. This is what Jesus says:
If you are able! — All things can be done for the one who believes.
Mark 9:23 NRSV
I’m thankful for the honesty of this guy’s response. He says, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” Then Jesus heals his son!
Your faith matters when you pray. You often hear Christians, even myself at times, say something like, “All we have left to do is pray.” No! The first thing we have to do is pray! And believe that God hears our prayers and can and will answer them.
Now this can be seriously misconstrued. I’m not teaching a name it and claim it system of belief. I’m not even saying that all the time the reason God doesn’t answer your prayers is because you don’t believe. Maybe sometimes this is the reason. God is not obligated to answer your prayers. God is not your cosmic sugar daddy. Just because you have faith, doesn’t mean God has to do it, but your faith does matter.
I think of how we’re teaching Micah to say “Please” when he asks for food. He has learned this so well that he now says please whenever he asks for food or just about anything else. Of course, he has learned to say please whether we think it’s a good idea to give it to him or not. Who gets to decide when he says please? We do. Are we obligated to give him something whenever he says please? No. Is it important that he says please? Absolutely!
Again we turn to James, Jesus’ brother:
But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
James 1:6-7 NRSV
Maybe God doesn’t answer your prayers because God has something different in mind for you. In an opening interview with Gary Chapman in the audio book to the new edition of his Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman tells about how he and his wife wanted to be missionaries to Africa. He wanted to teach in a seminary. But the mission board turned them down because of his wife’s health. They did not think she would do well in Africa.
Fast forward many years and Chapman has now written a book that has sold over 5 million copies and has been translated into almost 30 languages. When it is translated to a new language, his publisher sends them a box of the books and he and his wife pray for the people that will read it.
One day when he received a box of books, his wife began to cry. He said, “What’s wrong?” She said, “Remember how we wanted to be missionaries and weren’t able to. Now you’re book is teaching people all around the world.” God has something different in mind for the Chapmans.
God’s will matters more than our will. Looking again to John, one of Jesus’ followers:
And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.
1 John 5:14-15 NRSV
Notice the key phrase here, “according to his will.” If you ask God something that God already wants for you, you’re golden! That’s a prayer that God wants to answer. When Micah asks me for more lettuce and says “please” that’s a request I want to answer.
But sometimes we don’t get what we ask for because God has something better in mind. In those times I’m reminded of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They wouldn’t bow to King Nebuchadnezzar’s God, so he threatens to throw them in a fiery furnace. Here’s how they answer the king:
If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”
Daniel 3:17-18 NRSV
In essence they say: I believe God can, I believe God will, and even if God doesn’t, I still believe. Now that’s powerful trust in the goodness of God.
Maybe God ultimately wants something to happen in us in prayer. The movie Shadowlands tells the story of C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia which have recently begun to be made into movies, and his marriage to Joy Gresham. At an early age Joy is diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Lewis has married her legally at this point just so that she can have British citizenship. But when he realizes she has cancer he decided to get married to her in the church. He prays for her healing. In one scene, a friend of Lewis’ says that God is hearing and answering his prayers. Lewis responds, “That’s not why I pray, Harry. I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.” Maybe that’s the something different, the something better that God has in mind. Prayer changes me. Let’s pray.
God, show me where there might be broken relationships that are getting in the way of my prayer life with you. Give me the courage to confess those areas and to seek healing and reconciliation. God, show me where I am asking for something out of selfish motives. Help purify my intentions. God show me where I say that I trust you but my actions betray my talk. Help my unbelief. God, even when you don’t answer my prayers, let me trust that you have something different, something better in store for me. May my prayers change me. Amen.Share on Facebook