Help for Today — Hope for Tomorrow
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[Gary Petty] In the difficult times when it seems like God isn’t listening, don’t give up.
Have you ever poured out your heart to God struggling in the depths of despair? Maybe it’s you are praying for a sick child or you want to save your marriage and there is nothing but silence.
It not only seems that God isn’t answering your prayer it feels like He just doesn’t care.
Have you ever felt that way? There’s a few of you shaking your heads yes. Truth is, all Christians or most Christians feel that way but we’re really ashamed to say it. For you to have a deeper relationship with God you have to learn to deal with the times when it feels like God just isn’t answering your prayers and you are having a crisis of faith. Jesus gave a parable about prayer that when you first read it it seems rather strange. In this parable he talks about a judge who “does not fear God nor regard man.”
This judge doesn’t care about God or His laws or His ways. He doesn’t care about humans beings. He doesn’t care about the people that are brought before him. He sure doesn’t care about the civil law. He doesn’t care about justice. He’s in it for himself and in this parable a widow comes to this man and she has a just case, she has a fair case. Someone is breaking the law and taking advantage of her. He’s abusing her. And the judge ignores her. So here’s what she does, she goes back again and again and again and again. Now we don’t know why he wasn’t answering. Maybe she didn’t have the money for a bribe, maybe he just didn’t care about widows and poor people. But finally the judge says, “Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.”
Now imagine for a minute you’re part of the crowd that’s hearing Jesus give this story. I mean you have to be thinking, what’s His point? What is His point? Now let’s read what Jesus said because He gives this parable and this then is what He tells the crowd. “Hear what the unjust judge said.” Now wait a minute, the point is I want you to hear what the unjust judge said. You’re going to be thinking wow, what’s He doing here what’s He saying?
And then He says this. “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?” He bears long with them. Now to really understand this parable we have to go to a comment that’s made in the book of Luke, in the Gospel of Luke before the parable. Now Luke is a very interesting person. He wasn’t there. He wasn’t there when Jesus gave the parable. Luke years later gathers all the stories about Jesus and he gathers all the parables and all the teachings and he writes them down. And every once in a while he writes a little commentary about something Jesus said. And so what you find is at the beginning of this parable here is what Luke writes. “Then He [speaking of Jesus] spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart.” Always ought to pray and not lose heart. You see this parable is about those times when we need to remember. Those difficult times when it seems like God isn’t answering. In this parable Jesus isn’t saying that God is like the unjust judge. That’s not what he’s saying. Jesus is teaching that corrupt judges can sometimes do good especially when people are persistent. Since that is true, how much more will our loving Father respond to those who cry out to Him day and night?
And really this brings us to the point of the parable. First point in what we want to talk about today.
According to this parable God expects us to cry out. It’s a very active emotional action. To cry out to Him day and night. There’s a lot of lessons actually we can get from this parable. That we can derive from what Jesus said.
First, God is not interested in prayers from pamphlets or things that we just repeat over and over and over again. Meaningless words. God, what He wants from us is crying out. He wants heartfelt sincere prayer because we are trusting Him. We are turning to Him, we are seeking something from Him. Here’s how Jesus then finished that parable. He says, and I want to repeat this one line He says. “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:7-8)
Jesus’ concern is that in difficult times, when times are rough, when those times come when it seems like God isn’t answering or God doesn’t care we will give up on God. That’s the point. That’s His concern. Why is it so easy for us to give up on God? We do it all the time. We don’t like to admit it again but we do it.
Part of it is our human weaknesses. But another part of it is that we do not know how to relate to God. Now that seems like a strange thing. I mean how do I relate to God? Now let’s think about this for a minute. God is interested in you relating to Him as God. We talk about relationships and we always talk about our relationship with God. And you know in a relationship we have individuals who relate to each other. They share interests; they trust each other; they understand each other. And in our interaction with God we are obsessed with God relating to us and that’s natural. Maybe I’m the only one who does that. I’m obsessed with God relating to me. I need God to relate to me, I want God to relate to me, but how much time do you spend in and energy and effort trying to relate to God as He really is?
