Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Handling Unanswered Prayer

Leslie Basham: You’ve read passages in the Bible that promise God will hear and answer prayer. So has Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: But isn’t it true, if we’re honest, that sometimes our experience seems to contradict those promises? Be honest! Haven’t you had those times where you say, “I know what God’s Word says, but I’ve been praying. I’ve been crying out, and it doesn’t seem that God is hearing or answering my prayers.”

Listen. Anyone can trust God with one bad day, short-term situations. But when you have long-haul suffering, and you cry out, “How long, Lord? I keep crying out to You, Lord, but still, You don’t do anything!”

It’s that “How long?” question. "You will not hear."

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, October 5.

Revive Our Hearts is in it’s tenth year of broadcasting. During this time we’re revisiting some of the series that have meant the most to our listeners.

So Nancy continues in a series we began yesterday on a prophet who helps us deal with unanswered prayer. Here’s Nancy in a series called Habakkuk: Moving from Fear to Faith.

 

Nancy: It was a hot July afternoon in 1967 when a seventeen-year-old girl dove into a shallow lake, and her life was changed forever as she broke her neck and was paralyzed from the neck down.

You know the story of Joni Eareckson Tada, how she suffered a spinal cord fracture that left her paralyzed and without use of her hands and legs.

Joni has talked and written about some of the feelings and thoughts she had in the early days after having the injury. At one point she said,

I had so many questions. I believed in God, but I was angry with Him. If God is supposed to be all-loving and all-powerful, then how could what happened be a demonstration of His love and power? Surely He could have stopped it from happening. How can permanent lifelong paralysis be a part of His loving plan for me? Unless I found answers, I didn’t see how this God could be worthy of my trust.

What Joni Eareckson Tada said in those desperate, dark moments of her life is very similar to what the prophet Habakkuk felt as we jump today into the first chapter of his prophecy, Habakkuk chapter 1.

He’s crying out to God, and in essence, he’s saying, “Unless I find some answers, how can I know if this God is worthy of my trust?”

He has questions, and so he says in chapter 1, verse 2,

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save?

By the way, as you’re reading and studying through the book of Habakkuk, look for references to that word “save” or “salvation.” You’ll find several of them. There’s a recurring theme through this book that God is always working for the salvation of His people.

But at this moment, it doesn’t seem that way to Habakkuk. “Lord, I’m crying to You, ‘Violence!’ But You will not save. You don’t seem to be a God who is saving.”

Verse 3:

Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted (Habakkuk 1:3–4).

Habakkuk says, “I have a problem with how God is running the universe, or how He appears to be universe, or not running the universe. I’ve got some questions.”

They’re intense questions. I think sometimes we act in our Christian worlds as if it’s wrong to have questions. We shouldn’t ask questions, and we should put our minds to sleep and just say, “Well, those questions don’t matter.”

Habakkuk is saying, “I’ve got honest questions, and I’m going to go to the One who can give me answers. Why do You make me see iniquity? Why do You idly look at wrong?”

So we have this beginning of a book that is really a dialogue between God and His prophet, a very intimate look at this man’s questioning of God. Some of your Bibles will actually give a title to this paragraph: “Habakkuk’s Complaint.”

Habakkuk’s complaint. He begins by pouring out his heart to God, and notice the first two words of verse 2: “O Lord.” O Lord. You’ll see that little phrase six times in the book of Habakkuk.

This is the cry of a desperate man. It’s saying his prayers are earnest prayers. “O Lord.” Now, notice that Habakkuk doesn’t cry out to Judah, who are the people that he’s concerned about initially. They’re the ones he’s talking about in these first couple of verses, who have defiled God’s ways. They’re not living as believers.

Nor does Habakkuk cry out to the Babylonians or the Chaldeans whom God is going to use to bring judgment on Judah. Who does Habakkuk cry out to? To God. “O Lord.”

The burden on his heart as he looks around him turns to intercession—turns to prayer. That’s what Oswald Chambers says in My Utmost for His Highest.

I’m not quoting it exactly, but he says when God puts an awareness of a situation on your heart, on your mind, puts a burden on you, His goal is that it should turn to intercession.

“O Lord, I see this. I’m concerned about this. I don’t understand this. O Lord.” You see, Habakkuk knows that God is the One who’s in charge. He knows the Lord is the only one who can really do anything about His concerns.

