Gets Its Hands Dirty part 8
to Answered Prayer
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
February 24, 2008
Passage: James 4:1-3
I could have gone to prison. Seriously. Your pastor could have been a
me back up. Several years ago, after I graduated from college and about
a week before I moved to South Dakota to work in my first church, I was
still living in Fredericton and I decided to take advantage of the time
I had left there.
I had a friend who lived in northern Maine –
actually, and old roommate of mine – so I decided I would go and visit
with him and his wife. So I drove over one afternoon, had a pretty good
visit, and then we turned in for the night. They had one of those
pull-out sofa-beds that I got to use.
Well, early the next
morning, I awoke to the sound of the telephone ringing. And it rang for
quite a while but nobody was answering it. Apparently my hosts had
already gotten up and made a quick run to the store. Well, the phone
was still ringing, so finally I picked it up. And as it turned out, the
call was for me anyway. It was my mother. And she was actually calling
with some sad news. You see, my great-grandmother had been in the
hospital for the past couple of weeks and was fading quickly. And while
I was visiting my friend, she had passed away.
quickly gathered up my things, left a note for my friends, and started
back to New Brunswick. Of course, I wanted to get back as quickly as I
could, so I wanted to know the shortest route. It had taken a while to
get there, and I was sure there’d be a quicker way to get back. Now
GoogleMaps didn’t exist yet, and I had no idea what a GPS was, so I did
it the old fashioned way – I pulled out a map and I plotted to shortest
route. And I discovered that the quickest way back to New Brunswick and
to Fredericton would take me on some back roads that I had never
traveled before, and I would cross the border where I had never crossed
So I was driving along, really with my mind on different
things, when I heard a loud siren and alarms going off. And I
immediately realized what I had done – I had just run the border. Now
obviously, I didn’t mean to do that. I was just traveling along with
other things on my mind, and I completely missed the small building
along the other side of the road that served as the border station. I
was expecting some big official looking complex with a gate across the
road, but no. Just a small understated building on the opposite side of
the road. Well, as soon as I realized what I had done, I stopped the
car and backed up to the station.
One of the border guards came
out of the building, came up to my window, and obviously wasn’t that
happy with me. In fact, he threatened to throw me into jail. Well, I
apologized profusely, and after a short lecture, he must have realized
that international terrorists don’t travel in K-Car station wagons, and
he let me go.
You know what border stations are, don’t you?
They’re a kind of roadblock. They’re meant to prevent people from
entering the country illegally. You've got to be approved and checked
before you can cross the border. And if you're carrying with you
anything that you're not allowed to carry across the border, it’s going
to be confiscated and you're going to be delayed if not completely
turned away or arrested. Roadblocks prevent or delay you from reaching
your intended destination.
The border is a kind of roadblock.
Sometimes police cars are arranged to create a roadblock to catch
criminals or to set up a checkpoint. Sometimes roadblocks keep you out
of a construction zone… there are all kinds of roadblocks. Sometimes
roadblocks are made out of wood, they can be made out of metal, the can
be made out of concrete. Even piles of sand or bales of hay can be used
to create roadblocks. Sometimes people themselves become the roadblock.
There have even been times when a dog or a cow have become a roadblock
for me. Roadblocks take different forms, and they always impede or
prevent your progress.
This morning we’re continuing with our
series on Faith that Gets Its Hands Dirty – Developing a faith that’s
not afraid to get involved in the messiness of life. And today we’re
going to be talking about different kinds of roadblocks. Specifically,
roadblocks to answered prayer. What are some of the things that prevent
your prayers from being heard and answered as you would like?
are the Roadblocks to Answered Prayer?
this message series, we’ve been working our way through the New
Testament book of James. So we’re going to start there again today. And
then we’re going to look at some other passages, too, and see if we can
get a fuller understanding of why you might pray for something only to
have that prayer go unanswered. Okay?
Now, last week, we
looked at a section in James chapter three, where James talked about
the arguments and the fights and the divisions we experience in our
And he carries that theme right into chapter four. Derek just read this
for us, but lets take another look…
James 4:1-3 (NLT)
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you?
more relational issues. There are fights and quarrels going on. Between
who? Well, James is writing to believers here. He’s writing to
followers of Jesus. And he says there are fights even between them.
Even within the Church people were arguing and posturing themselves and
engaging in conflict. So what was causing these problems?