How you answer that question has a lot to do with how we respond to God when it seems like He isn’t answering our prayers. Now I really want to expand on this idea of relating to God, but first let me draw your attention to our study guide. Now all of you received one when you came in. And it’s called “Tools for Spiritual Growth.” Now for those who are watching you can get your free copy of this study guide by calling the number on the bottom of your screen or going to beyondtoday.tv where you can download it, where you can order it.
Go to page 8. Because as we talk about unanswered prayer or what feels like unanswered prayer we can’t cover all that in this short period of time. On page 8 you’re going to see a little box in here. This is an important Bible study and if you look the heading says “God has conditions for answered prayer.” In other words, when there are times when we feel like and it seems like God isn’t answering there may be reasons. There are reasons and this study helps you go through those reasons. Now we’re not going to be able to cover all this. So be sure and take your study guide home and if you want one be sure and get a copy and you can continue the study on what we’re talking about today.
Now our first point in coping with times when God doesn’t seem to answer prayer is from Jesus Parable of the Persistent Widow that you must persevere in prayer. But how do we persevere if we don’t understand God? How can we in our weaknesses understand the Almighty God? How can we relate to this transcendent Being? Well we’re going to come back to the Parable about the Persistent Widow but first I’m going to look at another teaching from Jesus Christ about prayer. Now this one is in the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount the most famous sermon of Jesus. It’s recorded in Matthew. In fact Jesus gives a number of teachings about prayer. Important teachings about prayer. I want to zero in on just a couple of verses here that have to do with how we relate to God. Now when you read through this you might not think wait a minute, this has to do with relationships? Yes. So okay I have to relate to this transcended God and be persistent. Oh, what’s that mean? He lives forever. I’m in this little space in time and I’m supposed to relate to that? Okay, here’s what Jesus said. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8). Ask, seek, and knock are all aspects as to how we relate to God. This is our approach to God. Ask. You know God expects us to ask Him. Remember in the parable of the persistent widow it’s about crying out day and night. We can’t approach God and say well He knows everything so why should I even ask Him. That’s not relating. Ask.
If you take notes I want you to write this down. If you are taking notes I want you to write this down. Ask. How does asking have to do with relating to God? Okay. Listen. We ask Him because we are acknowledging our smallness and relating to His greatness. When you’re asking this isn’t about equals, right? Let me repeat it. We ask Him because we are acknowledging our smallness and relating to His greatness. Jesus said ask. Go to the great God. You have to understand your smallness and His greatness before you go before Him.
Then He said seek. Seek is a very powerful word. It’s a verb. It doesn’t mean to sort of casually look around. To seek something it takes effort, it takes work, it takes desire. So write this down. We seek Him because we admit that we do not know. We seek Him because we admit that we do not understand. We seek Him because we need Him.
See we ask because we are relating to His greatness and our smallness. We seek, we seek Him because we admit we do not know. We seek Him because we admit that we do not understand. We seek Him because we need Him.
We’re told to knock. Now knocking on the door doesn’t mean you and I go up and we just pound until we get God’s attention and then God says okay, okay you’re bothering me I’ll give you an answer. That’s not the point. It means that we are persistent and keep knocking. This ties back into the Parable of the Widow. We keep knocking. Why do we keep knocking? Why? Is it because God just likes you to knock? Is it because, why would you keep knocking? Now this is real important. Here’s why you keep knocking. Write this one down. We knock because there’s no other place to go. Where are you going to go? You are before the door that leads to God. I’m going to go find another answer to my problem. I’m going to go seek something else or someone else. You keep knocking because there’s no other place to go. Now you’re relating to God. You’ve moved beyond give me, give me, give me to I wish to know you. I wish to know you. You know just asking, seeking and knocking that’s our feeble little way of trying to relate to God and Jesus says do this. Ask, seek. Very active. Ask, seek, and knock.
Now, let’s go back and finish what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount on this subject. He says “… what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11) The point is we as parents give good things to our children, how much more will God give us good things? He doesn’t say God will give us everything we want. He does not say that. He will give us good things.
