Teach us About Unanswered Prayer
Ever since country music singer Garth Brooks sang about thanking God for unanswered prayer, people think they know all about it. They too have seen how a prayer not answered was a good thing. Well, it doesn't take any special Christian training or even a religious background to see that a prayer unanswered could be a good thing. The amazing, divine, holy thing is to see that all of our prayers should be unanswered, and yet pray anyway.
Yes, every prayer ought to go unanswered. Heaven ought to be a sealed vault to our prayers. We should see a "Do Not Disturb" sign hung on the gates of heaven. Why? How can you even ask that? We are the cause of all that happens to the holy, Son of God today. You should see yourself as the one standing their whipping Him, spitting on Him, beating Him, and mocking Him. Would you answer or even talk to someone who did those things to your child?
Jesus didn't deserve anything that He got today. The Roman governor, Pilate, said 3 separate times, "I find no guilt in Him." King Herod didn't find any guilt in Him either. More amazing still, one of the thieves hanging next to Jesus also declared Him innocent. "This man has done nothing wrong," he said. And Luke tells us the centurion in charge of the execution reached a similar conclusion, "Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, "Certainly this Man was innocent!"
Jesus was innocent, yet He suffered to, through, and in death. We're so familiar with the suffering He endured that it seems normal. In this respect the Easter pageant and movies about the crucifixion are helpful. There we just don't read or hear about the suffering, we see it. Seeing the lashes cut His back, the blows thud on His face, the thorns jammed on His head, the nails puncturing His body can make us gasp, flinch, and cringe like they should. The ramming of the spear into the dead body of Jesus still does that even when we just read or hear it. It's a curious thing that people flinch more at what is done to a dead body than what is done to a living one. A blow to the face of a corpse makes us turn away; a blow to the face of living person won't. In 1993 when a dead soldier was dragged through the streets of Somalia, we were enraged. The indignity, the horror, the outrage of it, so we shudder when the spear is jammed into the body of Jesus. But that shudder isn't enough. It's gone in an instant, and we move on to Easter.
Yes, worse than the beatings, worse than the whippings, worse than the spitting and mocking, worse than the crufcifiying, even worse than the spearing that others inflicted on Jesus is our bland reaction to His suffering. We must not mean what we sing. "Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning, was there every grief like His?" Evidently we think so, because we focus more on the griefs we bear than the griefs He bore. We mourn more over what grieves us than over what grieved Him. We despair more over the griefs, sorrows, and sadness we experience in life than we do over what Jesus experienced even though we are the cause of what He suffered.
We must be hypocrites. We sing, "My burden in Thy Passion/ Lord Thou has borne for Me./ For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee," yet we act as if we bear our own griefs and carry our own sorrows. We act as if what we experience in our lives is payment for our sins even though Scripture says that God has not reward us according to our sins and does not treat us as our sins deserve. We sing, "Whence comes these sorrows, whence this mortal anguish?/ Yea, all the wrath, the woe, Thou dost inherit,/ This I do merit," yet we act like we merit God answering all our prayers. We're offended when God doesn't do what we ask Him. We're upset when heaven seems closed to our prayers, yet who among us would open even an earthly door to someone who had hurt our child? How would we treat the person who killed him, torturing him before they did?
If we believed that our sins caused the horror and hell Jesus went through on Good Friday, we would never expect our prayers to be answered. If I know that I have wronged you, am I surprised that you won't help me? If I know that I have hurt you, do I even have the gall to come to you at all? We don't believe that our sins caused God the Son to suffer; that's why we get upset when our prayers are not answered the way we want them to be. We don't believe that our lust, our hatred, our greed, our pride are the only cause of Jesus' sufferings; that's why we think God is letting us down when we pray for days, weeks or months and He does nothing. We don't believe we are the cause of Jesus' suffering, sighing, bleeding and dying; that's why we feel wronged when our prayers aren't answered like we think they should be.
How dare I expect God to send me anything but lightening bolts and judgment in response to my prayers! How dare I think God does me wrong when He doesn't lessen my griefs and sorrows. How do you feel towards a child who acts like you did them wrong when their own wrongdoings have caused them to suffer? How do you respond to a child who has sinned against you but still think he or she has a right to expect help, comfort, or support from you? Why do we think we unholy parents are right to turn a deaf ear to our sinful children, and yet the Holy Father is not right to turn a deaf ear to our prayers?
