God answers prayer.

The subject of prayer encompasses so many things and could take many more posts to work through what it can entail! When you think of prayer perhaps you think of engaging with God, talking to Him, thanking Him, asking Him questions. Maybe you think of what happens to you when you pray- you have peace, the strength to keep going, a growing faith, understanding more of who God is and getting to know Him in a deeper way. These are all the parts that play in that time where we converse with the One who created us, who provided life for us and will always be with us to engage with! Sometimes, we may question or wrestle with whether our prayers have been heard, especially those ones that seem to go unanswered. We may ask ourselves ‘Is He really listening to me?’, ‘Does He hear my prayers?’, ‘Does He answer them?’ For this post, I want to write a little about prayers and their answers.

 This is a photo I took this weekend in Queenstown. I love the colours and it reminds me of how some things are clear to us at times and other things are not. All can be beautiful and appreciated in their various ways.

I didn’t know what to title this post. One of the ideas I had to call it was When God answers prayers, but then I thought that actually…. perhaps…..God always answers our prayers. Does He? I got to thinking more about how the answer might look different to what I thought it would be or from what I had asked for. Sometimes, He answers those specific prayers and we receive that very thing we have brought before Him. Other times, He might have said ‘no’ and that is an answer too, although at times not one that we really want. And what about those prayers that haven’t been answered yet? The seeds of doubt of trying to creep in as to whether God is listening to all those heart felt prayers, poured out and doused in tears? I remember at one stage, feeling like I was in a sea of questions, drowning in them and feeling like God’s hand was the only thing I could hold on to in such confusing times. All the prayers spoken, uttered, cried, and even when there has been no words to possibly express those things. What about those prayers? Did He or will He answer them all? I don’t have the answers to those questions but I have faith that God does have the answers….. and I see a bit of what happens to me in that time of asking and supplication. Oh that we would see more and more of that around us too, as we list off our questions and speak them out amoung all those praying alongside of us.

I’m sure that each one of us have stories of how God answered a particular prayer, leaving us amazed at who God is and excited for what He can do. It concretes our faith in Him and reminds us that He is trustworthy to follow and lean into. We have those ‘big’ prayers and the ‘small’ ones too- the ones that seem impossible to answer and the ones that could almost go a miss. One of my bigger stories includes how I came to New Zealand. As I mentioned before (and in the post, An Unexpected Journey) I was in a sea of many questions and prayers, asking for answers and relief! It was tough and it was overwhelming. However, it is what God did within my heart and my trust deepening in Him. I began to see the ways in which God provided. Ways that I didn’t imagine or expect and they are so much more than I could have asked for. He answered those prayers in the way He saw best. He gave me relief and that sea became especially peaceful as the waves smoothed out for a time to experience those unexpected answers. Take the time to think about those stories along your journey, it will deepen your faith as you know only such a powerful, all knowing God could have done that. No coincidence enters the equation. 

But what about the times that He says ‘no’? Is that an answer to our prayers too? Perhaps you have a story for that one as well. Maybe it’s a little painful to remember, or you might even be thanking God that He didn’t answer it in the way that you thought! I’ve definitely had those times. I’ll refer once again to that confusing time and some of the prayers I had then. It became clear that God was giving me a ‘no’ and wow, am I so very thankful!!!!! I wouldn’t want to be in that position that I had been praying about! I can see God’s protection in so many ways. Can you think of a similar situation you have had? Hindsight is great and I guess one of the things that I have learned is that God’s ‘no’ can deepen our trust in Him too, even if we don’t understand it now or ever on earth! I am reminded of Jesus in the garden, the night before He was crucified, the words He uttered- that pain filled prayer. Not my will, but yours. Even the Son of God exemplified surrendering to the yes’ and the no’s of our Heavenly Father. I don’t think I’m the only one out there who doesn’t particularly like to be told ‘no’. But what if I had the mindset of Jesus on the night He was betrayed, your will, Lord, not mine. Would it make it easier for me to accept that answer? Would it draw me into the arms of a loving Father and not running away seeking ways to answer those prayers in our own way? Would it continue to deepen my trust and my faith in God? Would it help me to understand more that I’m a finite and limited being, serving an infinite and unlimited, big, powerful God? That His answers to my prayers are THE ANSWERS, not a plan B or suggestion, not a trick or something that will destroy. Always for my good and always for His will.

And here we seek the answers for all of those unanswered prayers. What is your unanswered prayer right now? I think we always have one up our sleeve, or in a tear drenched tissue. If we didn’t always have something to bring before God, then we would probably not give two thoughts to Him and continue on in figuring out what to do, where to go, who to be with, all on our own. In our finite and limited ways. Wow, I’m so thankful that I can go to a God who is bigger than me to answer those things! The struggle I have in the times of waiting for an answer, is not to lose faith or sight of who He is. He is the God of promises, promises to provide. He is the God of love, love that knows no bounds. He is the God who hears us, hears all of our thoughts and yearnings. He is the God of wisdom and with that wisdom, love, provision He hears our prayers and He answers them. Today, tomorrow, years from now, eternally. I hold onto the knowledge that God won’t continually leave us in a sea that is overwhelming, restless, unknowing. He will one day answer those things. He will one day wipe every tear as it says in Revelation. I think of Hannah in the Bible and how she prayed and prayed for a son. She poured out her heart despite how it looked to others. She continuously handed it over to God, she did not look elsewhere for those answers or manipulate the situation. She poured out her heart and she trusted. God did answer her, He did bring her that relief. As I think about her example in this. I know that I can still continue to pour out my heart. That it is actually ok to cry and really care about what you are praying for. That trusting God will always bring us peace, no matter if we ever see the results of that prayer in this lifetime. We can take comfort that God does hear our prayers. They don’t bounce back down to earth, or we don’t have work towards being good enough for them to be heard. We only have to surrender our will to His.

