Picture of Pastor Gettys

Sermon delivered January 3, 2004 by Pastor Donald J. Gettys

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the King James Version (KJV) unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

The ABC's of Unanswered Prayer

I would like to point you to a text in the Bible in the book of John. John is such a special book. I think it's the best book in the whole Bible. John 14:13,14 (KJV). "And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in My name, I will do it." If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. Do you believe that? Have you tried it? Anything you ask in His name, He'll do it!

Well, that's a wonderful promise. Our Father will say 'yes' to all of our requests, anything we ask in His name. Does this really work?

Has that ever happened to you? It's happened to me a lot. I've prayed for a lot of things that I have never gotten. Big problems maybe darken your future. You think, 'What am I going to do for a living? I'm out of work and I'm not doing what I'm supposed to be doing.' You spent a lot of time praying about them and they just get worse. Has that ever happened to you? It's happened to me. I think too often we rate our success as Christians by how many prayers get a 'yes' answer, because every prayer is answered, right? They are answered, "Yes," "No," "wait," "I have something better for you." Many Christians feel as though they have struck out in the spiritual ball game with very few home runs.

Another thing that dampens our spiritual fervor about prayer is this text over here in James 5. James 5:16 . And when we remember this verse we think, 'Well, this is not too good. It says, The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. And we think, "My prayers don't amount to much, therefore I must not be a very good Christian. And so, we begin to get discouraged. Does this sound like a description of your prayer life sometimes? You pray for somebody and they die anyway. You pray for them and they get sick anyway. They don't get well. And you think, 'My prayers don't work. They're as earnest as I can make them. There must be something wrong with me.' Well, if so you have ever had those thoughts, then this sermon might be just for you. So, listen carefully.

First of all, you are not alone. There are many people in the Bible that have had prayers that were answered, "No." They were good people whose prayers were turned down.

Did Jesus feel very good about His prayer? Have you prayed about a critical factor in your life. Maybe it's your husband. Maybe it's your wife. Maybe it's your job. Whatever it is. and no relief came? How did you feel. Did you feel deserted by God? "Lord, we need money. We've got to make ends meet here." And you pray and it just gets worse? Jesus felt deserted. So did Jesus give up on God? No. Should we? No. Could Jesus have taken matters into his own hands? Absolutely. Did He? No. He could have. He could have stepped off that cross and gone right back to heaven where He came from. He could have answered His own prayer. Would that have been for the Him? Yes, but very bad for us.

So we can see that good people can pray good prayers that are sometimes given a negative answer by God. So if that happens to you, don't feel bad. Let's face it, most prayers are not answered with a 'yes'. Thousands are turned down. Tens of thousands are told to wait.

God is not a vending machine that we can walk up to with our spiritual quarter, put it in and out comes the answer. You see, God knows best and our duty is to let Him know our will and then to quietly and faithfully trust in Him for the answer. You can always trust in your best friend. Prayer is a sincere conversation with our best Friend because prayer is a matter of opening the heart to God as to a friend. He's you best Friend. You can trust your best Friend. You can count on Him. He is your best Friend.

God shared in Joseph's mistreatment and his imprisonment. God shared in Paul's lashings. In fact it was actually God who struggled under the heavy cross and then died upon it. He was the one that was suffering. So, when many of the prayer requests come back to us with a big 'No' stamped across them, we should not be discouraged and quit praying. We shouldn't givve up on God because God still loves us. He still cares for us and suffers with us. But He know what is best.

God is an educator. God has a much broader picture of our true situation. We can just barely see out of the tunnel. He can see the whole picture. I've learned that it is best to make our requests known to God and then to submit to His higher and broader will. You keep praying and you... "Well, help my husband to really be on fire for the Lord." "Help my teenager to come to the Lord." "Help my children to stop these bad habits." Keep praying. We should keep praying and we should submit to God's higher and broader will and His time-table.

And, of course God does answer many prayers, "Yes." You've heard the classic story. There was a pharmacist who was in the pharmacy dispensing subscriptions all day long. At the end of the day he locked up the store. He lived right beside it. This was in the old days. Just after he went to bed for the night, the doorbell rang. He had to get up and fill an emergency prescription. He went back to bed and it was very late in the evening and the doorbell rang again. He was tired and sleepy. He thought of ignoring it, but something told him to answer the doorbell. So he did. It was a small lad standing there at the door. The boy said, "My mommy is very sick," and he pulled out a wrinkled prescription. "Cold you fill this? My mommy needs this medicine."

