If you’ve been praying long enough, you’ve probably experienced the high of answered prayer—a tumor that miraculously disappears, a surgery that goes far better than expected, the return of a prodigal, or the birth of a long-awaited child. But what about those times the prayers go unanswered? When it feels as if God isn’t even there? When day after day, month after month, you pray and . . . nothing changes? The healing doesn’t come in this life, the prodigal seems no closer to returning, and the crib remains empty.
Maybe the question is not so much why some prayers go unanswered as it is how well we truly know the heart of God.
The second line of the Lord’s Prayer reads: “They Kingdom come. Thy will be done.” These words reveal God’s heart.
The kingdom we are to pray for, this kingdom of God, is one in which God reigns. Since the advent of Christ, that kingdom has been both a present and future reality. God reigns in the hearts of His believers. The church as a whole is the kingdom of God. And yet, the ultimate Kingdom—the one that holds a world restored, without pain, disease, sin, disappointment, betrayal, lies . . . one where Satan has no power and God rules over all—is still a future entity.
Revelation 21:3-5 describes that future kingdom:
“And I heard a great voice out of Heaven, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them; and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.’ And He that sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’”
In short, to pray for God’s kingdom to come is to pray for the world to be set right.
Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, the world has waited for God’s promise to restore. Like Shereen taught us last week, Adam and Eve understood that promise . . . and prayed for the promised seed. With the birth of Christ, their prayer was answered. The kingdom returned to earth. When Jesus says, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand (or is near),” He is referring to himself.
“Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.’” Luke 17:20-21
So if the kingdom is here and now and not restricted to Christ’s second coming, how are we to live in this broken world? Our best example of living God’s kingdom here on earth would be Jesus. He came to live in this world where Satan and man have taken control . . . where man wants to be his own god (Adam and Eve in the garden) . . . and yet he did not give in to the temptation to take control and to seek His own glory. He, who above all others could claim that glory, willingly gave it up—gave up self—to follow the will of the Father
“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.” Philippians 2:5-8 MSG
Why would He do this? Because it was the will of the Father. In his earthly ministry, Jesus lived the prayer, “Thy Kingdom come . . . thy will be done.”
Today, I’d like for us to look at two examples from Jesus’ life that give us some insight into the heart of God when it comes to unanswered prayer and maybe a deeper understanding of what it means to pray for God’s will to be done.
Let’s begin with the story of Lazarus in John 11. (Click HERE to read through the chapter.) This event takes place somewhere between the Feast of Dedication (Hannakah) and Passover during the winter before Christ’s crucifixion, for it was at the Feast of Dedication when the Pharisees sought to stone Jesus (referenced in verse 8 by the disciples). Jesus has purposefully taken his teaching across the Jordan to stay away from the religious leaders who want to kill him. While he is there, he receives a message—a Knees to Earth prayer—from his dear friends Mary and Martha in Bethany, a small village within two miles of Jerusalem.
“So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’” [vs. 3]
In verse 5 we are told, Jesus loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and so . . . he immediately went and healed his friend.
No. That’s not the way the story played out at all.
Instead . . . he stayed where he was two days longer [vs. 6]—no response, no divine healing, no sense of urgency at all. Not exactly the answer to prayer the sisters were expecting. We know this from the way each of them greeted Jesus when he finally did make his way to Bethany:
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” [vs. 21,32]
This was Jesus—the one who made the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk. And he was their friend. Surely, he could have . . . should have healed their brother—the one he loved. Why didn’t he? Well, the answer, of course, is also mentioned in the passage [vs. 4, 14, 42]. He did not heal their brother when they expected him to be healed because that was not the Father’s plan. God had a much better plan in mind for Lazarus than a simple healing. And Jesus obeyed his Father.
What I love most about this story is how it shows us the heart of God. Twice we are told Jesus was “deeply moved.” We even see him cry. Why? Because his friend is dead? Of course not. He knew he would soon raise Lazarus from the dead. In the original Greek, the words that are used in these passages actually come closer to describing the emotion of anger than mourning. Jesus is angry, even brought to tears, by the consequences of our sin—pain, sickness, sorrow and death.
And the reason the Father wanted Jesus to delay any action until Lazarus was good and dead? He wanted to show indisputably that Jesus can do so much more than simply bring physical healing. He can conquer our greatest enemy—death.
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” [vs. 25-26]
Our second example of unanswered prayer takes place a few weeks later in Jesus’ life. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he prays earnestly—Knees to the Earth—for God to find another way. The passage tells us he was troubled to the point of death. That’s an earnest prayer, my friends. Three times he comes to the Father, pleading for the cup of sacrifice to pass from him. Three times the answer is “No. There is no other way.”
Even Jesus had unanswered prayer.
