Do you feel God is answering your prayers? Perhaps you have been asking God for help or relief and God seems as distant as ever. But is this true? Would a loving God turn his back on a sincere request? This sermon addresses this issue which concerns all Christians at one time or another.
How many times have our prayers gone unanswered when we have prayed earnestly and fervently about a situation that we're in? Perhaps something is happening to us and we're asking God for help - we're asking God for relief. Sometimes we're asking God for healing that He has promised. And we don't have any more answers than when we started [praying].
We get help in starting to understand the dilemma that we all experience - Why doesn't God answer my prayers? I've made my requests, I've made my petitions, I've asked Him specifically. This is the way we're supposed to ask, and so we do this. Yet it doesn't seem we're getting answers.
It does say in:
Luke 18:1 He (Christ) spoke a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray and not to faint.
Which of course gives us the idea that it's something we need to persevere in; there's no question about that. And we also see in Luke 18:7, where He finishes up the parable, one of the points He makes.
Luke 18:7 Shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?
It does seem that God does delay, and that's what this implies. But He will step in and avenge His own elect that, as He says, cry day and night. Maybe we do that - cry day and night. David said that he did this on a couple of occasions, because life took some turns for him that he simply didn't expect. He didn't understand why he was so persecuted by Saul. God made certain promises to him and yet life changed as soon as God stepped into his life - for the worse! You wouldn't expect that, would you? Well it did, for him. But that wasn't the end of the story. David said I cry out to you morning, noon and night because of a particular situation. And he lamented over the fact that there didn't seem to be an answer from God.
Jesus reassures us in Luke 11:9 where He says:
Luke 11:9 I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you, seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.
And so we see then it seems as if Christ is saying Just ask, and there it is: it's going to happen.
He goes on to say,
Luke 11:11 If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?
And God here is pictured in the Bible as One who gives, One who is ready to respond when asked. And He is pictured as the Giver of gifts - the Giver of good gifts, all too willing and ready to give gifts to those who ask.
Won't God give good gifts? That's the question that is posed. What is the answer, then?
Many times, we bring our many needs before God, and for which God says He will give us answers, but there is no answer, or it appears that there is no answer? Yet the apostle Peter says, Cast all your care upon him, for he cares for you. (I Peter 5:7).
When Jesus was instructing His disciples how to pray in what is commonly called The Lord's Prayer in Matthew chapter 6, (and I'm not here to talk about The Lord's Prayer or to explain that, but it's very helpful when praying because it helps us to see perhaps how to pray and what to pray about, and what's important to God when we do pray) - just prior to that He says,
Matthew 6:6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
What about that? How do we reconcile that with, maybe, many times when we don't seem to be getting an answer?
Christ goes on to say in verse 7 and 8,
Matthew 6:7-8 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.
So here God is pictured as one who knows our needs before we ask Him.
Then Christ goes on to say in the rest of the chapter, in quite a lengthy discussion, that we should not have any anxious care, because God will supply; God will take care of whatever it is that you're anxiously concerned about. And so God is pictured as One who is eager, ready to give help, to give comfort.
And Christ even goes on to make the statement:
'How much more, then, will he clothe you, O you of little faith' - as He clothes the lilies of the field, or the plants, and He takes care of the animals in His creation - how much more will He do this for you? (verse 30)
This is said to His disciples a number of times. And this is one of the big lessons that He wants His disciples to understand: and that's the matter of faith. It's one of the primary teachings of Christ. He taught His disciples issues of faith and character all the way through. A lot of people are focused on doctrine and teaching. But, if you notice what Jesus taught, He taught issues of character time and time again, because He said:
If you're going to be my disciples, this is what you've got to learn.
And one of the issues that He repeated was that of O you of little faith. And even in some of the most extreme and difficult circumstances He would bring out the example of faith to them. So what you have here is Christ expressing His desire to answer our prayers and requests, to listen to our petitions, and there are plenty of other assurances in the Bible, not just these, but plenty of others, that our needs will be taken care of.
