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When we pray to God, is it arrogant to think that He should get with our agenda? Why pray if God already knows what He's going to do? What if you pray for something that is not part of the divine plan? Why aren't prayers answered? The reason lies not in the power of prayer, but in the power of God. Those who pray may be at peace knowing it's in God's hands.
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If God is So Loving, Why Does His Book Endorse so Much Slaughter? Isn't Religion the Main Reason There are so Many Wars in the First Place?
If God is So Smart and So Strong, Then Why is This World So Scary and Screwed Up?
If God Owns Everything, How Come He's Always Broke and His People are Always Asking for Money?
Why Believe in God when He's Nothing More than a Man-made Guilt Trip Obsessed with '10 Very Important Rules'?
George Carlin: I've often thought people treat God rather rudely, don't you? Asking trillions and trillions of prayers every day, asking and pleading and begging for favors. "Do this. Give me that. I need a new car. I want a better job." Most of this praying takes place on Sunday, his day off. It's not nice, and it's no way to treat a friend. But people do pray, and they pray for a lot of different things. I say, "Fine. Pray for anything you want. Pray for anything, but what about the divine plan?"
Remember that? The divine plan. A long time ago, God made a divine plan. He gave it a lot of thought, decided it was a good plan, put it into practice. For billions and billions of years, the divine plan has been doing just fine. Now you come along and pray for something. Well, suppose the thing you want isn't in God's divine plan? What do you want him to do? Change his plan just for you? Doesn't that seem a little arrogant? It's a divine plan.
Here's something else, another problem you might have. Suppose your prayers aren't answered. What do you say? "Well, it's God's will. Thy will be done." Fine, but if it's God's will and he's going to do what he wants to anyway, why bother praying in the first place? It seems like a big waste of time to me. Couldn't you just skip the praying part and go right to his will? It's all very confusing.
So to get around a lot of this, I decided to worship the sun, but as I said, I don't pray to the sun. You know who I pray to? Joe Pesci. Two reasons. First of all, I think he's a good actor. Okay? To me that counts. Second, he looks like a guy who can get things done. In fact, Joe Pesci came through on a couple of things God was having trouble with. For years, I asked God to do something about my noisy neighbor with the barking dog. Joe Pesci straightened that sucker out with one visit. It's amazing what you can accomplish with a simple baseball bat.
So I've been praying to Joe for about a year now, and I noticed something. I noticed that all of the prayers I used to offer to God and all of the prayers I now offer to Joe Pesci are being answered at about the same 50 percent rate. Half the time I get what I want; half the time I don't. Same as God, 50/50. Same as the four-leaf clover, the horseshoe, the wishing well, and the rabbit's foot. Same as the mojo man. Same as the voodoo lady who tells you your fortune. It's all the same, 50/50. So just pick your superstition, sit back, make a wish, and enjoy yourself.
[End of video]
Todd Wagner: Well, there's a mouthful. What about that? Have you ever felt that way? Maybe you haven't done it in such an outright diatribe, and maybe you haven't reduced yourself to the hopelessness of praying to Joe Pesci and hoping he shows up with his baseball bat to deliver you from evil, but nonetheless, it's a question that a lot of us ask. Let me quickly tell you some of the questions we're going to address today that Mr. Carlin threw out for us, and they're good, honest questions.
First, is consistently sharing your heart in prayer any way to treat a friend? Is that really what you want to do to God, to be constantly haggling with him about what you want done? Secondly, what about the divine plan? Why pray if God already knows what he's going to do? Thirdly, what if you pray for something that is not part of the divine plan? Will God answer it? Will he listen to you? Will he go along with you if it violates what he has already decreed to be done? And what is the divine plan?
How about this series of ones? What do you do if your prayer isn't answered? Should you keep praying? Why pray if all he's going to do is what he wanted to do in the first place? Should you just skip and go right to the "Thy will be done" part? Isn't that a better way to go? These are all things Mr. Carlin asked, and frankly, they're questions we get from folks who aren't angry at God or haven't decided to write God off as a superstition but are confused about the right way to relate to him.
Skeptics use it as a reason to not believe, because God doesn't fit into their understanding in their time, but what about us? Maybe there are some of you who are here today who haven't really decided that God is there. You still think of him as the mojo man, a four-leaf clover, the voodoo lady, just the Westernized version of it.
Let's start by answering the first question, and then we're going to come back and get the rest. Is consistently sharing your heart in prayer any way to treat a friend? Isn't it a little bit petty of us to think that God should get on our agenda? Well, even the way I said that isn't completely fair. You need to know this. One of the greatest ways that I have found out that you can love somebody is to let them know your need for them.
I did a message a number of years ago called Lessons I've Learned from a Dying Friend. I went through 10 things as I saw a man who ministered with me and was a good friend of mine die of colon cancer in his early 30s. I watched Dave go through a series of things, and I learned a lot from him about the way he died.
