“GOD DOES NOT ANSWER MY PRAYERS – SO EITHER HE DOES NOT CARE OR HE DOES NOT EXIST!”
Surely if God is a God of love and a God who is all-powerful then He will answer my prayers by giving me what I ask? Especially if what I ask for is a good thing! Someone I love is ill and I ask Him to heal her and He does not….what am I to take from that? I am asking Him something good; to help someone who is suffering to no longer be in pain.
Many have said that the First World War was the turning point in the faith of the nation – that this “war to end all wars” dealt a death-blow to Christianity in this land and in much of Europe. And why? Because God appeared to be “not there”. The British believed that God was on their side. But, the Germans believed that God was on their side! Mothers prayed for the safety of their sons – who died in their millions. God, they said, does not exist – because God did not answer our prayers!
PRAYER IS A SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE
The problem with all this is that man had made himself the centre. “I pray and God must answer in the way that I want or He is not real!” But, if we are His disciples then HE is the centre and we are there to follow Him.
If we are truly His disciples then we will follow Him – even when we don’t understand where He is leading us. This is TRUST. It is right and proper that the disciple asks his Lord for things. But, the follower does not demand or expect that the Master obeys his commands! No! The disciple has chosen to submit himself to Jesus and to obey Jesus’ commands. And this, on the basis of TRUST – that He knows best, that He wants the best for us, that His love for us is total and He would never do anything to hurt us but only to do good for us. So, we might not understand His direction, or His commands, or His answers, but we willing TRUST in Him that He knows best.
The principle of the discipline of prayer must therefore be to:
ASK – for what we want
ACCEPT – the answer that He gives
ALIGN – ourselves with His will – that He knows best
JESUS’ GETHSEMANE PRAYER (MATTHEW 26:38-44)
I think that a study of this will help us to understand – and demystify – many things about prayer:
Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’
39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter. 41 ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’
42 He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’
43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
- V 38: Jesus was really going through a hard time. He knew what was going to happen to Him. So, He went off to pray about it. He didn’t just say “que sera, sera,” He went off to face God with His anxieties. When we are “overwhelmed” is prayer our “first port of call” or “our last resort”? And when He was going through the toughest time of His life He called those closest to Him to support Him – to keep “watch” with Him. Yes – our prayers are between us and God – but how good it is to know that those who love us in the Lord are right there, by our sides while we “wrestle” with God. Let us not try to deal with things alone
- V 39: Attitude of prayer is really important. Jesus fell on His face to the ground. Why? He was showing God He was really serious about His prayer. I think that different attitudes to prayer can be inferred in the Bible: standing, lifting hands, walking around, kneeling, prostrate. All show a seriousness – that our communication with God is REALLY important. I’m not sure that I see “sitting in a chair comfortably” as a Biblical attitude of prayer! However, this verse is clearly talking about attitude and sincerity – so do not “beat yourself up” if you are sitting down to pray.
- V 39: And here’s the prayer. What a prayer! Direct and to the point. He prays to His Father – so too should we. He prays for Father God to save Him. He tells Father God EXACTLY what He wants. He doesn’t “claim” it – as if it were His right to “tell” God what He has to do. But He does ask – beg – for God to save Him from this time. Yet…yet…yet… His prayer is to say to God what He wants while accepting that His will has to become aligned to God’s will. God always knows best. God always knows what is needed and what has to be. And Jesus, right now, was willing to align Himself to God’s will. This MUST be our pre-eminent attitude in prayer.
- V 40: We must beware being spiritually asleep. Jesus was praying, the disciples were sleeping. What does He mean “couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” It seems that Jesus is equating “keeping watch” with “praying”. Prayer for them was to stand side-by-side with Jesus in His distress. Let this be what we decide to do with our brothers and sisters who are in a real battle. “Keeping watch” seems to suggest that prayer – talking to, and listening to, God has an aspect of being aware of what is going on. This is further explained in the next verse –
- V 41: Jesus shows prayer as being essential in the constant area of spiritual warfare. We need to be aware of the spiritual battles that we are embroiled in and need to be praying for God’s protection on ourselves (and those around us) so that we do not get distracted, led astray, tempted to do wrong etc. Our prayer at this time should be for constant spiritual protection.
- V 42: He went back a second time to pray. Prayer is not always a one-shot job. Like any good conversation it needs to be returned to time and time again. This time Jesus has accepted that God is not going to give Him what He has asked for. He has to go through this awful time. This is a crucial moment in His prayer – an acceptance that His Name is Father God and not Father Christmas! His “job” is not to listen to our present list and prove His power and love by giving it to us. He is God and He knows best. A true pray-er is one who will accept that God’s answer might be the very opposite of what we were asking for. This demands total faith in God – that He knows what He is doing; and it demands total acceptance in who we are – that we are not able to always understand what God is doing.
- V 43: Don’t let us be sleeping! Let us determine to stay awake and watch in prayer – for ourselves, our church family, and the world!
- V 44: He prayed a “third time, saying the same thing”. What! Jesus repeating Himself! I thought that we just had to say things to God the once and that was enough – anything else is “vain repetition”. Well….I guess that this shows that it is not the attitude that the repetition is said in. Jesus said it again to show God that He really had made this decision – to submit Himself to God’s will; to align His will with the will of the Father. The repletion is not “vain” but “decisive” – “I really mean what I have just said – it was not a throw-away comment”. When I have told my wife that I love her, it is not enough to later say “well, I told you the once!” She needs to hear it over and over again – to show I really mean it.
THE CONCLUSION OF THE MATTER
There are many good aids to our prayer life – such as the acronym “ACTS” which guides us to pray in the following way: Adoration; Confession; Thanksgiving; Supplication.
But the “bottom line” is this. Our calling to be disciples is a calling to follow Jesus –which means talking to Jesus. Whatever it is that we talk to God about, it should be done in a “disciplined” way. By “disciplined” I do not mean “formulaic”, rather I mean in a way that puts Him first, that seeks to find out what is right in every situation, that aims to align my will with His will; that shows total trust in Him – that He knows best – and faith in Him – that He will always do what is right.
So my prayer MUST always be following the example of Jesus: “Yet not as I will, but as you will”.
In this there is total submission, total trust, total belief in His goodness. There is no longer any need to say “but I just don’t understand! I just don’t see why you didn’t give me what I asked for!”
No….there is the simple child-like faith and freedom of: “Yet not as I will, but as you will”.