Unanswered Prayer(1) – Bring to God, Genesis 15, March 13th 2022

Unanswered Prayer(1) – Bring to God, Genesis 15, March 13th 2022

Unanswered Prayer (1) – God

Second Sunday of Lent, Genesis 15, Psalm 17, Luke 13:31-end.

Unanswered Prayer (1) – God

We begin a series between now and Easter on the topic of Unanswered Prayer. As I have said, the 24-7 Prayer Movement, have developed a 5 part Prayer Course which our Life Groups will follow this month and next. The sermons beginning today and over the coming weeks will pick up on themes covered in that prayer course.

The prayer course is based upon a book by one of the founders of 24-7. Pete Greig, a book called ‘God on Mute’. In the course, and across the sermons, we begin to look at questions and important feelings, such as ‘how am I going to get through this?’, why does God permit suffering, why does God sometimes seem so far away? Where is God, at times when we hear only silence and we wonder if he is absent and not just silent? And the hope of Easter, the day when our prayers find our answer in his return. Our daily devotional – the third leg of the stool – allows us to pray more and reflect upon these and other questions and connected scriptures during Lent. If you are not getting that devotional, do let me know.

The second point to mention is about ‘unanswered prayers’. This is a general term. For some we are living in it. It may be praying for our child, it may be praying about a work situation, it could be praying for unity in the wider church, or as many in the world are praying for an end to the violence and war in Ukraine.  For some the word may mean something else – we were praying for something, something, to be protected from or delivered from someone or something,  and God’s answer appeared to be wait or perservere or no. Our prayer were not answered as we wanted.

And that has caused disappointment with God, pain within us, perhaps even anger towards God…

It is possible that for some of us, unanswered prayer has had an effect on our prayer lives or our relationship with the Lord.

There are topics we have lost confidence in, to pray for; or it may be it has affected our view of God. How could that prayer not be answered? How could God not care?

For others of us, we may have friends, family who are wrestling with this topic and so these sermons and the life group, and the daily devotional may help us, to walk alongside them. For the Lord to use us in an ‘emmaus road’ manner, to come alongside those who are struggling and through our listening, our care, our compassion, our presence and some words, the Lord uses you.

For others, these sermons and the content of the course, may help you further  when talking with non-believers or those who have had faith but they have chosen to leave it. Often suffering will be a topic that is raised.

So. You could say, there are four reasons we need to talk about unanswered prayer. There are the emotional, many of us have pain that we need to process. There are intellectual reasons. We may have questions we need to have answered or begin to have answered.  There are church reasons – in some settings, it becomes a topic that cannot be raised, and yet the bible raises this matter quite often. Fourthly spiritual reasons. It is affecting our relationship with the Lord. We have been perhaps trying not to think about it, or pushing it away, but it is now breaking through.

Finally. This is a series of talks, and so you may feel at times, much more can be said. There can be. Also it is possible, due to my preaching style or mistakes, I may only cover a topic in a later message in this series, which perhaps it could have been covered now…

Finally finally. Also, in our physical services, after each service we will have a prayer ministry team. If you feel, these sermons have raised things you want to pray for, pray through, please do approach them and they will take the time to pray with you. For those online, and who would like prayer ministry, let us know and we will see how we may that possible.

After that introduction…

Genesis 15. Abraham is rightly celebrated as one of the heroes of faith. And yet we all know, that the Bible is a book which amazingly shows the grey areas or weak spots of its heroes. You can think of most characters – Peter and the rest of the apostles, David, Jacob, Jeremiah, Elijah, Moses. Abraham too.

Bringing it all to God

Beginning in Genesis 15, Abraham – I will use his name as it is changed later – Abraham hears God speak in a vision and Abraham rather than saying ‘glory be to God or bowing down to worship or declaring like his grandson Jacob ‘this is the house of the Lord’, he says ‘But Abram said: Oh Sovereign Lord what can you give me.’

He has doubts. He shares these with God. These are Abraham’s first recorded words to God. He expresses doubts. He cannot see how things will work out.