Yet, a lot of times we pray about things and we really don't see an answer. It's something we really need to deal with. Sometimes there are setbacks; there are a lot of difficulties in a person's life.
When some people come into God's church God has stepped into their lives and called them as I suggested with David. From then on, they have had a lot of difficulties. I've seen people make the decision to turn to God, to obey God; and then some things begin to happen to them. This is not the rule, but this has happened, and it is hard to explain sometimes to the people involved. But sometimes it's not. However, what I've seen is that whenever a situation goes on and the person is looking, searching, taking God at His word, and there appears to be no answer, certain unbelief begins to set in. Maybe a certain cynicism as whether anything will happen; and a certain view of life becomes very prominent in a person's thinking, and they approach life in a certain way.
Sometimes it turns into criticism, and then anger. Many people have a latent anger. Sometimes it's underneath. You can't seem to say anything nice to the person: out comes an attack or an accusation. There's anger there whenever this type of thing takes place. There's something in the person's life, something in the past, some bad experiences that were not resolved. They've prayed about it, they've believed God would take care of the problem; but God didn't. The heavens were as brass, if I can borrow a statement from another application in the Bible. Nothing happened, nothing came from heaven, and they don't seem to be able to get the kind of answers they've been looking for.
People, sometimes, develop this layer of anger underneath. And it affects the people around them. They have a way of lashing out at others, criticising others, being unhappy with others, indignant at others, and all the while they're really angry at God, at life itself, and the way things have turned out for them. People, however, are in the first line of defence, and they're the ones who tend to cop it. It's very difficult to turn a person around and help them to see that they've got a certain approach that's really not right.
This is not unusual. Whenever trials happen to us, and we are in trials, we can go either one of two ways: we can go the way of anger and bitterness eventually. We read about people in the Bible who were bitter. Esau was one of those people. Things just didn't go the way he wanted, so he went the way of bitterness and anger. He was then left a legacy of bitterness, anger and emotional hostility among his descendants. It's always there. God has something to say about that, and how Esau's descendants are going to fare in the end time. It's quite amazing when you do that study.
However, here's what God would ask us to do: to take a whole different view. You can go down one road or the other. You can take the road of anger, bitterness, disappointment and let it shape you, begin to turn you into a person you don't want to be, and didn't plan to be, but somehow you've become a victim. Or you can take another road. The other road is to ask yourself What is God doing? What is God teaching? What is God showing? There must be a reason. I may not know what that reason is, but God knows exactly what He's doing.
These are the two roads we, basically, take. We've all been down these roads. I have. Until you face it and say, Wow! Is that the road I'm going down? And you become very mad, very angry, and you begin to realise how it affects your relationship with other people: that you're changing in a way that's really not good. You've got to retreat. Turn around. Go back. And then - look at things from a different point of view. Look at things from God's point of view.
From what we read [in the Bible] as we're talking about unanswered prayer today, we get the impression that God is only too happy to give us answers to our prayers: there are reassurances, direct statements that this is what God does. And yet you and I have all experienced unanswered prayer, and we ask the question Well, where is God in all our troubles and cares?
I've got two little pamphlets I picked up from the library. They're each coming from a different point of view, but they're both named Where Are You, God? They're trying to explain why there are so many problems and difficulties and injustices in the world, and asking where God is in all of this. And these particular booklets try to explain it. It's a big question. One of our frequently requested items of [church] literature is entitled Why Does God Allow Suffering? People try to work out as best they possibly can that God is a good and loving God, a God who answers us, a God who rescues us, a God who intervenes. Then - why do we have all of this? Why do bad things happen to good people? In fact, there's a book that's been written by a rabbi who tries to explain such things.
Let's look at this, and see what we can learn.
First of all, let's ask this question and cover some examples: Are there any unanswered prayers in the Bible and, if so, prayers by whom? Yes, there are! Let's turn to the first one - the Apostle Paul.