One of the things I learned from watching Dave is that one of the greatest ways to love somebody is to let them serve you, to let them come alongside of you and help you with things you cannot do on your own, especially as sickness overcomes you, and folks are really there and trying to understand; to let us mow your lawn, to let us teach your kids to ride a bike, to let people come in and help your wife, even think through financial things and ultimate things as your life is unable to do that any longer.
Certainly, in all of the ways I could minister to my friend Dave through that time with some other friends, it doesn't even begin to compare to all of the ways God needs to help us in our finiteness. God says, "Won't you let me serve you?" In fact, he tells a number of stories that talk about how not only is he not bothered by our coming to him; he wants us to, and he isn't even bothered by our persistence in doing it.
In Luke, chapter 18, this is what he says: "Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart…" Whatever Mr. Carlin or others think about how rude it is to bother God with our prayer requests, I want to let you know that God isn't bothered by them. He told stories specifically to illustrate the importance of us constantly interacting with him. He told a story about the fact that we should pray at all times and not lose heart.
"…saying, 'In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him [this wicked judge who did not fear God and respect man] ,** saying, "Give me legal protection from my opponent." For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, "Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this[woman is wearing me out], ***I will give her legal protection…"'"*
Jesus continues in the story. "And the Lord said, 'Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?'" In other words, if there's a wicked man who doesn't care about you and isn't good in his nature but through persistence is moved to respond, don't you lose heart, and you keep asking, because you do have a righteous Judge who does love you and does want to do good. Secondly, he told this story a little bit earlier in the same book in chapter 11. He says,
"Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and from inside he answers and says, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children [are already tucked in] ;** I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs."**
The point is that this gentleman isn't going to do it because he's your buddy but because he's not going to get to sleep anyway until he gives you what you want. You can be sure that God, who does love you and is moved because he is your friend, is one who isn't bothered by your coming and doesn't need persistence to do what is best for you. It says in Ephesians 6:18 that we are to pray at all times, to be alert, to persevere, and to never stop praying. Colossians 4:2 says we are to devote ourselves to prayer.
Let me just encourage you with this. Whatever the world might think about how petty it seems for us to be consistently sharing with God our hearts, he delights in us being honest with him. Whether you pray to him or not, if you sit there in anger, in bitterness, or in hurt and don't share with him what you're feeling overtly, he, first, already knows it, and second, struggles with the fact that you call him your friend or that he has revealed himself as a God who wants to be intimate with you and yet you do not desire to be authentic with him.
God is not worn out by your letting him know how you feel about certain circumstances. Now let me do this for a second. Honestly, this is a specific message that causes skepticism and folks to leave or maybe never come to God. True, but I want to tell you, as much as anything I've dealt with in these five weeks, this is a question that causes us to be skeptical about whether or not we have believed in something that makes sense. All of us, in the midst of pain and hurt and circumstances that none of us would choose, have wondered if praying is a waste of time.
Let me leave the comic approach to this, the comic approach that in a man's arrogance gives him, he thinks, an excuse to not believe, and let me also move over for a second, before I begin to answer these questions, to the skepticism that can creep into our hearts when God appears to be silent. Let me let you identify with a couple of friends. Watch this.
Kathy: Our first gift. This is so nice of you.
Deb: Oh, hey, it's the least I could do.
Kathy: Oh, look at this. It's adorable.
Deb: I fell in love with it the moment I saw it.
Kathy: Can you believe that anything is this small? Oh, I just hope I know what to do with it when I get it.
Kathy: I mean him. Him. Oh, I can't believe it's happening.
Deb: You've waited a long time for this.
Kathy: It feels like a lifetime, and now, after all we've been through, our prayers are finally answered.
Deb: If it had been me, I would have given up a long time ago.
Kathy: Oh, listen. There were plenty of low times, plenty of doubts, but I just had to keep telling myself that someday…
Deb: And that someday is here. I'm so happy for you, not only because you're getting a baby, but also because you won't have to see any more of those agencies or doctors.
Kathy: It's a good thing too, because there's nothing left of this body that hasn't been poked or probed or stared at by at least 100 people.
Deb: And finally, you get the call.
Kathy: I couldn't believe it. I was in shock. I stayed up all night just to make sure it wasn't a dream, and it's not. It's real.
Deb: How can that husband of yours work, knowing in just three hours he's going to be a father?
Kathy: I don't know, but I'm glad he's there and not here, because we would be driving each other crazy.
Deb: Do you have a name for him?
Kathy: Yeah. Jason. Jason Carter.
Deb: Ooh, I like that. Jason Carter. It sounds strong.
Kathy: I think so too.
Greg: Hey, everybody.
Kathy: Oh, hi, honey. I mean, daddy. Couldn't stay at work, huh?
Greg: No, I couldn't. Hey, Deb.
Deb: Oh, congratulations. I can't tell you how happy I am for you.
Greg: Thanks, Deb. I appreciate that.
Kathy: Look what Deb brought for little Jason. Isn't it cute? Our own little Dallas Cowboy.
Greg: That's great. Listen. Deb, if you don't mind, I really need to talk to Kathy about something. Could we have some time?