If your 5 year old son or 5 year old grandchild said you know, what I really want is a bowie knife what parent or grandparent is going to say oh yes! Let me go buy you a bowie knife! Here, go out and play with the kids in the back yard. No parent is going to do that. It’s not good for the child, right? When you ask God for a bowie knife and you’re 5 years old He’s not going to give it to you. Remember that. He said He’s going to give us good things. He doesn’t say I’m going to give you everything you want. And this means at the core of asking, seeking and knocking must be a trust that God will do what is best for us even when we don’t understand, even when His answer is not what we want. Even when it seems He isn’t answering.
That brings us to our second point. Our second point, you must seek God’s will and have faith in His answers.
Now I say seek God’s will and that’s very important. I didn’t say seek God’s help. Of course we’re seeking God’s help. You know we’re crying out day and night. It’s one thing to seek God’s help it’s another thing to seek God. I seek God to give me a new car. Okay, that’s not seeking God that’s seeking a new car. Ah well that’s a hard one. I’m seeking God’s healing. You’re not seeking God you’re seeking God’s healing. It’s not wrong to do those things but it’s not the same thing. In other words it’s not relating to God. Only when we seek God Himself and He reveals to us something about Himself that we can trust His answers.
As long as we’re seeking the things if we don’t get them we don’t trust Him. As long as we’re seeking the answer we want, when we don’t get it we don’t trust God. We have to seek God.
The older I get the more I appreciate the Psalms. Here David just pours out himself all the time in these poems and these songs before God and it’s like I have nothing to hide, you know everything so he just pours it out. And he prays to God and he struggles with God all the time. He’s not ashamed any more to struggle with God he just does it. And there is a fascinating couple of verses in Psalm 27. Now I want you to really really think about what David says here. He says, “Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice! Have mercy also upon me, and answer me.” (Psalms 27:7)
He’s crying out day and night. David’s in one of those situations that we’re talking about. He’s in one of those situations where he is crying out to God and he’s not getting an answer. He doesn’t understand. Why aren’t you answering me? Please hear me. I’m just crying out to you. And God gives him an answer. Oh good, God must give him exactly what he is asking for. And here’s what God’s answer was. “Seek My face.” Seek my face? Hey, I’m seeking out because there is an army invading my country. I’m a king here. What do you mean seek my face? And David’s response is “My heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.” (Psalms 27:8)
Before David received an answer from God he had to seek, God seek my face, that’s one of the most personal statements made in the entire Bible, isn’t it? “Seek My face.” Look at me. Do you ever have little children do that? My grandchildren do that. If I’m not giving them enough attention pretty soon I get a little hand and they turn me towards them and make me look right in the eyes. Right? Grandpa seek my face.
God said to David “Seek My face.” He says but you’re not answering my prayers. You’re not seeking My face. Seek Me. And you’ll get an answer. He wants us to know His ways. He wants us to who He is in the little way that we can. He wants us to know His purposes. God isn’t interested in us having a lot of theological abstract ideas about who He is. He wants you to know Him personally and intimately. God wants you to know Him personally and intimately. And what we want is an answer. Now there’s a little cross purposes here isn’t there? I want an answer from God all the time. You’ve got to seek My face. I can do that later, would you do this for me right now? Okay seek My face. And it’s one of those personal statements in the Bible. It’s made by God, for us.
Our response? Ask, seek, and knock.
Now there’s still an aspect of the Parable of the Persistent Widow that we haven’t answered. Why does God make us wait? I’m going to remind you about a study aid that we’re giving out called “Tools for Spiritual Growth.” If you’re watching, call the number on the bottom of your screen and get a copy. It’s free. So you can follow along. Or go to beyondtoday.tv and this will help you, take you further than what we’re going to be able to cover today.
And we’ve seen in the Parable of the Persistent Widow Jesus’s teaching to continually pray and not give up when it seem like God isn’t answering. We’ve also seen that we must ask, seek and knock in our approach to God. And we’re still left with the question, why does God sometimes make us wait? Let’s go back to that Parable of the Persistent Widow and I want to reread something that we’ve already read that Jesus said. “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:7-8)
The transcendent God is outside of our little view of space and time. And so there is a lapse. There is a difference between His response time and our response time. You know when you tell a child uh wait a minute, they think they’re going to die. How long is a minute? 60 seconds. 60 seconds, I’m going to die! That’s exactly the way we are with God.