Now you know why this Friday has been called Black. Here we see what monsters the sins we call pets really are. Here we see what wrath and judgment the sins we take for granted deserve. Here we see what it means to be forsaken by God. Yet, who's the only One suffering? We may feel in the hospital forsaken by God, yet here we see the only one God has ever forsaken: His Son. We may think we're seeing what our sins deserve in the results of a medical test, yet on this skull shaped hill is the only place God shows us what our sins deserve. We may feel our monstrous pet sins have caused heaven to be cold and closed to us, but here we see the only time and place that God the Father ever shut and bolted His doors and it's not to us but to His only beloved Son. And now you know why Christians have called this Friday Good.
Yes, yes my dear friends every single one of our prayers, our pleas, our groans and moans ought to be unheeded, unheard, unanswered, because we are the cause of the blackness on this Friday, but all of our prayers are heeded, heard, and answered because of this Friday. The opposite of what happened to Jesus happens to us because while He had all our sins we have all His righteousness. He got the locked doors; we get the open ones. He got our judgment we get the justice He deserved. He got the wrath and woe; we get the grace and glory. He paid for the forgiveness we don't deserve; we get the forgiveness the holy Son of God didn't need.
Someone needing to die to save the rest is found in pagan cultures too. Some cultures killed beautiful, young people to appease the anger of the gods. Other cultures killed ugly, deformed people to do turn away the wrath of the gods. The truth behind these errors is that God took a perfect Man and loaded Him with all the sins of mankind making Him, as 2 Corinthians says, "to be sin," to be the most ugly, deformed, repulsive Man ever. On Him, in Him, through Him was payment made for the sins of the entire ugly, deformed, repulsive world. Therefore, God is not and does not go bill collecting in hospital rooms, funeral homes, or in the lives of His people. All accounts were paid in full, were overpaid on this Friday called Good when God the Son shouted once and for all, "It is finished!"
Any reason the heavenly Father had or would have for turning away from your prayers has been removed, paid for, taken away on the cross. Go to Calvary's mournful mountain. See all the sinners there. There are church leaders speaking blaspheme. There are soldiers gambling over the clothes of God the Son. There are thieves guilty and deserving punishment. There are the women who followed Jesus and yet didn't believe that He would rise from the dead. Yet, none of them are struck by the wrath of God. Heaven is closed to none of them. The only One struck is Jesus. He's the lightening rod for the wrath of God. Divine wrath strikes Him again and again, and strikes no one but Him. Not the wicked church leaders, not the guilty thieves, not the unbelieving women, not you or me.
So when you're tempted to think you're not worthy to pray or that you don't deserve to be answered, know that's true. You aren't worthy to pray. You're a sinner who can never do enough to please God. Your sins do deserve only silence. But God never told you to pray in your name, but in the holy name of Jesus. You never were suppose to be praying because you were worthy but because Jesus is. You never were suppose to pray because you deserve to be answered but because Jesus deserves to be. You never were suppose to approach God in your holiness but in the holiness of Jesus which is yours in Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion. What will the heavenly Father not do for holy people? What good thing will God withhold from people who are clothed in the holiness of His Son especially given how much it cost the Father to give them that holiness?
Don't you value what you have paid a large sum for? Don't you take care of things that have cost you a great deal? Don't you keep them in a safe place? What if something had cost you the life of your child? Can't imagine that can you? I know I can't. The closest I can come is to think of my child having given up his life so others could live. The lives of the people he saved would be especially precious to me. I mean if my child had thought so much of them that he or she was willing to die for them, I couldn't help but feel special toward them too. If they asked for help and I could give it, I would. Wouldn't you?
Our heavenly Father can help in every need, in every situation, in more ways than you have ever dreamed possible. His only beloved Son having given up His life to spare yours, certainly makes you special to Him. The Blood of His Son is precious to Him, isn't it? Surely those washed by that Blood in Baptism, covered by that Blood in Absolution, and fed by that Blood in Communion must be precious to Him too? The Body of God the Son must be precious to God the Father. Can He turn away from that Body? Can He turn a deaf ear to that Body now that He has finished doing every thing He had asked Him? Then those joined to His Body in Baptism, those taking shelter in His Body through Absolution done in His name, and those taking His Body into their very bodies through Communion never have to be afraid God the Father will turn away from them or their prayers.
Yes, dear friends there is every reason in the world for God not to answer our prayers outside of Jesus, but there is none inside of Him. The Waters of Baptism, the Words of Absolution, and the Body and Blood of Jesus in Communion all pledge, promise, testify, and seal that you are most certainly in God the Son; therefore, rest assured today and everyday till that unending day of heaven that God the Father hears every prayer you speak, think, or sigh answering better than you pray or even dream. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Good Friday (3-29-02)