This itself can be very helpful. It is possible that we push down these ideas. A favourite old film of mine is Inception. In short, it is a film about how people can enter and manipulate / guide dreams, and so how to shape their thinking in the real world. But Cobb – played by Leonardo de caprio, he has recently lost his wife in very tragic situations. And this grief he is trying to manage in a certain way and it becomes to affect his work. It breaks increasingly into all situations. It is possible, that doubts, prompted by unanswered prayer, or promises God has given in his word or perhaps to us personally, are affecting now other areas of our relationship with God.

To encourage you, to bring those doubts to God, to express them, to nail them.

As we further think of who Abraham is. Who is Abraham? Abraham has had three times promises shared with him about land, offspring. Genesis 12 – twice. Genesis 13.  He knows what God is promising.

He has also experience victory in a hostage rescue as God enabled him to rescue Lot and others from the four victorious armies who had taken them.

He has heard God’s voice. He has seen God’s power. Yet he has doubts.  The doubts may not have been there in the past – but now they are.

We can too, have experienced much of God, have trusted him, and yet doubts have arisen.

‘But Abram replied’ – he prayer he expressed his doubts.

He brings those doubts to God – about what is going on. This is about promises of God, not prayers he has prayed. But God comes alongside him ‘he took him outside’. And Abraham believes.

‘’in the lives of believers, there are sometimes great turning points, moments when we make a leap forward in insight and commitment. You can think that things are never going to be the same, and you may be right. But you may find your leap forward does not solve all your problems. It seems not to have done so for Abraham. It does not make him someone for whom questions about faith are now simple’ (Goldingay, Genesis, p.175).

So the wonderful thing we see. God’s response. Years ago, I heard a reciting of the book of Genesis by an actor Max MacLean – he is one of the voices on Bible gateway – as an actor he drew my attention to ‘He took him outside’ – how did God do that? Did he appear? But was communicated in such a way – God does not rebuke him – he takes him outside and helps him. Maybe our starting point can be – what happens if I acknowledge my doubts.  I think what we see with Abraham, we see with Jesus, people with questions, not sure and we may, like on the Emmaus road, in the upper room with Thomas, get the gentle rebuke, but it is gentle, it is loving and Jesus wants to help us in them.

God has given him a sign about the offspring. So all is good.

But note what happens next.  God promises the land for his descendants.

But Abram said : O Lord how can I know that I shall…

Now Abraham is implicitly in his question, asking for another.  Also when God declares again the land will be given to Abraham’s descendants, he says ‘O Sovereign Lord, how can I be sure that I will actually possess it.’ V8.

This is not the response that we expect from the man who has just made the act of faith that impressed and would be quoted by Paul centuries later.

One might expect God to say ‘excuse me?’ but typically, wonderfully God leans into the wind and ‘says OK’ and commissions him to assemble an impressive collection of animals. P.175. And God makes a vow upon himself, that it will happen.

So for me, this becomes a reminder. Where doubts are breaking through, influencing my walk with the Lord, some of whom may well come from prayers that have been or are being unanswered, can I bring these to God…

God who sees hears knows.

God then unexpected talks about the future. ‘your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years.’ 15:13.   They would return to Canaan when the Amorites were to be punished for their sins. There was a purpose in that suffering and God remained sovereign.

At the end of Exodus 2. ‘Years passed… But the Israelites continued to groan under their burden of slavery. They cried out for help, and their cry rose up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant promise… He looked down on the people of Israel and knew it was time to act. / acknowledged his obligation to help them (alternative translation).  

And Moses is sent.

When Moses spent 40 years in the desert, Moses may have wondered what God was doing in his life, yet how did the rest of God’s people feel.

‘’Year after year they toiled under the hot desert sun, building monuments to Pharaoh’s glory. During their long servitude they may have felt as if they were abandoned by God altogether.

They had nothing—no power, no property, and no prestige. Some people would say, “They didn’t have a prayer,” but in fact a prayer was the one thing they did have: “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God” (v. 23b).

