The second in our WHY? series is Why doesn't God Answer My Prayers. We'll at this three ways, and see what it means if he never answers our prayers, if he delays in answering our prayers, and what to do if denies our prayer.
This message is based on Luke 22:39-53. To read this now, click here.
Last week we started our series called Why? We’re looking at some of those big questions that we struggle with from time to time, those “Why?” questions. Last week we asked “Why Does God Love Me,” and we saw that He doesn’t love us because of anything we did, He doesn’t love us because we’re good, He doesn’t love us because we go to church, He doesn’t love us because we got baptized, He doesn’t love us because we’re good employees or good dads or good moms, He loves us because he created us. In fact, the Bible tells us He loved us before we were even born. So if He loved us before we were born, it can’t be contingent on anything we do, or anything we’ve done.
I also mentioned that until you understand that God loves you, you won’t understand the answers to any of these other questions either. Until you understand that if He was ever going to back out you it would have been at Calvary, it won’t be with your kids, it won’t be with your health, with your marriage, with your employment, it won’t be with your finances. If He carried through at the Cross, He’s not going to back out now.
So today’s question is, “Why Doesn’t God Answer My Prayer?” I want to ask that question three different ways. As I do, see if you can pick out the differences in the questions. God, why are you not answering my prayers (plural)? God, why are you not answering my prayer (singular)? God, why didn’t you answer my prayer? (past tense)
The first question used prayer in the plural sense. Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? If none of your prayers are ever answered, you may have a much more serious issue going on. If God doesn’t answer any of your prayers, you may need to reexamine your life, you need to ask yourself, am I really a Christian? Do I really belong to Jesus? Am I really following Jesus? If you’re not really a Christian, if you haven’t really turned from your sins to follow Jesus, then you can’t expect God to answer your prayers.
Let me give you two verses that show that. The first is from Isaiah 59:1-2, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.”
The other verse is Psalm 66:18, which says, “If I cherished sin in my heart, The Lord would not have listened.” Both verses say the same thing. If we’re lost in our sin, God won’t hear our prayers. If we come to Jesus, believing by faith, we repent, and give ourselves to Him, God forgives our sins, and our prayers are heard. So if none of your prayers aren’t being answered, make sure it isn’t unconfessed sin in your life. Make sure you’re right with God.
The rest of this message is going to be on the other two wordings of the question. The next is, “God, why aren’t you answering my prayer?” Singular prayer, present tense. You’re still praying, there’s a prayer. But it’s not being answered. And then the third question, “God, why didn’t you answer my prayer?” Still a single prayer, but it’s past tense. One prayer that never got answered. Maybe you gave up on prayer - at least on a prayer that was very important to you, you asked God for a prayer and it didn’t get answered. Maybe you asked God for healing but it didn’t come, you asked God for your marriage to come back together and it didn’t, and now you don’t ask anymore – for anything.
In both of these questions, it’s important to understand something. “God delays are not God’s denials.” If you’ve walked any length of time with Jesus, you’ve got to understand that one. You’ve got to know the difference between no, and not yet. We’re going to look at how to deal with delays, and we’re going to look at how to deal with denials. But you need to understand they’re not the same thing. God’s delays are not his denials.
Say it with me, God’s delays are not God’s denials. When you pray, God hears it immediately, but he answers it slowly. There’s a difference between no and not yet. Don’t you have to teach that to your kids? If you have little ones at your house, and you hear, “Mom, can I have a cookie,” and you say, “NO, dinners almost ready.” Does that mean, you’ll never give them a cookie again? No, it means, not yet. Because there’s something better coming, and you’ll spoil it if you eat the cookie now. So no doesn’t mean never, it just means not now.
Remember, God answers in his own time. Do you remember when Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus died? He was sick, so in John 11 they sent a messenger to go tell Jesus. And when he got to Jesus he told Him your good friend is sick, you better get over there. When Jesus hears this message, it says, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” You need to know that He loves you. If He’s not answering your prayers, it’s not because He doesn’t love you.
Yet when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days where He was. Why would He do that? It took a day for the messenger to get there, He stays two more days, then He takes a day to get there, and when Mary and Martha get to Him they say he’s been dead four days! Where were you? Have you ever asked God that one? Where were you? Are you ever going to come through for me? Aren’t you going to answer me?