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 1 John 5.14

Because I find myself often in the third category, I have recently been writing out all my prayers requests. How encouraging and faith building this is when looking back on all those answers. The ‘yes’, the ‘no’ and the ‘not yets’. It reminds me to thank God for each one of them and be mindful that He is always at work, around me and within me. And as we utter and wrestle from one prayer to the next, remember that He does hear and He does care. He does answer.

Becoming Weaker. 

Recently, we have been talking about Lent at church. Growing up in Ireland, it is a word or practice that is not uncommon to me. I must admit I have never gone 40 days with out anything! But as the days build up to Easter, I have been thinking about what it might mean for us. What is the first thing that we think of when we think about Lent? Usually, it means to go without something…but for what exactly? What is our motive or aim in doing this? Is it to draw closer to God, it is to try and understand more about Him and ourselves? Is it for a personal accomplishment? Is it to lose weight? (Don’t tell me that that never crossed your mind as the days before lent you stuffed your face with every junk food imaginable!) Does God call us to participate in it? We do read a lot about fasting in the Bible and I encourage you to seek them out too, as I do believe it is something that helps us to be intentional in knowing and seeking the Lord.

So this whole going without thing? Is it just food? Is it from certain past times? Watching Netflix? Reading a good mystery book? God forbid, don’t say it…. Social Media!!!! I guess that is up to you to decide and if the whole point of going without is to be intentional in using that time to be more mindful of God, it is probably going to be the thing that has the most strong hold on you or takes up most of your time (or thought life!). I suppose it isn’t suppose to be easy. In fact, its going to be really tough and we are going to have some weak moments. For this post, I want us to have a little think about what happens to us during that time of going without and to also take a look at Jesus’ example to us in this.

Last week I showed a clip to the church called Becoming Weaker. In it, we hear of this man share his thoughts on our own weakness and powerlessness. We hear about how life comes from surrender and that we cannot do it on our own, we need a Saviour in fact. We are reminded that our powerlessness, our fragility is not an evil but can be used to connect with God and with others around us too. It is an experience of vulnerability and how being vulnerable requires that honesty to say I need help! This clip might makes us question if brokenness or weakness is really a bad thing, or is it something good, if it draws us closer to a very powerful God. This video clip also reminds me of the verses of 2 Cor 12.9 and 10 where it says:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore (Paul says) I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Indeed the Bible is filled with passages about brokenness and I encourage you to seek them out too! However, as I was thinking about the subject of weakness, I began to think of Jesus’ example to us in this. Jesus was fully God and man, and in his humanity, we see a glimpse into his physical weakness, such as when He was forty days in the desert. As we were saying before lent can be a time where we go without, so that we aren’t distracted by some of the things around us or in our lives. And this is a little of what we see here as Jesus removes himself to be alone, and He goes for forty days without food. (I can barely go half a day without food, and thinking that I’m going to die of hunger!) In Matthew 4.1-11, we read about this time in the wilderness and it gives us a picture of what Jesus faced and did during that time of physical weakness. 

Here we are told that Jesus was fasting for 40 days and nights. He was hungry and there was certainly not the distraction of the crowds like he might have been used to. You can imagine the physical weakness one might have felt without food to give them energy. During this time, we hear of Jesus being tempted several times. First to make the stones turn to bread to satisfy that hunger. Second to throw Himself off and see if God would save Him. And lastly, He was tempted with power and wealth if He was to worship Satan and not God. Even as Jesus was fasting, there was still the temptation to distract himself from God. In that weakness, we could be tempted to satisfy that hunger, to test God or even to worship something else other than God. But as we look to Jesus’ perfect example, what did He do in his physical weakness? Two things especially stood out to me. He responded by getting past the physical needs that Satan was concerned with and as Jesus usually did he got to the point- the things that really are important. He tells Satan that ‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ That food may satisfy our needs momentarily but it is God’s words of truth that satisfy us! And to live by them! It is nourishing and it sustains us in our walk with the Lord. 

The second thing that stood out to me, was when He was tempted to worship Satan who promised him temporary things of this world-power, wealth being some of them. But Jesus saw beyond the lies of those deceitful promises. He said ” You shall worship the Lord our God and him you shall only serve.” Jesus pointed to the one who was worthy of our worship. He knew that worshipping another would not lead to being filled or satisfied. He knew it wouldn’t be lasting. But He knew what was everlasting. And as we see here, even in a physical weakness, it drew Him to God. He knew of what was really important in life, despite the distraction or the temptation to get caught up in other things. In this, we can learn that in our weakness, we can go to the source of truth, power and meaning and be fulfilled through the one who is worthy of our worship! That in our powerlessness and fragility, we need God, we need a Saviour!

So with that in mind, what is lent? It is going without, trying to get away from the things that distract us from what’s most important- spending time with God. So whether, its an hour, a day, a week or even forty days that you have put aside, go to that place where you can find nourishment and fulfilment in Him. What will happen to you during that time? You will probably become weaker… you will face the temptations to satisfy that temporary need or to give your time to another. But in your weakness, you can rely on the Lord’s strength to help you! What do you do in this time? You worship the one who is worthy of your time, energy, mind and strength! 
And what would be some of the things that would be difficult for me to give up…. Coffee and Chocolate. This is probably what I would look like on like Day2 of 40!