Unanswered Prayers

Have you ever wondered why it feels like so many of your prayers go unanswered? How often have you prayed for something and nothing seems to change or happen based upon your clearly articulated requests? If we take a moment to look at the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, you may have a better idea for why some of your prayers are not answered in just the way you wanted. Let’s start with some basics.

The Lord’s Prayer has six petitions. 3 “Your” and 3 “Our”. The first three focus our attention upward to God. 1) Your Name 2) Your Kingdom 3) Your Will. The second three focus our attention on our needs. 1) Our Bread 2) Our Forgiveness 3) Our Deliverance from Temptation.

9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

Seeing this order helps us as we think about what it means to specifically pray for our daily bread. We have to pray the “our” petitions in view of and through the first three “your” petitions.

When we are praying for “our daily bread,” it is easy to confuse our needs and wants. Daily bread has to do with the necessities of life, not the luxuries (that does not mean it is wrong to enjoy things beyond the necessities, but we have to be careful not to confuse the two in our prayers for daily bread). That is why we must start with the first petition, “Hallowed be Your name.” Whenever we hallow or make something ultimate in our lives other than God, we will begin to confuse our wants as needs. Hallowing God means we keep things in their proper place. When we don’t hallow God and make something else central to our lives, we will tend to pray self-centered prayers. James puts it this way,

You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (James 4:2-3).

Whenever we confuse our wants for needs, our prayers will become self-centered. They also will not be about his kingdom but our own.

When I was a young parent, I would find myself praying that God would change my children. On the surface, that doesn’t sound all that bad. In fact, it can seem pretty godly. But whose kingdom was driving that prayer? Sometimes it was God’s, but many times it was my kingdom. “God, change my childrens so that my life won’t be so difficult.” “God, change my children so my reputation is not harmed.” Those prayers sound like I am praying with my own pleasures in mind.

What about you? What seemingly good things are you praying about, but sometimes with your own pleasures and glory in view, not God’s? “God, work in my spouses’ life.” “God, make this week’s sermon really good.” “God, make everything at work go just right so that I can relax a little and enjoy an early retirement.” “God, take this struggle with temptation and sin away so that I can be free.” “God, remove this suffering from my life so that I can really glorify you.”

What are you praying for today? Are you praying at all? Take a careful look at your “Our” petitions and examine them a bit more closely. You might find, as I have, that your perspective needs to be aligned more clearly by hallowing God and his kingdom more than your own.

If you find that difficult, remember that Jesus prayed, “Not my will but your will, Father” so that we might be rescued from the tyranny of our self-centeredness.

Copyright © 2015 Timothy S. Lane

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Fighting to Believe

Are Evangelism and Discipleship Different?

Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:19 are clear. We are to “go and make disciples.”  We typically think of this command in two phases and use two terms; evangelism and discipleship. Evangelism involves sharing the good news of Jesus to the unbeliever. Discipleship involves obedience once one has believed. When we are not careful, though, this bifurcation can lead to a truncated understanding of the Christian life.

Most professing Christians are aware of the discipline called apologetics.  The word means to “speak in defense” of some belief. In the early church, those who defended the faith to outsiders were called apologists.

As you can see, this term has largely been used by Christians to describe evangelism; the discipline of defending the Christian faith over against non-Christian unbelief. This is wholly appropriate and right. It is the first half of the great commission in Matthew 28:19 “Go.”

Who Are We Trying to Persuade?

I want to broaden the audience of the Christian apologist, though. Not only is the Christian apologist to convince the unbeliever concerning the claims of Christ; but the believer, as well! That is discipleship. It is what I call “pastoral apologetics.” There is a desperate and daily need to make a case for the truth, relevance and power of the Gospel for the believer as he or she faces the daily challenges of living the Christian life.

Notice how the apostle Paul warned the Colossians from being duped into thinking that there was something more they needed in addition to Christ to face the problems of living. Paul says this to believing Christians in Colossians 2:6-8;

6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces[a] of this world rather than on Christ.

In other words, while Paul found himself on many occasions defending the faith against the unbelief of those who rejected the message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; he found as many opportunities to make a case for the claims of Christ for the benefit and sake of those who already believed. He does not want the believer to be taken captive by any other “false gospel.”

Are You Fighting to Believe?

