When God Seems Uncooperative
Today we're going to talk about something that's a little bit more difficult than last week. Last week we saw Lazarus when God seemed late. The good news was that God actually did even greater than what Mary and Martha hoped that He would do. They wanted Lazarus to be healed - Jesus brought Lazarus back from the grave. God just seemed late.
Today we're going to talk about something that's a little bit more difficult than last week. Last week we saw Lazarus when God seemed late. The good news was that God actually did what Mary and Martha hoped that He would do. Lazarus got to live. God just seemed late.
Today's message is not as much fun. I just want to tell you that going into this. We're going to look at whenever God seems uncooperative. When we know that God could do something, we believe that he will, and then He does not.
Again, I just want to say this really is not a fun or feel good message, but I believe it will help create a foundation for us to understand, maybe a little better, the will of God and to learn to depend on Him during those times when God seems uncooperative.
I went outside, very true story, and I'm about to pray for this. Then I felt really ridiculously stupid. I looked over, we had a chain link fence, to make sure nobody was watching, and I don't know how you pray for an air conditioner, but I know the scripture says, "If there are any sick among you, let the others lay hands on the sick." I thought, "Well, it's definitely sick," and so I laid my hand on this air conditioner and then it still didn't feel powerful, and so I lifted my other hand up toward Heaven like it's a lightening rod, I'll get some power or something. It just seemed like it was the right thing to do. I prayed for this stupid, broken air conditioner. God as my witness, in the middle of my prayer, I'm not lying, the thing kicks on. I jump back like, "Oh, God. Whoa, whoa, oooo. I've got the power." I went in, we hugged, we kissed, we did other things, we were newlyweds. It worked. It was amazing. This is crazy, so if your AC goes out, let me know. Tweet me, call me, something. I don't do heaters, but I've got the power for air conditioners.
You know, over the years here at Journey, we’ve had probably thousands of prayer requests come through here. If you look at the list in the bulletin each week, you’ll notice some that come and go, while others are there for a long, long time.
Now, whether you’ve had a prayer printed on the list here or not, you’ve probably experienced both sides of that situation. You’ve probably had things that you’ve prayed about - given to God and asked Him to intervene, and He has done just that. The prayer was answered in a way that you hoped it would be - the sick person was healed. The job offer came through. The stress was relieved.
You may say, "Well, it was just a coincidence." Maybe, I don't know. I'm telling you, the thing was dead, I prayed, and it worked. Amazing, God, wow God. I can't believe He did that. That's freaky. Fast forward to today. If you were here last week, I told you about the young girl that had multiple seizures and was in a coma, and we didn't know whether or not she'd live. A lot of people asked how she's doing. I'll give you an update. The good news is they have detected brain activity and feel like her brain is functioning, so we thank God for that.
But you’ve also no doubt had prayers that weren’t resolved like you hoped. You prayed and prayed, but the disease didn’t go away. The sick person didn’t get better. The problem got worse.
The more challenging news is that every time they try to bring her out of the induced coma, she goes back into having multiple seizures. We are now two weeks into this young girl being in a bad situation. The doctors are not sure she's going to make it. We're praying around the clock. Everybody I know is praying; we're praying. Here's kind of my point of these whole two things: God, why in the world would you do something so insignificant as answer a prayer for an air conditioner, and why would you not answer the prayers of all these people to immediately heal this girl who has her whole life ahead of her? God, that doesn't make sense to me. I know that probably every single one of you have some version of that story in your own life. God gave you the parking spot at the mall, but God won't take away your migraine headaches. Or, you're praying for your marriage, or you're praying for some ongoing pain, or ongoing challenge, you're praying for a job. Whatever it is, almost all of us have some category of that in our own lives. God, I believe that you can do this. I'm praying that you will, and yet, God, you haven't.
What do you do when God seems uncooperative? What do you do when you really are a sincere follower of Jesus, you believe that God could answer your prayer, and God does not answer your prayer?
Today we’re going to look at the life of the Apostle Paul, one specific story, and bring out three different thoughts about prayer that I hope will minister to you.
The first one, if you're taking notes, is this, we need to recognize that true prayer isn't about getting our way, but it's often about surrendering our will. It's not just about getting God to do what we want, it's often surrendering our will to what God knows is best.
