QUESTIONS FOR GOD
DOES PRAYER REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
PASTOR ED YOUNG
MAY 24, 1992
Job, Chapter 30, Verse 20 says, “I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me.” Have you ever felt like that before in your prayers? I have. I’ve cried out to God. I’ve called to Him and I felt like God really doesn’t answer. He really doesn’t speak. I call out to you, O God, but you don’t answer. For many people, prayer is mysterious. It’s something that’s confusing. To others it’s just a ritual that they go through before they eat a meal or before they go “Night-night.” Lisa and I knew a family in Tallahassee, Florida that more or less adopted us when we were students at Florida State University. We would go over to their house weekly, every Friday, and dine with the Woodwards. Right before the meal, Mr. Woodward would bow his head and pray this prayer, “Dear Heavenly Father, we thank thee for this food in the (mumbling). Amen. [Laugher] The first time I heard it, I said, “Say what?” The next Friday night (mumbles same prayer). Lisa and I would begin to kind of laugh because it was just a ritual.
Dr. and Mrs. Jack Hayford tell the story of trying to teach their granddaughter how to pray and their little granddaughter’s favorite character on Sesame Street was the Count. For those of you who do not watch Sesame Street, the Count is a vampire-looking puppet who teaches children how to count. His voice sounds something like this, “One. Two. Three. Ha! Ha! Ha!” [in deep, Dracula voice]. And three is the magic number and all these children will clap and go nuts. Dr. and Mrs. Hayford said, “Now honey, here is how you pray. Repeat these words after me. ‘Dear Jesus…’” The little girl says, “Dear Jesus.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.” They said, “For…” and she said, “five, six, seven. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!”
A few people think a prayer is like a giant emergency kit. You only break it out when you need it. While I’ve heard others say that prayer is a spiritual, cosmic, tug-of-war. “It’s my desires, God, against your desires. I want this for my life. And, okay, I’ll give you a little slack when I want it.” Some think it’s sitting behind a negotiating table, wearing the power clothing with the power tie saying, “God, I’ve got to have this. Please God.” For others, prayer is a good luck charm. “I’ve said my prayers. Everything is A-OK. I can skip and go along my way.”
The Word of God tells us over and over again to pray, and the Bible says that God will answer our prayers. God will answer all of our prayers, but I will be honest with you folks, I’ve made many requests to God where I’ve not received what I’ve asked for. And if you’re
honest with yourselves, you will say the same thing. Many of us have asked God for things, “God, I want this. God, I need this. Please do this for me right now,” and He doesn’t grant us our requests. The Bible says pray and ask God for anything, anytime, anywhere and the Word of God says God will answer us. But again, sometimes I don’t get what I want. What’s the deal? Is it false advertising? Is God joking? Is He teasing? What’s the problem?
The problem is that most of us do not understand how God answers prayer. God answers prayer in three ways. He says, “Yes.” He says, “Wait.” And He says, “No.” When God says, “Yes” to me, I say, “Alright God, yes! Isn’t prayer great!” I’ve got a direct line to God and He answers prayers immediately for me sometimes and it fires me up. I share it with individuals and we love when God says “Yes!” When He says, “Wait,” it kind of ticks us off a little bit, doesn’t it? We don’t like the word “wait.”
Last night my family and I were sitting around the dinner table eating spaghetti—you’ve got to have those complex carbs before you preach—and we finished the meal and LeeBeth comes up to me and grabs me by the arm and says, “Daddy, come upstairs and turn on 101 Dalmatians. I want to see the video now, Daddy, now!”
She was pulling on me and I had pasta hanging out of my mouth. I said, “LeeBeth, wait!” “No! Now! Come on. Now!” “LeeBeth, wait. Wait.” She didn’t like the word “wait.” But do you realize the Bible says sometimes God waits and He answers our prayers later in order to answer them better? So we don’t like the word “wait.” But the word we really hate is the word “no.” It’s such a final type word. We tell our animals, “No!” We tell our children, “No!” I don’t like the word “no.” I hate the word “no.”
When I was playing sports there was a cheer that used to get on my nerves every time we would lose a basketball game. Either in the final seconds or someone would block a shot and the cheerleaders would say, “No! No! No! No, no, no, no, no, no, no.” [hums tune] But when God tells us “no,” what should we think about? Well, I’ll tell you what to think about. Let’s think about a couple of characters in the Bible that God refused.
We all know Jonah. Jonah said, “God, I want to take a Mediterranean cruise. That’s what I want, God” and God said, “No.” Abraham said, “God, make Ishmael the son of promise. My son, make him the son of promise.” God said, “No.” David said, “God, save my son. Spare his life.” Again, God said, “No.” He said “no,” and again this answer is difficult for us to take. But I want us just for a second to get inside the mind of God if we possibly can and let’s see some reasons why God sometimes says “no” because God will answer our prayer, but not the way we want Him to answer it.