James 4:1-3 (NLT)
they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you
don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what
others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it
away from them.
So James says there’s selfishness, there’s
greed, there’s jealousy… and all of that is leading to the divisions
among the believers. Where there should be unity, there was disunity.
Where there should be harmony, there was disharmony. Where there should
be selflessness, there was selfishness. They wanted what they didn’t
have, so they conspired against others to get it.
And then James gets to the real issue…
James 4:1-3 (NLT)
Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.
he says, “you’re conspiring against each other to get what you don’t
have, but that’s not the solution. That accomplishes nothing. What you
should be doing is asking God. Stop the backbiting and the backstabbing
and just ask God.” But even then, they weren’t getting what they
wanted, and James explained why…
James 4:1-3 (NLT)
And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all
wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
again, they were motivated by selfishness and greed and jealousy, and
God is not going to honour that kind of a motive. So that’s the first
We are asking with selfish motives
James 4:3 (NLT)
And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all
wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
you were to list the last ten things that you prayed for during your
personal time with God, what would you find? Would the things you've
prayed for all be self-centered? Or have you genuinely spent time
praying for the good of others? Have you prayed for God’s Kingdom to
expand here on earth? Have you prayed for His Church? Have you prayed
for His ministry? Have you prayed that you would be used by Him? Or
have you prayed the opposite? Have you prayed that He would be used for
you? Most times, people find that the vast majority of their prayers
are for themselves.
"The Christian must continually evaluate his
prayer life to make certain that his prayers spring out of a desire for
God's glory and not from self-interest."
- Vernon Doerksen (Bible Commentator)
it wrong to ask God to supply your needs? Of course not. He welcomes us
to do that. Is it wrong to ask Him for some of our wants? No, I don’t
think so. He encourages that, too. But I think the key is that our own
wants and desires are kept secondary to His. Jesus Himself modeled this
for us when He prayed…
Matthew 26:39 (NLT)
“My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away
from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
Jesus told His Father what He wanted, but He kept His Father’s plans
course, it’s natural for us to be selfish. We don’t have to learn that.
We’re born with an innate desire for whatever will make us happy. (Here
I was hoping to teach Nathaniel to cry and demand his own way, but he
seems to have picked it up all by himself.)
The Minnesota Crime Commission released a report a number of years ago:
baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and
self-centered: he wants what he wants, his bottle, his mother’s
attention, his playmate’s toys, his uncle’s watch, or whatever. Deny
him these and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness which would be
murderous were he not so helpless. He is dirty; he has no morals, no
knowledge and no developed skills. This means that all children, not
just certain children, but all children are born delinquent. If
permitted to continue in their self-centered world of infancy, given
free reign to their impulsive actions to satisfy each want, every child
would grow up a criminal, a killer, a thief, and a rapist.”
~ Charles Swindoll, Family Life, Multnomah Press, Page 102
Selfishness comes naturally, but it’s a roadblock. God does not honour
selfishness. He honours humility. So that’s the remedy…
Humble yourself before God
motives in our prayer requests are of concern to the Lord. He wishes to
help us in our time of need, but is not obligated to answer prayers
which will merely feed our carnal, worldly appetites and (lustful)
pleasures. Our motives and desires can be corrected by humbling
ourselves, and drawing near to God.”
~ Dale A. Robbins
We are harbouring unconfessed sin
I've got to be careful here. Unanswered prayer is not always the result
of sin. We’re looking at nine reasons prayer might go unanswered, and
not all of them are bad. Not all of them are sinful. So it's wrong for
us to assume that because things aren't going well for someone and
their prayers seem to go unanswered that it's because of sin in their
lives. We can't automatically jump to that conclusion. It's unfair and
unjust, and it's simply not always true.
But the Bible does teach that there are times when sin is the roadblock
to answered prayer. Read this verse aloud with me…
Psalm 66:18 (NLT)
If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have
Isaiah 59:2 (NLT)
It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he
has turned away and will not listen anymore.