Let me give you a little prayer tip here, when God delays, it’s always going to be about one of three things. It might be all three, but it’s always going to be about at least one. When God delays your prayers, it might have something to do with Grace.
Ruth Graham said that if God had been faithful and answered all of her prayers she would have married the wrong man at least seven times. If you don’t believe in God’s delaying prayers as an act of grace, go back to a High School Reunion and take a good look at some of the people you were with then. See if you don’t thank God He didn’t answer all your prayers. Wow, he’s short and bald. Maybe God’s not answering that prayer was grace, because He had something better in store. Sometimes He shows His grace by letting you wait for something better.
Sometimes it has to do with Growth. Sometimes he says, “You’re not ready yet.” Back to John 11, and Lazarus’ death, in verse 15 he says, “For your sake, I’m glad I was not there so you may believe.” Sometimes God wants to develop your growth. Somebody once said faith is like a roll of film, it can only be developed in the dark. God pulls the lights down, and you’re struggling through something, and you may say God, WHY? And God says, because I want you to grow. Plants need light to grow, we sometimes have to struggle through dark times to grow.
Sometimes it has to do with Glory. Sometimes God waits so that he can display His glory, so He can get the applause. He might wait till it’s humanly impossible, so we know it had to be God. In John 11:4, “When he heard this, Jesus said, ‘this sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory, so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’” In John 11:40, He said to Mary, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” Sometimes He makes us wait so we can see His glory.
Something else to remember about God’s delays is that God answers in his own way. In the book of Acts, toward the end, we see that the Apostle Paul wanted to go to Rome. Did he get to Rome? Yes. How did he get there? Acts 28:16 tells us how he got there. “Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him.” Paul was a prisoner. He got there through Caesar. He got there through Agrippa and Felix. He got there through the most unlikely people. He went through a shipwreck. He got bit by a poisonous snake. He was stoned and left for dead. Did he get to Rome? Yes. He got to Rome. Did he get there the way he thought he would? No, not in a million years would he have thought that would happen. Do your prayers always get answered the way you think they’re going to? No. Not always.
So let’s summarize what we’ve already heard - God answer in His own ways and in His own time. Delays will always have something to do with God’s grace, or your growth, or God’s glory. And God’s delays are not His denials.
So what happens when God says no? How do we deal with denials? Jesus said three times, Father, if it be possible, please; if it’s possible, please; if it’s possible, please. In our reading, in verse 40, it says, “On reaching the place.” What place was that? Yea, it was the Mount of Olives, in the Garden of Gethsemane, but it was also the place of surrender, the place of submission. Chances are you’ve been there. It’s a dark place. And you have to go there alone.
Your friends can’t walk through that divorce with you. They want to, but they can’t. Your friends can’t walk through cancer with you. They want to, but they can’t. They can’t take the chemo for you, they want to, but they can’t.
This is where Jesus was that night in our reading. The dark place of submission. God said no, it has to be this way. And Jesus is receiving the will of God, he’s not resisting, He’s prayed all along, “your will be done.” Peter resisted God’s will, they came to arrest Jesus and Peter takes his sword and went swoosh. He cut off Malchus’ ear. Jesus said Peter, you shouldn’t have done that. Peter said I didn’t mean to, I meant to cut his head off. I’m a fisherman, not a swordsman. Peter resisted God’s will. Judas outright refused God’s will. Jesus accepted it.
When you’re walking through your own prayer life and God says no, you need to know three things. All three are true every time. (A.) God has a better plan, (B) God has a bigger purpose, (C) God has a broader perspective.
Why didn’t God answer my prayer? I don’t know. I know that God has a bigger plan than mine. I know that when it came to His own Son, Jesus received death so that I might have life. Jesus took the wrong so I would be made right, Jesus went through hell so I would have heaven. Jesus received shame so I would get glory. Jesus received violence so I could have peace.
I don’t know why? I just know this. Don’t you ever forget this, when you’re in your prayer closet, here is what you can always know. When the request is not right, God says no. When you’re not right God says grow. When the timing is not right, God says slow. When everything lines up, God says go.