26 January 2007

Weighing God's Yes and No

by Dan Phillips

[And now, for something completely different from yesterday's fun and goofiness....]

If I were you, as soon as I detected that this is a post about unanswered prayer, I'd probably skip it. Is there anything new — and true — to say about unanswered prayer? It's hardly a fresh-minted topic. The saints of old, even the saints of very, very old (Genesis 15:3), would take a "been there, done that" view of the subject. The odds that I have anything new to say are slim to none.

Besides, as Spurgeon might say, if I did have anything new to say, it would probably be in error, anyway.

Nonetheless I share some of my own reflections, in the hopes that what gives me some comfort might do the same for you (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). But that depends in part on how similar you and I are.

If you are one of those people who naturally just loves prayer, and takes great comfort out of the act itself, you may not find much help here. Just being able to pray make you happy, encourages you, reassures you—no matter what does or doesn't come of it. God bless you, other things being equal; don't let me detain you.

But perhaps some of you have had crushing, specific needs for years. You are at the end of your resources, and beyond. If there's one more thing you can do, you haven't the faintest echo of the hint of a clue what it might be. But you have prayed. Oh yes, you have prayed, and you have prayed, and you have prayed. Specifically, fervently, earnestly, quoting Scripture, taking God's promises to Him as so many greater men of God have done in ages past (Numbers 14:13-20; 2 Samuel 7:18-29, etc.). You do not have, but it is not because you have not asked.

This one area—or these areas, or this cluster—does not seem to change. It doesn't budge. In fact, it may worsen. It is as if the situation taunts you, your faith, your powerless and ineffective prayers. "Prayer changes things," folks say. "Yes, right," you are tempted to snort. "It makes them worse."

The other day, as I drove to work in the early-morning darkness, I was bringing just such matters to the Lord. I was tired of hearing myself pray about them, and I told Him so. Not for the first time. I didn't even have anything new to say about them. When I began praying about them, years ago, they were urgent and vital needs. And now, years later, they are just as vital, just as urgent; in fact, more so. They need God's intervention; yet on that score, I haven't even seen a cloud the size of a man's hand.

So why does my heavenly Father seem so disinterested in needs that are vital, pressing, pivotal, and real? Why does He show no sign of care for something so horrendously momentous to me? Why is it as if He is asleep, as we rattle on about our screaming needs?

I put that very question to God.

Now, if that language shocks you, you might just review Psalm 13 in toto, the psalm Spurgeon almost called "the Howling Psalm, from the incessant repetition of the cry 'how long?'" You might look afresh as well Psalms 7:6 and 35:23 (Yahweh seems asleep?), 44:24; and even the prayers of the saints in glory, in Revelation 6:10, for starters. I concluded long ago that there is simply no point being disingenuous with God.

And as I prayed that morning, my mind ranged to the many things I often pray. And I reflected anew on them.

Every morning as I leave my house, my dear family, I feel an uneasy lurch, and I pray that God watch over them and protect them. And every time, hundreds of times, thousands of times, without exception, He has graciously said "Yes." Not so for many others in the broad world.

Every week (at least) I pray "Give us this day our daily bread." And every day, every week, for years and years without exception, God has said, "Yes." Not so for many others in the broad world.

Every week I pray that God will bless our pastor with a truthful, passionate word from the Word. And every week without exception, God has said "Yes." This is not to be taken for granted.

Every time I have dug into Scripture to bring something to the pulpit myself, I have asked God to open it to me, and to guide my thinking, and to give me something of His truth to say. And every time, He has graciously stooped to say, "Yes." This is not to be taken for granted.

Thinking of our last two children, and some worrisome concerns that arose during pregnancy, I remember that I prayed for my wife Valerie's safety, and for God's kind hand on our babies. And in both those cases, God graciously said, "Yes." This is not to be taken for granted.

In all the thousands of miles our family has traveled together, and the thousands we've traveled apart, I've prayed for safety on land, in the air, at sea. And every time, without exception, God has said, "Yes." This is not to be taken for granted.

But most pivotally for me, thirty-four years ago next month, I prayed to God for Jesus to be my Lord and Savior, that He would make me His own, to put His blood on me and forgive me all my sins. And God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit said, "Yes."

Those are some seriously whopping-big "Yeses."

So why do these other, undeniably critical unmet needs seem so much larger? It is because they are as yet unmet. Because I haven't yet seen what God is going to do in those situations, finally. Because I'm living in the not-yet.

But suppose any one of those yeses had been a no. Suddenly what seems like a small facet of my life would become THE overwhelming and all-absorbing throb of all existence to me. One phone call at work, lost employment, disaster, and suddenly the entire landscape of my world would alter.

Then that would become the need I felt most keenly, elbowing all else aside.

Am I saying that my ongoing crises aren't critical? No, I'm not; nor that yours are any less so.