Deb: Well, sure. I need to be getting home anyway.
Kathy: I think I have a nervous father on my hands. What do you think?
Deb: Oh, I think you're right. I'm thrilled for you two.
Kathy: Thanks, Deb. I'll see you tomorrow?
Deb: Oh, you'd better believe it. Wild horses couldn't keep me away.
Greg: See you later.
Kathy: She is such a good friend.
Greg: Yeah, she's pretty special. Look, Kath, we need to talk.
Kathy: Oh my. This sounds serious.
Greg: Kathy, it's about the baby.
Kathy: Oh, I already know what you're going to say.
Greg: No. No, I don't think you do.
Kathy: Look, I know. Ever since we got the call I've been spending too much time thinking about the baby, but honey, that will change. I promise I'm not going to be one of those moms whose whole life revolves around their kid. It's just that…well, right now it's all I can think about. I'm just so excited that our dream is finally coming true.
Greg: Kathy, our lawyer called me at work a little while ago. The girl has decided to keep the baby.
Greg: She changed her mind.
Kathy: But she can't do that. She signed the paper.
Greg: She's got three days after the birth to change her mind.
Kathy: But she can't do that! She promised!
Greg: Unfortunately, she can, and she did. Look, honey. We knew this was a possibility going into this.
Kathy: Where's Taylor's number? A lawyer should be able to do something.
Greg: I asked him, and he said there's nothing he can do.
Kathy: What do you mean, you asked? If you'd asked, he'd be doing something.
Greg: Honey, I asked, and he said there's nothing he can do. It's done.
Kathy: But it was all worked out. We had a baby. Tonight he'd be ours. No, he is ours!
Greg: There will be other babies, honey.
Kathy: Other babies? I don't want other babies. I want this one!
Greg: Well, we can't have him, honey.
Kathy: I can't take it anymore. What does he want from us?
Kathy: God! That's who!
Greg: Honey, I don't think this is his fault.
Kathy: Well, then whose fault is it? He's the one I've been praying to for nine years for a child. But does he give me one? No. I still can't get pregnant, and all the agencies just keep telling me, "Sorry, we just don't have anything for you." And now this. Dangling that carrot in front of my nose, only to yank it away. Well, I can't take it anymore!
Greg: We can get through this.
Kathy: Leave me alone! What are you doing?
Greg: Putting this up. We've got to take it back.
Kathy: How can you think about taking it back now?
Greg: What do you want me to think about?
Kathy: Our baby!
Greg: Honey, we don't have a baby.
Kathy: Oh, shut up! Just shut up! I don't want to hear it anymore! I can't hear it anymore!
Greg: Please, calm down.
Kathy: I don't want to calm down. I am angry. I hate that girl! I hate you! I hate me! I hate God! I hate everything. I hate this.
Greg: It's okay. It's okay.
Female: I hate this! I hate this! Where have our prayers been going? Why isn't God listening? Are we doing something wrong? How long do we have to keep praying?
Greg: As long as it takes.
Female: What if I don't have any faith left? I'm empty. Greg, what are we going to do?
Greg: I don't know, honey. We'll just…we'll keep praying. We'll keep trying. We'll just…we'll keep trying.
[End of video]
Well, that's another angle to come that isn't quite so angry in the sense of a lack of faith; it's angry in an appropriate way, in a way that some folks in this room are experiencing right now. On this Mother's Day, there are more than just a few hearts that sit out there and go, "That is my life." If not directly related to a barren womb, related to some other area of your life where a legitimate need has not been met, one that God has said is good; in fact, the evidence of his kindness toward you, and you wonder, "Why do I keep praying, and why should I keep praying?"
You ask similar questions to what the skeptic asks, in fact, uses as ammunition to convince himself that belief is foolish. You've said it this way: "Why doesn't God answer all of my prayers? I'm his servant. I love him. I'm faithful to him. I haven't turned to other places." Secondly, you've said, "Why does he seem so silent in the face of my pain and my anguish and my cries for help? Does he care about me? What kind of God is he if he doesn't respond to a tender heart like that?"
When we're comforted by somebody saying that we should continue to pray, if we receive nothing in the midst of all of our cries, why should we continue to pray? Curious? Do you want some answers? I know I do. Let me read to you from the journal of a man who felt similarly to this. This is what he said.
"Meanwhile [in the midst of pain], where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms," he says of faith. "When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find?
A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this [sense that it's empty now]. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in our time of trouble?"
These are the words of one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the twentieth century, a man by the name of C.S. Lewis, as he journaled early on after the death of his beloved wife. He didn't get married until late in his life, and when he did his wife was diagnosed with cancer and died rather quickly. Lewis railed against God early on, but he hung in there and answered these questions himself through some deep thinking.
Later on in his life, he wrote a little essay called "The Efficacy of Prayer." "Is prayer efficient? Does it make a difference? Should we pray? Does it change anything? Because in this moment, it didn't change a thing about the condition of my wife and, in fact, where she was headed." Let me just say this as we start: Prayer is not a force. Prayer does not obligate God. Nowhere in the Scriptures is there ever a call for us to put faith in faith or for us to put faith in our prayers.
