Questions people ask 3
Why Don’t You Answer My Prayers? by Tom Osborn
Why Don’t You Answer My Prayers?
Intro: Please turn with me to the Book of Malachi, chapter Two. This morning we’re continuing on in our series of messages from the Book of Malachi which we’ve entitled, “Questions People Ask.” Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. At it’s core it’s a beautiful love letter from God to His people. God calling out to His people - calling for them to trust Him with their lives. In Malachi there is a dialogue between God and His people. During that dialogue there are a series of questions that the people ask God - questions that people today are asking God. As we’ve been going through Malachi we’ve been looking at these questions. This morning we’re coming to the third of these “Questions People Ask.”
Bring up the subject of divorce today and people get nervous. The tragedy of a broken marriage however can have severe impact on our children, our culture, and our faith. Marriage is a sacred relationship, not a secular one! We need to understand it as such, and the world needs to see it as such. The world’s attitude toward marriage is NOTHING like the Christian’s view!
Two men were talking about the upcoming wedding for one of them. The engaged one says to his friend, "You know, it’s odd, but now that I’m actually engaged I’m starting to fell nervous about getting married." His buddy responds, "I know what you’re saying, it’s only natural to be nervous, marriage is a big commitment, 7 or 8 years can be a long time!" –
The most fundamental relationship created by God outside of our relationship with Him is our relationship to our spouse. So critical is a right relationship in marriage that an improper relationship with a spouse can actually hinder our prayers!
The Bible teaches that our marriage must be healthy for our spiritual life to be healthy. One affects the other! So people ask God, “Why don’t you answer our prayers?” The answer has more to do with our unfaithfulness than anything else. So let’s look at this question and God’s response this morning. But first, let’s pray.
I. The Problem of IRRESPONSIBLE Relationships – 2:10-12
A. Profane PEOPLE 2:10
Mal. 2:10 – “Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another?”
1. The problem of divorce was common in Malachi’s day.
a) It had become more of a civil institution than a sacred one … and when this happened it wasn’t taken seriously.
b) We face this same problem today!
2. Once it is NOT viewed as sacred then the door opens for experimenting with it.
a) As in our culture today, people will often live together first to see if it "works" for them.
b) Yet any deviation from God’s plans for marriage will always be less than ideal!
3. ILLUS: According to an article by Felicity Barringer of the New York Times, trial marriages do not increase the chance of a marriage lasting or being successful. In fact, those who live together before marriage, separate and divorce in significantly greater numbers than those who go directly to the altar. -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
4. In Malachi’s day the people of God had taken their marriages lightly, and they had no problem marrying unbelievers or getting divorces.
a) The failure to view marriage as sacred will produce this kind of attitude.
b) Stripped of a spiritual context marriage is nothing more than another civil contract, sometimes they last, sometimes they don’t.
5. Israel in Malachi’s day had broken faith with one another in marriage.
a) The only thing viewed as sacred was their prayer life at the temple.
b) They had compartmentalized their spirituality.
B. The Problem Of TOMORROW. 2:11-12
Mal. 2:11-12 – “Judah has broken faith. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves, by marrying the daughter of a foreign god. 12As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the Lord cut him off from the tents of Jacob--even though he brings offerings to the Lord Almighty.”
1. Marrying an unbeliever was forbidden by the law of God, yet they had no problem showing up for worship at the Temple of God in spite of it.
a) What they believed and how they behaved didn’t always match up!
b) Tragically, what they didn’t realize was that such marriages meant that their children would be drawn to other gods by these unbelieving spouses and the future for them as God’s people would one day be in doubt if this continued!
c) The vast record of history reveals that "missionary" marriages usually drag the believer down rather than raise the unbeliever up to the believing status!
d) Such a sacred union should be just that, "SACRED."
2. Idols can be fickle, and marriages based on this world will be also.
3. How different God’s concept of marriage is from this world, He teaches us to love our spouse for a lifetime.
a) Quote: “A successful marriage is the result of falling in love often -- with the same person.” -- Croft M. Pentz, The Complete Book of Zingers (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990).