I love this story. I’ve told it before, but it’s worth retelling…
was a middle school in Oregon that faced a unique problem. Kind of a
funny problem, actually. You see, the custodian was constantly cleaning
lipstick off the mirror in the girls’ bathroom. It was a middle school,
and many of the girls were just starting to use lipstick. So they’d go
into the bathroom, put it on, and then they’d press their lips to the
mirrors leaving dozens of little lip prints.
principal decided to do something about it. So she called a number of
girls to the bathroom and met them there with the custodian. She
explained to the girls that all those lip prints were causing a major
problem for the custodian, who had to clean the mirrors every day. And
to demonstrate, she asked the custodian to clean one of the mirrors. So
he took out a long-handled brush, dipped it in the toilet, and then
used it to scrub the mirror. They never had a problem with lip prints
on the mirror after that.
That’s how God views the sin in our
lives. He doesn’t want anything to do with it. He’s repulsed by it.
Unconfessed sin pushes God away and prevents Him from hearing and
answering our prayers.
1 Peter 3:12 (NLT)
The eyes of the
Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their
prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil.”
So what’s the remedy?
Confess your sin to God and ask forgiveness
1 John 1:9 (NLT)
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive
us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
We are living in deliberate disobedience
Ezekiel 8:17-18 (NLT)
it nothing to the people of Judah that they commit these detestable
sins, leading the whole nation into violence, thumbing their noses at
me, and provoking my anger? Therefore, I will respond in
And though they cry for mercy, I will not listen.”
The people of
Judah were deliberately disobeying God. They were purposefully
provoking God’s anger. Why would they expect that God would listen to
their prayers for mercy when they disregard Him in every other way?
see, God understandably finds it difficult to answer the requests of a
person who deliberately disobeys Him. If someone is living a lifestyle
in which he constantly does things that are contrary to Biblical
principles, then that person should not expect that he will have the
ear of God whenever he pleases. In fact, this is what God says to that
Isaiah 1:15-16 (NLT)
When you lift up your hands in
prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not
listen… Get your sins out of my sight.
Choose to follow God’s ways
1 John 3:22 (NLT)
And we will receive from him whatever we ask because we obey him and do
the things that please him.
We don’t really believe God can or will answer
is not about begging from God; it’s about believing in Him and His
goodness. If you don’t believe, then He’s not going to answer. Back in
James chapter one, we read…
James 1:6 (NIV)
But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts
is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
you approach God in prayer, He expects you to have faith that He wants
to be actively involved in your life and that He cares for you and that
He loves you and that He's capable of answering your prayer. I think
too often we pray flippantly without ever expecting God to answer our
prayer. But when we pray like that, we're preventing God from answering
our prayers even as we ask.
Mark 11:24 (NLT)
I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve
received it, it will be yours.
Pray that God will increase your faith
In Mark chapter 9, a father brings his demon-possessed son to Jesus and
asks Jesus to free him if He can.
Mark 9:23-24 (MSG)
Jesus said, "If? There are no 'ifs' among believers. Anything can
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the father cried, "Then
I believe. Help me with my doubts!"
If you lack faith, then you need to echo what that father said. “I do
believe. Help my unbelief.”
We view God as a puppet subject to our whims
God as a puppet is the very essence of pride and arrogance… placing
yourself as God’s ruler. When you treat God with that kind of pride,
then He’s not all that obliged to listen to you.
Job 35:12 (NLT)
And when they cry out, God does not answer because of their pride.
ago, Paul Anka wrote a song that Frank Sinatra made famous. You know
the one I mean? “I Did It My Way”. That song is about a man approaching
the end of his life, boasting about how everything he did in life he
did his way.
It sounds like an inspiring song. And it’s been
popular for almost four decades now. But really, what an arrogant song.
“I did it my way. My way’s the only way that matters. I didn’t need
anyone else’s help or anyone else’s advice. I did it all my way.”
it’s that kind of arrogance—that kind of pride—that tells God that we
don’t need Him. If anything, it says that He needs us, so He should be
serving us. He should be at our beck and call.
Our pride and
arrogance convinces us that God owes it to us to do whatever we ask.
But God is not a puppet. He is not subject to our every whim. And He
detests pride. He will not listen to those who approach Him that way.
Recognize God as God
You’re not God; He is. Don’t get that confused.
We are withholding forgiveness from another
right here may be the chief roadblock to answered prayer. Jesus spoke
of this more than He spoke of any other roadblock in our relationship
with God. It's very subtle, and on the surface appears unrelated to our
ability to pray and communicate with God. But listen to the words of
Jesus in Mark 11:25…
Mark 11:25 (NLT)
“But when you are
praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that
your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”
relationships with other people directly affects our relationship with
God. If we refuse to forgive others, then God will not forgive us. If
we want to have a pure and unhindered relationship with God, then
that’s the kind of relationship we need to have with others, as much as
it’s up to us.