The reason sometimes our prayers are answered at a 50 percent rate or less or more is because sometimes our prayers are in sync with what God in his divine goodness decrees for his glory and our ultimate good. Prayer is a request made by a humble servant before a benevolent King, and some things we request are not best for our King or his revealing himself in our kingdom. That causes, at times, great pain.
If all prayers were answered, it would not prove that God exists. If every prayer and every request we had was, in fact, carried out and fulfilled, it would only prove the power of prayer, something like magic. Let me read to you from this little essay of Lewis again, because in topics like this, especially when time is of essence, it's good just to share some thinking of some men who have already said it well. Let me share with you what he said.
"For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it. But neither does God need any of those things that are done by finite agents…" What he's going to say here is, "Look, our prayer is not ultimately necessary." When you consider who God is, he is good and he is able. Our prayers are not what give him the ability, and our urgings are not what make him do good things instead of bad. God is up to something else. He doesn't ever need us for anything. "…whether living or inanimate." He doesn't need anything.
"He could, if He chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert the heathen without missionaries. […] 'God,' said Pascal [a great thinker from centuries before], 'instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.'" In other words, God was going to let us participate with him in accomplishing good.
"For He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye." In other words, if God wanted to convert your lost neighbor, couldn't he do it? Yes. I imagine he could show up and, in a rather convincing way, humble George Carlin and bring him to his knees.
Yet God has chosen, in sometimes a rather blundering way, to say, "I want to use you, Todd, to labor with him and to love him, to labor with your coworkers, to love your coworkers, to model before your coworkers truth, to share with them hope, and to lead them to me. Likewise, I'm going to use your prayer to participate with what I'm going to do."
"Prayer is not a machine. It is not magic. It is not advice offered to God [or a reward for] court favorites, people who have influence with the throne." Many times, folks come up and ask, "Todd, will you pray for me for this?" and they go to a section of Scripture where it says, "The prayers of a righteous man availeth much."
We look to individuals who we think might be a little bit closer to the throne than us, and we say, "Would you pray? Because if you pray… Maybe you have more favor than I do. If I could just get this individual to pray for me, surely that will guarantee my request." No. "The refused prayer of Christ in Gethsemane is answer enough to that [idea]." Meaning, the most favored individual in history, God himself become man, was thrice refused his request, so any idea that righteousness guarantees our answer can be easily ruled out.
A wise, experienced, believing friend once told C.S. Lewis, "I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning: before conversion, or soon after it. As the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer." Let me tell you, this is not just true of individuals; this is also true with nations and areas where God is revealing his name to people groups initially.
All through history, you will see miracles that come along early on in the revelation of God to a specific people group, certainly through the introduction of God working with a people in different methods and manners. You see a lot of miracles, and they consistently taper off. You saw that when Christ came.
Early in his life, a lot of miracles, and then he said, "No more in the miracles, because miracles are not ultimately what I'm going to use to bring you to faith in me. My miracles will, in fact, authenticate my works, but don't become dependent on miracles. Learn to love me." It's still true that there are places… We hear reports all the time from folks who are taking the name of God and trying to increase his fame in other regions of the world.
We hear about prayers being answered in ways that we go, "Why isn't that happening over here?" It's not always because we don't love God as much as those missionaries who serve him over there. Sometimes it's because God has said, "I have already established my name here. I am not a God who is to be tested, and I'm not a God who is going to continually be doing different tricks to impress you and continually remind you that I am there. I have established my glory, and blessed are those who believe and do not see."
"As the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic. […] If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent with far less help to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle."
Folks, here is the honest-to-goodness truth: sometimes the more faithful you are, the more God trusts you with that this world says, "Nobody can endure that and still faithfully serve him." Your maturity, your faithfulness, your righteousness does not guarantee that your womb will be opened. It could, in fact, be the very means that God says, "You qualify to glorify me in a painful way that I cannot trust to a smaller person who would want to curse me and die."
The book of Job in the Scripture starts out with a little résumé that is given, that there was a man named Job who was righteous, blameless, who feared God and shunned evil. One of the reasons the book of Job is in there is to show you that sometimes the more righteous you are, the more God can trust you with.
We have some folks in our body who I look at and I marvel at their faithfulness. Sweet Julie Fowler and her husband Scott, friends of mine for a long time. I had the privilege of watching them begin to court, date, marry in a way that honored God, and then start to navigate their way through this exact circumstance in their marriage.
Until now, God has not chosen to open the womb of Julie, and meanwhile, she has an entire ministry throughout this city that she has written a curriculum for and brings in women who will never grace the doors of Watermark until they meet up with the likes of her. It's called Shiloh, a place of rest, where she ministers to women who are in the exact same circumstance. She walks them through the hiddenness and silence of God and answers the painful questions that sometimes we wonder if it's right to ask.
