Sunday March 27, 2011 | Shawna Boren
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
When we pray, we usually expect that our prayers will be answered. Sometimes, they are not. In this sermon, Shawna takes a look at what unanswered prayer looks like, and she provides insight into dealing with the pain of unanswered prayer.
We’ve all had unanswered prayer. It is one of the most frustrating things about prayer, as we usually pray thinking that God will answer it. Some of us may have grown up with the old saying that “God will either answer yes, no, or wait.” But if we’re honest with ourselves, we see that unanswered prayer is very frustrating.
We should first differentiate between earnest, suffering prayer and the “what are you smoking?” prayers. The “what are you smoking” prayers are the type of prayers that are wishful thinking. This is the type of prayer for winning the lottery, changing the looks of your husband/wife, or having spring come in March in Minnesota. This is not the type of unanswered prayers that we are talking about. Instead, we’re talking about earnest, suffering prayers where the prayers are to heal a sick loved one, help in not losing a job or house, or getting bullied at home or school. These are the types of prayers that are frustrating when they go unanswered.
There are many factors affecting prayer. God’s will, our will, other’s wills, angelic wills, and many, many other factors that affect prayer and how it is answered. In understanding unanswered prayer, it is a good thing to realize that it’s not merely up to your prayer and God’s will. This can save us from frustrating aspects of prayer such as wondering if we lack faith and if God loves us enough to answer our prayer. It is also important to understand the many factors because there is no magical formula for prayer. There is no set of circumstances that we an repeat in a prayer to make sure that it comes true. We live in a war zone between good and evil, and we’re in a fight where prayer matters, but may not always go our way.
If we’re honest, many of us will say that we don’t know why some prayers go unanswered. We all know of people that deeply loved God, and their prayers went unanswered. We know of pastors whose children were stillborn due to complications. We know Jesus prayed, and sometimes it didn’t always work. But there are two main things we should focus on when it comes to unanswered prayer.
The first is that we are not alone in the midst of our pain. When Jesus lived as a human, he suffered as we do. Some of his prayers didn’t work. He lived a life on handouts. He eventually was crucified and buried, and his Father suffered while watching all of this happen. Jesus understands our fears and frustrations when it comes to unanswered prayer. He is in the middle of the situation, holding our hand, and walking alongside us as we cry out in prayer. He even prays on our behalf. The God that we pray to walks beside us even if our prayer is unanswered. He’s not some far off deity, but rather has a personal interest in our lives, prayer, and frustrations.
The second area of focus is to not give up on prayer. Every little bit of prayer matters because we live in a war zone between good and evil. If we don’t pray, then we lose an important weapon in this battle. Not only do we lose a weapon, but we would lose hope. We pray with the idea in mind that God has plans for our lives no matter our situation. We pray hoping that those plans would come to fruition. We pray hoping that God’s kingdom would manifest itself on Earth as it is in Heaven. If we stop praying, then we act as if there is no hope of that happening.
Beauty will come from ashes. Jesus proclaimed these words about himself. He was saying that there will be good news. In the meantime, we may face frustration and pain from unanswered prayers, but God has a plan, and it will come to fruition. Where once alienation, sadness, despair, and depression reigned, God will replace those ashes with a crown of beauty. God’s beautiful plan will come to be, and in the meantime we pray for its arrival in the situations of life that cause us pain and suffering. We pray with Jesus that God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.
(During the sermon, Shawna used the art and writing of WH podrishioner, Jeff Gill. See the full art and writing and find out more about Jeff on this blog post.)