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Dane Skelton is the Pastor of Faith Community Church and the author of Jungle Flight: Spiritual Adventures at the Ends of the Earth, a book of true stories from the ministry of JAARS (formerly Jungle Aviation and Radio Service). His second book, Papua Pilot: Flying the Bible to the Last Lost Peoples, co-authored with the late Paul Westlund, is now available on Amazon.com and Christianbook.com.
Oct23WedOctober 23, 2013
“I’ve prayed and prayed about this, for years I’ve prayed, but God isn’t answering at all. Nothing is happening. This situation just goes on and on and on! Why won’t God do something?”
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This question, or some version of it, has been repeated in pastors’ offices year after year, decade after decade, and century after century. Often it is about an illness, but just as often it’s about a job, a difficult relationship in the community or the church, or a wayward son or daughter. You would think that it would undermine the faith of those who ask so faithfully, who seek so diligently, and who knock so consistently, not to get at least some kind of reply from God, even a crystal clear NO! Didn’t Jesus promise as much?
Yes he did and that promise still holds. But like so many other problems we run into in our spiritual lives the issues lying behind unanswered prayer are often overlooked. Also, in an attempt to avoid hurt feelings, or sometimes because we have forgotten long past lessons, pastors fail to tell seekers the whole truth regarding unanswered prayers.
Most of us know the standard teaching. God’s answers are sometimes “yes,” sometimes “no,” and sometimes “wait.” We know that our heavenly Father knows better than we what is best for us and that we have to trust him to do it in his timing. We know the answer that Paul heard when he had “sought the Lord three times” to be relieved of his thorn in the flesh: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” We take comfort in that, ignoring the fact that Paul did indeed get a very clear answer, after only three attempts!
Is there something more?
Yes. I stumbled across it recently as I read through Ezekiel, a principle that may shed some light on our unanswered prayers. Before I state it I want to warn you that it could be difficult, even offensive, to hear; it’s what I call black coffee theology in a spiritual latte’ world. The principle is this: IF THE PERSON, SITUATION, OR THING WE ARE PRAYING ABOUT HAS BECOME AN IDOL IN OUR HEARTS GOD WILL NOT RESPOND UNTIL WE TEAR THAT IDOL DOWN.
Ezekiel 14:1-3 reports that some of the leaders of Israel had come to the prophet seeking to hear from God. I guess that’s why this passage grabbed my attention. People come to pastors with the idea that, prophet-like, we have some kind of back-channel connection with God. But God knew their hearts and before they could even ask the question he told Ezekiel, “These men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces.” Then God asked a rhetorical question to which the obvious answer was: NO. “Should I let them inquire of me at all?”
God is extremely compassionate and tender toward us, his children. He wants to commune with us, to come in to us and make his home with us (John 14:23). But that communion is contingent on our obedience, specifically, our obedience to have no other Gods before him. God knows that seeking God’s glory is our greatest good (a thought completely contrary to the prevailing winds of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism). Any person, goal, situation, or thing that takes first place in our hearts over God himself has become, albeit unknowingly, an idol.
Moms, your children and their success can become an idol. Young women, your beauty, can become an idol. Teens everywhere, acceptance can become an idol. Young men, entertainment can become an idol. Men, your career can become an idol. Money, power, success, recognition, an endless list of things can be “set up as idols in our hearts.” God’s response to the prayers of an idolater is: “Should I let them inquire of me at all?”
Friends, God does not expect perfection from us. He knows that we are frail and prone to fall. He is not surprised when we set up idols in our hearts. It’s as easy for us to do that as it is for a two-year old to drop his Cheerios. His silence in reply to our prayers is not punishment. It is an opportunity for us to examine our hearts to see if we have let anything other than God take first place and to cast down any idols we find there.