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Friday, November 02, 2007

When God Says, "No."

"You don't have what you want because you don't ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don't get it because your motives are all wrong - you want only what will give you pleasure" (Jms 4:2-3 NLT).

There are all sorts of reasons why our prayers are not answered in the way we would like them to be. The first is that we often don't actually pray for what we want and I've addressed that problem in April (check out the link on the side bar). Today I want to focus on what we can learn and how we can grow through unanswered prayer.

Ask God Why
I've often heard it said that it is not helpful to ask God the "why" question and that we should simply trust Him to work in our lives in His way and in His time. Many times that is true. We all go through phases of our lives when apparently inexplicable things happen to us and it seems that the Lord has failed to respond to our cry of desperation in our darkest hour. Our faith in a loving heavenly Father is stretched and we can either grow or crumble.

However, if we are not getting answers to our prayers we need to know if there is some fault on our part, a failure in us that we can rectify in order to get us to a place where our prayers will be answered. I learned this lesson 21 years ago whilst praying for friends who desperately wanted a child but were failing to conceive.

As I prayed with Karen I felt prompted to ask the Lord to show us if there was anything hindering the answer to our prayers. The Lord gently spoke to her heart through the story of the birth of Samuel. He revealed to her that she was seeking to fulfill her own maternal desires while God wanted to give her child she could dedicate to Him. Karen responded to the Lord and within a year her own son was born and she appropriately named him Samuel. It wasn't long before she had a daughter too.

The key to Karen's prayer for a child was in her willingness to hear the Lord explain why there had not yet been an answer.

Some Reasons
There are innumerable reasons why we might be the hindrance to our own prayers, or even to the prayers other people are praying for us. We need to be open to whatever the Holy Spirit wants to communicate to our hearts about our personal walk with Him. But there are some basic problems which, it seems to me, keep recurring.

The first and perhaps most obvious is unconfessed sin. Jesus responded to the paralysed man's need for healing by saying, "your sins are forgiven" (Matt 9:1-8) and James also relates forgiveness and healing when he talks about the elders anointing the sick (Jms 5:13-16).

That is not to say that sin is always the reason for unanswered prayers in relation to sickness. In my personal experience it is sometimes a case of enforced rest. The Lord allows us to be "set aside" for a while because we need physical or spiritual refreshment and we're too wilful to take the time out without Him imposing it upon us. I've seen this happen in the lives of others too. It's as though the Lord has said, "sit down and shut up for a minute and let me talk to you." Isn't this more or less what happened to Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19).

The final thing I want to mention is that sometimes the Lord doesn't answer our prayers because we haven't yet learned all we need to learn in the situation in which we find ourselves. Perhaps we're not seeing a breakthrough in our finances because we haven't yet learned the lessons God wants to teach us about living a simple life, sacrificial giving, or trusting Him to supply all our needs. Perhaps there are problems in our marriage because we haven't learned to live out the roles defined in Scripture, our love for our partner is greater than that we have for the Lord, or we haven't truly learned to forgive.

The reasons for unanswered prayer will be uniquely personal to our individual circumstances and our walk with the Lord. But if we are prepared to ask the Lord why He hasn't responded in the way we have asked, and are willing to be humble enough to hear His voice and respond, unanswered prayer can be the key to significant spiritual growth.

Prayer College Assignment
Are you experiencing the frustration of unanswered prayer? Try praying, "Lord, is there something in me that needs to change before you will say yes?" Make sure you listen for the answer and respond when it comes.

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