Every time we gather with other Christians in fellowship and worship, pick up our Bibles to read or take a moment to pray, we are asking this question, “Is this really true?” Why? Because we are so easily duped. We need convincing on a daily basis.

Today, what are you struggling with? What temptation are you facing? Where are you tempted to find meaning and the resources to live another day? If you are honest with yourself, you are always fighting to believe what you profess. May your heart’s cry today be the same as another believer in Scripture who made his doubts and struggles known to God with these words,

I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief (Mark 9:24).

Copyright © 2015 Timothy S. Lane

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Doubts, Guilt and the Lord's Supper

A few weeks ago, a very close friend and I were traveling together. As we discussed a host of subjects, I ventured into more personal territory. I had noticed that he had stopped taking communion at church for the past several months. He is a convinced believer in Jesus, but for some reason didn’t feel right about partaking. Here is how the conversation went:

Me: So, can I ask you a personal question? (He said “yes”.) I don’t want to be insensitive but I noticed that you have not been taking communion whenever it is offered in church. I actually respect the fact that you are taking it so seriously and not participating in a flippant way. I am curious to hear why.
Friend: Thanks, I don’t mind you asking. I really don’t know why I haven’t been participating. Something just doesn’t feel right. I just don’t know……
Me: That’s fine. I wanted to make sure you understood what the Lord’s Supper is all about. I wouldn’t want you to miss out on something that is vital to your growth as a Christian. Do you still believe in Jesus and that he is your savior?
Friend: I do, but I am struggling to really believe that God loves me. After all, my life has been a real mix of trials lately……(to be continued).
____________________________
I have a lot of pastor friends who struggle to know how to “fence” the table well when serving communion. I have many more friends who struggle to know whether they should even partake from Sunday to Sunday. Many of these friends struggle with deep guilt whenever communion is served. Maybe that is your experience. It certainly was mine many times before I properly understood the purpose of Communion.

Why is it that the wonderful sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is so hard for many believers to enjoy? After all, the Greek word that is used to describe communion is Eucharist, which means “to give thanks.” Even the word “communion” is a good word. It implies that you are communing with God; relating to him; enjoying his company; reveling in his love and mercy for you.

I think the confusion and angst that many Christians experience may stem from the Apostle Paul’s exhortation in I Corinthians 11:23-32 where he strongly confronts the Corinthians for celebrating the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner:

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

Verses 27-29 are startling. After reading these words, you might wonder if anyone is “worthy” to participate in the Lord’s Supper. But what is Paul really addressing? There are many things we could say about the specific context that Paul is confronting in Corinth. But one thing is clear. He does not want to erect a fence so high that needy sinners feel unworthy to participate.

Maybe I can share how I came to understand how to “fence” the table when I was pastoring a church full of both struggling sinners and sufferers. Here were a few things I would say:

Question: What does it mean to partake of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner?

Answer 1: If you think you are worthy due to your performance, you come in an unworthy manner. The table reminds us that it is only in Christ that we are able to approach and commune with God.

Answer 2: If there is a known sin in your life that you are stubbornly unrepentant of or in denial about, you come in an unworthy manner. The table is for humble, repentant sinners.

Answer 3: Instead, if you believe in Jesus and are struggling with doubts, are feeling distant from God, experiencing weakness and fatigue in your faith, or you failed to obey God recently, you should come to the table to eat and drink!

Based upon this perspective, I shared the following with my friend:

The Lord’s Supper is using the image of your need for physical food and applying it to your need for spiritual food. If you were starving, weak, and unable to stand and someone put some food in front of you, what would you do? You would eat and drink to regain your strength. It is the fat and satiated who do not eat; not the hungry. The Lord’s Supper is a time to give thanks that God feeds the helpless and draws near to those who know they are hungry.

I don’t know if this registered with my friend or not. He thanked me for asking and then the conversation changed to a song that was on the radio. Yet the moment was not lost on me. It was a simple conversation with a brother in Christ where I was able to remind him of the utter grace of the Gospel. God’s love is wholly undeserved and yet freely given only to those who know they are not worthy.

The next time communion is served, ask yourself if you are hungry and thirsty for God's love and grace. If so, eat and drink to the glory of God!

Copyright © 2014 Timothy S. Lane

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.