These are some things we all need to get our arms around, not just when our womb is barren but when our prayers seem to be hitting the ceiling and not being answered. We need to know that God is never tempted to do things just because men think he ought to do them. No, in fact, God is only obligated by his nature to do what his own goodness and nature demands. That is what compels God to act…not our persistence and not our prayer of request but his goodness and his glory. This is what God says.
Carlin said, "Hey, can't we just skip the prayer and go right to the 'Thy will be done' part?" and he had it exactly right. This is what Jesus says. John 14:13-14: "Whatever you ask in My name…" Meaning, "It's consistent with what I want, since all authority is given to me. When you ask for something in my name, not as a simple tag-on at the end of prayers…"
I don't know if you've noticed it or not here over the last month, but I have specifically stopped ending my prayers at Watermark with this little phrase: "In Jesus' name." The reason I have is to model for you that that is not the way we end our prayers, as if to say, "Abracadabra, zippity-zap," to throw monkey dust over our words so that it somehow gives it some special power which will bring about certain response. We pray to the Father in the name of the Son by the power of the Spirit.
There's nothing wrong with adding at the end of your prayer, "In the name of Jesus," but we have to understand… With humility we say, "Lord, we know you will answer this and accomplish this in a time that is consistent with our hearts, if it is in accordance with your will, but if not, we still know that you will be here to comfort us. So in Jesus' name we know this. Whatever you do, will you strengthen us, that we may not forsake you or leave you in the midst of this? That, we know, is in accordance with your will, so with great confidence we pray this."
Since I can't say all that every time, I've just tried to model for you simply this: I don't always say that at the end, but you need to know that everything that gets accomplished and every time I go to the Father, I go because I have access through the Son Jesus Christ. Other places in Scripture make this clear.
"If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." That's John 15:7. "If it's in accordance with my word as decreed, my sovereign purposes." I'll talk to you about what the sovereign decree of God is all about here in just a moment. First John 5:14: "This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us." It says again (Carlin was right),
"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.' Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.' But as it is, you boast…"
"I know what tomorrow will bring, and I know what is best for tomorrow, so I'm going to say God should do this, and if he doesn't, he's not a God worth being served." You think of the arrogance of that kind of prayer. I love what one man said, that God gives us what we would ask him to give us if we knew what he knew. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Pres in New York, is the one who I credit with saying that.
In other words, all things that come to me are good and are working according to his divine and perfect purpose for me, as I'm called according to his will, and if I knew what he knew, I would ask him to give me exactly what he's giving to me. Prayer is a request. It is not a guarantee. Prayer is not a power in and of itself. If every prayer was answered, it would not prove the existence of God; it would simply prove the power of prayer itself.
God says, "Prayer is not the power; I am. Make sure your faith is in me, that I can move and accomplish or that I am good if I don't move the way you want me to move." About 400 or 500 years ago, there was a gentleman by the name of Phillips Brooks who was a great Puritan preacher. He was known as a man of grace and gentleness and great patience.
One day, a friend of his walked into his study and saw him greatly perplexed and troubled, and he said, "Dr. Brooks, what is wrong with you?" Brooks looked up at him and said, "I am in a hurry, but God is not." Have you ever felt like that? Boy, that can tear at your soul, when we're in a hurry yet God seems to just be laboring along, waiting, limping along, not quite getting things done the way we want to get things done.
Let me read to you from a guy who was in Scotland. The reason I want to read to you from some of these men is this is the way churches need to teach today. These are the things that men ought to say. This is a guy by the name of Robert Anderson. This is what he said to his body about 160 years ago.
He said, "Anything which is manifest [made known, revealed] is of course raised out of the sphere of doubt or question…" God chose things because there's a question about whether or not things are so. "...and God declares that in the Cross of Christ His grace and kindness and love have been manifested."
He doesn't need for that couple to have that adoption go through to show that he is good and kind. Do you understand that? This is very painful stuff when we start to wrestle with it at a very simple level. He does not need to take away the fever of that 3-year-old to show that he is good and kind. He does not need that business deal to go through to prove once and for all that he is there and sensitive to you.
He doesn't need to put some gold on that third finger on your left hand in order to show you that he cares, because he has already made it known through coming himself and experiencing the wages of our sin and bearing our sin on the cross. "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" Meaning, all things necessary for us to have life as he intended it.
This is what he was saying, and this is what he was preaching on. His grace and kindness and love have already been made known. "But, ignoring the stupendous fact that, for our sakes, He 'spared not His own Son,' men seek to put Him upon proof of His love; and the test is whether He complies with some specific appeal urged in the petulance of present need or sorrow."
Did you catch that? What he's saying is we say, "God, I'll love you and serve you and continue to call you good as long as you come and meet my present need or get rid of this present sorrow." Think of the arrogance of that. There are numerous verses that say this, but the most clear is probably 1 John 4:9. "By this the love of God was [forever made known to] us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him."
The reason we still question whether God is there and God is good is because we have forgotten our incredible need at the beginning, that we are sinners in the hands of an angry God who deserve judgment before his righteousness, who deserve to be left alone and have nothing but death, instead of saying, "No, we deserve to have our bed feathered now and God accomplish our every whim and request."
