Unexpected answers (thoughts on prayer part two)

The first article was as an exhortation to take our groans and cast them on God in prayer.
Find a quiet place where you can think about those things heavy on your heart so that you could feel the weight of those things and have something precious to take to God.
This is a follow-up to that theme. Through prayer, each one of us has the ability with our God to change things.
What a waste when we don’t go to God in prayer. 
Treasure the depth of the relationship you can have when you embrace the burden and give it to God.
Don’t lose your care and concern over those struggling, whether it is you or someone you know… but take that concern and care and cast it on God without reserve. He knows the groanings and has pity on them.
Now we turn our attention to something that may at first sound contradictory.
But, the truth is, God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we think he should.

In John 14, Jesus said, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”

Sometimes we might scratch our head and say, “Maybe I got the formula wrong because it doesn’t look like he did it (…what I asked in His name)!”
THAT doesn’t look like the answer I thought he’d give.
What are we going to do when we don’t like the answer?
Revelation 8 describes the breaking of the 7th seal, that final seal of the book that had been sealed, probably referring to the book that Daniel sealed back in the days when Israel was in captivity to Babylon (see Daniel 12).
We won’t get too detailed with our analysis of Revelation 8, but let’s look starting in verse 3…

3 Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints 

Here are the “prayers of the saints” being DELIVERED to God! Just what we have seen we can do with our groanings!

But what are these saints praying about?

Well, back in Revelation 6:10, the souls under the altar were crying out to God… 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the land?”

Christians were being murdered by the persecuting Jews (see Matthew 23:34).
Christians were following God and they were paying for it with their life and they are saying, How long is this going to go on? How long before you step in and do something???

The living saints were asking the same thing!
They were calling out to God, “How long?”
In connection with this thought, consider Luke 18:8. “I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the land?”
I.e., will my people still be crying out to me for deliverance, for justice, like this widow lady called out to the judge for legal protection? (See the context of Luke 18)

Jesus wonders, Will there be this prayer, God save us from this persecution we’re enduring?
Going back to Revelation 8 we see that God is hearing that prayer that Jesus alluded to.
As the prayers of the worn out Christians are coming up to God, he’s putting incense with it!
This smells good to God!
But, let’s read on in Revelation 8.
“4 And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand. 5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the land; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”
The saints are praying for RELIEF and God threw FIRE right down where they were!
This is similar to some wartimes when scouts have found an enemy encampment and they call in for a bomb or some other kind of fire to destroy the camp and, hopefully, the strike will be targeted enough not to bring the scouts who reported the enemies down along with the enemies!

In our case in Revelation, the saints who prayed for justice, got fire poured down upon them. They were called to endure to the end. Maybe that’s not exactly the way they expected God to do it. 
Maybe they expected God to send some special forces in to discreetly take down the enemy, but God dumped fire on the whole place.

Such things are unexpected answers.

What God did, he did to rid their existence of the persecution! This is also similar to radiation or chemotherapy for cancer. They are working on this, but those treatments do not always hit only against the cancer cells, sometimes they get the good stuff along with the bad. But the purpose is to get rid of the cancer! 
When they saw that fire, the Christians could know God was taking care of the problem, even though they would need to hunker down and hide from the wrath! God was responding to their prayer. It doesn’t have to be the way I expected it to look for me to KNOW that God’s answering.

It would be good to pause and embrace that fact… It doesn’t have to look like I EXPECT it to look for me to KNOW that God is answering!

It doesn’t have to meet my approval, pass my test for me to say, That’s God answering me.

Jesus said, God will answer.
I wonder what it was like for David? In 2 Samuel 12, he had the affair with Bathsheba… a child was conceived as a result. The child was born and David just made this opportunity for the God of heaven to be maligned. God said I’m going to take the life of that child. I’m forgiving you, David, but the child won’t live.
Recall what David did.
For a full week, he fasted, and would not get up off the ground. He prayed, begging God to spare that child’s life.

One day he saw his servants whispering over in a corner, they knew the baby had died and they didn’t know how to let David know.

If he’s like this when the child’s alive, what’s he going to do when he hears the child is dead?, they wondered..
When he found out the child had died, he got up, washed, and started eating. The servants didn’t get David’s actions.

David’s response was “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ 23 But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again?

