Hard Questions, Real Answers Part 2: What About Unanswered Prayer?
On Sunday 13th March at our morning service, we continued our series 'Hard Questions, Real Answers with a talk called What About Unanswered Prayer? In this blog you will find a summary of the talk and then some questions and reflections for you to think through on your own or to discuss in your small group.
If you would like to listen to the talk on-line, please click here.
Talk Notes and Summary
Most of us pray. Even people who would say that they aren’t Christians and don’t believe in God still pray (surveys repeatedly tell us this is the case). What are you expecting to happen when you pray?
Maybe you have experienced answers to those prayers and it boosts your faith or gets you thinking about whether there is a God. But maybe there are other times when God seems to be silent, or you don’t get the answer you were hoping for, how do you feel then?
One day Jesus was talking about prayer and he said some interesting things and you can find this story in John’s account of Jesus’ life in the New Testament part of the Bible. It is in John chapter 14 verses 11 to 14. You can read that by clicking here.
In verses 11 and 12 he says a pretty amazing thing; that those who follow Jesus will do even greater things that he was doing. This is an astonishing promise. But he was right – greater things have been done, for example Jesus was limited geographically – he spent his time in a very small area, but his followers went all over the world, they did greater things.
In verses 13 and 14 we read some tricky things, it sounds great, whatever you ask in the name of Jesus he will do, but then you start thinking about it. If Jesus is speaking to you and me we start thinking hold on, I’ve asked for loads of things, prayed loads of prayers and it hasn’t happened. What was Jesus talking about – that isn’t my experience.
Actually it wasn’t Jesus’ experience either. On the night of his arrest, before he was crucified he prayed to his Father “God, take this cup of suffering away from me” and it didn’t happen – he was crucified.
It wasn’t Jesus’ followers experience all the time either. Paul – another of Jesus’ first followers prayed about what he called a thorn in the flesh. Three times he prayed that God would take it away and it didn’t happen.
So how do we deal with what Jesus said here, how do we deal with unanswered prayer? Well we need to look to Jesus again in the In the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus prayed to be delivered from the suffering that was about to come, and as we have seen that didn’t happen. But he prayed at the end of his prayer – Father, your will be done, not mine.
You know sometimes our prayers go unanswered, that is the reality. When we read this passage I think we need to understand that implicit in it is that we submit ourselves to God’s will because that’s what Jesus did. When Jesus was saying whatever you ask for you will be given, that caveat is that we are seeking God’s will.
So this boils down to a matter of trust – are we prepared when we pray to trust God with the outcome? Are we prepared to pray with passion and perseverance but ultimately to say to God “your will be done” and to trust that if we don’t get the answer we were looking for or indeed any answer at all that we will trust God that that is his will?
We don’t understand it, but if we could understand God what kind of God would that make him? God is so much bigger than us and has such a bigger perspective helps us to trust him and submit to his will even though it might be hard.
So what do we do if we are struggling with unanswered prayer:
• Make a weekly list of things you are praying for
• Set aside time each day to pray for them
• Keep a record of what happens – when things are answered note them down to encourage you
• Trust God
Prayer is hard work, but the promises are great. Sometimes we get the answer we are praying for and that is amazing. But sometimes we don’t and in those times we need to remember that prayer isn’t a list of all the things we want, it is a chance to tune in to the will of God – like an old radio, and that is a gift in itself.
Questions for Reflection
1. Can you think of a time when God answered a prayer in just the way you wanted? How did you feel? What did that do for your faith?
2. Can you think of a time when God didn’t answer a prayer and seemed to be silent? How did that leave you feeling?
3. Why do you think Jesus said that whatever we ask in his name he will do when that wasn’t his experience or ours?
4. How difficult was it for Jesus to submit himself to his father’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane? How was he able to do that?
5. Do you feel able to say to God “your will be done”? How difficult is that for you?
6. Do you agree that the picture of prayer as an opportunity to tune ourselves into the will of God is helpful?