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When Prayers Feel Unanswered

We are wrapping up this Why Pray series with a conversation on what to do when prayers feel unanswered. What do you do when the rug feels like it is pulled out from under you? How do you talk to God then?

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Welcome to purposely equipped. We want to help you go deeper in your faith by learning truth from the Bible, our new series, why pray will help us discover what the Bible has to say about the importance of prayer in building our relationship with Jesus. Pastors Wyat Martin and Steve Brooks from Alderwood Community Church will be helping us with this five episode series as we look at Why Pray.

Steve, here we are episode number five of this series on prayer and, uh, it’s, it’s been good. We talked about what prayer is. Why we pray, how we pray, praying when it’s hard. And we’re gonna wrap up the series today with a conversation on what about when prayers feel unanswered? What about when we ask for something and just get nothing back or at least that’s how it feels. Has that ever happened to you?

Yeah, it has honestly to tell the story well, like I gotta give you the, the beginning of the story, which, you know, my wife and I served in Taiwan’s missionaries 2000 for four years. And getting there was incredible. It came outta this amazing answer to prayer. We had a season where we just felt like God was telling us to go somewhere.

We decided to spend a week each praying separately in the middle of that. I get this surprising invitation to come over and teach high school Bible in Taiwan at the missionary school I’d grown up and it was totally God. It just felt so amazing to know this is God, you know, four years later we’re coming back and you know, biggest thing on my mind is I’ve gotta support my family.

I’ve got a mortgage again. So. Been able to land a job before I leave teaching at a local Christian school, I’m really excited. It feels like, wow, God’s answering prayers again. Two weeks before we return the school says, by the way, we’ve actually had an internal candidate, that’s gonna get the job instead of you,

Those notorious internal candidates,

those, they will get you every time.

So might have had something to do with the fact. 8,000 miles away. So, you know, we come back, I don’t have a job waiting for me and I honestly feel like God gut punched me. Yeah. I’m like this. Not only emotionally, did you crush me here how am I gonna take care of my family?

And this was this in your mind was a done deal. Yes. This job, like it was yours. The paperwork was

supposed to be coming next week. It’s your job. We’re so happy to have you. And suddenly the rugs pulled out. Yeah. And you know, for three years, I had to hunt for jobs that whole summer, I finally ended up at a job I really didn’t like for three years and you know, I can look back at it now almost 20 years later and go, man, God taught me a ton through those three years, it was good for me, the pastor to not be working as a pastor to see yeah. How the other half lived so to speak. But man, that was hard. And you were working in a field that you didn’t really care about. ITT tech, I think is the, yes. We’re allowed to, we’re allowed to talk about their name because, because they’re now closed yeah.

So the government shut them down. So. I don’t think they can see this for li I had nothing to do with that at point by the way. But so I, you know, those three years you’re working in that, uh, for ITT tech and that time are you, are you, are you praying? Are you asking God to open up a different door to

I am and it’s a desert, you know, I’m like nothing’s opening up. I try a couple doors. Each one gets slammed in my face and for probably the last year and a half of that, I’m mostly praying, God, why are you doing this to me? I kept praying. I’m glad I kept praying. And there were some up times, but man, that was one darkest toughest desert times in my prayer life.


Well, man, I think so many people are gonna resonate with that. I mean, I, I think all of us, if, if we do sincerely pray and ask God for things have times in our life, when it seems like there’s no answer, it seems like the answer is no. So how, what do we do in those seasons? I mean, when you’re in a season of praying and not getting any answer back.

How should we process that as a follower of Jesus? How should we think about what’s really happening there in our, in our relationship with God.

You know, I think one of the things that showed me was I would’ve said at the time that my prayer life and my walk with Jesus is primarily about loving him first and seeking him and letting him add the rest. But the truth was I had put conditions and expectations on him and he needed to reveal that. In my life. Yeah. You know, so that was a big part of it for me. Just recognizing, okay. He does have a purpose in this. He’s working this together for good. Unfortunately, that’s to show me that I have a lot of brokenness still left to me. Yeah. But that’s merciful.

Yeah. I mean, you know, we’ve been using. This, uh, the Lord’s prayer from the sermon on the Mount is kind of our guide in this series. And, you know, we pointed out earlier in the series, how the ordering of the prayer is super important, right? That it starts with God. It starts with honoring God. It starts with asking that God’s will be done. And then it moves into us asking for things. And, you know, we were talking about how we need to make sure we understand that prayer isn’t just about. This kind of cosmic vending machine, the transaction. Yeah. You just get things from God. You ask him for things. He gives it to you. That that is primarily a relationship that prayers about knowing God, uh, experiencing intimacy with him, asking for things as a part of that. But it’s mostly about relationship. And I think what I love about what you’re pointing out is it’s really easy to say that. B, but I think in some ways we really get our motives revealed to us when we ask God for something that he doesn’t give us. Uh, you know, that is when your response can teach you a lot about what your expectations really were, because your response is I’m disappointed, but God. I love you. I trust you. I’m gonna look for what you actually want. It’s clearly not what I want, but I, I wanna see what that is.