Some people may push back on this, but you need to remember this is exactly how Jesus prayed in the garden, before going to the cross when he said, "Father, if there is any way, would you remove this cup of suffering from me? Nevertheless, God, not my will, but your will be done."
Jesus taught us to pray. He said this is how you pray. He said, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."
True prayer isn't just about getting God to do what we want; it's often surrendering our will to what God wants.
And the Apostle Paul learned this.
If there is anyone who deserved an answered prayer, in my opinion, it was the Apostle Paul.
In his back story, he hated Christians. He killed Christians; despised them.
He had this miraculous conversion where his whole life was changed and he went from hating Christians to being one of the most effective Christians in the history of the world. This guy was crazy amazing in what he did all over the world.
He wrote over half of the New Testament. He essentially traveled on a ship for about 20 years, taking the gospel to every part of the world he could get to. He took the gospel to Europe. The guy was amazingly bold in his faith.
God had given him all these visions. He raised the dead.
He paid an incredible price for it. Paul was stoned for his faith. And I'm not talking recreationaly here. He was stoned. He was ship wrecked. He was beaten with rods and left for dead.
This guy endured more than you could imagine.
What was his reward? If I were God, I’d be saying, “You've done all of this. I'm going to make sure your later years are better than your former years because that how good a God I am.”
shows us this very challenging portion of scripture. Paul's talking and he says,
2 NLT: So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
That's a challenging text. Satan brings something in this guy's life. God allows it. God not only allows it, but God uses it. God uses it to keep him from becoming conceded.
Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013), . this, he says, "Therefore in order to keep me from becoming conceded, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me." That's a challenging text. Satan brings something in this guy's life. God allows it. God not only allows it, but God uses it. God uses it to keep him from becoming conceded and he has this thorn. Now, what is this thorn? We don't know what the thorn is. Scholars have debated for years, and everybody has their guess.
Now, we don't know what the thorn is. Scholars have debated for years, and everybody has their guess.
What's interesting is the Greek word translated as thorn can also mean stake and whenever they would actually kill a person by running a stake through their body, that's the word they would use. This thorn could also mean a stake.
Whatever it is, it was agonizing. He said, "It was tormenting me." Most scholars believe it was some kind of physical ailment. Most think it was maybe headaches or malaria or recurring epilepsy or a speech impediment.
This thorn could also mean a stake. Whatever it is, it was agonizing. He said, "It was tormenting me." People wonder what was it. We don't know, but like I said, people tend to guess. Most scholars believe it was some kind of physical ailment. Some people say, "Well, it might have been the opposition. Those who came ... " well, it might of been. We don't know, but most people think it was maybe headaches or malaria or recurring epilepsy or a speech impediment. Some people argue it was actually bad eye sight because in one of the Epistles Paul said, "Notice I'm writing with really large letters." You can only imagine, without glasses, you can't read and write. Whatever it is, we don't know, but he says, "This was given to me. God allowed it. It tormented me, but God used it to keep me from becoming conceded."
Some people argue it was actually bad eye sight - possibly from being blinded by his vision of Jesus - because in Galatians Paul said, "Notice I'm writing with really large letters." You can only imagine, without glasses, you can't read and write very small.
Whatever it is, we don't know, but he says, "This was given to me. God allowed it. It tormented me, but God used it to keep me from becoming conceded."
Now, you today, many of you right now, you have some thorn in your life, some issue, some challenge.
Some of you might say, "My thorn is a person." If you're sitting next to them, do not point at them, look at them, don't breathe in their direction. That would be rude, but some of you it might be a boss or a coworker that's a challenge.
Some of you it might be a similar health issue that you prayed and prayed and prayed and believed that God would take it away, but it hasn't gone away.
It could be depression. You're trying all sorts of different things and you're still fighting depression.
Whatever it is, you look at it and say, "God, would you please change this," and God isn't changing it.
We need to remember that prayer isn't just about getting our way, but sometimes it's about surrendering our will and saying, "God, even though I really wish you would do this, and you're not, I'm choosing to trust you in the middle of the situation."
The second thing I want to point out, and this is a thought that really ministers to me. I hope it does to you as well. Prayer reminds us that we're not in control, and it keeps us close to the one who is.