So he says, “O Lord.” He addresses his prayer to the One who can do something about this situation. And he’s going to get, through this book, his perspective on what’s happening around him by going directly to the Lord.

“Lord, how do You see this?” Ask God. Think about what’s going on in your life and ask the Lord, “Lord, what is going on here? What are You trying to say? What are You trying to do?”

He gets his message for that day. He gets his direction for his ministry. He gets his counsel; he gets his help by going directly to the Lord. “O Lord, O Lord.”

I think about people who write to Revive Our Hearts with some really, really tough questions and issues, and they pour out their hearts about this situation and that situation that is happening.

I read it, and I just think, “O Lord! What to do? What to say?” And sometimes the best we can say to those women is, “Ask the One who knows. We can’t sort through this, but God knows the answer. God knows the mysteries. He knows how to sort it all out. Go to Him.”

Say, “O Lord.” I’m thinking about that hymn, “O what needless pain we bear, all because we did not carry everything to God in prayer.” How much do we worry and stress and strive and strain and fume and fret by talking to others about things and getting ourselves worked up into a tizzy, when what we really need to be saying is, “O Lord.”

“O Lord. What to do! How to see this! How to respond!” You want an understanding of your circumstances? You may be in an impossible situation right now in some realm of your life.

Do you want to understand it? Do you want to know how to respond to life’s circumstances? Do you want to know how to train your children when they’re in this impossible stage and nothing seems to be connecting?

Cry out, “O Lord. What do I do? What are You saying? What are you intending? What to You want? O Lord.”

Do you want to know how to minister to a friend who’s in need—a sister who’s calling you and saying, “My marriage is falling apart.” And you don’t know what to say—you’re not there. You can’t hear both sides of the story.

Even if you knew all the facts, you don’t know what to do. You want to know how to minister encouragement and grace? Don’t just spout your own opinions. Don’t just say, “Well, I think . . .”

Help one another get to the throne of grace, the throne of God where they can find mercy and grace to help them in their time of need by saying, “O Lord.” Effective ministry to others comes out of communion with God.

Pray about that situation. Say, “O Lord, what do I do? What’s Your perspective?” Seek Him. Listen to Him. “O Lord.”

We need to remind ourselves that ultimately the peace and the perspective and the answers we need to life’s mysteries will not be found by going to a counselor or therapist or by reading a book or by pouring out our hearts to a trusted friend.

Ultimately, the perspective, the peace, the answers we need are going to be found by going to the Wonderful Counselor, by crying out, “O Lord! O Lord!”

He says,

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? (Habakkuk 1:2–3).

In these two verses, Habakkuk asks God two fundamental questions, and they’re questions that have been asked throughout the whole history of the human race. What are those two questions?

Number one: How long? And what’s the second question? Why? How long and why. Habakkuk asks these questions repeatedly. At the end of chapter 1, he says, “Will this go on forever?” How long?

"Why?" He asks it again in verse 13 of chapter one: “Why?” Why doesn’t God hear? Why doesn’t God help? So Habakkuk finds himself dealing with the challenge of unanswered prayer and God’s apparent indifference.

God doesn’t seem to care. God doesn’t seem to be paying attention. Think of Joni Eareckson, how early after her accident, in those early days, she cried out to God, “Why? Why me?”

And she confessed to struggling with God’s silence. God didn’t write any answers in the sky. God didn’t send a recording saying, “Well, here’s what I had in mind. Here’s what I’m doing. Here’s how you should look at this.” The heavens seem to be brass.

Sometimes you pray about your mate or your child or your job or your church or your health, and you feel like your prayers are going nowhere.

“Lord, how long? How long will I keep praying, and You don’t do anything? How long am I going to cry out to You, and You’re not going to give me any answer?”

You know, there are all those promises in the Bible where God says, “Pray about it, and I’ll answer. Call unto Me, and I’ll answer.”

But isn’t true, if we’re honest, that sometimes our experience seems to contradict those promises? Be honest! Haven’t you had those times where you say, “I know what God’s Word says, but I’ve been praying. I’ve been crying out, and it doesn’t seem that God is hearing or answering my prayers.”

Then there are those times when we ask for things that seem to be clearly in line with God’s will, but nothing happens, as far as we can see. Or, perhaps, the opposite happens. You’re praying for something, and then it seems like God does just the opposite.