In Matthew 5, Jesus goes as far as to tell us not
to even worship God if we're not in harmony with each other. That's how
important it is to God that we forgive each other. Any degree of
unforgiveness forms a roadblock to answered prayer.
Forgive and be forgiven
We give up too soon
an interesting passage of Scripture in Daniel 10. We’re told there that
Daniel had been praying and fasting for three solid weeks before he
received an answer from God. At that time, an angel appeared to him in
a vision, and told him that his prayer had been heard since the first
day he started to pray. But Satan had impeded the angel who had been
sent to answer the prayer. But Daniel persisted in his prayer, so God
sent reinforcements to help the angel deliver the answer to Daniel's
prayer. It makes me wonder if Daniel's prayer would have been answered
if he gave up praying after the first day, or after the first couple of
minutes as we often do.
In Luke 18,
Jesus tells a story about a judge who really didn't care for God or
anyone else. But day after day a certain widow kept coming to him
asking him to bring her justice against her enemy. For the first number
of days he just ignored her. But eventually he granted her request just
to get her out of his hair. If this judge who didn't even care for the
widow was convinced to help her because of her persistence, how much
more will a God of love answer prayer.
Right at the start of that passage, the Bible tells us why Jesus told
Luke 18:1 (NLT)
One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should
always pray and never give up.
We need to learn to pray with determination, patience, and diligence.
We’ve pushed God to the margins of our lives
we place other things or other people ahead of God, we're telling Him
that we don't really need His help. We think we can find what we need
elsewhere. So we end up placing "idols" in the position of our lives
that rightfully belongs to God, pushing Him to the sidelines in the
process. Listen to what God has to say about people who do this:
Ezekiel 14:3 (NLT)
these leaders have set up idols in their hearts. They have embraced
things that will make them fall into sin. Why should I listen to their
God demands and expects our exclusive devotion and
faithfulness. And when we are unfaithful to God by placing other things
ahead of Him in our lives, then we forfeit His response to our prayers.
So what’s the remedy?
Abide in God
Acts 17:28 (NLT)
For in him we live and move and exist.
John 15:7 (NLT)
But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for
anything you want, and it will be granted!
What we ask is inconsistent with the will of God
lot of times, what we pray for isn’t necessary wrong or sinful. In
fact, it can be quite innocent. But perhaps it just doesn’t fit into
God’s plan. If we pray something that God knows is against our best
interests or against the best interests of others, then He may decide
to respond to our prayer by saying "No." Or He might say, "Wait until
the timing's better." God’s pretty smart. And He’s able to make the
best decision even when we don’t know all the details and we don’t
1 John 5:14-15 (NIV)
This is the
confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything
according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears
us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
to His will.” That’s an important distinction. It's essential that our
prayers be consistent with the will of God. If what we ask is in
conflict with His will, then he won’t and shouldn’t answer.
Be immersed in His Word and pray accordingly
Bible teaches us what God's will is. So open it up and find the
promises that He made to you. Search for spiritual principles and
values and apply them to your life. Learn about His desires. And as you
do that, you will find that your prayers become consistent with
Scripture, and they therefore become consistent with the will of God.
Plus, as you do that, you will discover that you are being changed.
You’re being transformed.
Romans 12:2 (NLT)
copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you
into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to
know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
there are lots of reasons why your prayers may appear to go unanswered.
If you find yourself in that boat, consider why. Has God really not
answered you, or have you just not accepted His answer? Do you simply
need to trust that He knows best? Or is there a more serious problem?
Is there sin in your life? Have you pushed Him to the margins? Are you
full of pride? Can you identify a reason why your prayers may go
unanswered? Do you need to ask forgiveness? If so, why not do it right
now? Right where you are, you can tell God that you’re sorry for your
disobedience and choose to follow Him from this day forward. You can
reconcile your relationship with Him today.
series uses a variety of source materials, primarily "A Faith that
Worls" by Rick Warren, "Faith for Pedestrians" by Laurence Croswell,
and "James: Hands-On Christianity" by Charles Swindoll.]