Here’s the first reason why God sometimes tells us “no.” God will sometimes refuse your request or my request when He has a different outlook on the situation. God will say “no” to you or to me when He has a different outlook on the situation or the problem. Take your Bibles and turn to the book of Hebrews 4 and I’ll read Verse 13 to you, and while you’re turning to Hebrews Chapter 4, Verse 13, I’ll read a Verse from Jeremiah 33:3. Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to me and I will answer you.” So God’s going to answer us “yes, wait, or no.” Right now we’re thinking about the word “no.” When God says “no.” He oftentimes has a different outlook. Hebrews Chapter 4, Verse 13, “Nothing in creation is hidden from God’s sight, everything is uncovered.”
You see, folks, we see just a square inch of the painting and God sees the entire art gallery. Our minds are finite, they are limited. God’s view is unlimited, it’s infinite. So everything is uncovered. Hebrews 4:13 says, “and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.” So, as I’m praying, and when God says “no” to us, I’m to say, “Lord, could it be that you have a different outlook on this situation?”
How many of you listen to the radio when you drive your car? Raise your hands. I read somewhere that 98% of people who are driving on the freeways and streets of the Metroplex have the radios on. We listen to the radio especially during rush-hour traffic. We kind of perk our ears up, don’t we? We listen. We strain. Because the disc jockeys will say, “Let’s now check in with Traffic Central” and you’ll hear someone in the big chopper over the Metroplex say, “There’s a problem at 635 and MacArthur—a stalled van in the right lane that’s backing up traffic for two miles.” Or “Around DFW Airport there’s a congested area motorists should avoid….” You get the picture.
The disc jockeys, they do not talk to someone who is jammed there in traffic behind the wheel of a line of cars a mile long. They talk to the people in the helicopters, because they have the best view of the entire freeway system, don’t they? They see the total picture and radio back to the radio stations to give the message to the people so we can avoid those situations that would cause us to be late or delayed. That is precisely what Hebrews 4:13 is driving at. When we have a problem, when we have a difficulty, when God says, “no,” don’t have some sort of a limited view, just watching one inch of the screen or just listening to the radio. Talk to the Lord in Metro Traffic Central. He sees the entire picture. You talk to Him and He can give you and will give you a different outlook on the situation.
Proverbs Chapter 2, Verse 8 tells us, “For He guards the course of the just and protects the way of His faithful ones.” The Apostle Paul tried to preach twice in Asia Minor and God said, “No. No. No.” [Hums cheerleading chant again] Paul said, “God, I want to preach in Asia Minor, but God said, “No” because God protected the Apostle Paul.
As I look back on my life, I thank the Lord for the times He has said “no” to my requests. And if you really want to see this in practice and make it relevant, go to a high school reunion. Those hunks that we prayed for, “Lord, I want to marry him,” are now chunks. And the babes, guys, we prayed for, “Boy, if I could only marry her,” look like they spent serious time in caves. So, go to a high school reunion, you’ll thank the Lord that He has denied some of your requests.
What are you going through right now? What are you praying about? What has God said “no” on? God’s not silent. What’s God said “no” on? What request? I challenge you right now to say, “Lord, help me to have your outlook.”
But there’s another reason why God sometimes says “no.” He sometimes refuses our requests because He has a better outline. He has a better agenda to work through the problem. Let’s take our bibles and turn to Isaiah Chapter 55, Verse 8. I had a friend of mine who I took History with and this guy was phenomenal at outlining. We had a professor who kind of talked like this [high-pitched voice] and she would lecture. She was a brilliant lady and this guy would outline her. Roman numeral I, II, subpoint A, B, C, 1, 2, 3, and I would try to write and catch up and it would look like chicken scratch. It was all garbled, and every time after class, I would take Austin’s notes and compare his notes to my notes. I’d always realize “Oh yeah, I missed that major point,” and I would make my notes make some sort of sense because I had the true outline.
We go to God and we say, “God, listen, let me show you my. outline. You’re saying “no” but you don’t understand me. This is my outline. I. I want to go here; II. I want to marry this person; III. I want to have this much money. God, excuse me. Here’s my outline.” But what does God tell us? God tells us in Isaiah 55, Verse 8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” We have the Frank Sinatra disease when we pray, don’t we? God, do it my way! That’s right, God, my way. And have you ever noticed when we say, “God, do it my way,” that it’s the least painful; it’s the easiest path. I come to God and say, “God, I want this. Here’s my outline. Here’s my agenda.” But God oftentimes says, “Ed, no, because I have a better outline for your life and a better outline for this request that you’re asking.” “For my thoughts are not your thoughts. Neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways,” and notice the word “ways,” it’s plural. It’s not just “my way.” God is a myriad, a panorama of options, of better ways to do things than our ways. So, “my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
I like what the Living Bible says. The Living Bible says, “This plan of mine is not the way you would work it out.” But Hebrews 11:39 continues this thought of God’s outline. Hebrews 11:39 tells us, “These were all commended.” The writer of the Hebrews is talking about the Hall of Faith, all these men and women of the Lord. These folks are all commended, the writer said. Many had asked God, had prayed to God, had said, “God, I want you to grant me this” and God immediately grants it to them. Other times they prayed, “God, I want this. I believe this is your will” and God said, “No” and God did it another way.