4. God was concerned with what would happen to Israel’s posterity if they continued these flimsy marriages of being unequally yoked.
a) We often fail to consider the impact divorce has on children, yet it can affect them for a long time!
b) ILLUS: In her book Second Chances, published in 1989 by Ticknor and Fields, California psychologist Judith S. Wallerstein reports that divorce is devastating to children. She studied one hundred children for more than a decade and concluded that almost half were afflicted with anger, anxiety, and low self-esteem when they entered adult life. -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
c) It wasn’t just the couples at the time God was concerned with, but the future of the institution of marriage and the identity of God’s people as a sacred people.
d) We don’t fix the problem of tomorrow with a legislative act, it comes from devoted love in a marriage!
5. It is tragic that the divorce rate in the Church is the same as in the world, this really should not be!
a) Perhaps we need to teach more on the sacredness of marriage!
b) We certainly need to provide strong models of marriages for our children who will see other weaker models in our society.
6. There’s a consequence. They can’t keep doing this and still come and worship as one of God’s people. This is serious sin we’re talking about.
7. God did not just want their attendance at the temple, nor their offerings in worship if they were unwilling to take seriously their marriage vows! 2:12
a) The same is true today, we cannot just show up for Church and cry out to God and offer up our sacrifices … there must be real substance to the way we live outside of Church!
b) It is critical that our theology has legs to it!
II. The Problem of IMPROPER Responses - 2:13-16
A. Self-centered PRAYER. 2:13
Mal. 2:13 – “Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands.”
1. The response to Malachi’s challenge was predictable … they flooded the altar with tears, but didn’t change a thing about their marriages!!
a) Why were they crying? Because God wasn’t answering their prayers anymore, not until they get serious about their marriages again!
b) It is hard for God to answer our prayers when we aren’t right with each other, much less our spouse!
2. They needed to learn the importance of God’s injunctions for marriage.
3. It is not always impossible to turn around a bad marriage, sometimes it can happen with a steadfast godly love!
a) ILLUS: A woman came to a lawyer and said, "I want to get a divorce. I really hate my husband, and I want to hurt him. Give me some advice." In addition to wanting to get the gold and give him the shaft, she was wondering about some other way that she might do him in. The attorney said, "Look, you’re going to divorce the guy anyway, so for three months don’t criticize him. Speak only well of him. Build him up. Every time he does something nice, commend him for it. Tell him what a great guy he is, and do that for three months. After he thinks that he has your confidence and love, hit him with the news and it will hurt more." The woman thought, "I can’t go wrong on this. I’m divorcing the guy anyway. Why should I speak badly about him anymore? I’m going to speak only well of him." So, she complimented her husband for everything he did. For three months she told him what a great man he was. You know what happened to that relationship? After three months, they forgot about the divorce and went on a second honeymoon. -- Erwin Lutzer, "Learning to Love," Preaching Today, Tape No. 99.
b) Admittedly most marriages can only be saved if both parties make the effort, but there are times when the power of love even by one can change the other.
c) This may be what Paul had in mind in 1 Cor. 7:12-13 - "To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him." It may be that Paul thought there could yet be a chance through godly love to convert the unbeliever so there should be no rush to divorce them.
4. The casualness that Israel took toward the marriage union had created a sloppy spirituality, God was not responding to their prayers until they took it more seriously.
5. Peter addressed this same issue in 1 Pet. 3:7 - "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers."
a) It is clear in this passage that Peter was saying that their prayers were hindered when they as husbands did not treat their wives properly!
b) Notice that in this verse God calls the wife a "partner"
c) They are a lifetime partner!
6. We cannot have a spiritual person or a spiritual nation by just praying … our relationships must reflect the fact that our prayers have legs and hands to them in our interactions with one another!
a) It didn’t matter to idols … they are nothing but stone or wood images so prayers to them were no different no matter what the marriage relationship was like … but to a living God it does make a difference!
b) We cannot achieve a high degree of spiritual depth without loving one another!
7. They were weeping and groaning and covering God’s altar with their tears.
a) But they were crying for the wrong reasons.
b) They should have been crying and in sorrow - repenting of their sins. Instead they we’re upset because God wasn’t listening to them.
8. The act of crying at the altar had to be met with trying in the marriage!
B. Unfaithful PARTNERS. 2:14-16
Mal. 2:14-16 – “You ask, "Why?" It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. 15Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. 16"I hate divorce," says the Lord God of Israel, "and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment," says the Lord Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.”