2 Corinthians 12:7-8 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
Now see the specific request that was made. Paul doesn't say that this was a casual prayer. He says I pleaded with the Lord, not once, but three times, that it might depart from me. So it was very specific - that it might depart from me. I'm not here to suggest what 'it' might be, but to simply say that this prayer was made; Paul simply tells us that the prayer was made.
Was the prayer answered? Let's notice what was said to Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:9 - that is, Christ said to him. I don't know the form that took. It could have been an audible voice; Christ could have appeared to him in vision, or simply appeared to him literally and gave him the answer. It could have been done as a result of Paul, in his prayer, coming to understand so powerfully through the thought that was put into his mind by God's Spirit. It doesn't say. But Paul was accustomed to receiving messages and revelations from God. And so he knew a message from God when he saw it, and when he heard it. So - he did get an answer. Let's notice what the answer was:
2 Corinthians 12:9 And he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.
Was the prayer answered? Yes it was. Was it answered in the way Paul prayed? No, it wasn't. But it was answered. Was there a reason? Yes, there was a reason, which we'll talk about a little later.
But first of all, the material fact here is that the request was not granted in the exact form in which he presented it. However, he did receive assurance of grace to support him in this trial. That's what he did receive. You will receive grace. It's one of the instances in which we have here the fervent prayer of a righteous man, a good man, Paul, offered undoubtedly in faith, and not answered in the form which he desired. Although it was substantially answered in the assurance of grace sufficient to support him. He needed that and God knew he needed that. He knows what we need.
This of course is very instructive in regard to prayer. It shows that we should not, as a matter of course, expect all of our prayers to be answered in exactly the way that we ask, and we should not be disappointed or disheartened if they are not answered in the way that we want them to be. It's a matter of fact, as we're going to see, that not all of the prayers even of the righteous and of those who prayed in faith as Jesus said we should, to a God who hears prayers, that they are literally answered.
James 5:16 ...The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
It doesn't say The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man gets exactly the answer that he prays for. It just says 'It avails much', even though it's taken from the example of Elijah, who did pray specifically that it might not rain for three and a half years; and it didn't rain for three and a half years. When James uses that in James chapter 5, then he said 'it avails much.' What will it avail? That then becomes the question. And He goes on to explain further in 2 Corinthians,
2 Corinthians 12:9 ..Therefore most gladly I [Paul] will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.'
So here was an answer which, in God's mind, was far better. Far better than removing the specific problem which Paul wanted removed, a better answer in God's mind was this: 'My strength will be perfected in you.' That's how God would see it. How would you and I see it? Lord, take this away! That's what we want. Of course that's what we want; there's not a sin in wanting that. It's simply instructive to know how God answers prayers when the answer is "no", or the answer comes in some other form, than what was specifically asked. It is something to think about. It has to do with our interaction with God, with knowing His mind, beginning to know His will and then beginning to try to understand His will in the whole matter. That's how we know God's will. We know it by reading the Bible, and by how He responds to our requests, to our petitions, to our prayers, to our thoughts and our feelings. All this is very instructive.
Then Paul says:
2 Corinthians 12:10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecution, in distresses, for Christ's sales. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I have always wondered, how do you do this? If you have and know you have been given an answer and it is a sufficient answer, even though what you ask for is not to be, then we can reconcile ourselves to that? Paul says, Take pleasure in infirmities and reproaches. How do you take pleasure in reproaches? Wow! We say, this is a bad thing! But you begin to see the positive side: that God is behind this - in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then am I strong. Paul accepted the answer, and was able to learn from the answer that God gave.
Let's look at the example of David: Let's go through a few of these to see prayers that were not answered as he desired.
2 Samuel 12:15-23 Then Nathan departed to his house (after Nathan confronted David about his sin with Bathsheba, and the murder of Uriah and Nathan says, from God that the child that came from this will die.) And the Lord struck the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and it became ill. David therefore pleaded with God for the child...