Your will be done. That’s awesome. Your response is, well, God, why am I even wasting my time with you? I mean, why am I spending so much time asking for this? You’re not even gonna do it. What’s the point it should be on indeed right now looking for, for a new job that might be revealing to you, that your motives haven’t been quite as pure as maybe you thought they.

I love what you just said about the order in, in the Lord’s prayer. I just, you know, we’ve gone back to it so much and I I’ve grown so much just reading it and thinking about it as we’ve been working through this study. But, um, I think about Jesus in Luke, there’s actually a slightly different rendition of the Lord’s prayer and he follows it up with something that’s so relevant.

Cuz the order, as you pointed out, starts. Father. This is someone we can trust. And Jesus says, which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, we’ll give him a snake instead. Or if he asks for an egg, we’ll give him a scorpion. If you then though, you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children how much more will your father in heaven? Give the holy spirit to those who ask him. And honestly, I was like, Lord, I don’t really want the holy spirit right now. I want a new job. Mm-hmm and the Lord’s more interested in giving us more of himself. Then always giving us what we think or feel we need.

Yeah. I think that’s huge because you know this question, um, what do I do in prayers? Feel unanswered? I think it’s important that we recognize that it is a feeling. It is a feeling that they’re unanswered. God is responding to your prayer. Like there isn’t well, I, I should. If you are seeking him with a pure heart, if you are actually honoring him, uh, you know, when, when, when the scriptures say that God isn’t listening or isn’t responding it’s to the often kind of legalistic self righteous, right? Um, prayers there for show. So he’s not, he, he may very well not be answering those prayers, but if you’re honestly seeking God as his child, he’s not playing the silent game with you. He’s not, he’s not ignoring you. So the question become. How is he answering my prayer? He, he is answering my prayer. How is he answering my prayer?

And maybe it’s not, yes. Maybe that’s not the answer. He’s not doing what I’m want, what I want him to do, but can I look for his response in an unexpected way? Maybe his answer is no, because he has something different for us. Maybe his answer is wait, maybe his answer is, you know, you want something right now.

That’s actually not good for you. And so I’m, I’m gonna work to help you want better things for yourself. Uh, you know, I, I know plenty. High school students, as I’ve done ministry in student ministries have been praying real hard for God to bring, you know, a girlfriend or a boyfriend. And it’s just not a good idea.

And I think God knows right now. Yeah. You know? Yeah. So I think God’s very graciously saying like, Hey, let’s, let’s work on your heart to maybe desire some higher level things for your life before you’re ready to be in a relationship like that. So God is answering. It takes skill though. Skills maybe not the right word.

It takes intentionality. It, it is kind of an art to look for answered prayer. And there’s some ways of building some habits in your life that I think can make you a little bit better at that. Um, you know, I’m thinking of journaling in particular, that can be really helpful. See, I know that’s been something that has been important in your life. You wanna talk about that a little bit?

One of the biggest things that journaling does for me is it helps me look back on my life. Remember the times God did answer my prayer. Like what’s kind of appalling actually. It’s quite humbling is to go back and when God answers our prayers so often we take it as a matter of course.

Oh, well of course he’s gonna answer my prayers. I mean, he always should. And you know, and he does and oh, oh nice. Little thing to write in my journal. Well then when he isn’t, I, I go back and I’m like, well, first of all, why wasn’t I more grateful these first 20 times he answered my prayers. So, so there’s that aspect of it.

And then there’s the discipline of just learning to. For things to be grateful for, even while you’re going through the hard times, that’s probably journal has helped me the most with gratitude. Yeah.

I think that’s huge. I mean, to go back and to refresh your memory of what God has done for me, what that does is it just kind of re-motivates me. It reinvigorates me in whatever situation I’m in right now to.

Okay, God’s gonna do something here. I don’t know what it is. It might not be anything close to what I want him to do, but he’s he is gonna do something. I wanna, I wanna see what that is. I wanna look for it. That is so God honoring. Hmm.

Yeah. I love that. We don’t, I, I think in some ways the, yes, no weight model is, is so important, even though it just seems a little overly simplistic.

