Unanswered Prayer and the Character of God (Psalm 27)

In yesterday’s post, we highlighted the way consumerism and greed only betray our lack of confidence in God.  Therefore, my prayers often remain unanswered because the things I want aren’t always the things that God wants.  “But,” you might protest.  “Surely not all of our unanswered prayers are rooted in greed.”  And that’s quite true.  What about when we pray for someone’s physical healing?  What about when we pray for our children’s health and success?  What about when we pray that a friend or neighbor would turn to God?  Surely we wouldn’t label such prayers as “greedy,” would we?  And wait—wasn’t it God who said that “it’s not good for man to be alone?”  So as the years tick by, is it really so selfish to pray for a spouse?

So yes, greed can often betray the true source of our comfort and hope.  But unanswered prayers might also prompt us to pause and reflect on the character of God.  Why?  Because if I have a distorted view of God, then it’s no wonder that my prayer life rings hollow and fruitless.

In one of his sermons on 1 John, Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones once observed that in times of crisis, prayer might not be our wisest course—at least not immediately.  Instead, it may be time to examine our views of God:

“…in a situation of crisis the New Testament does not immediately say, ‘Let us pray.’  It always says first, ‘Let us think, let us understand the truth, let us take a firm hold of the doctrine.’…Have we not all known something of this in our personal experience?  We have often been in difficulty and we have prayed to God to deliver us, but in the meantime we have not put something right in our lives as we should have done.  Instead of facing the trouble, and doing what we knew we should be doing, we have prayed.  I suggest that at a point like that, our duty is not to pray but to face the truth, to face the doctrine and apply it.  Then we are entitled to pray, and not until then.”  (D. Martin Lloyd Jones, Life in Christ: Studies in First John, p. 16)

I believe it was Voltaire who once said that “God made man in His own image; then man returned the favor.”  A generation or so ago, we lived in what we called the “modern” period.  Our greatest question was: “Should I believe in God or not?”  Now, we live in what’s being called the “postmodern” period.  Our greatest question is: “What kind of God should I believe in?”  Billy Corgan, the mind and voice of the band Smashing Pumpkins, finds liberation in the divorce of organized religion and personal spirituality.  “I can now have a punk rock relationship with God,” he tells one recent interviewer.  “And that’s been great.”

In short, we serve the God that best serves us.  The gospel says that truth is not contingent on our perceptions.  To know God—to really be connected to the Lord of the universe—we must stretch our minds beyond the borders of our own expectations.  Trust in God demands we see who He really is.  And when we do, our prayer life changes forever.

FAR-SIGHTEDNESS

In Psalm 27, David offers a beautiful song that describes his relationship with God.  Verse 1 serves as a kind of summary:

 1         The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

God is the source of both light and salvation.  David can be secure in knowing who God is.  This influences the way he responds to his surrounding circumstances—some of which are quite hostile:

When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.

But notice that David doesn’t pray for deliverance.  David’s greatest desire is not a solution to his problems, but a greater vision of God:

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.

And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

It is truly the far-sighted who see better things.  The greater our vision of God, the more our problems diminish.

BREAD AND SNAKES

David then turns his focus to a specific request.  He prays now for deliverance, but again notice that his greater joy, his greater aim, is for a larger picture of God:

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me!

You have said,  “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”

Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation!

10  For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.

11 Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.

12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence.

13  I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!

14 Wait for the Lord;  be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

In the New Testament, Jesus speaks of God as a loving Father:

“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 the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more willyour Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11)

There have often been things in my life—good things—that I’ve gone to God with time and again.  Yet instead of receiving them, I find myself with an armful of “stones” and “snakes.”  What might this tell me about God’s character?  Is this some form of punishment?  Not necessarily.  It just means that those stones and snakes aren’t things I’m receiving from God.  And ultimately, Jesus’ words are more about the character of a loving Father than the specific things I receive.

The gospel tells me that God is enough—because the gospel promises that in Christ I am brought near to a loving Father.  Is God enough for you?

Is God enough when you endure years of singleness?

Is God enough when your loved one doesn’t experience healing?

Is God enough when your children turn their backs on God, or the family?

Is God enough when your marriage begins to crumble?

A scholar named Marcus J. Borg once wrote of a chaplain in a highly academic seminary—one in which students’ faith was being routinely tested.  One day a young man came into the chaplain’s office to confess: “I don’t believe in God anymore.”  “Tell me about this God you don’t believe in,” the chaplain replied.  “Because maybe I don’t believe in him either.”

If God is not enough for you, then I doubt he’s enough for me either.  I don’t mean to trivialize our problems or our requests—only to point us to the fact that our God is beyond them all.  If Christianity is false, then my only hope is to maximize my happiness while minimizing my suffering.  But if Christianity is true, then greatest joy can be found even in the worst of circumstances.

Advertisements