What I am saying is that we characteristically forget that every critical, crying Not-yet is floating on a vast, billowing sea of Yes and Yes and Yes. If you are a Christian, reading this, God has said Yes to you far more often than He has said No; and you have every reason to believe that every No conceals a because I have a better idea. Behind our every prayer, our great Mediator, our Savior, our great High Priest the Lord Jesus Christ, pleads for us before the throne (Hebrews 7:25), adding His intercession to that of the blessed Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26).

I am saying that we all, on occasion, make the most spoiled-rotten brat look like a Model Child, through our bursting, thunderous ingratitude. At the very least, I am saying that for myself.

Indeed, what I'm trying to say has already been said better than I could ever phrase it:
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
(Psalm 103:1-5)
I leave you with that, and with the wish that you all be with God's people in church this weekend, hearing His word, loving His people, and thanking Him for his literally innumerable mercies.

Dan Phillips's signature

33 comments:

C.H.H. said...

That's the first time a Pyro post has made me cry. What a reminder. Thank you, Dan.

JSB said...

Beautiful post, Dan. I especially love:

"[E]very critical, crying Not-yet is floating on a vast, billowing sea of Yes and Yes and Yes."

Connie said...

Yes, and amen! You're exactly right, the discipline of recalling God's acts/provisions/providence on our behalf gives clear testimony of His faithfulness to answer.

We ARE "spoiled-rotten" brats much of the time.

This is a post that will stay with me for a long while, as I encounter my own failings and encourage others in their's.

This just MAY get us through the next two weeks!

Steven, said...

There you go again. Making me think, and reminding of how sweet brothers and sisters in Christ who meditate on His faithfulness are. Christ is grand, Dan.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Don Fields said...

That was a VERY timely post for me. I didn't realize how frustrated I was with some unanswered prayers in my own life. And consequently I didn't realize how ungrateful I had become.

Tears of shame, tears of joy, tears of sorrow, and tears of hope are flowing as I type.

Thanks!

donsands said...

Great reminder. Good exhortation.
So true.

I suppose the greatest portion of our prayer life should simply be us saying, "Thank You Lord. You are way too gracious."

Suziannr said...

TeamPyro always blesses me, constantly teaches me, provokes reflection and prayer but today you've touched a place in my life that has become a source of ....dare I say...unbelief in me. An unbelief in His ability and/or will. An unbelief that I battle daily. And by His grace ovecome almost daily. Thank you for the encouragement. His grace is ever True, He is Worthy of my praise and He is True to His Word. I can trust Him. Thanks, Dan

rick said...

EXCELLENT!!!!

But then again my sensors are down, e.g., I didn't pick-up on a single leaky-Canon anything.

Seriously - well done!

Kaffinator said...

Thank you Dan, a very encouraging post.

DJP said...

I didn't pick-up on a single leaky-Canon anything.

I'm losing it.

Garet Pahl said...

Thanks Dan. You have a blessed weekend as well.

LeeC said...

Thanks Dan.
I have quite a grocery list myself. The ironic thing is that I'm the guy known for hanging Romans 8:28 on everything, the first time I taught on Gods Word it was Phillipians 4:6-8 and I concluded with how we can let go of our desire for control because God is GOOD and He will always give us what we want...or He will give us something better. ;-)

And yet as is oft the case when the rubber meets the road I'm left asking why I can't seem to conquer some issue, to which I tell myslf that I am trying in my own strength, to which I ask why can't I lean on God more, to which I tell myself I can't do that in my own strength either, and then I go back to God and ask Him why he hasn't made me more dependant upon Him?

Of course He is, in His own perfect way and this stubborn mule that I am just has trouble seeing that. But he has answered oh so many prayers, ones I didn't even know needed asking he has answered.

We are so very blessed in spite of ourselves.

Mark said...

Thanks Dan,

Reminders I needed as a pastor to the flock the Shepard has given me.

I say it so much, it is good to hear it every now and then.

Mark

UncleNut said...

Thank you for the much-needed reminder. He tells us to pray, but I still often feel "guilty" for asking for more, with all He already does. And all of it truly, completely, undeniably undeserved.

LeeC said...

Just remember that He is glorified when we cast our cares at His feet Unclenut.

If we deserved even a small part of the blessings He gives us it would infringe upon His glory. :-)

MSL said...

Dan,

You said - "But most pivotally for me, thirty-four years ago next month, I prayed to God for Jesus to be my Lord and Savior, that He would make me His own, to put His blood on me and forgive me all my sins. And God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit said, "Yes." "

I can't count for you how many times I have asked God to confirm for me if I am a Christian; to make me one if I am not; to make me a bold witness, like those in Acts 8:4; to make me unfearful living in what some say are the 'end times'; to change me into the kind of person that's willing to say 'Yes, I know Jesus. And here's how you can know Him too.' I am nothing like that and I admire those who have such a joy in their lives. These are MY 'unanswered' prayers.

Dan, thanks for sharing your prayer frustrations with everyone. Very encouraging.

MSL said...

