March 28, 2014

God answers prayer, even if He says NO

Last week’s assignments included a post to a student discussion board in which we were to answer one of two imaginary problems. I submitted my answer, fully expecting the marking professor to give it a critique. At the same time, I was feeling discouraged about life in general and asked God to encourage me. This week, two classmates sent emails about my post. Both were blessed by it, and one said he was going to “steal, repackage, and recycle” it in his own ministry.

For those who think prayer is “wishful thinking” or auto-suggestion, I say, “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry” and “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” (Psalm 34:15-17)
(Before going farther on the topic of prayer, being righteous is first forensic. I can claim it because of God’s grace; He imputed the righteousness of Jesus Christ on me. Because He died for my sin, was buried, and rose again, God declares His people justified, righteous. It isn’t about anything we earn or deserve; salvation is first a gift from God even as He afterwards works in us to conform us to that imputed righteousness. This is totally astonishing and a blessing I do not deserve.)
Answered prayer is another undeserved blessing. My Father hears me like a daddy hears his little one. He shows me how to pray, and shows me that it is His delight to take care of my needs, even the need to be encouraged.

Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25–30)

Jesus invites me to bring to Him the burdens of life. He hears and answers. Sometimes He says wait. Sometimes He says no if my request is not His will or will not be a good thing. Sometimes He says yes, even yes, yes, in the most resounding way. But whatever He says, key to answered prayer is accepting His answers.

As His crucifixion drew near, Jesus prayed asking “if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.” He was in great distress for He was about to bear the wrath of His Father against the sin of the world, all of it, sin by every person, and sin for all time. I know what I feel like when I sin. I cannot imagine the weight of sin that Jesus anticipated.

No wonder He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” No wonder He was disappointed that the disciples slept instead of supporting Him with their prayers. No wonder that He prayed this request several times. Yet in the end, they slept and He, sweating drops of blood, willingly faced the answer alone. (Matthew 26:36–46)

The Bible says I have never shed blood resisting sin like Jesus did. My problems and discouragements are not worthy to be compared to His. My on-and-off loyalty to the Father is a joke alongside the life of the Son. He was willing to hear God say no.

With that, His three-time request was answered, but not like anyone would expect or want. How could the will of God be suffering and death for the only righteous person who ever lived? But it was. To the cry of Jesus, His only begotten Son, the Father did say NO, it is not my will to deliver You . . .  

It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:10)

Sometimes God does not seem to answer my prayers. Of course, I’m looking for a yes, not a wait or a no, but I am encouraged that God knows more than I do about the situation I’m in, even the circumstances of every child of His, any person on my prayer list. If He remains silent, I’m glad that He can use all things for good and that even the setbacks of life will fit into His plans. After all, out of the “unanswered” prayer of Jesus came salvation for humanity — for all who believe, even for me.

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