Why is God Silent?
Why is God Silent?
March 27, 2011
by Rev. William “Buck” Day
Well, I want to start this morning with just a little bit of family news and an invitation, actually. Easter is about a month away. One of the things I have been thinking about for Easter is a way to serve everyone who comes on Easter. We are going to have a couple services; and we will obviously have many of us who are here today, but also some other folks, as well. I was thinking about how we might invite them to engage in Christ in a unique way. As part of my message what I am going to do is I am going to invite people to fill out a prayer request. Now that is not unusual. But as part of the message it is going to be in every one of the bulletins, a little prayer sheet. What I am going to ask them to do, on the way out, is to drop it in a basket and then we will pray for them, whatever it might be—it will be a short request. I am going to say, “We are going to pray for whatever it is on your card for the next thirty days.” So you know that even if you are not here at Faith, or if you are, we are going to pray for you for the next thirty days, by name, for your request. Now to do that, we need some pray-ers, and that is where we come in. I want to invite you to consider being a part of this prayer team. What I want to be able to say on Easter Sunday is, “I have fifty people who are set to pray for your prayer request.” So what I have, I have a signup here and I am going to put it on the Information Desk afterwards. If you would like to be part of that prayer team, I want you to just put your name and your contact info; and I will be in contact with you here, or someone will, so we can get that set up for Easter. It is just an opportunity for you. It is going to be very short—first name and then a little prayer request based on the things that we talk about on Easter. So if you would like to be a part of that group I would love to have you join that. You don’t have to be a prayer warrior to be a part of this. It is just a matter of probably having maybe a half a dozen cards that you will commit to praying for over the next thirty days. So if you would be willing to do that, I think that would be a wonderful blessing for those folks who come on Easter. So we invite you to do that. Dean, if you want to take that, that would be great. So consider that and we will move on.
Well thank you everyone for your thoughts and your notes and if you were wondering where I was last week, I was with our Stephen Ministers last week on retreat up at Buffalo. It was a good time and it is always good to get away with them but it is always good to be back with all of us, as well.
Well, let’s turn to our Scripture today. It comes from the end of the book of Matthew. So it is Matthew 26. We will read just a couple of verses and then we will pray for our message today. Starting at verse 37: (Matthew 26:37-39)
He took with him (He being Jesus) Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’
God’s word for us today.
Would you join me in prayer?
Lord, you are beautiful and we thank you that your beauty knows no end and it is in full display. So we come, Lord, to hear what you have for us this day in your beauty, in your wisdom and in your strength. We ask that by your Spirit you would open our ears and our hearts and our minds to hear what you have for us this day. We ask it in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Well on September 27, 1991, as was his custom, Gerald Sitzer, who is a professor of philosophy and religion at Whitworth College, prayed asking for God’s blessing on his family and protection as they went through the day. That day, however, something went terribly wrong. As they were returning from a family outing, a drunk driver lost control of his car and crashed into their minivan. As a result, his wife Linda, his daughter Diane Jane and his mother, who happened to be visiting, all died in the crash. Sitzer says, “To this day I have been unable to understand what made that day different. What prevented my prayers from getting through to God? Did I commit some kind of unpardonable sin? Did I fail to say the right things? Or, why did God just turn against me? I have asked myself a thousand times but, why did that prayer go unanswered?”
I think all of us have asked that same question at some point in our lives and perhaps we haven’t had the kind of devastating tragedy like Gerald Sitzer experienced in his life. But at some point in our lives we probably asked why. Why didn’t you answer that prayer, God? So that is what we want to look at today, because unanswered prayer is the single biggest de-motivator in our faith that I can think of. Unanswered prayer has within it the power to cripple our faith and, in some cases, even destroy it. And perhaps you know somebody who that has happened to.
So what do we do with unanswered prayer? What is it about? Perhaps we want to look at it a little differently today; and that is, rather than the why, what can go wrong when we are praying that can maybe result in unanswered prayer, where we struggle with where is God in the midst of this? That is what we want to look at today. Some of the material I will be using is from an old book from Bill Hybels called Too Busy Not to Pray. So you are welcome to take a look at that and read some more about this. We want to start with one of those areas.