But in this example, we also see the heart of God. Three times Jesus also says, “Not my will, but yours be done.” He is willing to give the ultimate sacrifice. He is willing to face the cross—for the will of the Father and our greater good.
To pray for God’s will to be done, we must accept that our plans may not be God’s plans. To pray for God’s will to be done is to believe that God will always have the best plan.
In the first few verses of the Lord’s Prayer, we are asked to address God as Father and accept Him as King. God is not King if we do not accept and do His will; God is not Father if we do not trust His will.
GOING DEEPER (for personal study)
John 17 records another prayer of Christ for his Kingdom people—one he prayed on the night before his crucifixion. Take some time to read the prayer and fill in the chart below.
|Verses 1-5Who is Christ praying for?
What are His requests?
|Verses 6-19Who is Christ praying for?
What are His requests?
|Verses 20-26Who is Christ praying for?
What are His requests?
What does this prayer teach us about the heart of God? What does it tell us about living God’s kingdom here on earth?
DISCUSSION (please feel free to share your answer to this with the class by clicking the LEAVE A REPLY tab below. If you don’t see a LEAVE A REPLY tab, try clicking on the tab that gives the number of replies. This will also allow you to see how other members of the class have responded. I love hearing your thoughts on the lesson and, as usual, some lucky participant will win a prize! Last week’s prize winner? JC Baltensperger.)
Share a time you have struggled with unanswered prayer. How can knowing the heart of God help you deal with that struggle?
5 Replies to “Knowing God’s Heart”
I prayed to have my Dad’s cancer healed. It did not happen. I was okay with it knowing my Dad was going to his eternal home.
I had a similar experience with my mother. So grateful that Jesus conquered death. Makes saying good-bye in this world easier, though not without pain. Looking forward to that heavenly reunion!
Me, too – with my mother. God gave me peace about my mother’s death, but I still cringe every time I hear the line “Oh, if they just had enough faith, they would have been healed…” I just don’t believe that’s true. I believe that God has a much bigger plan than what we can see and that sometimes our prayers are answered, but not in the way we asked, or even in a way we will understand this side of heaven. Lots of people were praying for her healing, it just obviously wasn’t in God’s plan. And now that I’m older, I take comfort in the promise of eternal life with her after this one! 🙂
(Thank you, both, for sharing. I don’t usually get to hear other people’s experiences about this topic that didn’t end in a miraculous healing…)
“To pray for God’s will to be done, we must accept that our plans may not be God’s plans. To pray for God’s will to be done is to believe that God will always have the best plan.”
I think it was during my mom’s second fight against breast cancer that I realized my desire for her to live may not be the best for her…and in turn, that God ultimately knew what was best for His plan. The first time she was diagnosed, I prayed fervently for her to be healed. I didn’t want to lose her. I was actually terrified of the thought. She went through treatment and was given a “clean” bill of health. Two years later, the cancer was “back” with a vengeance and had spread to her lungs. I remember feeling so defeated when we got that second diagnosis. I felt like we had worked and prayed so hard for her to be healed such a short time ago and seemingly had our prayers answered. Then there we were again, facing the same battle, only against a stronger opponent. That wasn’t what we had prayed for!
I don’t think that I lost faith that God would heal her, I think I came to the realization that perhaps her being healed wasn’t the best plan. Believing in eternal life, I knew she would go on from here to a better place, but I wasn’t ready to let her go. This time around, I prayed for God’s will to be done instead of simply begging for her to be healed. I made it known to Him that I would much rather she be miraculously healed, never to deal with cancer again, but also that I understood that may not be in His plan. But you know what? Writing these thoughts down just made me realize that he DID heal her! She has gone on to be with Him – cancer free forever!
And, I just bawled like a baby. That realization hit me so hard. It seems like such a simple conclusion to draw, but I had never thought about it in relation to what I had prayed for my mother. I knew she wasn’t suffering anymore, but to realize that I had prayed for God to heal her from cancer forever…that is EXACTLY what He did. Just not in the way I meant for him to. 🙂 This will be another rock of remembrance for me – a memory to look back on and see God’s loving hand at work in my life. Hindsight is 20/20, right? I find it so much easier to look back and see where God has been at work in my life than trying to see it in the present moment. And those memories, they are what comfort and encourage me to trust God’s plan is best (for the present and the future).
So much for my discussion about a struggle with unanswered prayer…!
Isn’t it great to see God bring us answers even when we’re not necessarily looking for them? I can definitely relate to everything you’ve said, Becki. My mom’s story wasn’t the way I would have written it, but then I’m not God. When we know God’s heart and no without a doubt His plan is absolutely the best for all of us, we can let our loved ones go. Especially knowing we’ll see them again.