God Hears

When you told me of your unanswered prayers, I felt the tears spring to my eyes. The tears fell for you and those for whom you pray, but they also fell for me and every saint who prays without answer. The space between promise and fulfillment is sometimes a dry valley.

I meant to tell you that we walk the valley in good company. I thought of Abraham, promised a son and a land and infinite blessing. He waited 25 years to see the son. He never owned the land, and the blessing was mixed at best. I thought of generation after generation of Abraham’s descendants, born and raised in slavery, only to die in slavery, promised a home that they never occupied. I remembered the prophets, who looked ahead and saw their nation’s Savior, but never lived to meet Him. And I remembered that Savior, crying and praying and sweating drops of blood, asking for some way around the Cross, but finding none.

I thought of John, who closed the last book of the Bible with a prayer that remains unanswered: Come, Lord Jesus.

For two thousand years now, we’ve waited for the answer to that prayer. Oh, Lord Jesus, please come.

I did tell you that the story isn’t over yet. There is more to be written, not only for you but for every saint made heartsick from waiting. I encouraged you to keep praying, because God isn’t finished yet.

Dear friend, God hears you. That hope sustained Abraham, as he counted the innumerable stars and felt those stars silently mock his prayers. That hope sustained the prophets and the believers and the martyrs, who prayed without answer for so many years.

God hears you, and the story isn’t over. Jesus will come and wipe away our tears. In the meanwhile, what can we do but keep praying and hoping and crying?

I also meant to tell you that He weeps with you. We remember how Jesus wept, but we often forget why. He wept for his friend Lazarus, but also because sin and death are intruders. They are always violators and defilers of all He made. Jesus felt what it’s like to wait, to live between promise and fulfillment. So He wept with us and He wept for us. Even now, He sees your pain, He weeps for it, and He promises to return and make everything right.

Oh Lord Jesus, please come.

When I see you, friend, I see a warrior. Your callouses are harder than my own, and your knees are softer. You’ve prayed and suffered in ways I don’t understand. I see how you radiate hope despite the waiting, and joy despite the pain. You know that God hears you, and that’s why you keep praying.

Please keep praying, please keep hoping, and please don’t give up. You’ve already reminded me in so many ways that He hears what we pray. You give hope to me and to every saint who waits for an answer.

The valley between promise and fulfillment can be a dark one, so let’s walk it together and look toward that day of fulfillment. God hears you, and His own Son walked this valley before us to show us just how well He hears.

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5 Creative Times for Prayer

I recently preached on the subject of prayer. As I studied for my message, I realized that most of us probably struggle with finding time to pray. I think most people feel insanely busy, making quiet time for prayer seem minimal or even non-existent. Between full-time ministry, raising three kids, spending time with my wife, and taking care of our home, it would be easy for prayer to slip out of my life.

So I’ve had to think creatively. Here are a few of my favorite “non-traditional” times to pray:

While driving. Several years ago I decided to try leaving the radio off while driving. I loved having that built-in time to pray and to think. While I occasionally listen to music (especially on longer trips), I’ve found that some of my best prayer time is in the car.

In the shower. The running water blocks out nearby noises (e.g. children, my dog) and I’m totally alone. Perfect time to pray for a few moments.

While doing household chores. I find that washing dishes doesn’t occupy all of my attention and requires very little mental processing space. Consequently, I can often talk to God while I scrub. The same thing goes for sweeping the floor. If you’re working with electricity, plumbing, or gas appliances, though, you might need to focus more intently on the task at hand.

While waiting for something to begin. If I’m early to a meeting, waiting in the car while my wife runs into a store, or sitting at the doctor’s office, I have a few moments to pray. Because of my impatience I don’t always use the time well, but it’s valuable time if I can redeem it.

While exercising. I’ll confess that I’m in a stage of life where it’s tough to find time for exercise, but when I can I’m usually able to pray at the same time. To be honest, I hate running, so I’ll often pray or sing worship songs just to take my mind off of what I’m actually doing. If I’m doing push-ups or extremely strenuous activity, I can’t usually focus on prayer, though.

How about you? Have you found creative or unusual times for prayer? I’d love to hear them!

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Why Don’t My Prayers Move Mountains?

A student recently asked me about Matthew 17:20. Jesus’ disciples asked Him why they were unable to cast out a particular demon, and He responded by saying, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Is Matthew 17:20 a promise that God will always answer our prayers affirmatively if we have enough faith? 

Some believe it is. They argue that if you’re sick and not getting better, the problem must be your lack of faith. If you have an unmet need, God has to provide for it if you pray with enough faith. After all, if you have the faith of a tiny mustard seed, you can move mountains, right?

But that belief seems to run counter to our daily experiences. I’ve certainly known people who have prayed in faith and been healed, but I’ve also known people who have prayed with equal or greater faith and yet remained sick (or even died). So what’s the deal? It’s important to consider the context of Matthew 17:20 and the counsel of the entire Bible on this subject.

First, in Matthew 17:20 Jesus is talking to His disciples about a particular situation. They were unable to cast out a demon, and Jesus tells them it’s because they lacked faith. Nothing is impossible for the one who has faith, and in fact just a tiny bit of faith is sufficient to move a mountain. But all of that assumes that casting out the demon was God’s will in the first place. And we know that in this case it was. Why? Because Jesus proceeded to do what the disciples could not. We can’t assume, though, that our every prayer is in line with God’s will, a will that is often mysterious and unknown. The principle to take from this passage is that God is fully capable of doing anything He wants, and He uses our prayers as a means to do His work. The point is not that He’s obligated to do anything we want if we just believe Him enough.

Second, there are biblical examples of faithful people whose prayers weren’t answered as they wished. For example, the apostle Paul prayed three times for his “thorn in the flesh” to be removed, but God told him no (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). David prayed that his child would live, but God chose to allow him to die (2 Samuel 12:15-20). Paul and David were faithful, believing men, yet God didn’t do what they wanted. It’s presumptuous to assume that their prayers weren’t answered because they lacked faith. After all, if these guys were unfaithful, I don’t stand a chance of being heard!

Third, there are many reasons why our prayers aren’t answered. Sometimes it’s because we lack faith, as in Matthew 17:20. Sometimes it’s because we’ve been unkind to others (e.g. our spouses, cf. 1 Peter 3:7). Sometimes it’s because we’re sinful and haven’t confessed our sin (Isaiah 1:15-17). Sometimes, though, it’s because God has a plan for our character that won’t be accomplished by answering our prayers the way we want (again, see 2 Corinthians 12:7-9). Sometimes we simply don’t know why God doesn’t answer.  Why did God preserve Peter’s life but allow James to be killed (Acts 12:1-11)? Do you think it’s because nobody prayed for James like the church prayed for Peter? No, sometimes God’s specific plan is a bit mysterious — and we simply can’t manipulate it or control it.

Finally, prayer is still the most powerful resource we have as we seek to serve Him. Despite the fact that God doesn’t always answer affirmatively, He still listens and responds (James 5:15-18). The Scripture is filled with God’s amazing answers to prayer. My own life is full of examples of how God has answered prayer. Prayer is very powerful. Never believe that it’s a waste of time and energy. It’s not.

We should never assume, though, that prayer is a means to getting whatever we want whenever we want it. Prayer draws us closer to God. It empowers us to do His work. It connects us to God’s power in a way that no other activity can do. Nonetheless, God controls the outcomes of our prayers. It’s our job to trust Him, to obey His Word, and to try to pray in keeping with His will.

What questions or thoughts do you have on the subject of prayer? Do you struggle with the concept of unanswered prayers? Why or why not? 

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