He's saying you need to go back and realize that God is good not because he is a genie in a bottle but because he is a God who has come to earth and borne your sins on the cross. Everything else is a blessing upon blessing. Let me read you some more from this. "And to believe in Christ is to own His lordship now."
If you have come to the place where you say, "I believe in Jesus Christ," it means you believe that he is sovereign and good and Lord and able to bring about what he wants to bring about now. He is Lord now. You're not lord. Your desires aren't lord. Your needs aren't lord. He is Lord. Hence the promise that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead to show that he was who he said he was, then you will be saved.
You will be saved eternally, you'll be saved in the moment, and you will be saved from the constant haranguing and wondering if God is there, because you know that he is good, he is firmly implanted in the heavens, he does whatever he pleases, and you know that he has done something which is more than pleasing to you; he has dealt with your greatest need. "The sinner who thus believes in Christ anticipates now and here the realization of the supreme purpose of God, and he is absolutely and for ever saved. It was in the power of these truths…"
There were men in the past who knew that God was good, that he had met their every need, and were willing to say, "Lord, I will serve you whether God pulls me out of the furnace or not. Our God doesn't need to save us from your fire, Nebuchadnezzar, in order for us to worship him. We're not going to bow to your idols. If we die in that fire, God will save us from death. If he chooses to deliver us from that fire, we'll be happy to come out and talk to you once more about him. Either way, we're not backing down."
It says the martyrs lived and died this way. "With hearts awed by the fear of God, garrisoned by the peace of God…" Look at these words. "…and exulting in the love of God, shed abroad there by the Divine Spirit, they stood for the truth against priests…" Men in religious positions who had corrupted the truth of the gospel and had moved on to indulgences and a works-based system and had abandoned the truth of Scriptures and put men through tortures and persecuted them and burned them because they labored for truth.
"…and princes [who also did the same thing], and daring to be called heretics they were faithful to their Lord in life and in death. Heaven was as silent then as it is now. No sights were seen, no voice was heard, to make their persecutors pause." Can you imagine that? Here is the institution of a corrupt church, and you stand up and say, "Listen. They are using God's Word, and they are distorting God's Word in order to make you do what they want you to do in order that they might have power over you."
It was said of Martin Luther in Germany that if it weren't for Luther we could have made all of Germany eat hay. Meaning, we have these people by the throat. It is a very powerful thing to say you hold the keys to heaven and hell and to tell them they must do what you tell them to do or they are destined to eternal destruction.
Luther stood up and said, "You don't need to listen to this corrupt teaching. This is what God's Word says. They're telling you that this is what it says, but I have read it, and I'm going to get it into your hands, thanks to men like William Tyndale and Jan Hus who died in order to translate the Scriptures into modern-day language. We're going to teach you to read, and we're going to tell you the truth."
In the midst of that, God did not show up to deliver Tyndale as he was burned, Hus as his body was chopped. No sights were seen. No voice back there was heard. It says, "No signs were witnessed to give proof that God was with them as they lay upon the rack or gave up their life-breath at the stake. But with their spiritual vision focused upon Christ, the unseen realities of heaven filled their hearts, as they passed from a world that was not worthy of them to the home that God has prepared for them that love Him.
But with us, the degenerate sons of a degenerate age, faith falters beneath the strain of the petty trials of our life. And while He is saying 'I will never leave thee nor forsake thee,' our murmurs drown His voice; and though professing…" Watch this. This is where he starts to lay it out very honestly. "…and though professing to be 'followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises…'" Meaning, all of the great men and women of faith who have gone before us.
"…our petulance and unbelief put from us the infinite compassions of God. 'They endured [these individuals who were faithful] as seeing Him who is invisible': we can see nothing but our troubles and our sorrows, which loom the greater because viewed through tears of selfish grief, that blind our eyes to the glories of eternity." Why? Because we are the degenerate sons of a degenerate age.
The reason we scoff at God is we have allowed God to be seen as our handmaid. When he doesn't perform the way we want our servant to perform, we want to bail out on him. There are reasons God doesn't answer prayer. I'm going to give them to you very quickly, but I'm going to come back to ultimately one that will cause us to live, if we are true believers, in the mindset of the martyrs of old.
First, why doesn't God answer prayers? Sometimes simply because of sin. Isaiah addresses this in chapter 59, verses 1 and 2. "Behold, the Lord's hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear."
Now that was not the case of the martyrs. That was not the case of those who were tortured. It wasn't because of sin, so there must be more than just sin as the reason that God sometimes doesn't answer prayers. How about this? Because of pride. Sometimes because our prayers are really not prayers to God. In Luke, chapter 18, starting in verse 9, this is what it says.
"And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 'Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee [a prideful man who thought his own righteousness would make him acceptable to God] and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: "God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get." But the tax collector, standing some distance away, [prayed differently] .'"