Have we ever done that? Yes we have. We've pleaded with God for the life of people.
2 Samuel 12:15-23...and David fasted, and went in and lay all night on the ground. So the elders of his house arose and went to him, to raise him up from the ground. But he would not, nor did he eat food with them. Then on the seventh day it came to pass that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead. For they said, "Indeed, while the child was alive we spoke to him, and he would not heed our voice. How can we tell him that the child is dead? He may do some harm!"
'When David saw that his servants were whispering, David perceived that the child was dead. Therefore David said to his servants, "Is the child dead?" And they said, "He is dead." So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the Lord and worshipped. Then he went to his own house; and when he requested, they set food before him, and he ate. (It was an enigma to his servants, who said) 'Then his servants said to him, "What is this that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child died, you arose and ate food." And he said, "While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, "Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?" But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.'
This was a fact of life to which David had reconciled himself.
David accepted the answer and he got on with his life. Undoubtedly he understood his own culpability, and how God chose to deal with it. There was perhaps a little more to it than that, and I'll cover it in just a moment; maybe there were other reasons, not just that one. We tend to jump to the conclusion that because of this terrible sin, that's why God let this happen. That's not necessarily so, as we'll see.
Let's look at the example of Moses found in Deuteronomy Chapter 3, verses 23 -24. Here is an example of a specific prayer given by a man of God. Here Moses is rehearsing with the children of Israel before they go into the Promised Land, and here is something he tells them:
Deut 3:23-24 "Then I pleaded [besought] with the Lord at that time, saying: 'O Lord God, You have begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand, for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do anything like Your works and Your mighty deeds?"
Moses was so close to God that he got a glimpse of God in a way that nobody else was permitted. He said - and this is what his pleading was about:
Deut 3:25-26 I pray, let me cross over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, those pleasant mountains, and Lebanon.' "But the Lord was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me. So the Lord said to me: 'Enough of that! Speak no more to me of this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah, and lift your eyes toward the west, the north, the south, and the east; behold it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan.
Then he commanded that Joshua should be the one to take on this responsibility.
Moses understood why God would not answer that prayer in the affirmative. He even recorded for us that that was a prayer that wasn't answered, and why it wasn't answered. He says The Lord was wroth with me for your sake. And he's referring back to the time when he was angry - he turned his anger on the children of Israel whenever they complained and carried on because they didn't have any water. And so God told Moses to go and speak to the rock, but Moses struck the rock. And he said some things at that time that he shouldn't have said, through his anger. The water came out, and God said 'You're not going over into the Promised Land.'
What did that have to do with it?
God simply wanted to make a point. Would it have mattered, one way or the other? I don't know that it would have. The point God wanted to make is this: He said You're not going to take glory for yourself. You're not going to them in angry. I don't care if you do face a rebellion the way you did, you don't deal with my people that way. You're going to stay here; you're not going to go with them, it's over. Joshua's going to take them over. I want everybody to understand that there's a certain way that my leaders are to be, act, behave and lead.
God really wanted to make that point. And so Moses accepted it. But he did pray, and the prayer was denied, and it was told to us why that prayer was denied.
In Job Chapter 30, verse 20, Job, in the middle of his trial, where the hand of Satan literally did things to him, makes this comment:
Job 30:20 "I cry out to You, but You do not answer me; I stand up, and You regard me. But you have become cruel to me; With the strength of Your hand You oppose me. You lift me up to the wind and cause me to ride on it; you spoil my success."
So - he's saying this directly to God. He's cutting right to the chase here. He's not even going at anybody else; he's going straight to God in all this. Because of course that's the kind of relationship they had. Job said 'I'm crying out to you, you don't answer me, you have no regard for the situation I'm in.' We don't know how long he went through that, but that's what he's saying.