One of the areas that can go wrong in our prayers is that our request simply is not a very good one. We can just start right there, and to that God says “no.” Scripture is full of those kind of stories of where God says “no” because the request is just not a good one. Peter, James and John were on the mountain top with Jesus and Jesus all of a sudden changed before them. He is dazzling white and he is standing there talking to Moses and Elijah. Peter, not sure what to do at this point, kind of eventually says to Jesus, “Jesus we should make some shelters for you guys.” That just goes to prove that sometimes if you don’t know what to say, sometimes it is better not to say anything. So Jesus doesn’t. He doesn’t say anything, because it was not a very good idea, so in that God says “no.” James and John, and I don’t know if it just runs with James and John, James and John have their mother, or maybe their mother took it on herself, to go to Jesus and ask, “Jesus, when you get into your glory, can my boys sit on your right and your left, as you get into glory?” And Jesus says “No, no that is probably not going to happen.” Again, don’t have mom do your asking for you. O.K. …Maybe a little insight there.
Then once again, James and John, they are traveling this time with the rest of the disciples and Jesus in Samaria, and the Samaritans are not being very kind to them, not being very welcoming. James and John in their great wisdom said “Jesus, do you want us to call down fire from heaven and consume them all?” ….to which Jesus said, “No, that is probably not the best thing to do right here.”
So sometimes we just don’t ask a very good question. As part of that too, sometimes a “no” answer can actually be a good thing but it may take some time for us to figure that out, right? And we don’t realize it until much later on. I think about the old Garth Brooks song, “Thank God for Unanswered Prayer.” Do you guys remember that song? It was a story of Garth when he was in high school actually praying for a girl that he knew, that God would allow her to become his wife. They kind of catch up over time after all and he says, “Thank God.” I will let you do whatever you want with that one. But there is a line in that, I think it is in the chorus; and in that song the question is, has that ever been a part of your life where you can say “some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers?” So sometimes, “no” can actually be a good thing.
So sometimes God says “no” but other times God may not say the prayer is bad but the timing may be off a little bit; so we need to adjust the timing and in those times God will be maybe saying “not yet.” There is some value that God builds into this idea of waiting—there is something important about that in our lives. Again when we look to the witness in Scripture, it gets reinforced, doesn’t it? Abraham had to wait ninety years before his heir was born. Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years before it entered the Promised Land. Joseph was in prison for two years after he had interpreted a dream before it finally came true and allowed him to be removed from prison. David, David had to wait his whole life before the temple was built and he never saw it. It was built after he died. Israel had to wait centuries before the Messiah came on the scene. The words of the prophet ring true around this idea of waiting and patience. From Isaiah 40 verse 31, it says “but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength…”
A recent study revealed that at a major university people are becoming more and more upset over the wait time of having their computer start up. That time is just too much. If you think about it for a minute, we have all the information, more information than has ever been known in the history of mankind, at our fingertips and we can’t wait thirty seconds for the computer to start. It says something about it, doesn’t it, about patience and the value and importance of patience. Parents, that is one of the great things, one of the great values, that we are to pass on to our children—the value of delayed gratification. Learning to wait with grace and honor is a sign of maturity. If kids get anything they want whenever they want, what are we teaching them, really? For God knows about patience and he wants to build it into our lives. Listen to the words he says through Peter in 2 Peter 3, starting in verse 8.
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
So when God asks us to wait in our prayers, he may actually have something more important in mind than just simply answering our prayers. He may want to do something in you before he does something for you. So in your prayers he may be focusing on you rather than the prayer itself. For God is never late; but he is rarely early. Patience is one of those things that can’t simply be that into us but it is something that has to grow and cultivate in us over time; thus it is one of the fruits of the Spirit. That is a fruit that grows over time. So God sometimes says, “in time, but not right now.”
Sometimes unanswered prayer can also be a result of something that is not right in us. In those times God actually says, “Grow First.” If you are taking notes on the back of the bulletin, I think it actually says Blocked Prayer, what you could put in there is Grow First and move the Blocked Sin, I think it is called, Blockage of Sin, as a sub-point under Grow First. Because that is one of the ways that God may want us to grow. Many times the blockage, the thing that is not right in us, is sin. We have to address that first before we pray. Isaiah was all over that at the beginning of chapter 59 where he says,
See, the Lord’s hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.
So sometimes our sin gets in the way of having our prayers answered.