And I think it’s really the only three options and the one that’s hardest, at least for me is the. I’d almost rather have the know, the funny thing is, you know, during those three years, when I was working for ITT tech, one of the most helpful things that happened to me was a friend of mine, a really godly person who, by the way, having godly friends is also another really helpful thing.

When you’re going through these dark times, he said, first of all, Steve is your family fed right now. Are you paying the mortgage? Do you have what you need to survive? I said, yeah, he said, so basically quit your whining. But he said, I know you want to be somewhere else. He. Have you ever thought that just like God took the children across, you know, the desert of Sinai and provided bread for them.

This is a manna job for you. And God just wants you to see that he is gonna be faithful even in the hard times. And maybe he has something far better for you. On the other side of that, you know what the thing was on the other side of that, Wyatt me working at Alderwood community church. Yeah. Which has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.

And I mean, I didn’t wanna wait. There was a point toward the end of those three years where kind of to my shame, I was really starting to get angry at God. And then suddenly I. Have a job offer from Alderwood and one of my first responses besides utter gratitude. And while God you did show up was a bit of shame because I realized it was like God said to me, if I had told you at the beginning of these three years, you just have to get through three years and then I’m gonna have this great job waiting for you.

Would you have stopped your whining and kicking and pouting? And of course I would’ve. Yeah, I think he wants us to trust him enough to stop whining and kicking complaining, even when he doesn’t explain everything up

front. That’s huge, you know, and I think so. I think there really are some big things around perspective.

I think the question of, you know, is your family fed, do you have a place to live is actually a really good one. I think, you know, sometimes we, we get so hung up on one thing that we desperately want that it’s easy to forget the big picture, but I also want to acknowledge the difficulty of a season like that.

So I don’t want us come across as sounding like, quit your whining, just stop, like be grateful. Uh, you know, I there’s real, there’s real wisdom in that, but at the same time, it can be incredibly discouraging and, uh, frustrating and disheartening to feel like you’re in a bad situation, you’re allowing to get out of it.

You’re asking how to get out of it. He hasn’t taken you out of it yet. And that is where I would speak to somebody and say, Bring that to God. I mean like process your disappointment in prayer, tell God how mad you are, that he hasn’t answered that prayer. Tell him how frustrated you are. Uh, try to do that with some sense of perspective that he’s got, and you’re not yeah.

In some sense of hope, but I don’t think you have to hide your real raw, emotional state from God. That’s part of the relationship that he wants to have with you. He wants to hear from your heart.

And that goes back to the journal for me, for some reason easier for me to put that down in words, cuz that’s the other thing I have looking back at some of my journals, you know, just, I won’t call it raging. He is God and I trust him, but man, some pretty raw emotion and again, the Psalms give us a template, a model, a map for that. God’s not scared off by our strong emotions.

Well, see, we’re gonna bring this whole series to a close here and, you know, for people who have hung with us now for five episodes on prayer, God bless them.

And, uh, you know, maybe they are thinking about what’s next for them and their, and their prayer life and their spiritual growth. Uh, what are some things that you would wanna leave people with as we wrap this series up

if there was any one thing out of everything we’ve talked about so far that I really would like to urge people to do, especially in this day and age, when we have already talked about all the distractions is to carve out sometime when you can take Jesus word, seriously, get alone by yourself without people, without distractions and pour your heart out to God. I, I, I don’t think I read it earlier. I had this Psalm written down it’s Psalm 62 trust in the Lord at all times. Pour out your hearts to him for God as our refuge. And just, just take time to just pour it out.

Yeah, I think. Take some action, you know, uh, it’s one thing to want a better prayer liar, or to want to pray more, but, uh, take some concrete step. And so maybe that is. Uh, blocking out an hour of your day, um, you know, telling your family, Hey, I’m gonna be an hour late home from work on Tuesday and cuz I’m gonna be by myself, praying before I get home.

And hopefully your spouse will be understanding about that. Or, you know, if you have one, uh, do whatever it takes to. To make a change. You know, I think one of the, the thing about spiritual disciplines and prayer in particular, uh, there’s kind of a turn of phrase that I find to be really helpful is actually kind of a business idea, but, uh, your habits, your life is constructed perfectly right now to produce the results that it’s producing. So if you feel like you’re not satisfied with your prayer life, uh, it’s been inconsistent. It hasn’t been fruitful, how you’ve built your life right now, how you’ve constructed your habits and how you spend your time and what you are doing with your week and all that.

It is perfectly designed to produce what you’re experiencing. So if you want to experience it something different, it’s gonna mean doing something different yeah in the habits of your life. And so what is that gonna be, you know, kind of a novel thing. I, I might really encourage somebody in this next step for them.