He was crying out to God for relief, and answers. God was not giving him answers that he was wanting at that time. God was going to give Job some answers all right, and Job was heading down a certain road. And it's starting to come out. You start to see a certain indignant, even an angry attitude, starting to manifest itself.
Job 19:7-8 "If I cry out concerning wrong, I am not heard. If I cry aloud, there is no justice. He has fenced up my way so that I cannot pass.'
He's stopped me; stopped me cold. I can't talk, I can't say anything. If I say anything, He's got an answer. God's got me in this kind of position.
How many times have we done that? We say, Look at this terrible, terrible injustice. And I'm not being heard. God is not answering me. I don't understand why He doesn't quite see it my way. Have you ever done that? I've done that. God, can't you see what's happening here? Can't you understand how and why all this is occurring? And we go over this again and again in our minds, in our anguish. We send our cries out into the universe, and we say, How come this doesn't happen? Yes, we tend to do that sometimes, and we wonder why there isn't some kind of dealing with all this injustice? And the way we see it, something certainly should happen.
Did Job ever understand what God was doing? Yes, he did. But we send our cries out into the universe sometimes, and we simply don't get what we expect. In Job's case this was rather prolonged, until Job was willing to concede some things. In this case, God did step in. God began to speak, God began to show him. God does this. It's one of the assurances that we can have. God does step in. God will give answers. God gave answers to Job. Sometimes it was a little bit unpleasant, but when Job really saw it, it was a tremendous relief that God was right after all. And Job was happy to have it so.
But if you feel everything is unjust about this world except you, then you are going to get into anger and bitterness. But there's a bigger picture. God wants us to see some things.
Let me ask you this. What was the most famous prayer that simply was not answered in the way that it was requested? Perhaps you know what it is. If we look at Mark, Chapter 14, verse 33. Here is Jesus on the night that He was going to be betrayed. He was going to be delivered up. He knew it, He knew what was involved. So it says,
Mark 14:33-35 And He took Peter, James and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch. He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him.
I want you to notice the prayer. What did He pray? He prayed - and this was a specific prayer. Jesus was a righteous man. Jesus had faith - that if it were possible the hour might pass from Him. I want you to notice what else He said.
Mark 14:36 And He said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will."
Here is an appeal in the most intense and personal way. Was it possible? Think about this one. Was it possible? Jesus said it was. Was there some other way this could be done? Jesus said All things are possible for You. I don't know what He had in mind. The only possibility I know is that yes, Jesus had to die. That becomes obvious after the fact, doesn't it? But Jesus said All things are possible for You. It could happen! Take this cup away from me. Take it away from me? How do you explain that? This is the human side of Jesus. It wasn't a sin. This is Jesus as a man. You know what it says in Hebrews chapter 5 verse 7: He learned from the things He suffered. He was saved in that He cried out to Him who was able to save Him, with tears and crying.
Hebrews 5:7-8 who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He had suffered.
He put His salvation right on the line. He became a man who attained to salvation just the way that you and I attain to salvation. He had to rely upon God to give that salvation to Him. But, He learned, He learned through suffering. He had to cry out. He understood that He had to be saved by God. That is what God chose to do: that Jesus would be saved by Him, this way. And He would indeed go ahead, and suffer. It wasn't sin for Jesus to pray this kind of prayer. He was at all points tempted as you and I are. You and I pray the same kind of prayer. We pray for God to remove something from us, because it is so distressing, so painful sometimes. And people are in pain - literal pain, when they're sick. Some people have chronic pain, and they ask God to remove that pain. And it's there. They don't know what to do, they don't have any answers, and they have nowhere to go with their pain. Sometimes there are other kinds of pain, of course, that people experience.
All things are possible with God, but it's not how God was going to answer Christ's prayer. So Jesus then, after He prayed, after He understood clearly, as God was teaching Him and strengthening Him - as Luke says, there appeared an angel, strengthening Him to be able to go through this, so He received strength in His agony, He received power within Himself, He began to get His answers, He began to see it was God's will, but God gave Him the grace, the strength, the power to carry through, and it took that power to go through it. This was God's answer, and it became clear.
