It is not the intensity or clarity of our faith that saves us, but the object of our faith. Excerpt from the message How long O Lord Steadying Our Soul In the Midst of the Storm
About a year or so ago, I was working one afternoon on one of my sermons, when my computer just froze on me without any warning. If you have ever had this happen, you know your heart skips a beat; little beads of sweat emerge on your forehead, as panic starts to set in. The first reaction besides screaming, “NO!” is to start banging on the keys trying to coax the machine back to life, so you can save your work. After trying that for a while, I realized the computer wasn’t coming back to life, so I did what I really didn’t want to do — I pressed the restart button and prayed.
As I sat expecting to hear the familiar Apple startup chime, nothing happened. No chime. The computer wouldn’t come back on. The situation was much worse than I first thought. I hadn’t just lost some work; I had potentially lost my computer.
One of the first things I did was call my friend Jonathan, who works at the Mac Shack at the high school. I knew if anyone could fix my computer he could. And, you know, my thought was right; he was able to fix my computer. I had to purchase a new motherboard, which is essentially the brains of the computer, but he got it working again.
Just like I knew who to go to for my computer, I also know who to go to about things in my life, family, and community — and that is God. When things are good or bad, I know I should go to God in prayer because God answers prayer.
Why don’t we pray?
But often times we don’t go to God in prayer. Maybe we prayed in the past but didn’t receive an answer from God. After which, we slowly but surely stopped praying because we thought it was useless. In place of prayer, we began handling things on our own. After all, something was getting done, even if it wasn’t ideal.
If that is you, I can assure you God does hear your prayers and He does answer them. How do I know God hears and answers us? Not only have I experienced answered prayer in my own life, but Daniel’s experience recorded for us in Scripture also tells us God hears and answers prayer.
In Daniel chapter 9, we see God not only hears Daniel’s prayer, but He also provides an answer. God’s answer comes through Gabriel beginning in verse 20. Let’s pick up there.
“the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.” (Da 9:20–23)
To be sure God heard Daniel’s prayer. It didn’t fall on deaf ears. Hearing Daniel, God provides an answer. Admittedly, God’s answer isn’t an easy one. It has given commentators, pastors, and scholars difficulty for centuries. Working with a seventy weeks timeframe, Gabriel tells Daniel what is going to happen in the near future and what will happen in the distant future. My intention isn’t to solve the debate. It is rather for you to see God hears and answers prayer. The seventy weeks prophecy is evidence of the fact, even if it is difficult and highly debated, it tells us that we can be sure God always hears the prayers of His children, and hearing us, He always provides an answer. He may not send an angel, but He always provides an answer.
Hearing that you may be thinking, “If that is true, why aren’t our prayers answered more often? Why do we pray, but get nothing in return?”
Several reasons our prayers may seem as if they are unanswered
(1) God’s time is not our time
I know you all have seen the Staples commercial with the “easy button”. The “easy button” is great because the moment you press it, all the hard work you had ahead of you is done. Often times, we think prayer is an “easy button”. We lift a request up to God, and poof it is supposed to be answered. But prayer isn’t an “easy button.” God isn’t Staples. He doesn’t do things according to our time, but His.
(2) Unrepentant sin is hindering our relationship with the Lord
Confessing sin is an important practice because it is what qualifies us to ask God to answer our prayers. Unrepentant sin hinders our daily relationship with the Lord (Matt. 6:12; 1 John 1:9). It doesn’t severe our relationship, we are justified by faith in Jesus, but sin does hinder our day-to-day fellowship with God (Rom. 3:25; 5:9; Eph. 2:13; Heb. 9:14; 1 Peter 1:2). So confession should be one of the first things we do when we go to the Lord in prayer. If we can’t think of any specific sins we need to confess, we should pray as David prays in Psalm 19:12: “clear me from hidden faults.” (Ps. 19:12)
Now I don’t want you to misunderstand what I am saying. We don’t need to be completely free from sin before God will answer our prayers. If that were the case, no one would have their prayers answered. However, God does delight in our obedience, and our obedience does have an impact on the effectiveness of our prayers (Ps. 15:8, 29; 66:18). So if you find that your prayer life is not as fruitful as you might expect, you may need to examine your life and repent.
(3) We are not asking in faith
James, in the first chapter of his epistle, writes,
“…for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (Jas 1:6–8)
So if we aren’t asking in faith, truly believing the Lord can answer our prayers, and if we aren’t willing to depend on Him, then, as James tells us, our prayer is not going to be answered. Prayer should be more than wishful thinking. It should spring from trust in a holy and personal God, who desires we depend on Him.
(4) Our prayer may not be according to the Lord’s will
God has a plan for our life and this world. What we are asking the Lord to do may not be in accordance with His plan or purpose. If that is the case, He is not going to do what we ask (1 John 5:14-15; Matt. 6:10; John 15:7).
If you think with me for a moment, just because the Lord doesn’t do what we ask, doesn’t mean He isn’t answering our prayer. In some sense, He is answering our prayer by revealing to us what we are asking isn’t according to His will, or at least it’s not at that time.
So if your prayers seem as if they are going unanswered, most likely one of the above is true: it is not God’s time, unrepentant sin is hindering your relationship with the Lord, you aren’t asking in faith, or what you are asking is not according to God’s will.
Questions for Reflection
- Have you stopped praying because you think God doesn’t hear you?
- How does knowing that God hears you affect your future prayer life?
Developed from my recent sermon The Prayer of the Saints and the Sovereignty of God
One sometimes hears the popular explanation that justification means “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned.” The definition is a clever play on words and contains an element of truth (for the justified person, like the person who has never sinned, has no penalty to pay for sin).
But the definition is misleading in two other ways because
(1) It mentions nothing about the fact that Christ’s righteousness is reckoned to my account when I am justified; to do this, it would have to say also “just-as-if-I’d-lived-a-life-of-perfect-righteousness.”
(2) But more significantly, it cannot adequately represent the fact that I will never be in a state that is “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned,” because I will always be conscious of the fact that I have sinned and that I am not an innocent person but a guilty person who has been forgiven. This is very different from “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned”!
Moreover, it is different from “just-as-if-I’d-lived-a-life-of-perfect-righteousness,” because I will forever know that I have not lived a life of perfect righteousness, but that Christ’s righteousness is given to me by God’s grace.
Our true situation is far different
Therefore both in the forgiveness of sins and in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, my situation is far different from what it would be if I had never sinned and had lived a perfectly righteous life. For all eternity, I will remember that I am a forgiven sinner and that my righteousness is not based on my own merit, but on the grace of God in the saving work of Jesus Christ. None of that rich teaching at the heart of the gospel will be understood by those who are encouraged to go through their lives thinking “justified” means “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned.”
Questions for Reflection
- Do you agree with Grudem’s assessment of the phrase just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned?
- How will this change the way you explain justification?
Wayne Grudem, Systematic, footnote 4 page 727 (headers mine)