If you were asked right now to write down all your answered prayer on side of a piece of paper and all your unanswered prayer on the other side in all likelihood the unanswered prayer column would be significantly longer. I know mine is. Off the top of my head I can think of a dozen long standing prayer requests. I struggle to think of three answered prayers.
Without a doubt this is Satan seeking to discourage me and making me focus on the negative (unanswered prayer) rather than the positive (answered prayer). Satan has an easy job. Answers to prayer are like brief flashes of light that fill you with praise for a short while then fade away into the dark recesses of your memory. Unanswered prayer is continually with you, burdening your soul and weighing you down.
And I speak from experience when I say that it is very easy to become down hearted about it. Who here hasn’t cried along with the Psalmist?
“How long, O Lord? Will
you forget me forever?
How long will you hide
your face from me?
How long must I wrestle
with my thoughts
And every day have
sorrow in my heart?”
Psalm 13 v 1 – 2
But what should our response to unanswered prayer be? Why doesn’t God answer our prayers? What is going on?
Q: Why does prayer go unanswered?
God will never answer every single one of our prayers! Of course he won’t – imagine if, like in Bruce Almighty, God replied ‘yes’ to all our prayers. We’d all be rich, famous, attractive, lottery winners, immortal…It would be madness! So it’s a good thing that God doesn’t answer all prayer but that’s probably not that encouraging.
A: There is something wrong with your spiritual life…
I am going to be very cautious here. Unanswered prayer is a sign that something might be wrong with your spiritual life. But do not think that unanswered prayer means that there is definitely something wrong. However, if we are going through a period of unanswered prayer it is good to double check our spiritual life. There may be something we have not repented of, someone we should forgive, a sin we haven’t realised was a sin.
“Dear friends, if our heart do not condemn us we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.”
1 John 3 v 21 - 22
The closer we walk with God the better our prayers will be. The more aligned our prayers will be with God’s wishes. The further our walk is from God the worse our prayers will become.
I must stress again that God gives generously to all regardless of spiritual state but checking our spiritual life can do no harm and a whole world of good.
A: Wrong prayer
Take the extreme example and ask yourself if God would answer your prayer that [insert figure of hate here] would die. Unlikely. In the majority of cases God will only answer prayer that are in keeping with his Holy Word. And all his answers are in keeping with his Holy and inherent wisdom.
But it’s more complicated than that because for every clear cut issue there’s a moral gray area as well. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell what would be right and what would be wrong. Unanswered prayer can be a guidance as to what is wrong.
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
James 4 v 3
Prayers made out of selfish, lustful or sinful motives will almost never be answered. If they are answered it will be to reveal to us the full extent of our folly. We forget that prayer is a two way conversation – we speak to God and God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit. You might be aware that some things you used to pray for you no longer do in all likelihood it’s because God has led you away from that prayer because it is a wrong prayer or prayer coming from wrong motives.
A: Good prayer, wrong time
Say your praying for a job, or about marriage, or about a long running sin you need help fighting – now these are not bad things. In fact these are excellent things to pray for! But why might not God be answering your prayer?
Well, it might be a good thing you are praying for but it might not be necessarily good for you at whatever point in life you’re at. Again, a fourteen year old can pray about finding a wife but it isn’t about to get answered anytime soon. I know that example is extreme but hopefully you see the point. What you are praying for may not be good in your specific case at this specific time. Trust that God will know what is good for you better than you will.
Q: But I need it…?
“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4 v 19
As Christians we know that God has promised to provide our every need which means that when we think this is not having we become bitter towards God. “I needed that!” We mutter to ourselves “Why didn’t God give it to me?”
What we are doing is firstly confusing what we want with what we need. And secondly we are saying that we know what we need better than God does. This is not the case. God really does know our every need and will provide for it. We only think we know our every need. In reality what we often ‘need’ the most can be quite bad for us. We have sinful hearts after all. God exercises his goodness to us by not answering these prayers! So be careful, do not think that because you think you need something you really do.
Don’t trust in your opinion of your perceived needs. Trust in God’s opinion of your actual needs.
Q: My prayer is perfect, why isn’t it answered now?
Your prayer is good both in general and for you and your prayer is a need that needs to be supplied yet still God has yet to answer it. Why is this? Well, the main reason is to train us in perseverance and patience. We live in an age of instant gratification where every pleasure has to be experienced NOW!
But God doesn’t work like that; his time frame is always longer than ours. We need to be taught the practise of waiting on the Lord for his goodness.
“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”
Galatians 6 v 9
This verse is one among many that teach the value of patience, of waiting on the Lord for answers to pray. For how much more rewarding is an answer to a prayer you have really persevered with? Unconverted relatives converted after 40+ years of prayer – what a time for praise and thankfulness! God withholds his blessing to discipline us in our spiritual lives and teach us patience.