I remember a number of years ago where I had been praying about something along with a number of other people for a long, long time. And then, the door was totally shut, and it seemed as if God had brought an outcome that was absolutely, one hundred percent contrary to what we’d been praying and asking Him for all those months.

I can tell you that for months afterward, I could hardly read my Bible because every time I’d come to those promises about God hearing and answering prayer, I felt mocked.

Now, in my head and in my theology, I knew better than to say, “God doesn’t hear or answer prayer,” but that’s how I felt. I felt like, “Why did God put these promises in the Bible? They don’t seem to have any truth.”

So then, the next question is, “What’s the use of praying?” Why pray? Why keep on praying? Does prayer really do anything? Is it worth continuing to labor in prayer for the salvation of this husband, for the repentance of this son or daughter, for a change in this situation, for revival in my church?

It seems like nothing is happening. Habakkuk says to God, “I’m distressed by the violence and the corruption I see around me, and God I tell You about it; I cry out for help, but there’s no evidence that You’re listening, and if You are, You’re certainly not doing anything about it.”

“You will not save,” he says. You can just hear the pain in Habakkuk’s voice, the pain in his heart. His plea, “God, why won’t You do something?”

Sometimes it seems that God isn’t doing anything about the suffering, the injustice, the abuse around us. Is God oblivious? Does He even know what’s going on? And we say, “Of course He knows. He’s omniscient. He knows everything.”

Well, if He knows, doesn’t He care? Well, yes, of course. He loves and He cares. Well, if He cares, is He impotent to do anything about the situation? Well, no, He’s all powerful. Well, if He’s all powerful, why doesn’t He intervene?

You see, you get yourself in this circle of these unanswered questions, and any one of those possibilities— that God doesn’t hear or God doesn’t care or God is impotent or God is just choosing not to intervene—any one of those possibilities puts God in a pretty negative light.

It shakes up your world. Why doesn’t God save that child? Why doesn’t God change that situation?

I had a conversation not too long ago with a couple who had been in pastoral ministry. He had been a pastor for many years, and then he had heart surgery, had a near heart attack and had to have heart surgery.

As a result, he had to leave the ministry; he just physically could not get back into a place where he could handle the pressures and the strains of ministry. But they were a younger couple, and they found out he couldn’t get a job. She couldn’t get a job.

They were telling me this story together, sitting around the dinner table one night, tears welling up in her eyes as they described the depression that he had fallen into, after years of serving the Lord.

I remember hearing her say, “We felt so abandoned by God. We prayed; we cried out; we looked around; we couldn’t find answers. We felt abandoned by God.”

And isn’t that the way it is sometimes? We cry out. There’s no apparent answer, so we assume God hasn’t heard or He isn’t saving, and then we can end up disappointed with God.

We feel He’s let us down, and then sometimes, unfortunately, the next step is we start to accuse God. We put our fist in His face; we remonstrate with God; we accuse Him falsely.

And here’s where we come into the danger of falsely accusing God, the danger of accusing God, charging God with wrong doing, just because He has not met our expectations and our demands.

“God, You will not hear,” Habakkuk says. “You will not save. You idly look at wrong.” It reminds me of the story in John chapter 11, when Mary and Martha have sent for Jesus because their brother Lazarus was sick.

They knew Jesus could heal him, could do something about it, but Jesus, for unfathomable reasons, decided to stay where He was for an extra four days. By the time He arrived in Bethany, their brother had died.

First, Martha, and then Mary, say to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, this wouldn’t have happened. Our brother would still be alive.” The implication is, “Why? Why didn’t You do something? Why didn’t You care?”

There’s this sense of perhaps accusing God with wrong doing. By contrast, I think of Job chapter one. Remember when Job faced crisis after crisis after crisis in his life, one on top of the other?

The Scripture says in all this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. Now, that changed later on in the book of Job, but initially, early on, Job never charged God with wrong doing. He assumed there were things God knew that he didn’t know.

But so often, we don’t have that picture. We just have our perspective on it. We say, “Lord, don’t You care? If You’d have been here . . . why didn’t You do something?”

So we have that challenge of long-term, ongoing, unrelenting pain and problems.

Listen. Anyone can trust God with one bad day or short-term situations. But when you have long-haul suffering, it gets tough.