This man basically was there to thank God for his salvation because he was reading his résumé and then asked God to do what it was he wanted to do because he had curried some favor with God through his behavior. God says, "Sometimes I don't hear prayers because they are not offered in humility as a request." But that's not the only reason. Surely the martyrs don't fit that circumstance. Surely the woman in our drama today didn't meet that.
Sometimes it's because of broken relationships. Men, do you want to be humbled on this your Mother's Day? First Peter 3:7 says simply, "You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered."
This is true of husbands who are emotionally and physically, at times, stronger than their wives. They're in a position of leadership that God in his sovereignty has decreed, and he says, "If you use that position of leadership to bring her into subjection for your good pleasure and will instead of serving her with humility, then I will show you what it is like to make a request of one who is sovereign over you."
By the way, this doesn't just relate to husbands and wives; it relates to lords over those who serve them, employers over employees. Friends, it says in Matthew 5, who have a broken relationship with one another. "You leave your offering at the altar, go and reconcile with one another, and then come back and deal with me."
Sometimes our prayers aren't answered because we don't ask. We're too busy to pray. This is what it says in Ephesians, chapter 5, where he spells this out. "Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation…" Don't be deluded. "…but be filled with the Spirit [at all times] …"
In other words, you can get caught up in just running through life the way the world wants you to run through life, and you can not live as a person who prays at all times in the Spirit and is in step with God. Sometimes the reason our prayers aren't answered is because they really don't exist. We just have our plan going, and every now and then we go, "Oh yeah, God. I invite you into my plans." He says that's not the way to go.
Another time the Scripture says our prayers aren't answered is because we request out of selfishness. James 4:3: "You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures." You want God just to show up and cater to your needs, because you want this life to be all about you, and I'm going to love you enough to show you that this life is not about you.
Then he tells us very simply (we already covered this in some ways) that the reason our prayers aren't answered (this is where it starts to get difficult) is because it's not his will. Now, how can not having a child when he says, "Behold, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Children are a gift from the Lord…" He says it's not good for man to be alone, and yet some men and women in this room are alone and don't want to be.
How can things that are good that God has even called us to experience not be a part of his will? That gets to the last reason that sometimes prayer is not answered: I don't know. God's ways are not our ways. Let me walk you through some truths about the decree of God. Let me tell you about the purposed decree of God. This is very important stuff. This is what gives you peace, friends. The decree of God is…
Singular. Meaning, God is not involved in some cosmic tennis match. He doesn't hit a stroke where he determines for certain things to play out a certain way, and then a spiritual force, the dark side, Darth Vader, volleys back. This is not an empire striking back at an empire. There is one God who reigns in the heavens, and nothing competes with him. The decree and purposes of God are unchallenged in terms of their ultimate ability to be accomplished.
Progressive. The will of God is unfolding. We see more throughout history of what God is about and accomplished. You need to know this. The Christian with his Bible already has the entire story. We see where God has created this world, why he created this world, why evil is in this world, what he has done about it, what he is going to do about it, and why we are where we are in the midst of this, but we're going to progressively see it unfold.
Comprehensive. In other words, there is nothing in all that is seen or unseen, animate or inanimate, that is not underneath the authority and sovereign ability of God. God is never perplexed by anything that happens underneath his reign. He is sometimes bothered and hurt by it because he is a passable creature (meaning, he can feel emotion), but he is never perplexed.
Preceptive. Meaning, God in his decree said, "This is the way things should be, and if they are not this way there is a consequence to it."
Providential. Meaning, there is nothing you can do to thwart it. This is God's claim, and it is what we who say that God's Word informs us believe.
Mysterious. Meaning, we cannot always fathom it. We don't have the capacity to understand why he is doing all that he is doing the way he is doing it. That is why he calls us to humility before him.
Christocentric. Meaning, it is ultimately about Jesus Christ from beginning to end. He has exalted Christ and his person throughout all of his providential history and has given him the name above all names, and one day, at the very mention of his name, all knees will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord.
Permissive. Meaning, God says, "Though the story is assuredly going to be accomplished, I will allow the pages to turn differently toward the ending depending upon how my people respond to me and even, at times, what my people ask in the midst of what I'm accomplishing. In the midst of that, know that the more I trust you, the less I am prone to believe that you need me to do all that you think I must do in order to manifest, make known to you, my goodness."
Folks, when you know God as benevolent, kind, loving, and good in the midst of all of this, the more you walk in humility before him and the more true faith is prepared for its request being refused. Watch this. This is very important stuff. Hebrews, chapter 11, says, "And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness…"
How did these men do this? By faith in the power of God. Through their requests and through being vessels of God working, look at what they did. " [They] obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured…"
The first group did all of these miraculous things…how? By faith in the power and person of God they did these things, but there are going to be others who by faith in the power and person of God were tortured. "…not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment." Also adoptions that didn't come through, rings that were never put on their finger.
"They were stoned…" Isn't that embarrassing to say those two things in the midst of this? "…they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground." Glorifying God. Men and women who live this way as God says we should live.
