Help! I'm a Teenager in Need.
Question about unanswered prayer.
The following is a response to a “teenager in need” who emailed asking for prayer following a service at the Bible Tabernacle in Southern Pines. The service was entitled, “What Do You Want?” and focused on the principle Jesus set forth in Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” The message was about life’s priorities and the motives various people have in “seeking” God. This particular teenager was going through a difficult time wrestling with questions about God’s love, prayer, and even God’s existence. In particular there was a question about a situation that had been prayed about seemingly with no result.
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Dear Teenager in Need,
Thank you for reaching out! Of course God loves you and desires you to reach out to Him. Sometimes misunderstandings come from the way things are said and sometimes from the way they are heard. As I said toward the end of the message, of course it is right to ask God about things that concern us. Jesus did (in the garden before going to the cross). Paul did (concerning his “thorn in the flesh”). It is the spirit and motive that He is most concerned about – and even that is something we learn as we go. He does not condemn us in the process either! Jesus prayed to be delivered from the cross, BUT he also said, “nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” Paul earnestly sought the Lord over a period of time about the “thorn” that was distressing him until the Lord – finally – revealed its purpose and he recognized and submitted to God’s wisdom in the situation.
What is God most concerned about with respect to you? Is it not His plan to prepare you to live with Him in love forever? When He acts in our lives is it not with that plan in mind? Surely it is! But that means a lot of changes in us and that only comes with time and a very personal relationship with Him in which our hearts are committed to HIS plan.
I don’t know anyone who knows everything about prayer – except the Lord Himself of course. This is something we learn as we exercise ourselves in Him and grow. The foundation we need is a confidence in HIM. The devil loves to focus our attention on circumstances and cause us to desire a “sign” that God is listening and loves us. It doesn’t work that way. If it did then our “faith” would continually depend upon signs and circumstances. We have all we need in God’s word and the testimony of those who have trusted Him to cause us to place OUR trust in Him as well. His love is not a mere theory. Jesus came to save sinners and gave Himself up to the point of death on a cross – FOR YOU! Is that not enough? I understand your feelings completely. They are far more common than you might think. They are part of the battle we all fight as God changes us from blind unbelieving sinners to sons and daughters of God. More than that, God understands your feelings and doesn’t condemn you. He longs to have a deep and real relationship with you and teach you His ways, ways of peace and rest in Him and His faithfulness.
I’ve already given you the examples of Jesus and Paul who asked God for things that turned out not to be in His plan. In both cases they submitted – with joy – they knew that His way was the right way and that they were loved with an everlasting love. Sometimes our prayers fall into that category and it is that trust in God and reliance on His strength to joyfully submit that carries us through.
Here are a couple of hypothetical examples that illustrate some of the things I was talking about yesterday. One that should be obvious would be a man who has a strong personal dream, an ambition regarding his life in this world. His heart is committed to his dream and he longs for its fulfillment and the rewards that come with it: money, prestige, etc. Then he comes to God and prays, “Oh God, help me fulfill my dream.” Where is such a man’s heart? What happens often in such cases is that the man will give up on God, feel that He has failed him, and begin to engineer the answer to his own desire. Did God really fail him? or did he rather try to use God?
Another all too common situation has to do with relationships and seeking a mate. Suppose a young man begins to be attracted to a young lady and his desire for her becomes strong. This engagement of his affections happens, not because he prays, but in the natural course of things. Suppose that he is a church-going young man who professes to know the Lord and so he begins to pray for the object of his affection who doesn’t know the Lord. That sounds right, doesn’t it? But what is really going on? Isn’t he really trying to get God to do his bidding? Isn’t he really in effect saying, “Lord, I know that my own natural will is in control here and that I have allowed my natural affections to become engaged in someone who doesn’t know you – but please make it OK”? Self and flesh are really in control. What if God responded to such prayers just the way we wanted Him to? Wouldn’t he be working against Himself, against His greater loving purposes for us? It takes a lot grace to be able to recognize when something like this is going on and to step back and surrender our affections to His loving provision, knowing that He loves us and knows best. Going our own way only leads to heartache.
Beyond that, there is often a time element in prayer. Suppose someone is indeed praying for something that IS in God’s will and plan. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it will happen NOW or that there will be “signs” of something happening. Both the Bible and church history are full of examples of persevering prayer in which, to all intents and purposes, nothing seemed to be happening. Again it is faith in His love and purposes that carries us through, together with a sensitivity to being guided in our praying. Abraham prayed for a son for 25 years. God answered his prayer – in His time. His time is the only right time.
For one thing, persevering prayer exercised in submission and trust changes US. It helps to fulfill God’s plans regarding us and our future with Him by molding our hearts and changing them from the way the world thinks and acts. For another, many of the things we desire, particularly when they concern people and situations, take time. When there is a need in us God doesn’t simply push a “magic button” and instantly change us. He WORKS those changes in us over time – sometimes a lot of time. He does the same with others. That often means that we have to be patient. God is. He knows best what it takes to change people and how everything fits together to fulfill his purposes. In the meantime our relationship with Him grows, our faith, exercised in the face of challenges grows stronger, and in the end we look back and see His loving wisdom.
The devil would like nothing better than to conceal these truths from your mind and to fill your mind with negative thoughts. He attacks all of us in much the same way though the details may vary. If we simply let our feelings and circumstances dictate our choices then life will not go well! Faith looks beyond these things to a loving heavenly Father – a Father whose love far exceeds the very best of earthly fathers. Faith chooses to trust in Him and believe His promises. Faith trusts Him for the needed strength and understands that learning of Him and growing up spiritually are processes. There is no “instant diploma” in this school! We are in God’s school for life – with a wonderful promise that he who has begun a good work in us will carry it out to the end (Phil. 1:6).
I appreciate the fact that you are reaching out for prayer. That springs from a desire in you for God. Know that your desire for God is something HE gave you! It isn’t natural. Take heart from that and don’t quit seeking Him. He loves you. Talk with Him honestly about how you feel and what you are going through – but do it with a heart of trust, allowing Him to work in His way and time. Start where you’re at. If you’re struggling with trust then don’t be afraid to pray, “Lord, I’m struggling with trusting you. I want to but I’m having a hard time. Please help me. Lord you said in your word (Heb. 4:15-16), ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’“
Be encouraged and don’t give up on the Lord! He certainly isn’t giving up on you!