Let me show you a picture this is by the famous painter Seurat, you’ve probably all seen this before. I remember the first time I saw picture this in the Chicago in the Art Institute of Chicago. My oldest daughter was a teenager at the time and we went in to see it and of course it covers almost the entire wall and we both walked in, we’d seen it in pictures in books and we both went whooooooaa! And the guard came over and said if you’re both not quiet I’m going to have to ask you to leave. So we almost got kicked out of the museum.
Now you know this is famous of course for this unique style that he has, this unique style of painting but I want you to look at the story. What a remarkable story. People talk about this story. You can make up stories. There’s people walking, there’s people – there’s a guy playing a trumpet, there’s some soldiers in there, there’s a woman over here fishing, there’s people rowing a boat. What a remarkable story, right? But you know with this painting style as you walk towards this in the museum it changes. The smaller the picture the more distorted it becomes because he painted with dots. So it’s like well, that’s not the picture at all. That’s my little view. In fact you get close enough and that’s what you see. This, when we’re in despair, that’s our view. God’s view is the painting because He’s the painter. God’s the painter. God’s the painter.
We see the little part that we’re involved in and then we say why aren’t you acting the way I want you to act. And this brings us to really our third point here.
He’s the painter we’re not. We’re part of the painting. And as part of the painting we keep telling the painter uh, I don’t like this. Oh no this is good! Wait’ll you see the whole thing. But we can’t see the whole thing so we question and we question.
You know when we really get this, we understand He has a greater purpose because He’s a painter, He’s doing this grand work then sometimes the answers to our prayers is wait. And sometimes the answer to our prayer is no. That’s what’s hard for us. What do you mean no? I’m working with a painting here okay? If you could see what I’m doing, but we can’t see that. We see the dots. That’s our life.
I really learned this lesson for the first time early in my ministry. I had a friend of mine dying from stomach cancer. And I knew God was going to heal him. I knew it and I would go visit him and I would drive to see him and we would talk and I would encourage him because that’s what I’m supposed to do. I’m a minister. I go and I encourage him and I help him because he’s dying. He thinks he’s going to die but God’s going to help him.
One day I drove in and I was really thinking about it and I drove and I got to his house and I sat down with him and we talked a little bit. Small talk. And finally I said you know, the answer might be no. I’d never thought of that before. To my surprise he smiled and he said I’ve been waiting for you to figure that out. I’ve known the answer from God was no for quite a while and you’re the one who would not accept it. He says I’ve accepted it. You wouldn’t accept it. All I could see was the little dots. I couldn’t see the bigger picture. I didn’t understand what God was doing.
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So let’s recap the points that we talked about today. We talked about you must persevere in prayer. We have to cry out day and night. God expects us. This life in relationship to the great God is not easy and it’s not fair. Never will be.
You must seek God’s will and have faith in His answers. By seeking God’s will I mean you have to seek Him. Seek God. Not just what we want. And then three, you must accept that God has a greater picture, a much greater picture and we’re just looking at a little piece of it. And we have to be comfortable to know that the Great Painter knows exactly what He’s doing and we don’t. In the difficult times when it seems like God isn’t listening don’t give up and remember God’s desire when He told David “Seek My Face.”
[Narrator] Please call for the booklet offered on today’s program “Tools For Spiritual Growth.” It will help you learn to pray meaningful prayers to God, how to meditate effectively, how to use tools like fasting and fellowship in your personal Bible study to actively discern God’s will for you. Order now. Call toll free 1-888-886-8632 or write to the address shown on your screen. When you order this study aid you’ll learn what the Scriptures reveal about how you can grow in spiritual strength and build a personal relationship with your Creator. When you order this free study aid we’ll also send you a complimentary one year subscription to our Beyond Today magazine. Six times a year you’ll read about current world events in the light of Bible prophecy as well as practical knowledge to improve your marriage and family. Call today to receive your free booklet “Tools For Spiritual Growth” and your free one year subscription to Beyond Today magazine.