Prayer reminds me that I can't control all situations and it keeps me close to the one who is.
This thorn actually did this for the Apostle Paul. says this, "Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away." God, please, I'm begging you. I'm pleading with you to take it away.”
Now, when Paul said, "I did this three times," this didn't mean like he went, "I prayed at breakfast time, and then I prayed at lunch, and then I prayed at dinner. What’s up, God?"
When he says, "I begged three times," this was three significant seasons of intentional focused intersession in prayer.
Some of you, you may be in a season like that right now. "God, please save my parent's marriage. Hold it together.
God, please take away this pain.
God, please, I'm willing to work. I'll do anything. I need a job, God I need a new job with benefits. I'm supporting a family."
Whatever it is, you're begging, you’re praying, you're pleading. This is exactly what Paul is doing. "God, please, please, I trust you. Please take this away. I'm only asking you to do what I've seen you do for others. I've seen you do this, God."
Okay? If I'm God I'm going, "Sure, no problem. Yeah, of course, you're Paul. You've endured this for me. In fact, I'm going to give you a 10% raise on your next pay check." I mean, that's what I'm going to do. Like, "I'm God," and like, "You're amazing. Of course I'm going to do this."
Think about it. God had already answered too many prayers to count. I mean, He has used Paul and the miracles through Paul again and again and again, so of course God can do this.
Paul begs and what does God say? , "Please do this, God,” but God said to me, "My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness."
"God, please, would you just do this one thing? I could serve you so much more effectively if you would do this one thing." God says, "No, not on this one. My grace is going to be enough for you. My grace."
What does that even mean? You think about it. What does that mean, my grace? Isn't grace what brings a forgiveness of sins? We're saved by grace. Grace forgives our sins.
We need to understand that grace is so much more than that. In fact, grace here and throughout the New Testament means undeserved favor. It means grace, but it means so much more than that.
One scholar put it this way: "Grace is when God freely extends Himself, leaning and reaching to us, because He is disposed to bless and be near us."
I'm going to read this again. I want you to feel and imagine this. What is grace? "It is when God freely extends Himself, leaning and reaching to us." Why? "Because He is disposed to bless and be near to us."
It's the leaning in of God.
It's the, "I'm here for you."
It's the leaning and reaching in, "I want to reveal myself to you."
It's God leaning in to show us His presence.
Here's what happens. We tend to say this, "God, this is what I need. This is what I want. If you'll do this, then I'll have what I need. This is what I need."
God says, "No, this is not what you need. In this case, I am what you need. I am enough. I am sufficient. My grace, in this situation, is what you need."
It's the leaning in of the presence of God. "I could do that. I've done it before. I may do something similar later, but in this particular case, you're going to experience me in a way that you could not if I did for you what you wanted me to do."
It's God leaning in, reaching to us, bringing his presence to us. It's something that is so hard to explain you just have to experience it. It's God's grace. "How do you make it through this?" "I don't know. I don't know. It's just like I've got this special grace form God." How in the world are you surviving what you're doing?" "Well, I'm not really even sure. It's just I've got this special grace of God." It's the presence of God at that moment that is enough.
Took him to the emergency room and they said, "Yeah, we're going to have to operate on it tomorrow, but we can't tonight. He's just, he's miserable. He's crying. There's nothing we can do to calm him down. We had to stay in this little, oddest little room. There was a baby bed in the room and that was it. Every time we tried to put him in the bed, any kind of movement, he would just scream bloody murder, and so we had to just hold him completely still. It was, I don't know, an 8-9 hour night, so I climbed into the bed. Here I am, all 6 foot, 185 pounds of me, in this bed, holding him completely still, talking to him the whole night lot. I remember if I moved in any form he would scream in pain, and so I'm talking hour, 2 hours into it my arms are just on fire. I'm locked in, holding him, just talking to him. "'m here with you, buddy. I love you." I'm singing to him. I can't even sing.