And so He prayed twice more - maybe for three hours altogether, and it became so clear to Him that this was what He had to do. That was God's answer. And Jesus understood that was God's answer. The way He prayed the prayer to start with was not answered. God said 'There is no other way; that's the way we're going to do it.' And Jesus then got up, reconciled to that, and went on with what God wanted Him to do.
These are not isolated examples. There are numerous examples, that we all experience, where we pray with fervour and faith for the removal of some calamity which is simply not removed, or something which we regard as desirable for our welfare that is withheld. Let's see if we can try to understand some of the reasons why it is done this way.
First of all, the grace that will be imparted if the calamity is not removed will be of greater value to the individual than would be the direct answer to his prayer.
That was the case with Paul. It was undoubtedly the case with David and so it is so many times with us, that the removal of the calamity or the evil of the situation, the sickness, whatever it is, might apparently be a blessing. But it might also be attended with danger to our own spiritual welfare. God gives the grace imparted in the trial so it may be of permanent value. And it could be connected with some of the best possible traits of character that God wants to develop in us.
In other words, God has another way that He wants to go with this. God wants to change us. He wants us all to have character; He wants us to have His mind. This is foremost in the mind of God. When we're praying, what's foremost in our mind? Us, Can You take away this thing that's plaguing me? Can You heal my child? Can you step in; can you take care of this terrible situation? That's what we want. God says My grace is quite sufficient for you. He's given an answer. And He says It's through this, then, that you are going to fulfill My purpose. That's how God sees it, that's first and foremost in His mind. Make no mistake, God has something that He wants, and He will go in that direction.
Secondly, it may not be for the good of the individual who prays that the exact thing should be granted. This was David's case, when he prayed for the life of his child. That may not have been good for him, why? I can't tell you, simply because the child didn't live. But let's consider something. What if he had lived? What did God see in the future of that child? A child is born of an illegitimate relationship; he is the son of a king, with other brothers around. What are the dynamics? What could have happened there? What did God see? That if the child had lived it would it have been of much more grief to him than if he died? David had far more trouble with Absolam than he had from the death of a child for whom he so earnestly prayed.
Let's get down to it: does God answer these kind of prayers? Yes, God answers these prayers. But He answers them with the foresight, and with the wisdom, and with the purpose that it's very hard for us to see sometimes. David simply did not know what the character of this child would be, what the destiny of the child would be if he lived to be a man. But if he died in infancy, he will be saved, in God's own time. I'm only suggesting that God can look down the line and say He knows best. It's hard for us to accept that sometimes because of how we're hurting at the time.
God has some better thing in store for us than would be the immediate answer to our prayer. That was certainly true of Paul. God's promised grace was sufficient to support him, was of more value than the mere removal of any bodily affliction, if that's what it was, or a tormentor who was bothering him all the time, dogging his heels, the devil doing this in the form of another person - whatever the problem was. God saw that His grace to be able to deal with that was better. Sure, it could have been removed very easily.
It would not be well for us, probably, if what we ask for specifically the way we ask for it, were to be literally answered. Who can tell what's best for himself? It's hard to. We think we know what is best for us: Lord, remove this problem! We say, Of course this is best; how could it be any other way? But if we get that answer, who can tell how soon we might forget God, as the Giver and the Benefactor? And we could become proud, and self-sufficient. People have done this. Hezekiah did. God knows. He knows better than us.
It was the design of God to humble Paul - that was in His purpose. And it would have been much better accomplished by continuing his affliction, and giving to him the grace that He promised than by withdrawing the affliction, and withholding the grace! The thing to be done was to keep Paul humble, and this affliction could not be withdrawn without also foregoing the benefit. That was important to God. My grace is sufficient for you. A much better answer for Paul would have been for God to have removed the problem. That would have been very satisfactory to Paul. That's what he wanted. The meaning of Christ's answer is this: I'll support you. I'll always support you. I will never permit you to suffer or to sink, exhausted, under the weight of this trial. You have nothing to fear.