Philippians 4:6-7: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
It doesn't mean when you pray with thanksgiving that God is going to show up and do what you ask him to do, but it does mean that you can make your requests known to this God who is singular in his decree, who is comprehensive in his reign, who is providential in his purposes, but is still mysterious in his working, and once you tell your friend what you want you can be at peace knowing that it is in the hands of ultimate goodness, and the world will marvel at you and glorify your God.
This is what happens. People say, "Well, of course they love you. Look at how they're beautiful. Look at how their kids are healthy. Look at the home they live in. Look how you blessed their business. Who wouldn't love you? You're a genie that has not limited them to three wishes." This is exactly what Job was accused of by Satan. In Job, chapter 1, Satan approaches God and says just that. God points out and says…
"'Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.'** Then Satan answered the **** Lord ***, 'Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face* [and die] .'"
"He doesn't want anything to do with you if you don't show up for him." God said, "Nope. Job is different. I told you he was a blessed man who loved me and feared me. You can go mess with those things that you think he needs to love me, and watch him still serve me." Still love this guy?
The true mark of faith is not that you get your prayers answered every time you ask them but that you glorify God and live in peace in the midst of torture, in the midst of being sawn in half, physically or emotionally, and say, "My Lord is good, and these momentary light afflictions are fleeting compared to the glory that waits on that day when God does deal with all of my hurts and every tear is dried and I will sing with him forever."
That is a God people want to know: not a genie who they are really god over but a God who is good in a way that we are not, who says he is well aware of our pain, has experienced it in every way that we have, and will comfort us in the midst of our pain. We will close by singing together a song of great faith. It comes from the book of Habakkuk, chapter 3.
It starts in verse 17 and says simply, "Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord** , I will rejoice in the God of my salvation."** Let's stand and declare it together.
When we declare his goodness even when things are not as they should be, that's what speaks of the greatness of God, not that through some magical force we obligate him to always heal, to always bring love. I want to close this whole series by talking very straightforward to the scoffers and skeptics who are still with us, the people who are still on the journey who, for whatever reason, good in their mind or not, have chosen not to reckon themselves with this good God.
I want to answer one last question. I want you to be seated, and I want you to listen to one more minute of individuals who say, "I'll prove to you that God doesn't exist, and I'll explain to you why he has not done what he has dared to do." Watch this.
George Carlin: Finally, I've often always drawn a great deal of moral comfort from Humpty Dumpty. The part I like the best? "All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty back together again." That's because there is no Humpty Dumpty, and there is no God. None. Not one. No God. Never was.
In fact, I'm going to put it this way. If there is a God, may he strike this audience dead. See? Nothing happened. Nothing happened. Everybody is okay. I'll tell you what. I'll raise the stakes a little bit. If there is a God, may he strike me dead. See? Nothing happened. Wait. I got a little cramp in my leg. Plus I'm blind. Oh, now I'm okay again. Must have been Joe Pesci. God bless Joe Pesci. Thank you all very much.
[End of video]
The wisest man who ever lived said it this way: "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil." That's Ecclesiastes 8:11. The reason that that audience wasn't struck dead and neither was Mr. Carlin is because God is not slow (2 Peter 3), as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, wishing that none should perish but that all might come to repentance.
If you sit here today and have not yet dealt with this God, you need to know it's not because he is there and unable to do anything. It is because he is kind, and his kindness, as of this moment, has not yet brought judgment on the wickedness of this nation and you individually and this world which shakes its fists at him. We call you this day to come, because God has offered forgiveness to our repentance, but he has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.
We have classes for you if you have authentic questions with integrity that we will answer as we journey through with you and explore truths that are there. We have classes to equip you, believer, to help you answer these questions. You'll see information on that in the back of your Watermark News for both. We will stand here today as long as any want to talk, but you must come. I want to end this as seriously as we have dealt with it, very honestly. On May 8, 2005… I don't want anybody in this room to forget that date.
If you continue to believe that God is not there because you couldn't be convinced in the midst of your scoffing, because you have not processed the truth that he has revealed to you in such a way that he says is clear, when you stand before him, if never else, he will say, "May 8, 2005, you heard the truth of who I was, the kindness of what I have accomplished through the cross that my Son Jesus Christ died on, where he offered to you life, and you chose to not come. So I will give you what you want, which is nothing to do with me forever and ever."
But today, I say to you, will you come? And if you have come, will you live in a way that doesn't wonder why God doesn't do all that you want and live in a way that the world marvels at, as you trust in the goodness he has made manifest through the sacrifice of his Son for you? Come, for he is King. Have a great week of worship.
What do you say to a skeptic who's funny, persuasive, and so confident, that you're afraid he might just be right? What would you say if you found yourself sitting on "Real Time with Bill Maher"? Would you know how to respond to Robin Williams or George Carlin if fate brought you together on a cross-country flight? How ready are you to engage effectively with your witty and well-read co-worker over a cup of coffee? Skeptical yourself? Have you wondered if there would ever be a safe place where you could ask good questions and receive honest, well-reasoned answers?