Hard Question #4 – Does God answer prayers?

As I’ve been writing the last month or so… there are common “hard” questions I get asked, as a pastor, and maybe you have wondered about them as well… So now here is the FOURTH of – I don’t know how many…

Hard Question #4 – ”Does God answer prayers?” I probably should have written about this one first … I am definitely asked this in some form or another – literally every week. I have asked that question myself many times through the years… and the most frustrating answer I sometimes usually almost always heard back from a pastor was “Of course He does! Next question!” … I hate that response almost as much as I hate the response that says “He does, but sometimes the answer is NO.” Well thanks a lot Einstein. That is super not-helpful. So – let me tell you my thoughts on this and you might be able to draw your own conclusion…

Yes. God does answer our prayers. And the answer is sometimes no. :) Just kidding – I couldn’t resist…

Let’s talk about prayer itself first. What are we doing when we pray?

Do we see prayer as a 1-800 Help Hotline to get an immediate answer to our question or need? Is it like calling a number printed on the back of that set of instructions for your new gas grill? “Hello? Uhmmm… I see that I am supposed to insert BOLT-A into SLOT-B but there is neither a slot nor a bolt… Mmmm Hmmm…. Mmm Hmmmmm…. Ahhhhaaaa… I see… So what you are saying is I need to package this whole thing back up and ship it to you and you’ll send me a new grill? Wouldn’t shipping me a replacement part be easier? …. Mmmm hmmm… Uhhh huhhhh… Well ok then. I’ll just go take an extra dose of blood pressure medicine and then beat this grill into the ground with a sledge hammer then ok? Mmmm hmmm you have a nice day too.” Not that that has ever happened to me mind you – but you get the gist… Do we see our prayer life as a telephone line to a help desk? Or how about this…

Do we see prayer as a meditation time? A time to go somewhere quiet… and do deep breathing exercises sitting with our legs crossed while we make Ohmmmm sounds through our nose? Is our prayer time as a time to just to sit alone with our thoughts… to refocus ourselves. Or how about this…

Do we see prayer as a time to scream, holler, shout and blast God with all of our anger and feelings of being dealt unfair hands in this huge poker game of life? The “why don’t I have this _____?” kind of prayers… “My life is so unfair! My life sucks compared to so-and-so!” “God!!! Do something!!! Anything!!” Or how about this last one…

Do we see prayer as coffee at Starbucks with a close friend to talk about life? A friend that will listen and counsel… a friend that cares and hurts with us, celebrates with us, walks with us.

So here’s the thing… my prayer life probably incorporates all of those scenarios at sometime or another… sometimes all in the same prayer. The reality is that the question “does God answer prayer?” is sort of a flawed question. Because it implies that our prayers are all supposed to be questions. We have a tendency to take Matthew 7:7 and say – well it say’s if I ask, I’ll receive… so God – gimmme gimmme gimmmmmeeee! There may be no passage in all of scripture more twisted than this. You have to read further – hear Jesus words and their full meaning… Think about what it goes on to say in Matthew 7:9-11… Jesus relays an example that says if your own kids ask for bread will you give them a rock? Or they want something more substantial like fish – will you give them a snake? And so – you guys, who by the way, are completely evil when compared to my Dad, you all do good thing for your kids… what do you think my Dad will do for you in His perfection?!? So let’s put that into a real life example with my son 6 year old son Will. He has a real fear of storms. Like a petrifying fear of getting caught out in a storm. I have no idea where it has come from… but it is really real. So let’s say he wakes up in the night in the middle of a big storm and he screams out for me. How cruel would it be for me to run in his room and I throw a bucket of cold water on him (i.e. ask for bread, get a rock) … so maybe you say “no – of course you won’t do that… you should pick him up and take him back to let him sleep in your bed.” Well the reality is that of course I AM going to run to him and I AM NOT going to throw a bucket of cold water on him… but I am also not going to take him out of his bed to sleep in bed with me and my wife… I am going to console him and I am going to stay with him and whisper to him that everything is going to be ok… that he is safe… that I am right there with him. The truth is – I want to shout at the sky for the thunder and lightning and rain to stop – to stop SCARING MY SON! I want his fear to be gone! i want to just take him away from it and make it better. But doing that would not help in the long term. The fear of storms will still be there. He will never deal with it… How much more does our Father want good things for us? Good, lasting, long term, health…

When we begin to see our prayer life as the model that Jesus left for us – Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, – we recognize that our prayer life isn’t just asking God FOR SOMETHING… it’s asking FOR HIM. For His presence. For His counsel. For His comfort. For His provision. I believe that God always responds. I believe that He always hears us – in our grief and our fear and our joy and everywhere between.

If you pray for God to let you win the lottery and then you believe He didn’t answer when like the other 250 million people you don’t win… you may be looking at prayer through the wrong lens. On the other hand – if your prayers are for His presence… for His strength… for His wisdom… for His grace… for His mercy…. for His contentedness… in every situation – the good, the bad, the ugly… I guarantee He answers your prayers every single time… Because He is, and will always be, present.

Jason Rehmel is the Lead Pastor at Eastside Christian Church on the east side of Cincinnati. If you are someone who has had a terrible experience(s) at a church or churches – stop by some weekend and give it one more shot with Eastside. Whether you have felt judged, or dismissed, or unwanted – wherever it has been – Eastside is different.

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