When you are praying does your mind ever wander? If it wanders, does it sometimes wander to the same thing? Maybe it is to someone or something? Or maybe it is some thought that would lead you toward doing something self-destructive? Sometimes that kind of wandering can point to a sin in your life that needs to be dealt with. God does that. Jesus reinforces that when he says, “you know, if you have something against a brother or a sister while you are praying, confess it, go make it right and then pray,” because it is really hard to be fully open to God when there is something in your life that is displeasing him and you know it.
So sometimes this thing that is not right is simply sin in our lives. Another time the thing that is not right is that we maybe have our hearing off a little bit, we are not hearing very well. So we need to grow in our ability to hear what God might be saying to us. Have you ever offered a prayer, I mean, with all that is going on in Japan, have you prayed for the people of Japan to care for them, maybe pray for some kind of malnutrition or injustice that you see; if you do that, sometimes God might not be answering that prayer because he is saying, “You know what, you want me to do it but I would rather have you do it. What can you do to begin to solve that, to begin to make impact on that?” So at that point it becomes an opportunity for you to grow, to grow in compassion, to grow in mercy, to grow in service. So, sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers because he wants us to answer them.
Then there are some times when God says “no,” God says “not yet,” God says “grow.” And then there are some times that are probably the hardest for us all, completely; and that is we just don’t know why God doesn’t. We just don’t know. Some prayers are offered by good people with good hearts for good things and they simply don’t get answered. Every one of us has probably been there at some point. Maybe even right now. For the truth is that some prayers don’t get answered and we don’t know why.
A child gets stuck down with a debilitating illness and it robs the child of the life that her parents dreamed of her living. So the father prays. The father prays for healing that the daughter would get better but she just doesn’t get better. So he prays harder and he prays, “God let me take that suffering on. I will do it instead of her.” And yet nothing happens. As a result, the anger and the resentment within the father builds and he cries out, “Why is heaven so silent around the one prayer that I most want answered? Why?”
If you were that person or you know someone like that, what do you say to them? What do you say to them at that point; because I am not sure what you can say, honestly. I can’t point to a reason but I can point to a person. In our Scripture today, Jesus is in the garden and he is praying to the Father right before he gets arrested. He is praying that God would remove the suffering that he knows is right around the corner for him. And as you saw, it says, “Not my will but yours be done.” We have in that the most desperate prayer ever prayed, by the most discerning person who has ever lived, who had the purest heart, who prays for deliverance from an unjust suffering that has ever been unleashed. And God is silent.
From that came a hope, a hope to remake history. In it is the ultimate answer for the anguish of all of humanity and that includes the anguish that we all experience around unanswered prayer. It came in a blood-soaked, stained cross where God himself suffered. We as humans do not have all the answers. Sometimes we just have to admit that. If you think about it for a minute, if you think about it, what if all our hard prayers were answered? What if they were? What if Israel had really became a great country? It would never have had to been exiled in great pain and great suffering. There would never have been prophets who would have dreamed of a new kingdom, a different kingdom, a spiritual kingdom that could have invited all of humanity to be a part of it? What would have happened if God had answered that prayer? Or, what about the prayer in our Scripture? What would have happened if God said, “O.K. Jesus, I am going to remove you.” And he was spared of death. What would have happened? What would have been the effect of that? No cross. No death. No resurrection. No outpouring of the Holy Spirit. No Church. How would that have affected history? How would that have affected your life?
Truth is we will sometimes never know why God says “no” to our prayers. But what we do know is that God’s “no” to his own Son became God’s “yes” to every human being who has ever lived. And that we can take to the bank.
Lord we come before you and Lord we know that there are times when we are out of touch with what you desire and yet Lord we also know there are times when we just don’t get it. So Lord I pray for anyone who might be experiencing that right now in their own lives or in someone’s life around them. Lord I ask that you would not necessarily answer their prayer, but that you would show them yourself in a way that would encourage them, that would strengthen them, Lord God. For Lord how often we forget we are the created rather than the Creator. And Lord we know that your ways are not our ways. So Lord we stand in awe of you. We come to worship you because Lord in our heart of hearts what we know best at the deepest part of our soul is that you are a good God and that you have our best interest at heart. Lord, help us to learn to trust in that even when it hurts really bad. So watch over us Lord God with your mercy, with your kindness. Give us your presence, O God. We ask that because of the one who suffered so that we might have this relationship with you, Jesus. Amen.