How God answers prayer

Scriptures: Matthew 21:18-22; James 5:13-18

This morning, I want you to think about this question: How can I get an answer from God for my prayer? Although, often it would be: How can I recognize an answer from God for my prayer? Our prayers are more than wishes or hopes or feeble aspirations. But only if we pray with believing, faith-filled hearts, because that’s the kind of prayer that moves mountains.

We know Jesus wasn’t into the excavation business. He had little interest in relocating piles of rocks to the ocean depths. He was using the term mountain figuratively. Whatever mountain stands in your path, whatever obstacle blocks your way, whatever difficulty immobilizes you, the prayer of faith can help to remove it.

That sounds good. But how can we pray with a faith-filled heart? How can we develop the confidence that removes those roadblocks? How can we know that God will be there? Maybe you’ve tried praying, sincerely, but you’re still not getting any answers. If that’s true for you, then this morning I want to encourage you to follow along as we do some spiritual housekeeping. I want to show you four attitudes that may block your recognition of God’s answer to your prayers, or block His answering prayer.

The first is this: If you want to receive an answer from God, you must be willing to let God answer in His own time. You know, sometimes we can get impatient while we wait for an answer from God. It’s not always in our best interest, however, for God to answer our prayers right away. A wise parent doesn’t give a child everything they ask for the first time, any time, and every time they ask for it. Sometimes it’s in the child’s best interest to wait.

We recently, in Tuesday Bible study, took a quick look at Abraham and Sarah in the book of Hebrews. God had promised a child to them, and Abraham, when He first promised it, was ninety. Sarah was younger, she was about eighty. She had been barren. And nothing happened, initially. So they got a little impatient, and took matters into their own hands.

Sarah said, “Abraham, go ahead and sleep with my maidservant Hagar, and then I’ll receive her child and that will be the child that God promised.” Which was, by the way, a legitimate means at that time for sort of instant adoption, and the child would be received into the hands of the Lord and would be accepted as their child.

They did that, and it didn’t turn out well. They had Ishmael, and Hagar kept holding it over Sarah’s head, and they had a lot of friction between them, and Sarah ended up running Hagar out, into the wilderness, and Hagar’s son Ishmael became the father of what are currently known as the Arabs.

God came back to them and said, “We’ll do it. I promised it and I’m faithful to my promises. But we’ll do it in my timeframe.” Now at that point in time, Abraham was ninety-nine, and Sarah was ninety. And God came and visited and said, “OK, it’s time.” And Sarah laughed at herself, and said, “Yeah, right.” And God said, “Why did you laugh?” And she said, “I didn’t laugh.” And He said, “Yes you did. Therefore you will name the child Isaac – Yitzhak – which means laughter.”

Shortly after that she conceived and bore the child Isaac. But it was on His timeframe, a timeframe when it was clearly evident that nothing that they did, or could do on their own, would bring about an answer to that promise.

It’s not always in our best interest for God to give us what we want when we want it. Sometimes He delays answering our prayers for our own good. God often delays answering our prayers because we’re not mature enough yet to get what we’re asking for. Being willing to wait for something you want or even need is a sign of maturity. Not being willing to wait is a sign of immaturity. This might be why there’s been a delay in answering your prayers. God has something else to show you, some growing for you to do before He answers your prayer.

So I want to encourage you this morning to keep praying until one of three things happens. One, you get an answer. Two, you get assurance – that is, God gives you a certain confidence that you’re going to get an answer – someday, just not now. For instance, God encouraged Zechariah. The angel said, “God has heard your prayer.” In other words, an answer was on the way. God hears our prayers when we pray them but He answers them in His time. Third, I encourage you to keep praying until God gives you another assignment. In order words, God says “No.” This isn’t His will for you. And when you’re sure His answer is no and you’re at peace with that, you can stop praying for that thing and look for what you’re praying next.

The second thing you must be willing to do if you want to receive an answer from God and recognize it is you must be willing to let God answer in His own way. For God’s ways are not like our ways, as it says in Isaiah. “My ways,” he says, “are higher than your ways, and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts.” The problem is that all we want is what everyone else is getting. So often we’re happy to settle for less than what God really wants to give us.

Now there’s a story that I found in a number of sermons, and I found it online under sermon illustrations, and I was unable to test the veracity of it, but it’s an interesting story that says U.S. golfer Arnold Palmer once played a series of exhibition matches in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi king was so impressed that he wanted to give Palmer a gift. Palmer said, “That really isn’t necessary, Your Highness. I’m honored just to have been invited.” And the king said, “I would be deeply upset if you don’t allow me to give you a gift.” So Palmer thought for a moment and said, “Alright, how about a golf club? That will be a beautiful memento of my visit to your country.”

The next day, the title of a golf club, with thousands of acres of trees and lakes and even a clubhouse was delivered to Palmer’s hotel. The moral of this story is, in the presence of a king, don’t ask for small gifts.