Sooner or later every believer ends up in a situation where the only thing to do is to cry out to God. When David was surrounded by enemies, he said, “Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray” (Ps. 5:2).

Even a groan can be a prayer, provided it is directed toward God in faith. God has promised that even our moaning is articulated at the throne of his grace in the form of a petition: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Rom. 8:26).

Even when our needs are too deep or too intense for words, God understands what we are trying to pray. He hears our cries for help and our groans for deliverance, just as he heard them in the days of Moses.

Not only does God hear our prayers, but he also answers them. There must have been times when the children of Israel thought that God was somewhat hard of hearing. For decades—no, centuries—they begged God to release them from their captivity.

When, if ever, was he going to answer their cry for help? But their cries did not fall on deaf ears. God heard their prayers—he had been hearing them all along. When the time finally came – as God had told Abraham –  for him to fulfill his perfect plan, he glorified himself in the salvation of his people: “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them” (Exod. 2:24, 25).

When people pray, God responds. He sees, hears, knows. The New International Version ends Exodus 2 by saying that God “was concerned” about the Israelites. This translation hardly does God justice. What the Scripture says is that God knew his people. God knew all about them. The word suggests intimate, personal acquaintance with all the particulars of their suffering. The God of the covenant, and for us the God of the new covenant too, the God who sees, hears, and remembers, is the God who knows our situation in all its desperate need.

In the words of one old preacher, “Every blow of the hand that buffets you, every cut of the scourge, every scorching hour under the noon-tide sun, every lonely hour when lovers and friends stand aloof, every step into the valley of the shadow, every moment of sleep beneath the juniper tree, is watched by the eyes that never slumber nor sleep.”

God not only sees, but he also hears: “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry” (Ps. 34:15)..[1]

He is a God who is worth praying to. He already knows all about our situation because he sees everything that happens. He hears all our prayers—even when they are little more than groanings. He remembers that we belong to him by the covenant of grace in Jesus Christ. Then he answers our prayers—not always in the way that we hope or even in the way that we expect, but always in a way that brings him glory

And in that we have the tension. The intimacy of God. He sees, hears, knows. Yet the answers take, some time to come. When the Israelites really wanted those answers to come quicker.

And we think about God, in our struggles, that takes us to Luke 13.

Suffering of Jesus

He grieves over Jerusalem.. That name reminds us of the struggles Jesus will have:

  • The desire that the cup be taken away, but the answer is no;
  • The prayer for the unity of the church, to be still answered
  • The silence of God as he cried out on the cross on Good Friday.

Jerusalem. He cares. He loves. Important we hold onto those truths as we face being in the season of an unanswered prayer, or look back on past times.

Suffering of Jesus

We know why he goes there. To suffer, to die and be raised

As a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings. The hen who will take the fire and die, and the hen is found with live chicks underneath.

Jesus suffered. Took the evil and pain of the world. He understands. His Father – when we then Trinitarian – the father saw the suffering of the son for the world.  God understands the loss of a beloved child.

God sees, hears, knows, understands our suffering.

Psalm 17.

‘Hide me under the shadow of your wings’. At times we are under siege. We look to be under those wings, Jesus talks about.

The man has inner turmoil and he continues to reach out to God in hope and trust. He is perservering. The answer / result has not come, he will continue to pray.

Barbara Mosse: ‘’We need to learn – and learn again – that whatever turbulence we encounter in our lives, it is only by the side of our heavenly father – ‘under the shadow of [God] wings’ – that we can know sanctuary and peace.’ (quote from p36, Reflections on the Psalms).

We pause.

We finish in a prayer from Psalm 17

‘’Hear O LORD, my righteous plea, listen to my cry… I call on you, O God, for you will answer me give eart to me and hear my prayer. Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand., those who take refuge in you from their foes. Keep me as an apple of your eye, hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me.’’

[1] Ryken, P. G., & Hughes, R. K. (2005). Exodus: saved for God’s glory (pp. 74–77). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.