This is what He's telling Paul. The affliction was not removed, but there was the promise that the favour of Christ would be shown to him constantly. The support would be ample. If he had the support, he could bear the trial. And we have this assurance: that if God doesn't remove the trial, we have His support. It is a sufficient answer. It is always a sufficient answer. We have that promise from Christ that we will be upheld, and never sink under the burden of these kinds of trials. It is the way in which His power, His strength will be perfect within us. He says, I don't want you going on in your own strength. This is what you've been doing up until now. You've been going, to a certain extent, under your own power and strength. I want My power to be perfected in you. This is the only way that it can be done.
Does God know? God knows.
In first Corinthians Chapter 10 verse 13 Paul makes this statement:
1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; [this has happened before]; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
How many times have we called out to God and said, God, I can't take this any more, and He knows you're conning Him. He knows, That's not true. You can take a lot more. As a matter of fact I'm going to show you that you can take a lot more with My help. My grace is sufficient, more than sufficient for you.
The question, however, I want to turn to right now is: Is there a prayer, any prayer, that you and I ever pray, in faith, in the sincerity of our heart, with the best intent possible, which is disregarded, tossed out, and not answered? No! God is faithful. Not that He answers it exactly in the way we ask, but we have to then accept the fact that He will indeed answer the prayer.
He's going to answer it in a way in which it's best for us.
We read then that the plans of God will stand. Here's how it's expressed in Proverbs Chapter 16, verse 2:
Proverbs 16:2 All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, But the Lord weighs the spirits.
In other words, we don't see why this couldn't be done. We are so right when we go before God and we make our petition, we make our plea. But God weighs up something else. He's looking at something bigger. He weighs the spirits.
Proverbs 16:9 A man's heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.
Sure. You go out, and you plan your way. You make your plans. You set your goals. You say, Here's what I want to be. Here's what I want to accomplish.' God says 'I'll direct it, just the way it ought to be, for My purpose and My plan.
Proverbs 19:21 There are many plans in a man's heart, Nevertheless the Lord's counsel - that will stand.'
That applies to us. We might have our plans, we might have our ideas, we might have our intentions. We may set our goals. We may say, 'Here's what I want to become, here's where I want my life to go.'
I've given you this example of a lady before. She was baptised in the church years ago. We're looking at 35 years ago. And she saw her life going in a certain direction. It turned out that the person she finally married in the church left her. They had two children. He turned the children against her and he left the church. She never thought it was going to turn out this way. She made the best decision she possibly could, that is, under the circumstances.
And then, as time went on, she remarried a nice fellow in the church and had another child. Then of all things, she develops multiple sclerosis. She gradually gets weaker and weaker, and becomes bedridden. Her second husband, the one she thought she would live the rest of her life with, with the new child, can't handle it. He leaves her. Now she's on her own. The child, of course, has to be taken care of by him (the father).
I don't have answers for that, but I will tell you this. That whenever I needed a reality check, I'd go visit her. And there was a certain attitude there. It wasn't one of bitterness, it wasn't even anger, but here was a person who had demonstrated so much faith and such a positive attitude, always expecting God to step in and intervene. Hardly a negative bone in her body! She had to be taken care of by a person who came in every day to wash her, clothe her, sit her up in the chair, strap her down so she could sit up and have a conversation with somebody, feed her every mouthful. Truly amazing!
Now, you can make your plans. You can have your expectations in life, and say 'Here's the way things ought to go, here's the way life ought to be.' And it doesn't turn out that way. Things happen. Make your plans. That's all good, I think we should, set your goals, try to be everything you can be in God's truth and in God's church.
But God says, The Lord's counsel will stand. Do you know what the word counsel means? It has to do with His purpose. He says in Isaiah,
Isaiah 46:10...Saying, My counsel shall stand...