I was thinking about how quickly God has answered prayer in my life. I worked out with a gentleman five years ago in Houston and he was from New York City. He’d just moved down to Houston. I knew the gentleman did not know Jesus Christ. I could tell by his language and what he was talking about. After I played basketball with him, I went up to my office and I began to pray for him. The moment I wrote down his name in my prayer journal, the phone rang. It was him. He called and said, “I want to get together for dinner” and this young man ended up committing his life to the Lord that very day. So God sometimes immediately answers prayer. But there have been many other times I’ve prayed for people year after year after year.
Some people have been on my prayer list over 15 years and they still don’t know the Lord. So God answers some things quickly; other times He says “no.”
You remember Daniel in the lion’s den? Daniel said, “God, I don’t want any part of Simba. I want to stay away from the lion’s den.” But God said, “No. I have a greater outline for you. I have a much better outline, a much better agenda,” and God allowed Daniel to go through the lion’s den. He shut the mouth of the lion and God was glorified. Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego, the Hebrew children, “Lord, spare us from this fiery furnace.” God says, “No. I’m sorry. I have a better outline.” God allowed them to go through the fiery furnace and He brought them out stronger individuals for Him. The Apostle Paul, read his writings. His main agenda, his main focus was, “I want to preach in Rome, the Roman Empire. I want to preach in Rome.” And I bet you if we could go back a couple of thousand years ago and think what Paul thought, Paul would think, “I’ll go to Rome and I’ll rent the coliseum, have a giant crusade, hand out flyers, and I’ll be able to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thousands will be saved,” because Paul, he was a Type-A personality. He was a people-person. People really meant something to him because he knew Christ. But God had a different agenda, didn’t He?
Yes, Paul went to Rome, but after he’d been shipwrecked and went to Rome in chains and was imprisoned. You’re saying, “Wait a minute, Ed. You’re talking about God has a better outline for the Apostle Paul, a better outline for my life. How can that be a better outline for Paul to be stuck in Fulsom Prison in Rome? How could that be?” Well here’s a guy, he’s hyperactive, he’s fired up, he’s brilliant, he’s going this way and that way. God allowed him to go to prison to settle him down, to get alone, and to write much of the New Testament. Which would have had a greater impact? The Apostle Paul speaking at a crusade two or three months but the words would never have been written down, or the Apostle Paul, being alone in prison, writing and collecting his thoughts, being quiet before the Lord, letting the Holy Spirit inspire him to write the infallible Word of God. So we come to the Lord, “God, you have a different outlook. God, you have a different outline for me.” Don’t try to force your outline on God. Exchange your outline for the Master Outline.
Then it gets better. There’s another reason why God says “no.” Oftentimes He has a greater outcome for our lives for a situation. He has a different outlook, He has a different outline, also a different outcome. Let’s look now at Isaiah 46:10, the last couple of phrases in Isaiah 46:10. If you don’t have paper clips like I do, just write the verses down. People say, “How do you turn so quickly?” These paper clips, see? What’s bad is sometimes when the paper clips stick and I’m reading in Genesis when I should be in Isaiah. OK, Isaiah 46:10, the last part says, “My purpose,” God speaking, “My purpose will stand.” And here’s the biblical principle, God’s purpose is greater than any problem. My purpose will stand. And God tells us, “You know, you might not understand my purpose, my agenda, my outcome on this side of heaven, but I’ll guarantee you, when you’re in heaven for five minutes, you’ll look back and you’ll say, “Oh yes! Now I see why you said ‘no’ God.”
Growing up, my parents would say, “Ed, no, you’re not going there. You’re not going to hang around with that guy or go to that party.” I’d say, “Come on mom and dad! You don’t understand. I want to really spread my wings and have a good time and you’re so limiting,” and I would get mad and pout and cry, and get put on restriction. Now I’m older, 31 years of age, the father of two children. Over the last six or seven years I realized, “Ah ha! Now I see.” You see, they knew a lot more than I knew. And children, your parents know more than you know. Our Heavenly Father, the perfect heavenly parent, knows much more than we can ever know and His outcome for our lives is so much greater and more powerful than we can ever comprehend.