Never be afraid to ask for the miracle. And that gets us to the third point. You must be willing to let God answer in His own power. Have you ever tried to help God out when the answer to your prayer has been delayed? I discussed that with Abraham and Sarah, as one of those times. We sometimes need to let God answer in His own power. I know that there’s that saying, “Pray like it all depends on God and work like it all depends on you.” And that’s a good saying to hold to, because God doesn’t expect us just to sit on our rear ends and send up prayers and then say, “OK, I’m just going to wait, right here. Any time.”

But by the same token, we need to rely on His power. There are things that we ask for that we cannot do on our own. Sometimes, it’s just getting through the next minute or two. We can’t do it on our own. We have to depend on His power. Twelve step programs recognize this. The very first step is to recognize that there’s a Higher Power that can do what you cannot.

Sometimes, we don’t want to wait. Sometimes we want to try and do it on our own, because we tend not to give Him the credit for answering our prayers until all of our capabilities have been exhausted. So sometimes God makes us wait. He’ll make us wait until every human possibility has been exhausted and then He’ll answer our prayer miraculously. He does this because He wants everyone to know that He answered that prayer. He wants people to know that it was His power that brought about the answer to that prayer.

There’s another illustration that says a little old lady came out every morning on the steps of her front porch, raised her arms to the sky and shouted, “Praise the Lord!” One day an atheist moved into the house next door. Over time he became irritated at the little old lady, so every morning he would step out on his front porch and yell after her, “There is no Lord!” Time passed, with the two of them carrying on this way every day.

Then one morning in the middle of winter, the little old lady stepped onto her front porch and shouted, “Praise the Lord! Lord, I have no food and I am starving. Please provide for me, O Lord.” Next morning she stepped onto her porch and there were two huge bags of groceries sitting there. “Praise the Lord!” she cried out. “He has provided groceries for me.” The atheist jumped out of the hedges and shouted, “There is no Lord. I bought those groceries.” The old lady threw her arms into the air and shouted, “Praise the Lord! He has provided me with groceries and He made the devil pay for them.”

God really does act miraculously on our behalf in answer to our prayers, in His own time and His own way, and His own power, so that everyone will know that He is God and that He can answer their prayers too. Now, let me tell you, I believe very firmly in what I call ordinary miracles, and I think we also need to pray for those things, and thank God for those things, because it was by His power ultimately that they occurred.

An example would be if you’re sick. Yes, you pray for healing. But I would also – go to the doctor. God has provided intelligence for the creation of medication and things to help us when we’re sick – surgeons who can do work to help heal us, and God has provided ways for those folks to achieve those goals, to become doctors, to become nurses, for if you’re sick, and so it’s by their hand, but it’s through God’s power, ultimately, that they work.

And I call those ordinary miracles. And we need to give thanks, yes, to those that did the work, but we also need to give thanks to God for His provision of the person being there, of the medicine to treat us, of everything else that goes along with it. And in those times when God answer in a truly miraculous and supernatural way that simply cannot be explained to have occurred any other way than by God’s power, then like the old lady we need to raise our hands and say, “Praise the Lord” for what He has done.

In order to see an answer to prayer from God, the fourth thing is that you must be willing to let God answer prayer for His own purpose. That’s right. The purpose of life is not about you. If you want God to answer your prayer, you must be in a place where your will, where your desires, where your ambitions, where your cravings are totally sold out for God and His purposes in the world.

Sometimes we don’t get an answer to our prayers because we’re asking for something that is far less than God’s intended purpose for His world and for your life, and God often has a higher purpose. I forget which theologian once said that prayer is an aligning of our will with God’s. Prayer is an aligning of our will with God’s. So at those times when we pray – I spoke earlier we need to pray first and foremost for wisdom to see what God’s will is for us – we need to pray that we understand His purpose. Our prayers therefore will give Him glory and touch those who hear as we do His work in the world.

Prayer also occurs only as we walk with Him. In Joshua 3:15 it says, “and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest), the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.”

You see, God didn’t give the priests absolute proof, or even overwhelming evidence that the waters would part. He did nothing until they put their feet in the water, taking the first step of commitment and obedience. Only then did He stop the flow of the river. In the same way, our faith will be given to us as we step out, as we follow the Lord’s direction. Obedience sometimes precedes faith. I said that last week, and it’s true. As we pray, as we look for His direction, as we see His purposes, they will occur as we walk with Him and practice our faith and trust in Christ.

The truth is, God always answers prayer. And one of the catchphrases that some pastors like to us, that I see a lot, is “God always answers prayer. But if the request is wrong, God says No. If the timing is wrong, God says Slow. If you are wrong, God says Grow. And if the request is right and the timing is right and you are right with God, God says Go,” and answers your prayer.

As we experience today Communion, as we meet as a church about a new project and vision for the church and its future, meet both in prayer. Walk in faith. Depend on God’s power; He will provide. And together, we might hear the resounding Go.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

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