Therefore look forward with patience expectation for answers to prayer. And take heart the Bible promises good things for us:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Matthew 7 v 7 – 11
God is good! And we need to constantly remind ourselves of that fact. To help remember next time you have an answer to prayer write it down somewhere (quickly before you forget) then you will build up a list of God’s continual goodness to you that you can look back at during darker times.
Should we give up praying if it hasn’t been answered?
No! Well, yes, some prayers we will turn away from praying because they are wrong in whatever sense but there are still many prayers that we need to persevere with. In particular prayer for the conversion of friends and family, prayers for revival, prayers for our churches, CU, Christian friends and for our own spiritual life.
I find unanswered prayer very difficult to cope with. Some of my lowest points in my spiritual life stem from my impatience that my prayers haven’t been answered. This impatience leads to a lack of faith in God or worse into bad thoughts about God’s goodness.
What I have had to re-learn over and over and over again is to trust in God. I need to trust God’s wisdom over my own. God’s goodness over my selfishness. I quoted from Psalm 13 at the beginning so let me end with its last few verses:
“But I will trust in your unfailing love;
My heart rejoices in your salvation
I will sing to the Lord,
for he has been good to me.”
Psalm 13 v 5 – 6
Let us pray that when it comes to unanswered prayer we might praise God with the Psalmist above for God’s love is unfailing and he has been good to us. God knows who to give good gifts to us, he knows when to give these gifts and he will give these gifts. Trust in God! Put your faith to work! Don’t trust yourself! Trust God!
“We are all going to die” seems to be the newspaper headline of my generation. The apocalypse is always just round the corner. The human race seems to be in constant danger of being wiped out by the Millennium bug, ice ages, avian flu, swine flu, asteroid strikes, nuclear war or good old fashioned invasion by an extra terrestrial species.
But the big one, the best one, the be all that end all of disasters is known simply as Climate Change. The basic theory says that mankind is pumping too much greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and because of this the climate is going to crazy and to avoid our impending doom we must cut CO2. NOW!
What is the Christian view on the environment?
As Christians we know that we are called to be good stewards of this Earth. This can be seen from the very beginning when God took man and put him in charge of the Garden of Eden.
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
And in the Psalms:
“You made him ruler over the works of your hand;
You put everything under his feet.”
Christians therefore have a responsibility to the environment; we should seek to look after what God has given us whilst at the same time remembering that God has given it to us! We are allowed to use Earth’s resources, indeed, as the resources we use are gifts from God we are glorifying God by using the Earth’s resources. We should be careful then not to follow some scientist’s calls for a complete renouncement of our Western lifestyle.
So, in general we must look after the environment. But specifically what about climate change? What should the Christian’s view about climate change be?
There is a fundamental difference between stewardship of the Earth and stewardship of the climate that I would like to draw your attention by asking a very simple question: can you be a steward over the weather? Stewardship would involve some form of control over it or some influence over it. Can man control the weather? Even with all our advanced technology we cannot, in fact we can’t even predict it correctly! We can be stewards of the physical resources of our world. We cannot be stewards of the weather because we cannot control it.
What! Who then is in control of the weather?
God. Want proof? Well, where do I stop? Here are just two verses:
“They do not say to themselves,
‘Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives autumn and spring rains in season,
who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.”
Jeremiah 5 v 24
“He spreads the snow like wool
And scatters the frost like ashes
He hurls down his hail like pebbles.
Who can withstand his icy blasts?”
Psalm 147 v 16 – 17
What we can see from just these two verses is that God is in control of the weather, not man, not some other force but God and God only. He determines when it should rain; he decided how the seasons will run their course. So, like in all other things, as Christians we need to submit to his authority over the weather. We do this when we pray that the weather may be good for a particular event.
God controls the weather. Ok, what has this to do with climate change?
Everything! If God controls the seasons and the weather then by definition he must control the climate. As Wikipedia says:
“Climate encompasses the statistics of temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, rainfall, atmospheric particle count and numerous other meteorological elements in a given region over long periods of time.”
What more can I say? Climate is just the long term weather conditions. Weather is just short term climate conditions. God controls the weather and therefore God controls the climate. Weather and climate are the same thing just on different time scales. This leads us onto an amazing fact: We shouldn’t believe in man-made climate change but in God-made climate change! That’s right, any change in the Earth’s climate is down to the direct decree of God, He is in control of it!
But, I still believe in man made climate change!
That would be unbelief. It’s like saying to God ‘Yeah, I know you’re in control of everything but not climate change, not this, only mankind is.” The arrogance! The pride! Is God not powerful enough to control the climate? Does mankind really have more influence on the climate than God?