1. The men of Israel went through wives like old clothes … they had no sense of commitment to a person for life.
a) Marriage is not about the moment, it is about a lifetime!
b) It is easy to love walking up an altar at a wedding, it is another gift of love to love your spouse through all the hardships and difficulties and peculiarities of a personality and a lifetime together!
2. Christian marriages should be the picture of permanence!
a) If there are difficulties then seek out answers to help heal the relationship, at least we live in a day when such help is available.
b) Jesus constantly affirmed that marriage was meant for life, even when He recognized that Moses had allowed divorce because of the "hardness of heart" He stated that "from the beginning" it was not so.
c) Matt. 19:8 Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning."
d) Rather than always dwell on the exceptions to the rule, we need to emphasize the rule again -- this was essentially Jesus’ point in this statement.
3. God was grief stricken over their sloppy understanding and commitment to marriage and the casualness in which they divorced: Mal. 2:16 - "I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel…"
a) Notice that God DID NOT SAY He hated "divorced people," just "divorce!"
b) God understands the pain that is inflicted on a person, a family, and a culture when divorce strikes.
4. God is not asking them to find perfect mates, but to be a godly one.
a) Loving someone doesn’t mean you have to understand everything about them and marriage, but it does mean to love your spouse!
b) One doesn’t have to be an expert in everything to have a good relationship, just an expert in their spouse!
c) ILLUS: Mrs. Albert Einstein was once asked if she understood her husband’s theory of relativity. "No," she said, "but I know how he likes his tea." -- Christian Reader, Vol. 33, no. 6.
5. Notice in Malachi 2:14 God calls these wives "partners" and not "property!"
a) We share with them more than our wealth, we share with them our spirit too.
b) They are "joint heirs" with us of God’s promises.
6. God challenges them … and us with these words, "… So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith."
a) If they wanted their prayers answered they would have to do more than just weep at the altar in prayer, they would have to return home and live out a godly commitment and lifestyle in their marriages.
b) God’s reaction to them was connected with their reaction to their spouse … indeed God still does this today.
7. How’s your prayer life? How’s your married life? There may be more of a connection between those two items than you think!
There are two parts to God’s answer that we need to understand. The first is that God is using marriage to illustrate our relationship with him. Ezek. 16:8 – “Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.” God uses marriage - good or bad - to illustrate our relationship with Him. Perhaps this is one reason why God hates divorce. Aside from the tremendous pain - divorce breaks the covenant.
Adultery is idolatry. True worship is to attribute worth to a real Being, one who is truly there and who is truly worthy of complete devotion and the surrender of our total being - God. False worship - idolatry - spiritual adultery is to give ourselves to something or someone that isn’t worthy of that honor.
First, God uses marriage to illustrate our relationship with Him. Second, God says, “Guard yourself in your spirit.” The way out of this broken relationship is to pay attention to your heart.
It’s interesting that these verses - Malachi 2:10-16 - are not filled with strong words about God’s coming wrath and judgment. There are a number of places in Scripture where God warns His people against sin by promising fire and utter devastation. There is none of that here. Perhaps our loving Heavenly Father knows how painful this is for us - how deeply it touches our hearts. How hard it is for us to hear these words. We need to remember that Malachi is, at its core, a love letter from God to His people - God calling His people to return to Him.
The Apostle Paul - in 2 Corinthians 6 - speaking of marriage and our relationship with God - Paul writes this, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness. Or, what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said - notice these words of love and calling to each one of us - just as God said, “I will dwell with them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate. Do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14,16-18)
All of this may be very offensive. It would be so easy to have our pride ruffled by these words. But please hear this. When God says, “Examine your heart. Pay attention to your spirit. Be honest about your relationship with Me.” Those are not words of condemnation. Those are words of our loving God who is crying out to His people - people cast down in the sin tainted relationships of this world. God crying out to His people, “Keep the covenant. Give your life to Me. Stay faithful to me. Let me spread the corner of my garment over you and protect you and be with you through this life.”
Today, people ask God, “Why Don’t You Answer My Prayers?” The answer is always the same: Remember my covenant with you and honor me with your undivided heart and you will always have my full attention. If God seems distant to you this morning, I suggest you search your heart to see if you have either intentionally or unintentionally turned away from your covenant relationship and responsibility to your loving heavenly Father.