Sermon Summary (5/03/20) “The Problem of Unanswered Prayer” (Mt 6:9-13; Mk 14:36)
The first time I gave a sermon on prayer was 15 years ago in July. I was shopping for this fountain pen in a stationery store downtown. On the way, I worried about a parking spot. “I’m giving a sermon on prayer, should I pray for a parking spot?” What the heck. And there right in front of the store, it couldn’t have been closer, was as parking spot. I ordered the pen. Next week, returning to pick it up, the same. I prayed for a parking spot and there it was. It couldn’t have been closer. I haven’t prayed for a parking spot since.
Does God answer prayers for parking spots? How much can I manipulate God? Should we be able to pray that bad things never happen to good people or that bad things always happen to bad people? Or that my test scores will always be right? Or that Johnny or Jamie’s knee will never be scrapped or they will never experience a broken heart?
What do you think prayer is for? Jesus said if we pray with faith that you can say to this mountain “move and be cast into the sea” that it will be so. What? Jesus spoke in hyperbole, exaggeration to the point of impossibility to make a point. Faith and prayer are important. Vital.
So what about miracles? Adam Hamilton has told the story more than once of broadsiding a car going at 40 mph when he was 16 and with no seatbelt. Everything stuffed under that dash yet he felt the arms of God around him pressings him back into the seat. God must have something left for him to do. He wears his seatbelt today because what God intended may be behind him.
Does God suspend the natural laws or the free will of others? What if God created the world so that some things required our prayer? God wants cooperation with us his creatures. He depends on us. Miracles of the heart happen too. When we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we provide footing for the Holy Spirit to make others more loving, more generous, more gentle, to exercise self-control and miracles happen.
Yet some of our most fervent prayers are not answered. Jesus in the Garden: “Abba, Father, let this cup pass from me. Yet not my will but thine be done.” (Mk 14:36) Paul asked that a debilitating thorn be removed from his side (some think approaching blindness), and God told him, “my grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Cor 12:7-8) And Mary. Can you imagine the prayers of Mary? Do you think the cross was a satisfactory answer?
I would suggest if we want to understand prayer that we go directly to the prayer that Jesus taught us, the one we so often pray in rote without thought or meaning. Our understanding is there:
“Our Father.” While the OT God of the disciples was one of fear and judgment, at the most trying time of Jesus’ life, he addressed God as “Abba,” a term of endearment like Daddy, Poppa. Like crawling into the lap of your Daddy to tell him your most intimate troubles and to listen to what he is to tell us.
“Who Art in Heaven.” To the ends of the universe or as close as the air we breathe. Where God is and where he embraces those we love the most and the place where he will take us to himself.
“Hallowed by thy name.” A God worthy of adoration, “Worship the Lord with gladness, come into his presence with singing.” We need a phrase or verse of the Psalms on our lips.
“Thy Kingdom Come.” The heart of the prayer. God wants Eden restored. He wants our prayerful participation and our hands, heart, and feet in making it happen.
“Thy will be done.” The subject of next week’s sermon except to say that if we are to know God’s will, we need to listen. Part of our prayers, our devotions, are daily walk requires that we listen to God and soak in his guidance for us.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” Our personal petition. One person said God gives us our needs not our wants. Our needs today so that we don’t get wrapped up is the greed and grasping, the inordinate desire of tomorrow.
“Forgive us our trespasses.” Essential to our relationship with one another and with God.
“And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Let nothing attack our faith.
Here’s what I notice about the prayer that Jesus taught us. Nowhere does it ask for miracles. Nowhere does it ask for the suspension of the natural laws. Nowhere does it ask to violate the free will of others. Nowhere does it ask for God to align his will to ours. But it seems to me that it does ask us to align our will with God’s.
Ten years ago in his book Why?, Adam Hamilton closed the chapter on unanswered prayer with this quote from Admiral Chester Nimitz: “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 the 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 that I asked for, but everything I hoped for. Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. I am, among all men, most richly blessed.”
Prayer changes us. It does not ask God to align his will to ours, but asks instead that we align our will to his. May it be so with us.