"Well, this boy has had this all day long. Doctors aren't out prescribing at this time of the night." But he decided to fill it. So, with sleepy eyes and ill humor, the druggist prepared the medicine and dismissed the boy. He locked the door and he was about to go back to bed and he thought, "I had better file this prescription and do it right." To his horror, he discovered that he had made a terrible error. He had placed a deadly poison in the bottle. The man paced back and forth. He did not know what to do. He did not know this family. He looked in the phone book and could not find their number. He called the operator and was totally unsuccessful at finding anybody. Finally he threw himself on his knees and he begged the Lord, "Please overrule. I've made a serious mistake.

Quite a bit of time passed. Finally as he continued to pray, somebody interrupted again, and rang the doorbell. He ran down and it was the boy. Only this time the child was in tears. The boys said, "Something terrible has happened. I have fallen and broken the bottle. Could you give me some more of the medicine to help my mommy?" The man hugged the boy. He was thrilled that God had answered the prayer. His prayer had been answered.

So why are some prayers answered "yes" and some answered "no?" During the Holocaust in Germany during World Ar II, why were so many prayers unanswered? Why do these things happen? Why don't we receive more positive results from our prayers? Well, there are many reasons. I want to list several, but I want to put in a caveat, and that is that I don't think we will really know the answer as to why our prayers were correctly answered the way we think they should have been answered until we get to heaven.

Why aren't our prayers answered more often the way we'd like them to be?

  1. Well, first of all this should be very obvious to us. James 4:2 makes this statement: ...You do not have, because you do not ask God. That's obvious isn't it. We don't have because we don't ask. Maybe we don't ask because we don't believe. Are you going to give your child a piece of celery if they don't ask for it? You don't even know they want it unless they ask for it. You'd be glad to give it to them. We don't have, because we don't ask. Maybe we don't ask because...
  2. We don't receive a lot of answers to prayer because we don't really believe in prayer. We pray and then we hang up the phone. We don't really trust in God. Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

    Do you really believe that God will answer your prayer? A lot depends on your belief and your faith. A little boy went to bed one night and as he did he told his mother about one of his big problems. He said, "It has to be solved before I go to school tomorrow. I've got to find a solution to this problem." And as she tucked him in bed she said, "Listen. Don't even worry about it. I will take care of it. You let mommy do the worrying." So, he went to bed. About an hour later his mother heard some footsteps and in came the little boy. He said, "Mommy, are you still worrying?" I think so often we pray to the Lord so we can worry. Really we should leave the driving to Him, you should leave the worrying to Him. He's in charge. If you really believe He's going to do it, He will if you believe. That's one factor: We must pray with trust and belief. Give your problems to God and let Him do the worrying for you.

  3. Number three, and here's a big one. Maybe you don't get positive answers to your prayers because there's some personal sin in your life. Maybe you cherish some personal sin that is blocking God's hand. Look at Psalm 66 in your Bible. This is stated very clearly. Psalm 66:18. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me. In the New International version it says: If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. The Amplified Bible says, If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me. (Proverbs 15:29; Proverbs 28:9; Isaiah 1:15; John 9:31; James 4:3)

    I used to think that I had to be sinless just so God would listen to my prayers. That's not the case because how many of us would ever have a prayer listened to, because we're all sinners, aren't we. We really are. So, what does this mean? If I regard sin, if I cherish sin in my heart, that impedes or interferes with my prayers. That's what is going on here. If you highly love the special sin in your life, more than you love God, how can God answer you prayer against your will, your love for that sin? It just can't happen. If you have a favorite spot in your heart for some cherished sin, you are not going to get a positive answer to your prayer.

    (Editor's note: I just can't let this go past without my own experience. When I was about 16 I was sent to live with my grandparents on the farm. One of my chores was to feed the cows oat hay from a silo. In order to get the hay down the chute without scaterring it all over the county we stuffed it into a large burlap sack and sewed the opening up. One time I got the bag filled and when I sewed the sack closed, the needle slipped out of my hand and onto the chopped hay. I saw exactly where it fell and knew where it was. I took the sack and pitched it down the chute and went back to get the needle. It had disappeared! I raked back and forth through the hay right where I saw the needle fall. No needle! I neede to get other chores done so I decided I'd come back early tomorrow and find the needle for sure. It was right there, I was sure.

    The next day I came early so I'd have lots of time. I broke every straw of oats as I put ithem in the bag. Still no needle. And every one of those straw was from the spot I had seen the needle land. Oh well, tomorrow. The third day I realized that I would have to break every straw clear down to the floor of that silo before I would find that needle. I could see no way out. Now, I was a street-gang kid from LA and religion just was not my thing. But my teacher at school had said that a person could always pray, no matter what. I thought about that while I broke straws. Finally I gave in and closed my eyes and prayed, "Lord, I can't do it. Some cow is going to get that needle down inside of her and she'll die from it. You've just got to help me find that needle. Amen." When I put my hand down to get up from my knees I felt the needle right there in my hand. "If God will listen to a rotten street-kid like me, He has to be real." And I dropped to my knees and thanked Him. Ever since, I have wondered why He loved me that much. - Bob Beckett, Sermon Editor for McDonald Road's Web Page)

  4. God can't answer all prayers in a positive way! He just can't do it. You may say, "God can do everything." Let's think about this. Let's suppose you are a gardener. I love to have a garden every year. And your garden is very dry and you need rain on your garden and you say, "Lord, if I don't get some rain today, this garden is dead. It's got to have rain today." So, you're praying for rain. And next door, there's a little girl praying in her bedroom, "Lord, we're going to have this party today. It's going to be outdoors. All my friends are coming over. Help the sun to shine all day long." How can God answer that prayer? God can't answer every prayer: "Yes."