I mean, I'm praying for him. "I'm here with you. I'm here with you. I'm here with you," and just fire in my arms. I can't do this for 5 more minutes; I did it for 5 more hours. I'm not going to let a ... my ... I don't know ... Everything I can about my presence is going to try to bring comfort to him. "I love you. I love you. I love you. I'm here with you. I'm here with you. I'm here with you. I'm here with you. I'm here with you. I'm here with you. I'm here with you, and this is sometimes how God is. It's just, I want my presence to be a blessing to you. I could do this, but in this particular case, I want you to experience me in a way that you've never experienced me before. My grace is going to be sufficient for you. I could do this." That's what's so difficult about this. God, "I could do this, but in this particular case, for reasons you may never understand, I want my grace to be enough for you.
We need to recognize that prayer isn't just about getting our way, but it's surrendering our will to God. What we have to know is that God does not exist to serve us. Do you recognize this? God is not here to serve us. We are here to serve Him. We glorify Him.
Sometimes the Western version of Christianity kind of gets it mixed up. "If God doesn't do this for me, I'm out." Well, who do you think you are? When did you become God? We're here to serve Him. We glorify Him.
Prayer, reminds us that we’re not in control, and it keeps us close to the one who is. Pressing in, season after season, "God, I'm seeking you. I'm believing, I'm trusting you. Even if you don't do this, God, I continue to trust you."
The third thing, if you're taking notes, is that prayer isn't just asking, but it's trusting. It's not just asking for what you want, but it's trusting that God knows what's best.
I do want to say prayer IS asking, absolutely. And if you come to me and you say, "I've got cancer," listen to me, we're going to pray in the name of Jesus and ask God to bring healing. We believe that God heals. We ask and we trust at the same time. We're going to believe that God can do miracles, but there are going to be times when God says, "No," in this case, "No."
It's not JUST asking, it's trusting. This is what Paul ended up having to do.
Here he is years later and he's looking back on this thorn that he most likely still has, and suddenly he has a very different perspective on it. He's saying, "The thing that just tormented me, God actually used. He used it to keep me from becoming conceded."
Then he said this in verses 9 and 10, he said, "Hey, because of this, and now my perspective is changed, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses."
Why? So that Christ's power may rest on me. He said, "That's why, for Christ sake, I delight in weakness." He goes on to say, "I delight in insults. I delight in hardships. I delight in persecutions. I delight in troubles."
Why? "because when I am weak, then I am strong.
I delight in these things that I would not ever choose because I experience the presence and power of God in those things. It's not the successes that make me closer to God. It's those times when I can't do anything but depend on God that helps me to know Him in an intimate way.
You see, my ministry is more powerful now because God didn't do what I wanted Him to do, because when I was weak I experienced his power in a way that I could not otherwise.”
What if you changed your perspective? What if you said, "I hate these headaches, well I delight in these headaches. I delight in them because they teach me to trust in the presence of God in a way that I couldn't otherwise."
"How do you make it through?" "I don't know; it's the grace of God."
"I delight in my search for a job right now." What? You are weird." "No, what you don't understand is I have learned to depend on God as my provision in a way that I could not otherwise. He still continues to meet all of my needs."
Paul's perspective changed over time.
Paul's perspective changed over time. He's looking back; his perspective changed. People say time heals all wounds. That sounds good, it's just not quite true. You know people 30 years later after the fact, they're still ticked, angry, bitter, right? You know people like that. Don't point at them. You know people like that. Time didn't heal all wounds. Time, with God's presence, heals wounds. It's God's presence. God brings healing. Over time you could look back, and here's the deal, some of you right now, you're in a place, you hate it. I don't want to make light of it, and I'm not going to say I wouldn't hate it either. There's some things in my life right now I do not like. Okay? I wish God would change them. He's changed some things, and he hasn't changed other things, but what I do believe is that years from now, with the presence of God, I will look back and say, "Oh, I see what you did. You kept me from becoming conceded." Or, "You built an intimacy between me and you that I wouldn't have had otherwise." Or, "You used that to draw me and Amy closer together. We wouldn't have been so close had this not had happened." This perspective over time.
People say time heals all wounds. That sounds good, it's just not quite true.
You know people 30 years later after the fact, they're still angry, bitter, hurting. Time doesn't heal all wounds.
Time, with God's presence, heals wounds. It's God's presence. God brings healing. Over time you could look back, and here's the deal, some of you right now, you're in a place, you hate it.