I.e., When the child was alive, there was a chance. But here’s God’s answer!
Do you imagine that David’s prayer was one filled with groaning? But did you notice the clear embrace of God’s answer?

God’s answer. And David continued to serve God the rest of his life.
It wasn’t the way he wanted it to be, but there’s every indication that there was no loss of respect, or loss of desire for relationship with God on David’s part.

David didn’t say, Well, if that’s the way God is, I don’t want any part of him!
Or, That wasn’t the way I would have shown mercy, so I give up on God. He didn’t get angry with God!

Ever known anyone that’s angry with God? Of course, there were people in the bible that got angry with God, because things didn’t go the way they wanted them to go until they come to grips with the fact that God knows what he’s doing! That’s easier said than done, I imagine.
Sometimes I don’t know the big picture, sometimes I’m only focused on what I want so I can’t see what’s needed, I can’t see five months from now, if I got what I wanted, what would that do five months from now. I can’t see that but God can.
I can’t see God, for that matter, not in a physical manifestation. One of my kids recently remarked how they just wanted to be with their mom when they go to school. I said, well, you can go to school and God will be with you the whole time. Their answer was, but I can’t see God like I can see Mommy!
Do I place my faith in the fact that God knows what he’s doing and that he loves me enough to do what is best for me? Even when I can’t see it? 
This could only be done by knowing God well enough to be able to trust in His goodness.
Have you ever wondered why God chose to save by faith?
A heart of faith is the only heart that seeks relationship with God, that seeks to know God on his terms! The Spirit is like the wind, unseen, but very real. God is Spirit, He seeks those who will serve Him in that unseen but very real realm that he dwells in!
But I digress.
There are a lot of things we don’t know. We looked at Romans 8 last time, where Paul said, we don’t always know how to pray as we ought. We know what we want… we know what we want to see when our prayer is answered, but Paul says we don’t know!
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose!
If I own that God knows what He’s doing, and that I don’t know how to say what I really need to say at times and that He’s going to cause these things to work together for good for those called according to his purpose, then even though I can’t see the answer I want to see, I got the answer I know I need.

Prayer is powerful. Prayers can be dangerous.

They can take us outside our comfort zone.

2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “for we walk by faith, not by sight”.

God cares about you. Your groanings bring Him to a state of pity. We saw that last time. Your answer may not be the best answer, but God’s always will be.
If you walk by faith, not by sight, you’re not going to say… God doesn’t care about me… when you’re prayer doesn’t results in the things you want.
You can say, instead… God cares about me, I wonder what he has in store.
We walk by faith.
But look down in verse 13 of 2 Corinthians 5…

13 “For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you.”

Here’s Paul preaching Jesus. Festus in Acts 26 said to Paul, You’re crazy, you’re great learning has made you mad!
“If we are out of our mind, it’s for God!”, Paul said. I.e., I’m saying this because I got it from God and want to tell you about it. You think I’m crazy? I’m crazy because of God. But, if you think I’m telling you the sober truth, I’m telling you so you can benefit from it!
14 “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died;”

What if we pray.. Father, put into my heart the love that Christ has in his heart!  
The love Christ had in his heart for all mankind put him on a cross!
Paul says, I am being compelled to say what I say and do what I do no matter what You think of me because I love you like God does.

I would pray for the Father to put that same love in me. But when he answers that prayer, how’s it going to feel?

How’s God going to fill your heart with the kind of love that would sacrifice for others?
Will He come like the tooth fairy at night and reach under your pillow and leave a little love certificate and say, now you have the love of Christ.
Probably not. What we see so often is, He answers prayers by the events that happen to you in your life. The people you rub shoulders with. The verses you read. The situations you get put in and you have to respond to.
The more you pray that prayer, the more opportunity you’ll have to develop the love of Christ in your heart. God will do that for you. But sometimes it hurts.

It’s not always what you expect.
What about the people you pour your heart into? You invest time, money, prayer, etc. into someone. And then they leave. They betray you. They cause you pain. But the pain in your heart is the evidence of love.
When you feel that pain, is that the time to say, “I’m not ever going to give someone that depth of my heart about.”? 
Or are you going to grow from it?
There are some difficult people in my life at work right now. I believe they are there for a reason. Perhaps they are an answer for my prayers for wisdom, or my prayer for something else. 
Prayers are powerful, and dangerous, and yet, so integral to growing in a relationship with God.

