Noisy Hearts and Unanswered Prayers

It is one of the big questions that Christians and particularly pastors get. Why does God answer some prayers and not others? Grieving parents pray over an ill child, a husband prays over his cancer stricken wife who passed on way too soon. People are hungry—people are sick and caught in the crossfire of terror. We pray, God: DO SOMETHING!! The enigma of this question has caused many to fall away from God convicting and confusing Him with an absentee father that never paid attention to us when we were kids.

I do not have a universal answer for the unanswered. I only have my answer. Many times I approach God with a noisy heart. I am not praying to be transformed; I’m praying to transform Himself! My issue is that I’m focused on the substance of the unanswered petitions I’ve left at the foot of a disinterested and nonconforming God.

Here are 20 of the examples of Jess praying to the Father. For the time being, let’s focus just on the words that describe how and when Jesus prayed. Here are a few questions:

  1. What is the direction of the words Jesus prayed?
  2. What was the effect of Jesus prayers?
  3. Where and when did Jesus pray?
  4. How then do we pray like Jesus?
  5. Why do you think I titled this article the way I did?
  1. Praying at His baptism (Luke 3:21,22)

Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”

  1. Praying before His first preaching tour of Galilee (Mark 1:35-39)

In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and *said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” He *said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons.”

  1. Praying after the healing of a leper (Luke 5:12-16)

While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him. And He ordered him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest and make an offering for your cleansing, just as Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.”

  1. Praying before choosing the twelve disciples (Luke 6:12,13)

It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles:”

  1. Praying after being rejected by certain cities in Galilee (Matthew 11:25)

At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. “Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.“ All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

  1. Praying prior to the feeding of 5000 people (John 6:11)

“Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted.”

  1. Praying after feeding 5000 people (Matthew 14:22,23)

Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.”

  1. Praying as He healed a deaf man (Mark 7:32-37)

“Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. They *brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they *implored Him to lay His hand on him. Jesus took him aside from the crowd, by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva; and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He *said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!” And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly. And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it. They were utterly astonished, saying, “He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.””

  1. Praying prior to feeding 4000 people (Mark 8:6)

“And He *directed the people to sit down on the ground; and taking the seven loaves, He gave thanks and broke them, and started giving them to His disciples to serve to them, and they served them to the people.”

  1. Praying before Peter’s great confession (Luke 9:18-20)

And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, “Who do the people say that I am?” They answered and said, “John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again.” And He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.”

  1. Praying during His transfiguration (Luke 9:28-35)

“Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not realizing what he was saying. While he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen.”

  1. Praying after hearing the report of the seventy (Luke 10:17-22)

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.“ All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.””

  1. Praying before teaching the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:1-4)

It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.” And He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. ‘Give us each day our daily bread. ‘And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’”

  1. Praying at the grave site of Lazarus (John 11:41, 42)

“Jesus *said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. “I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus *said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.””

  1. Praying in the upper room prior to His death (Luke 22:14-18)

When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.”

  1. Praying for Peter (Luke 22:31-32)

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

  1. Praying His great High Priestly Prayer (John 17:25-26, Read all of 17)

“O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

  1. Jesus prays for unity with the Father (John 17:21)

“That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

  1. Praying in Gethsemane prior to His death (Mark 14:36)                                               And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.”

20. And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.”

  1. Praying on the cross (Luke 23:34, read all the seven words of Christ on the cross)

“But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

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Noisy Hearts and Praying Like Jesus

It is one of the big questions that Christians and particularly pastors get. Why does God answer some prayers and not others? Grieving parents pray over an ill child, a husband prays over his cancer stricken wife who passed on way too soon. People are hungry—people are sick and caught in the crossfire of terror. We pray, God: DO SOMETHING!! The enigma of this question has caused many to fall away from God convicting and confusing Him with an absentee father that never paid attention to us when we were kids.

I do not have a universal answer for the unanswered. I only have my answer. Many times I approach God with a noisy heart. I am not praying to be transformed; I’m praying to transform Himself! My issue is that I’m focused on the substance of the unanswered petitions I’ve left at the foot of a disinterested and nonconforming God.

Here are 20 of the examples of Jess praying to the Father. For the time being, let’s focus just on the words that describe how and when Jesus prayed. Here are a few questions:

  1. What is the direction of the words Jesus prayed?
  2. What was the effect of Jesus prayers?
  3. Where and when did Jesus pray?
  4. How then do we pray like Jesus?
  5. Why do you think I titled this article the way I did?
  1. Praying at His baptism (Luke 3:21,22)

Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”

  1. Praying before His first preaching tour of Galilee (Mark 1:35-39)

In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and *said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” He *said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons.”

  1. Praying after the healing of a leper (Luke 5:12-16)

While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him. And He ordered him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest and make an offering for your cleansing, just as Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.”

  1. Praying before choosing the twelve disciples (Luke 6:12,13)

It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles:”

  1. Praying after being rejected by certain cities in Galilee (Matthew 11:25)

At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. “Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.“ All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

  1. Praying prior to the feeding of 5000 people (John 6:11)

“Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted.”

  1. Praying after feeding 5000 people (Matthew 14:22,23)

Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.”

  1. Praying as He healed a deaf man (Mark 7:32-37)

“Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. They *brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they *implored Him to lay His hand on him. Jesus took him aside from the crowd, by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva; and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He *said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!” And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly. And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it. They were utterly astonished, saying, “He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.””