What if God is going to cause [insert world wide climate disaster here]?
I give you as evidence against this fact: the humble rainbow (pictured above).
What does the rainbow mean?
It was given by God to Noah and every living creature as a sign of God’s promise to the Earth not to ever again flood it and destroy all life. We can be sure then that our planet is not about to dissolve into some global environmental disaster.
I’m still not convinced.
“As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”
Those were God’s direct words to Noah upon Noah leaving the Arc. Now considering that climate change disasters in all their glory usually involve the breaking of at least a few of the above we can be confident that the disasters predicted by climate change scientists are not going to happen. I’ll stress that again: the Bible gives us every reason to be confident in the earth’s continual existence without a catastrophic change in its climate.
What about pollution?
Pollution effects the local environment and is perfectly controllable so falls under God’s commands on stewardship.
What about CO2/ greenhouse gas emission?
The largest producer of greenhouse gases is the natural world. A good volcanic eruption would undo any good done by any emission cuts. God is in control of volcanoes and the natural world. God is in direct control of the vast majority of CO2 emissions (and technically in indirect control over the man produced stuff too). In addition the science behind CO2 emissions causing global warming is not as certain as many people would have us believe. Also apply some logical thought to the whole affair. God designed this earth knowing all of human history. It would be quite silly if God had designed an earth that failed as soon as mankind reached a certain level of technological progress.
Bah. What if CO2 emissions are a product of sin?
Ha ha ha! We breath out CO2, get a grip.
What if large scale CO2 emissions are a product of sin?
A better question but as I’ve said before in the grand scheme of things man’s contribution to greenhouses gases is tiny. CO2 exists in large quantites in the natural world and would have existed before sin entered the world. And again I restate my argument that God is in control of the climate of this earth. Not man. God.
Why is everyone worried about climate change then?
Because they are lost sinners with no sense of God’s power and authority. Additionally they are rebelling against God’s power and authority by claiming that man has complete power and authority over the climate. Also in the words of one secular commentator climate change is “the new original sin” i.e. a new idol. Fourthly they fail to understand the Bible’s implicit statements about God’s control over the weather (and therefore climate) of the whole Earth.
Above all things we need to trust in our good God. Where is your faith in God’s supreme authority over all things? Why worry about climate change? Do you think that you can change it? Do you think that you have the power of God? Instead worry about things you can change: you’re attitude to God and your faith in His unfailing goodness, his complete authority and unrivalled power.
Disclaimer: This is not a scientific debate about Climate Change but a theological one. For an alternative view on the science (or lack thereof) behind climate change feel free to visit: www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/christopherbooker/4990704/Nobody-listens-to-the-real-climate-change-experts.html
I realise that some people may find this view a bit extreme so I encourage you to email me with any questions regarding my Biblical argument.
“Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.” Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
As Adams says the universe is not what you would call small, indeed, it seemingly gets bigger every year as scientists peer even further into the depths of space. According to the most recent guess its somewhere in the region of 156 billion light years wide. In other words, if you believe in the Big Bang, it would take longer than 10 times the age of this universe to travel across it. And as most scientists think that the universe is expanding you would probably still not have done it.
But the question still remains: why is the Universe so big? Now from a Big Bang perspective it’s because everything ‘exploded’ out from a tiny little piece of something. Yet I’ve never much got on with the Big Bang theory, it strikes me that it replaces one god (the God of the Bible) with another (the God of Chance). Frankly I trust the Biblical account of Creation far more than any human offering. Which means that question becomes: why did God create the Universe so big?
If you think about it He didn’t need to. As far as we can tell Earth was the only planet God created with life on it. Humanity was the sole reason why God created the Universe in the first place. God could easily have just done our solar system or galaxy and it would be plenty big enough. This being the case why did God bother to create a Universe that is 156 billion light years wide? It’s highly unlikely that humans will ever see it all or expand and fill it. And it’s not as if it serves a practical purpose…or does it?
The Bible says about Creation:
“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
“Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.”
Psalm 19 vs 1 – 2
This means that the entire Universe is given to the task of proclaiming God’s work and glory. The Universe is as big as it is to represent the size of God’s glory and power. Other Bible passages say that God is everywhere in the Universe and that He sustains it with his power. This turns the Universe into a marvellous analogy of the sheer awesome extent of the glory of God. The Universe is so big because a smaller Universe wouldn’t adequately convey the full capacity of God!
In other words: God is at least 156 billion light years across. God has the power to create an uncountable number of stars and then know them all by name! And if God has the power to do this then why do we worry about our own much smaller difficulties? We have a whole Universe out there as a daily reminder of God’s greatness, of His power and of His infinite majesty. We have no reason at all to doubt that He can do anything. We have a mind-bogglingly big Universe because we have a mind-bogglingly big God!