    Let me give you another example of this. Let's suppose that there are two men standing beside this used car that's for sale. The owner is praying, "Lord, help the price to be high. Because I've got to send my son to college. You know, they just don't have any limit over there. The tuition is just out of this world. I've got to have a big price for this car." And the other man is standing there, "Lord, help the price to be cheap, because You know all the bills that we have. We don't have much money." So, how can God do that? He can't answer every prayer in the affirmative.

    The great baseball catcher, Yogi Berra, was involved in a ball game one time in which the score was tied. There were two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. The batter from the opposing team stepped up to the bating box with his bat and took the handle of the bat and made the sign of the cross on the home plate. Yogi Berra said, "I'm a Catholic, too, and I'm going to wipe that off the plate. Why can't we just let God watch this ball game?"

    Have you ever gone to play a game and prayed that God would help you to win? Should we pray a prayer like that? I don't think we should. I think when you go into any game you ought to pray that God would help you to play your best. That He would help you to be a good sportsman and that He would help you to accept the outcome of the game. I think that's what we really need to do. Can God answer ALL prayers? Often He answers the larger prayer. One day I was driving to an appointment about 20 miles away. I was running just a little bit late. I prayed, "Lord, help every traffic light to be green for me." Now, was that an appropriate prayer? Well, I thought it was. So I prayed it and all seven of the traffic lights were red against me. All seven were red. I thought, "The Lord turned me down." But I think He answered the larger prayer: My safety. I was slightly late, but I arrived in safety. What if all lights had been green and I had charged right through all those lights? God answered the larger prayer, and we really need to just have faith in God and believe in Him.

  5. We pray for the wrong things. That's why we don't have answered prayers as often as we would like. Romans 8:26 (NIV). In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for..." We really don't know. We pray for the wrong things some times. We really don't know how to pray and we pray for the wrong things. And then we expect God to answer us.

    There was a little girl, named Susan, who wished for years and years that she was a boy. One day she decided she would pray that "Tomorrow I'll be a boy." So she knelt down beside her bed, and she had been in church the Sabbath before and heard the minister preach about the mustard seed. "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed you can move mountains." You can do anything. You can have answers to your prayers. That night she knelt in prayer told the Lord all about it. In the morning there would be a cowboy outfit hanging there on the chair and she would be a boy. Clutching a tiny seed in her hand, she went to sleep. In eight hours she would be a boy. Her trust in god was complete. She prayed in Jesus' name. However, in the morning there was a great disappointment. Of course, we adults would never pray a similar prayer for some cherished dream, would we? We sometimes pray for the wrong things and we expect God to just do and fulfill some cherished thing that is not according to His will.

  6. God seldom answers a selfish prayer. Look at James 4:3 (NIV). When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. I've often thought that the world would be a very dangerous place if God answered every prayer with affirmative answer. It would be a dangerous place. I think I've gotten to the point in my life where I ask Him for very little. I ask Him mainly that my life would fit into His will for me. You see, He has the master plan, and I don't. So, I pray, "Lord help me to submit to your plan for my life. And show me that plan. Thank You for saving me and being my God." I think wse need to praise more and ask less, unless it's to be more like Jesus.

God left that thorn in Paul's flesh, and what did Paul do with that thorn? He accepted it. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV) says, But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

Somebody wrote a poem:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life,
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing I asked for, but all I hoped for.
I am among all men, most richly blessed!

Let's trust in God. Let's leave the outcome in His hands. Yes, you should ask. You should make your requests known to the Lord. But in His will and in an attitude that "whatever you decide is really what I want to do." The larger prayer is that we would have the strength to submit to His master plan for our life. That's the prayer you want to pray.

I hope you have a good new year. I hope you immerse yourself in prayer this year. If you are a praying person, then you have a gold mine. If you aren't, then you've lost a lot. Devote yourself to prayer, which is basically getting acquainted with our beautiful God, accepting His beautiful gift of salvation and living in a happy response to His love and His plan for your life.

Hymn of Praise: #230, All Glory, Laud, and Honor Scripture: John 14:13,14 Hymn of Response: #488, At First I Prayed for Light 040103#1

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