He says that a number of times in
Psalm 33:11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever, The plans of His heart to all generations.
Do you know what counsel means? It means purpose. From the beginning to the end, My purpose is going to stand. Because God tries the heart -- it's important to God - more important than our physical body, more important than things that happen to us. Yes, it is; don't make any mistake about this. And don't begin to think God has forsaken you, because He hasn't.
God is with you. In none of this does God withhold His grace. That's what He's promised. I'm not withholding My grace, I'm not withholding My love, I'm not withholding My favour, I'm not withholding My strength, or My power from you. I will not do that.
Now I know we do that sometimes, in the way we treat people. If a person displeases us, we'll have nothing to do with them. God says, I don't do that. God will never take it away from you. If He's going to work out something far better, He will stand by you. My counsel will stand.
Jeremiah chapter 10, verses 23 and 24: This gives us understanding. Hopefully, it gives us reassurance.
Jeremiah 10:23-24 O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps. O Lord, correct me, but with justice; Not in Your anger, lest You bring me to nothing.
Notice verse 23 again. No, it isn't. We think it is. We think we know what is best, the way things should be.
When Christ prayed for the cup to be removed from Him, He also understood that it was a matter of God's will being done. He agreed and submitted Himself to that.
Jeremiah is saying Correct me. Why? Simply because he's upset. The House of Judah is going to be punished by these heathen who are going to come in, and they're worse than Judah, and - How come you're letting them do this? Yes, I know it has to be done, but Lord, won't you deal with them? He's saying, Lord, I confess. This is bigger than me. I don't understand why. So, correct me. Please don't be angry with me, just correct me. Help me to understand. Pour out your fury on the Gentiles, but correct me and help me to get my thinking straight.
Who knows the heart? Jeremiah admitted the heart is deceitful; that it's the Lord who tests the heart and the mind. How many times does it say that in the Bible? I don't know, but it's a lot. That's what God is interested in; that's where He's going.
Let's conclude with Romans Chapter 8, verses 26 and 27. Here are a couple of scriptures that are really hard to understand, but let's put them in this context and I think they'll make a lot more sense:
Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought,...
Do we know sometimes how to pray? No. So we pray in a certain way. That's not sin, not wrong, but it's instructive. What do we learn from this? What do we learn from the answers God gives? How do we understand God's mind? I want to reassure you: you will get answers. God is bound to answer. He will not answer, necessarily, in the way in which we make the request, because there's something else that he's doing. Learn from how He answers.
This takes a lifetime. This is not a one-shot deal: Right, I've got this all figured out. It doesn't work that way. Just consider how God will answer the question or the request. What will He do? How will He do it? If it is not removed, we [should] start asking other questions: 'What does He want me to learn? Where is He going with this? Is His grace available? Can His power be perfected in me?' There are a lot of questions we could start to ask.
Romans 8:26 ...but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
This is not something that's said; it's something that's sensed. There's this interaction between how we're praying, the deepest feelings and emotions that we have, and then the Spirit interfacing, as it were, helping and bringing us to the point of understanding God's will, God's purpose, God's plan, where He is going with this. And it's not something that can necessarily be explained. It's something we simply come to understand through the presence of His mind.
It goes on to say:
Romans 8:27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
What is the mind of the Spirit? This is what we're learning. The mind of the Spirit then begins to work within us to help us understand His will. So now this is all done according to the will of God and we begin to see it, we begin to understand it, it's a process, it takes time.
And then we have the famous scripture we come to see and believe in:
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
That's what He will do. All things begin to work together for good. And that's what He's asking you and me to believe, and to go forward in that faith. We may not understand now, we may not fully grasp it now, but all things then work together for good. Now, either that's so or it's not. And then He goes on, down towards the end of the chapter which is a wonderful passage, to reassure us of the love of God who is absolutely faithful.