When you have that elderly parent who’s hanging on by a thread to life, but is in such pain. The parent is dying from cancer, who’s weak and feeble, and you say, “Lord, why don’t You take her? Why do You let her suffer on like this?

It’s the long-haul. It’s the ongoing. It’s that son or daughter who’s been away from God for years and years and has created such havoc and pain in your family. And you cry out, “How long, Lord? I keep crying out to you, Lord, but still, You don’t do anything.” It’s that “How long?” question.

“You will not hear.” Habakkuk accuses God of not listening to him. Ultimately, as we go through this book, we’ll see that Habakkuk comes to realize that he has not been listening to God.

God has been listening to him, but Habakkuk needs to learn to listen to God, and that’s what prayer really is. It’s learning to listen to God. Yes, giving Him our honest questions and then listening to what God has to say, listening to God give us His perspective.

And so, Habakkuk cries out persistently, he cries out long-term. There’s no apparent answer. Ultimately, God’s going to answer, but God says, “I’m not necessarily going to answer immediately, and I’m not going to necessarily answer in the way that you would choose.”

As we read through the book of Habakkuk, you’ll see that God never answers all of Habakkuk’s questions.

(And I hope that you’re doing that with us through these weeks. I want to encourage you not just to read it once, but to read it over and over again to grapple with the things that Habakkuk grapples with.)

It’s not that God doesn’t know the answers, but God never gives Habakkuk all the answers, and the answers God does give raise even more questions, as we’ll see as we get into chapter 1.

I want to tell you that God is not going to answer all of your questions. If you knew all the answers, you would be God, and you wouldn’t need God. God’s not going to answer all your questions, but I’ll tell you what He will do.

As you ask honest questions and then as you listen to God, He will reveal Himself to you. God gives Habakkuk a broader, eternal perspective that makes him willing to go on, able to go on, without knowing all the answers.

God wants to give you a perspective that will enable you to face your situation, to face your circumstances without knowing all the whys. Habakkuk ultimately comes to a point of being able to worship without understanding everything that is going on.

That takes faith, and the kind of faith that can worship when we don’t know the answers is what pleases God. Joni Eareckson said in those early days, “Unless I found answers, I didn’t see how this God could be worthy of my trust.”

That’s really what it comes down to, isn’t it? It’s this question: Is God worthy of my trust? Can God be trusted? I want to tell you that the answer is a resounding YES!

He can be trusted. He is worthy of your trust. And as you ask your honest questions—not accusing God, but putting yourself in a position where God can reveal Himself to you and can give you His perspective on circumstances—you will find that God really can be trusted. And then your worrying will turn to worship. No longer “Why?” but, “God, I worship You.”

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss is pointing our eyes where they need to go—even if there are unresolved issues in life, problems that won’t go away, or prayers that have gone unanswered. Nancy will be right back.

Earlier, she told a story of Joni Eareckson Tada. Nancy talked with Joni on Revive Our Hearts in a classic interview. A lot of their discussion centered on the topics we heard about today.

Joni wanted to know if God is good, why did He allow her to become a quadriplegic as a teenager. You can read the transcripts of that conversation or find out how to listen to the audio. Just visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

So many women are discovering words of life and hope through series like that one and the study of Habakkuk we heard today. We're in our 10th year of broadcasting, and listeners make this ministry possible by praying and giving.

Would you support Revive Our Hearts with a financial gift? When you donate any amount, we’ll send you a study of Habakkuk. It’s a perfect companion to Nancy’s current series and a perfect tool for your personal devotions.

It will change the way you view crises in our world and God’s goodness. Ask for the booklet Worries, Woes, and Worship when you donate over the phone, 1-800-569-5959, or donate online at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Is it okay to ask God why? Hear what Nancy thinks about that question when she again teaches from the book of Habakkuk. That’s tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts. Now, she’s back to pray.

Nancy: Lord, thank You that You don’t answer all our prayers immediately or in the time frame that we would choose or in the way that we would choose. As one writer said, "If You did, then we would be impoverished Christians."

We wouldn’t know You. We wouldn’t have faith in a way that we’re forced to develop when we can’t see all the answers. So, Lord, in our questioning, remind us that You can be trusted.

We leave the answers to You. We lay our problems, our questions, those unsolved mysteries at your feet. And we want to see even through our study of this book that You really can be trusted.

May our whining, our worrying, our stressing, our fretting, may it be turned to worship as we see You for who You really are. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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