So His ways are higher than our ways. He says, “My purpose will stand and I will do all that I please.” God’s not obligated to come up to you or to me and say, “Ed, excuse me. Would you please get your Daytimer out? I’m planning for ’93. Are these plans okay with you? I want you to approve them. Here’s all the documentation. Just check this out for a second and I’ll be back in a couple of weeks if it’s okay with you.” God doesn’t do that. God says, “My ways are higher than your ways. You get into my will.” We talked about God’s will last week. You understand the outline, you understand the outlook, you understand the outcome, it’s going to revolutionize your Christian life.
Turn to 2 Corinthians Chapter 4, Verses 16 and 17. We encounter a problem, God says “no,” what should we do? Verse 17 says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory.” When I get into a problem, don’t you sometimes focus on the circumstances? We like to live under the circumstances, don’t we? And we focus on everything right here when God says “Get your eyes off the things that are seen and put them on the things that are unseen.” Living under the circumstances of a problem is kind of like sleeping under a feather mattress. If you sleep under a feather mattress, it will suffocate you. There are many of you here, you’re in situations, you’re in circumstances, and you’re being suffocated right now. “I’m under these, God. I’m under these.” You get out from underneath this feather mattress and sleep on top and rest on top of the circumstances. Yes, the circumstances can still be difficult. They can still be prickly. You can feel those feathers, but you can rest. You can rejoice as you get out from underneath these circumstances. Get on top of the mattress and then say, “God, here’s your prayer.”
Verse 18, here’s our prayer. We need to fix our eyes, not on what’s seen but on what is unseen, “for what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal.” It’s eternal. So we’ve seen very quickly why God sometimes says “no.” The outline, the outlook, the outcome. Everything is hunkey-dorey for us. We can go home, close our bibles and say, “Ed, thank you. I appreciate it. I understand now when God says “no,” why He says “no.” But our response. Specifically, our response. What should I think about when God says “no.” What should go through this brain of mine, this brain of yours?
God says “no.” The letters MD should go through your brain. MD. M—motivation, D—donation. We have to realize—and I’ll say this over and over again—God is motivated out of love. When God says “no,” it’s out of love. Our children, we don’t give them everything they want. What kind of children would they be? Spoiled brats. What would prayer be if we said, “God, I want a million dollars.” Boom. “God, this guy cut out in front of me on the freeway. Zap him.” Whoom! We would be the most selfish, individualistic, spiritually spoiled brats in the universe, wouldn’t we? We really would. God’s motivation is love. God says, “I love you.”
Our parents’ motivation, when they discipline us, when they say “no” to us, it’s out of love. It’s not out of saying, “I’ll get you. I’ll make you suffer.” God says, “It’s out of my love.” That’s His motivation. How about God’s donation? MD, His donation. The Apostle Paul had a thorn in the flesh. He prayed three times for God to heal him and God said “No!” But you know what the Bible says? Paul said, “God, your grace is sufficient.” In your greatest weakness, in your greatest problem, you rely on the Lord Jesus Christ, He will give you a charitable donation that you will not realize. It’s so incredible, you can’t take it in. And during your weakness, He will make it your greatest strength!
So, are you saying, “God, I thank you for your donation. I understand your motivation by saying ‘no.’ Your ways are higher than my ways. I might not understand your purpose for my life or for this suffering or for this difficulty until I get to heaven, but I know the moment I get to heaven I’ll look back and I’ll say ‘Oh yeah, I understand it now God!’”
We’re to think about God’s motivation and His donation. But some of us still, when God doesn’t do things our way, “I’m going to take my Bible and go home. God, I’m sorry, I’m not going to play anymore. See you later, God. I’m going to leave.” Others of us will throw a pity party. We’ll invite our best friends, Depression and Anxiety. “Come on over for the pity party. Let’s have some weak lemonade and some stale cookies and we’ll just wallow in our pity. You know, God said ‘No way!’ Look, He doesn’t hear me. I cry out to you. God, you don’t answer. I stand up but…God’s probably not even watching this pity party.” That sound familiar?
God wants us to relax and rejoice. The moment you have a “no” answer, here’s what I want you to think about. “God, I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do. I can’t wait to get in on your higher purpose. God, it’s incredible I know, but just help me to be faithful, help me to receive this donation of grace and to be expectantly waiting for what you’re going to do through this situation.”
Talking about “no” responses, let’s go back in the life of Christ. Remember Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane? He said, “Lord, if it’s your will, Father, may this cup pass from me.” In other words, Christ is saying, “Father, if it’s your will, I don’t want to endure the cross.” But what did the Father say? The Father said “no” for a greater purpose and that greater eternal purpose was our salvation. It was our salvation. He allowed the Son to die on the cross for our sins, for our salvation.
What is it you’re praying for that God is saying “no” to. For God to change your spouse, for God to lead you into another occupation, for God to do this or for God to do that. What is God saying “no” about? Accept that answer. Apply these principles, and God, I’m telling you, will do phenomenal and wonderful things.