Maybe you’d like wisdom. Pray for wisdom. In Colossians it says in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. So I’ll pray for wisdom, place the Bible under my head at night , sleep on his story and let osmosis do the work.
That’s not how it works.
But James says, in James 1, ask God for wisdom… and IT WILL be given to Him.
There is a big difference between WILL and MIGHT.

One’s IFFY and the other is CERTAIN!

Without a doubt, he’s answering, which is why James says, do it (pray for wisdom) without doubting!

James says… “and it WILL be given him”.

But not necessarily by brain transplant.

Experience! Your own experience or learning from someone else’s experience!

You can read. Ponder. The book of Proverbs exposes situations that Solomon has observed. You can observe the life experience of a fool, ponder that and you’ll get wisdom.

But if I pray for wisdom, and God may give me a challenge!

When I’ve gone through the challenge, I’ll be wiser.

Then I may need more wisdom and here may come another challenge, just when I thought I had life figured out.

There’s not a thing in life that can happen to me that God’s word doesn’t address in some way!
I pray for wisdom, so God may give me a challenge and that can drive me into His word to search out the answer! Maybe it drives me into a conference with another Christian where I ask for their insight. God puts them there to help and to gain wisdom from.

God may give you what looks like a barrier, but it could simply be an opportunity for you to do the work to figure it out!

Praying for patience is kind of the same way.

I need patience and I need it in a hurry!

Remember the story of Samuel and Saul. Saul had an army approaching and Samuel wasn’t showing up when Saul thought he should… but they really needed to make that sacrifice to have God’s help. Samuel had made an appointment with Saul, but those days had past for the time that Samuel set. 

So Saul’s in a pinch. What are you gonna do if you are Saul? You need the sacrifice to made because the fight with the Philistines is just about to happen.

Says decided to quit waiting and he made the sacrifice himself. Read about that story in 1 Samuel 13. As soon as his sacrifice was over, Samuel showed up!

The sad part is, God speaking through Samuel told Saul, because you didn’t believe me, I am taking the kingdom from you and giving it to someone who has it in his heart to seek me own the only terms I can be found… which is after my own heart!
God is seeking such people. People who will worship him on His own terms. In spirit, in truth, in a faith that waits.
But if only Saul had waited a few more hours! Here’s a story of a man who was in an uncomfortable bind and he didn’t learn to wait for God. And he lost everything.

If I pray for patience, God may put me in a bind where I’m asking, How Long, O Lord?

David asked that question numerous times in the psalms, but the reply was always… Wait on the Lord.

The answer in Revelation 6 to that question was… wait a little while!

His timing is always better than ours.

The point is, we pray for patience and we may get put in a predicament where we have to wait on God or give up on him.
That’s not usually what we’re asking for when you ask him for patience, is it?
I want patience and I want it now!
But God says, wait for me here. Here in this situation… wait for me.
Paul had that thorn in the flesh… He prayed three times for it to be taken from him.
But Paul was shipwrecked, beaten to an inch of his life, all sorts of things happened to him in his flesh. God’s answer was, my grace is sufficient for you.
Paul’s weakness in the flesh made him stronger than if he didn’t have it and everything was peachy. 
If you are struggling with a physical ailment and you’re praying for relief, when the relief comes, there’s praise and thanksgiving.
But what if the answer is, there’s no relief YET… 
Can we have the faith it takes to embrace this answer. Can I own that I have sufficient grace from My God either way?
You can be strong because God is with you.
Our prayers are not always answered the way we want them to be, but they are always answered and our God is with us.
In summary, we should realize the possible depth of our involvement in God’s answer to our prayer. We considered asking for wisdom and patience. We talked about going to to the scriptures or going to a fellow Christian for counsel. You can meditate on what you know. Those are all ways in which God gives us wisdom. Paul told Timothy in 2 Tim. 2:7 “CONSIDER what I say and the Lord will give you understanding in all things.”
Timothy’s part was to CONSIDER the word, God’s part would then be to give him understanding. 
You are involved in the answer. Sometimes the answer may turn on your response.

Finally, we need cultivate trust. I don’t need to see how this is going to work to trust God that it will work out! I don’t need to see tomorrow, because the one who holds my hand holds tomorrow! Trust God who hears and takes pity. If you know that he does, you can leave it with him and walk in His sufficient grace.

Unexpected answers (thoughts on prayer part two)

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