Dan,

You said - "But most pivotally for me, thirty-four years ago next month, I prayed to God for Jesus to be my Lord and Savior, that He would make me His own, to put His blood on me and forgive me all my sins. And God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit said, "Yes." "

I can't count for you how many times I have asked God to confirm for me if I am a Christian; to make me one if I am not; to make me a bold witness, like those in Acts 8:4; to make me unfearful living in what some say are the 'end times'; to change me into the kind of person that's willing to say 'Yes, I know Jesus. And here's how you can know Him too.' I am nothing like that and I admire those who have such a joy in their lives. These are MY 'unanswered' prayers.

Dan, thanks for sharing your prayer frustrations with everyone. Very encouraging.

centuri0n said...

Now, who would want to derail apost like this?

Hey Dan -- could you clear something up for me? Why does God say "yes" so well, so sufficiently? That is, what's his motive -- what Characteristic of Himself is he fulfilling?

I think the answer to that question does not derail this post: it drives it home 10,000 fold.

TheBlueRaja said...

Probably one of the best posts ever written here (which causes me to conclude that, unbeknownst to me, I must have actually written it).

Trinian said...

Shame on you for causing me to cry at work. That always seems to happen though when I am reminded of the full extent of the Father's Love for me. I don't know why He would choose to do something so crazy.

Ebeth said...

Well worth returning to during the next two weeks--assuming no one adds another post between. Thanks again.

mem said...

Well spoken, and well-timed (though by our Lord's providence). Thanks.

Rick Potter said...

Last night while praying for some situations in my life but also an ongoing situation in the my church, I used Ps. 119:126a "It is time for you to act, O Lord.."

And now....I am deeply humbled by this post. I even re-read it(in the flesh) looking for a place to insert a splitting wedge so that I could bring this mighty oak of a post down. I'm worn out trying to fell it. I submit. I surrender.

Dan, I want to say thanks, but not just in a simple way. It seems to me that you have reminded me of the "wonder" of God. You know, that kind you felt as a child, but sometimes suppress as an adult.

I love this post and hope you don't mind if I copy it. I think I will pass it out to my SS class. We are memorizing the entire chapter of Ps. 119 to recite before the congregation and this post will add perspective to one of the reasons we are doing so.

God Bless You Dan,

Rick

DJP said...

Praise God, Rick (and others), for His making some use of this.

You may print this up and give it away; just please assign appropriate blame (i.e. site URL, my name).

Dan B. said...

Dan,
Great post. I've been living in Psalm 13 and Hebrews 11 for quite a while with some pretty big questions. There was a song that was created (and that we sang at our church) from Psalm 13 that really brought the power of that psalm out that was quite difficult for me to sing for a long time.

There are times that I feel an almost spiritual exhaustion when I try to pray on these things, but as you said, we must cling to the numerous instances where he has been faithful when living in the "not yet."

Thanks for the reminder.

Robert Ivy said...

A wise post indeed. Perspective is always necessary as joy is never so full as when the heart can truly reach out to God in thankfulness for mercies received.

Jon from Reidville, SC said...

DJP: I have to echo the praise of many others. I sat and read your post with streaming tears of joy to think of all the answered prayers that we take for granted. And think of how many times God has delivered us when we did not even think to pray.
I also think of the times when I have wanted to pray and have not even had the words to say. And how blessed we are that God also understands our groanings!
The whole topic of prayer is a mystery when we pray to an Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent God and we need periodic reminders of how great a thing that is.
This is one of those blogposts that make up for a 10,000 leaky canon goofy posts and make us believe that there is some good in inhabiting the blogosphere!

Jon from Reidville, SC said...

DJP: I have to echo the praise of many others. I sat and read your post with streaming tears of joy to think of all the answered prayers that we take for granted. And think of how many times God has delivered us when we did not even think to pray.
I also think of the times when I have wanted to pray and have not even had the words to say. And how blessed we are that God also understands our groanings!
The whole topic of prayer is a mystery when we pray to an Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent God and we need periodic reminders of how great a thing that is.
This is one of those blogposts that make up for a 10,000 leaky canon goofy posts and make us believe that there is some good in inhabiting the blogosphere!

4given said...

Don't respond to me or I might cry and take it wrong. It's a girl thing... (and I hope you know I am joking.) I hear you have to be pretty clear about that around here. :-/

Dan... will you STOP making people cry. Have you not learned by now how to make shallow, meaningless posts that don't make people stop and think?

Just another spoiled and rotten brat I am... *sigh*

But really... thanks for this one, Dan. Excellent and to GOD BE ALL THE GLORY!!!!

Rose said...

What a beautiful post. Made me cry too. God is sooo good and what a pleasure it truly is to serve him!

sf said...

Thank you Dan, once again...may God bless you richly.

(BlueRaja-your post made me laugh out loud! : ) good stuff)

This is consistently the best blog on the internet, IMHO.
Libbie, I am praying for you!

sf

dec said...

Sure this was a great post, but I am touched by the great comments (especially after this past week).

DJP said...

I agree about the Comments, dec. I've often thought that the Comments rivalled (or surpassed) the post in value.