Pastoral Ministry
in the Real World Click Now to Order
What Does God Say When People Pray (Part 3)
2 Cor. 12:8-9 


"Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. [9] And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me." 

Every Christian knows the sheer delight of answered prayer. Regardless of how long you've been saved, I know you've had at least one prayer answered-the "sinner's prayer." If you've been a Christian any length of time, you've also experienced the frustration of unanswered prayer. 

You've read verses like, Jeremiah 33:3 NIV "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." Or Ephesians. 3:20 NIV "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us," and claimed them for your need. But when the dust was settled, your need remained and God had said "no."

How can that be? Did God go back on His promises?

In our text today, Paul admits that he too experienced the frustration of unanswered prayer. Three times Paul asked God to remove a thorn in his flesh and three times, God said "no."

What does God say when people pray? Sometimes, He says "no."

Aren't you glad He does? I mean, what kind of shape would your life be in today if God said "yes" to everything you ever asked from Him?

When I was a young evangelist, I met a girl who took a fancy to me. Like I am now, I was a bit brain dead back then-not really aware of her motives or intents. She would follow me from town to town to listen to me preach, or so I thought. On one occasion, she brought her mother, grandmother and aunt to meet me. Now that I think about it, it is spooky, but at the time I just thought she thought I was a great preacher. I know, you who hear me preach every week are wondering how I could have ever thought that, but I was young and oblivious.

With time, I did get a clue, especially when I got a letter from her in which she stated that she felt it was God's will for her to marry a preacher and God told her she was supposed to marry me. I wasn't flattered. 

She was sure that God had answered her prayers and that she was supposed to marry me. One afternoon she called, after Susan and I married. My timid wife told her, "I don't know what God has told you, but I'm telling you to leave my husband alone."

She did.

Think about it for a minute. How could God answer this lady's prayer and still accomplish His will for Susan and I to marry? Or a variation on the question. What if God said "yes" to every teenage boy in the 70's that wanted to marry one of "Charlie's Angels?"

As a loving earthly father will do, our loving heavenly father often tells us "no."

Why does God say "no?"

Some people we expect God not to answer--people like rapists or murderers.

John 9:31 NIV says, "We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will." Proverbs 28:9 calls the prayers of a lawless person, "detestable."

In another place in Proverbs, the Lord said, "But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, [25] since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me." (Proverbs 1:24-25; 1:28 NIV)

Aren't you glad God doesn't give murders what they ask for? Wouldn't the world be a horrible place if child molesters could get whatever they wanted from God?

But Paul was a righteous man, right? Why wouldn't God answer his prayer? By the way, have you noticed that we call prayer unanswered when God says "no?" Isn't "no" an answer? Why do you think that is? Could it be because we feel entitled?

Sometimes God says "no," even to righteous people if they ask with wrong motives. James 4:3 says, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures." (NASB)

James also teaches that some people's prayers are not answered because they are wavering. James 1:6-7 says, "But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. [7] For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord," (NASB)

Pride can also get in the way of answered prayers. Job 35:12-13 says, "There they cry out, but He does not answer Because of the pride of evil men. [13] Surely God will not listen to an empty cry, Nor will the Almighty regard it."

In the Gospels, Jesus told a story about a prideful, self-righteous person whose prayer wasn't answered. Jesus said, "The proud Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: 'I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don't sin, I don't commit adultery, [12] I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.' I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored." (Luke 18:11-12; 14 NLT)

Job also teaches that God does not give hypocrites what they ask for. Job 27:8-9 "For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul? [9] Will God hear his cry when trouble cometh upon him?" (KJV)

Paul wasn't perfect, but I have no reason to question his motives or accuse him of being prideful or hypocritical, so why didn't God remove the thorn in his flesh?

I know God cared for Paul. Paul wrote: "May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope," (2 Thes. 2:16 NIV)

The Apostle John wrote similar words, he said, "And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him." (1 John 4:16 NIV)

So why didn't God, who loved Paul give him what he asked for?

Because, he had something better for him than a thornless flesh-His grace! 

In a few short months I'll reach the five year mark since a doctor first diagnosed me with cancer. A milestone of sorts, because that is the mark when a cancer patient is cured. Most of you know my story, so I won't relive the details for you, suffice it to say that my life went into a tail spin with the cancer discovery. I lost my voice and faced losing my ministry and means of supporting my family. They were dark days.

I've always struggled with anger. But for the first time in my life, my anger was white hot-so hot it was inexpressible. How could God call me to preach and take away my voice to do it with? Why did He make me go to college and Seminary for ten years and three degrees if I couldn't use what I learned there? For me those years weren't easy, I worked full-time through all of them and did my studies in my spare time. During my Master's and Doctorate, I commuted 120 miles one way to attend classes in Los Angeles. Why would he make me work so hard only to take everything away from me?

Anger really isn't the word. I was livid!

Then I looked at my wife and children and wondered how I could support them. I didn't savor the notion of cashing a disability check every month and trying to make it stretch for the rest of my life.

Believe me, these were hard days. I prayed for God to deliver me until I couldn't pray anymore. Have you ever been so deep in depression that you can't see light, no matter how bright it is? Have you ever tried to pray, but couldn't?

For almost a year, I whispered or croaked, but I didn't talk. Then after a third surgery, God worked His miracle and healed me.

Today, if God said to me, I'll give you that year back. You can go back to a cancer-free state, you can relive the year with your voice and without cancer, but you'll never know the loyalty you experienced from a Church that stood beside you, or the love that came to know from your bride who lived her wedding vows, "in sickness and in health" before you, and you will never know that the bottom of your despair is covered with grace. I'd say, no thank-you. I'll keep the cancer.

Why didn't God give Paul what he wanted? Because he chose to give him what he needed-His grace! 

Impact Preaching: A Case for the
one-pointexpositiory sermon