  1. Praying prior to feeding 4000 people (Mark 8:6)

“And He *directed the people to sit down on the ground; and taking the seven loaves, He gave thanks and broke them, and started giving them to His disciples to serve to them, and they served them to the people.”

  1. Praying before Peter’s great confession (Luke 9:18-20)

And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, “Who do the people say that I am?” They answered and said, “John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again.” And He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.”

  1. Praying during His transfiguration (Luke 9:28-35)

“Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not realizing what he was saying. While he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen.”

  1. Praying after hearing the report of the seventy (Luke 10:17-22)

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.“ All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.””

  1. Praying before teaching the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:1-4)

It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.” And He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. ‘Give us each day our daily bread. ‘And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’”

  1. Praying at the grave site of Lazarus (John 11:41, 42)

“Jesus *said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. “I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus *said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.””

  1. Praying in the upper room prior to His death (Luke 22:14-18)

When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.”

  1. Praying for Peter (Luke 22:31-32)

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

  1. Praying His great High Priestly Prayer (John 17:25-26, Read all of 17)

“O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

  1. Jesus prays for unity with the Father (John 17:21)

“That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

  1. Praying in Gethsemane prior to His death (Mark 14:36)                                               And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.”

20. And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.”

  1. Praying on the cross (Luke 23:34, read all the seven words of Christ on the cross)

“But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

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Presence and Peace

One day as the disciples of Jesus were returning from an amazing mission, Jesus invited them saying, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31) The word translated “secluded” here is the Greek word, eremos. It describes a place where there are no distractions—a place where the focus could be on connection with Jesus. A little while later, Jesus and his followers were surrounded by people with spiritual hunger and the perspective of the followers shifted. Now they said, “This place is desolate.”(Mark 6:35) The disciples of Jesus had become worried about what the folks who followed Jesus would eat. The word translated “desolate” is the same Greek word, eremos that as translated earlier as secluded. So what’s up with the difference?

What is the point we are making? It is a simple point: the difference between seclusion leading to rest and desolation leading to anxiety is what the disciples were focused on. In the first case, the disciples were focused on Jesus as He invited them to a place of quiet and rest. In the second case the disciples lost their focus on Jesus and were more aware of the circumstances making them anxious.

Beloved, Jesus calls us to a place of total focus on Him; not a divided focus with one eye on Jesus and the other on whatever we might be worried about. It is from our focus and rest on Jesus that we might navigate whatever kind of circumstance we find ourselves in. Jesus says in Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” I know my focus has shifted when I become anxious or fearful. Whatever stuff we find ourselves in, let us shift our focus onto Jesus who is the beginning and the end of our faith. Where are you focused? Let us put aside the business of the day and listen to the One who longs to connect with us. “Come away to a secluded place and rest awhile.”

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No More Caterpillars With Wings

On a recent long drive to Findlay Ohio, I was reflecting on John 3 and the meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus. To be sure, many sermons and books have been offered on this well known passage.  Folks at football games tend to hold up banners shouting John 3:16,“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NLT) There is also in this passage Jesus’ instruction that we must be “born again” or “born from above” to see or enter the kingdom of God (v 3,5).  We have often treated this injunction as a single moment or declaration as fire insurance or a ticket to heaven. (More on that later) But Jesus intended something far deeper. (More on the Jewish roots of “born again” later)

As I was meditating on this familiar passage of scripture on my drive, the Spirit seemed to whisper these words and thoughts to me. “Thom, I’m not really interested in caterpillars with wings.” An interesting image came to me or a fuzzy little caterpillar with wings attached. They were out of place and could not lift the caterpillar off the ground. The message was clear, we, like Nicodemus, need to enter into the place of darkness to be totally transformed much as a caterpillar enters into the cocoon to becoming a new creation. God is not asking us to add anything to what we are: He wants us to become something totally new—a complete exchange. God is not interested in our remodeling projects–adding something different to an existing structure. He wants to tear down the house and make something brand new that looks like Him! As I considered this later statement it occurred to me that the probable reason that Nicodemus came out to talk to Jesus in the darkness was two-fold: In John 2 Jesus turned or overturned the tables on mere religion declaring that the temple, that was designed to be a connecting pace with God, had become a house of merchandise. Something that was intended to be internal and transformational had become a sideshow. As Jesus looked at the temple, devoid of the presence of God, He declared, “Tear down this (religious and empty monstrosity) and I will rebuild it in three days!” (John 2:19) In fact, this was the very charge the legal types lodged agains Jesus in the kangaroo court of religion. His accusers shouted, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” (Mark 14:58 ESV) Beloved, When Jesus is instructing us to be born again, He is talking about a total transformation.

There is a difference between change and transformation. Change leaves the essential structure alone and adds something to it. Transformation however, means a total exchange from caterpillar to butterfly. We know when that transformation has taken place because we no longer think like caterpillars with wings. We think and feel what Jesus thinks and feels. We are no longer caterpillars who strap on make-shift  wings to try and soar a little higher spiritually. We are becoming spiritual people. Transformation is not a temporary shift; it’s a permanent reality. Lord, help me to enter into the darkness of the cocoon as Nicodemus did coming to you at night. I’m not always comfortable in the dark, but it is the venue of transformation. Lord, I enter the darkness of transformation beyond my understanding by your grace alone knowing that even in the darkness your hand will lead me (Psalm 139).

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