I don't want to make light of it, and I'm not going to say I wouldn't hate it either. There's some things in my life right now I do not like. Okay? I wish God would change them. He's changed some things, and he hasn't changed other things, but what I do believe is that years from now, with the presence of God, I will look back and say, "Oh, I see what you did. You kept me from becoming conceded." Or, "You built an intimacy between me and you that I wouldn't have had otherwise." This perspective comes over time.
The second thing is that 12 years ago this Christmas Eve, Amy's brother went into the hospital on Christmas Eve. I just remember thinking, "Oh, this is horrible," but more so like kind of inconvenient because what a horrible time. All of us thought, "Christmas Day, the day after he'll be home and totally fine. The problem was Christmas Day he wasn't better, 26th he wasn't better, 27th he wasn't better, 28th he wasn't better,29th he wasn't better, 30th he wasn't better, 31st he wasn't better, 1st he was bad, and so we brought in all the pray warriors, man, and we still totally, completely convinced, he's going to be better because he's 35 years of age. He's going to be better; there's no doubt. We're all praying. Hey, there's a church full of people praying. No doubt, no doubt, no doubt, no doubt, no doubt. He's going to be better. No doubt whatsoever. He's coming home. David is going to go home. January 16th he went home, but not the earthly home.
For months Amy cried herself to sleep, as you would. Her parents are just crazy amazing people. To watch parents grieve the loss of a child, no one should have to go through that, you know. Twelve years later, looking back on it, time doesn't heal all wounds. Time with God's presence heals wounds. I did the funeral for David, and there was so many lives impacted by this. In fact, I've been a pastor for 25 years, this is crazy, I've never seen more good come out of a death than I did out of that one person. It's hard to describe. Wasn't famous, but it was amazing. It was just amazing, so I asked Amy one time, "If you had to lose all the good, but you could have your brother back, would you have your brother back?" Without hesitation she said, "I'd never want to go through that again. I'd never choose it again, but under no circumstances would I want David back after all the good that I saw God do through it." That's crazy. She would not have said that the first week. She wouldn't have said it the first year. She probably wouldn't have said it 5 years into it, 12 years into it, with the presence of the goodness of God, she would say the very worst nightmare in her life is something that she wouldn't change because she saw the way God used it.
I don't know what it is right now, and I don't want to play it down at all because what you're going through is what you have to deal with, but what I do know is no matter how bad this moment is, the goodness of God is even better over time. If God doesn't do exactly what you wanted Him to do it doesn't make God any less God. It makes Him more God.
We continue asking. We're always going to believe for miracles, but not only are we going to ask, but we're going to trust because prayer isn't just getting God to do what we want, but prayer is often surrendering our will to God. "Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven." "Here's what I want, God, but not my will. Your will be done."
We're going to keep praying, and anytime there's something difficult that we don't understand, we're going to remember prayer reminds us that we are not in control, and it keeps us close to the one who is, and so whatever that thorn is, because we all have the version of a thorn in our lives at one point or the other, my prayer is that years from now you'll look back and say, "Wow, didn't like it. Didn't understand it, but God did use it." Because even when life doesn't feel good, our God still is good. He's always good. He can't be anything but good. We serve and worship a good God who comes near to us with His goodness and His presence to bring us through whatever we face.
At all of our churches right now I just want to ask very plainly, how many of you would say there's a thorn in your life right now? Something really challenging. Would you lift up your hands in a moment of honesty? Yeah, our hands up at all of our churches.
Father, I pray right now, and I know you know the details of every situation, God I ask that you would do true miracles, that God you'd bring healing, that you'd bring restoration, God, that you'd bring provision, God, that you'd do things where we'd sit back in so many stories and say, "That could only be God. That could only be God." That air conditioner wasn't working, and now it's working. That could only be God. Wow, God, thank you. God every time you answer a prayer we’re going to give you glory and tell everybody it’s because of your goodness. We worship you, oh God. We also recognize that you ways are higher than our ways, different than our ways. God, in those times that you don't do what we know you can do and think you should do, I pray that you would do an even deeper work in our lives, that your grace, right now, would be enough. I pray, God for those who are hurting, those who are confused, those whose lives seem to be on hold. God, I pray that your grace would be enough, that the leaning in presence of your holy spirit would touch us, God, that we could sense that you are here. You are with us, and God, at this moment, and in this season, that your grace would be all that we need.