Invite somebody along with you on this journey to tell a brother or sister in Christ. That’s so good. Hey, I, I really want to grow in this next season. In my prayer life. Would you pray for me in that. Would you pray with me in that? Would you ask me how it’s going and keep me accountable? Here’s what I’m gonna do.

My plan is every Saturday at 9:00 AM. I’m going to shut myself in a room by myself and turn my phone off and spend an hour with God. Uh, would you pray for that time? Would you ask me how it went? Cuz I’m gonna need some help, uh, holding myself accountable and you know, maybe that even is doing that with somebody else.

You know, maybe if you, if you are married, if you, if you live with somebody to say, Hey, I’m, I’m gonna be doing this. Do you wanna do this with me? Do you want, you know, on Tuesday, evenings at seven, do you wanna just sit down together at the table and open up our Bibles and spend some time in prayer? Um, I think, you know, some, some. Using the church using the community. Yeah. Could be really helpful.

Now I’m so glad you said that because there’s almost a tension in the Lord’s prayer, you know, that we’ve looked at, there is the Jesus saying go to a place alone by yourself, but there’s the, our father too. And one of the things that, that you just said kind of sparked a thought for me, which is some of the best times, or when I can just share with somebody, something God showed me in my prayer time.

Like, that’s just so vibrant to tell my kids, you know, I was reading this morning and God’s word spent some time in prayer and I realized this, or God showed me that, or God reminded me he’d answered this prayer I had last week. That’s so invigorating for our faith, for our kids’ faith, for our spouse, our coworkers.

Yeah. Yeah. I love that. I mean, I wanna end with one more thing. This might sound a little bit crazy, uh, but the thing I’d encourage somebody to do. If, if you need a change, if, if, if you need some spiritual growth and vitality that you haven’t seen lately and your prayer life hasn’t been there and you really, you want it to be different than it’s been. I wanna encourage you. Don’t be afraid to do something radical. Like I, you know, it may not be that you need a small little tweak. It, it may not be that you need, you know, just to carve out 20 minutes, like you might need some serious life change and do something that other people might see as being really weird.

Uh, you know, I, I’ve done a number of things in my life to try to increase my prayer life. I, I spent, uh, nine months, uh, never taking my cell phone outta thehouse. Uh, I, I had a, uh, an apple watch that could take calls and send text messages, but literally for nine months, my, my phone stayed on the dresser. And the reason was because I identified my cell phone as the biggest detriment to my prayer life, that anytime I was anywhere, I was pulling my phone outta my pocket, and I was reading the news or I was, you know, typing an email or whatever.

And I was like, okay, like, I’m just gonna. It felt like cutting off my hand. Like we just talked about, you know, it was a detox thing. Absolutely. And it, it wasn’t like, that was a perfect switch that gave me an amazing prayer life, but it made a significant difference. Yeah. Like I had to get used to being alone with my thoughts, to not have anything, to distract myself with.

Like that, that could be a really good thing. You know, maybe that radical step is keeping your phone, but, you know, putting screen time limits on your phone and giving you the password to somebody else so that your disabling, all the things that are distracting you from prayer. Um, you know, maybe it’s committing that you’re gonna fast from podcasts for a month and you’re not gonna listen to music or podcasts in the car or doing tours or doing whatever.

Cause you just wanna free yourself up. Man, go, go big. It’s worth it. I mean, that’s the thing is like it, the treasure on the other side of a deeper level of intimacy with Jesus is worth the pain of doing something crazy. Cancel your Netflix. I mean, go, go big.

Let’s not go that far away. Come on. You’re getting crazy.

But, and, and, you know, I, I don’t know what it might be for you, but, uh, it is worth taking the big swing at this to experience the next level of, of relationship with God that Jesus has for you.

We’re gonna walk into eternity one day. You know, you always hear people talk about that advice they give from their deathbed.

You know, when you, when you get to the end of your life, all the effort and accolades that went with your job and everything you’ve recruited, isn’t gonna matter like family and those, you know, precious love relationships. But when we’re gonna actually walk into eternity and spend eternity With that person we’ve grown to love in this life that changes everything.

Well, I just wanna thank everybody for listening. It’s been fun. I’ve enjoyed the conversation and, uh, our prayer for you if you’re hearing this is that you would really experience Jesus in a new way that you experience a prayer life that is life giving that. Uh, that God uses to grow you as his child and to grow your trust and your love of him.

And, uh, we really want that for you. So thanks for being a part of this with us.

Thanks so much

Again, special thanks to our hosts for this series. Wyat Martin and Steve Brooks from Alderwood Community Church. Don’t forget to follow their podcast. Native exiles in any podcast app or go to native where they look at living as everyday followers of Christ in the world. Today. If you are looking for a church to call home, check out alderwood

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