Luke 1: 5 - 23
Prayer Can Change Your Life - last week we talked about making contact with God – based on the Lord’s Prayer. Today I want to talk about how God answers prayer or "How to Receive an Answer from God." There are 4 attitudes I believe we need in order to have answers to our prayers. Sometimes we do a lot of praying, but we don't expect an answer. Why doesn't God answer? We're going to look at that today. How does God answer?
1. I must be Willing to Let God Answer in His Own Time
According to His timetable - whenever God thinks it's best. God often delays answers to prayers. He doesn't answer everything immediately. Why? That was the reason Zacharias was so skeptical. Sometimes we have a hard time believing God's going to answer our prayers. But if God sent a special angel to say, "I'm here to tell you, God has answered your prayer." I think we'd be convinced.
Zacharias was an amazing guy. An angel comes and says, "God sent me here. I am Gabriel, the archangel and you're going to have your prayer answered." Zacharias says - v. 18 - ultimate skeptic. Why didn't he believe it? Because he’d stopped praying that prayer years before. If you read the passage casually it looks like "He went into the temple. He prayed. And the angel came and said, `Your prayer’s been answered.'" But the fact of the matter is, they had given up on this prayer years earlier. Zacharias said, "I am an old man and my wife is well along in years." He says, "We gave up on that prayer a long time ago."
God often delays - you've got to let God answer in His own time. v. 13 "The angel said to him, `Don't be afraid Zacharias, your prayer had been heard'" Tense means it's already happened.
God answers our prayers immediately, but sometimes there's a delay in the giving of the gift - one of the hardest things we have to learn.
Children don't understand the difference between "no" and "not yet". "Mom, can I have a biscuit?" Not yet. They might have a fit – you’re never going to give them a biscuit. Immature people don't understand the difference between "no" and "not yet". The mark of maturity in the Christian life is this: How long can you wait? Babies always have to have it immediately. But a mature person can wait.
"I tried prayer - I prayed for 2 weeks and nothing happened. I've given up on prayer. I've lost my faith in prayer." No, you haven't lost your faith. You've lost your patience. You spell faith - PATIENCE.
Why does God delay answers to prayer? He needs to prepare us first. He needs to get us ready. He wants to bless us but He has to prepare us for it. My little boy says, "Daddy, can I drive the car today?" He's 7 years old! I say, "Not today. One day you'll drive the car. When you grow up and you've learned how to drive. But not yet." God waits many times to answer our prayer for us to grow up.
We think we're ready before God does. Habakkuk's big question was "Why?" "How long, Lord?" Have you ever said that? "How long are You going to let me go through this?" If He sees and He cares and He's got the power to do something about it, why doesn't He? He usually wants to change you first - your attitude. God is more interested in making you mature than He is about making life easy. Financial difficulty? God says "I want you to learn the right attitude about money first and then I will help you." Problem in your marriage? God says "First you need to change your attitude and then I can start working in your marriage."
God is never late. His timing is perfect. God's delays are not God's denials. "Not yet" does not mean "No". How do I pray when prayer is being delayed? Keep on praying until –
A. You get the answer.
B. You get the assurance that you're going to get it. Sometimes God says, "I'm going to give you this" and you're sure of it and you stop asking God for it and you start thanking God for it and you start acting on it. Mark 11 "When you pray believe that you've receive it, and you'll get it." So you keep praying until you get it or until you get the assurance.
C. God reveals to you that it's not His will. You become uncomfortable praying about it and you don't have any peace so you stop praying. So to receive an answer from God, we must be willing to let God answer in His time.
2. I Must be Willing to Let God Answer in His Own Way
Not only whenever He thinks best but however He thinks best. God's ways are always better and usually bigger - Isaiah "My ways are not your ways." What would have happened if God answered Elizabeth and Zacharias' request for a baby immediately? They would have had a little Jewish baby and they would have loved him or her. But God delayed the request for a number of years and when He answered He gave them John the Baptist, cousin of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist was like the announcer pointing to Jesus - "Here He is!" God delayed Hanna's request for a son many years. When He finally gave her a son, He gave her a Samuel, the great OT prophet. God does this.
Our problem: We ask too little and we want it too quick. Ephesians 3:20 "But God is able to do even exceedingly above what you are able to think or imagine." The way God does it, is like the way He gave the land of Israel to the Israelites. When they were led across the Red Sea and got to the Promised Land, God said, "I'm going to give you this land, but you're only going to get it little by little. I'm not going to give it to you all at once because it'd overwhelm you."
God says, "Let me answer in My time and My way." You're praying about a job. You want a change and all of a sudden it falls through. Don't sweat! God's got a better idea. You're praying about a situation. All of a sudden, it doesn't work out. Don't worry about it. God's got Plan B. Actually it is Plan A - yours was Plan B! The prodigal son. What did he say? "Give me my inheritance!" He got it and it ruined him. Let God answer in His time and let God answer in His way.
3. I Must be Willing to Let God Answer in His Own Power
His own ability. Don't try to help God out. Don't ask for it and then you go out and try to work it out on your own. Let God answer in His own power. That's called a miracle. The fact is God often waits until the situation is humanly impossible before He answers. When did God give Zacharias and Elizabeth a baby? When they were beyond childbearing years. They said, "We're too old!" They were physically unable to have kids. Then God answered. When God answers an impossible situation, who gets the credit - all the glory? Same thing happened to Sarah and Abraham. The point is that God waited until it was humanly impossible, hopeless, then He answered the prayer with a miracle.
Warning: If you start praying about something, particularly a problem, do not be surprised if it gets worse before it gets better. You're having problems in your marriage and you start praying, and your mate gets more hostile, or you're praying about a financial problem and all of a sudden it gets worse, or you're praying for somebody to get well, and they get sicker.
Sometimes God will let things get to the point of hopelessness in order that He might gain the most glory out of it. Let God answer in His power. His plan is to let the thing get out of our control and when you're about ready to give up hope, that's an opportunity for a miracle.
The story of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Jesus intentionally delayed. Jesus just calmly looked at them and said, "Mary, Martha, if you'll just believe, you will see the glory of God. You'll see a miracle." The point is, Jesus waited until the situation was humanly impossible and then He did it in His own power.
Jarius had a daughter who was sick, dying. Jesus is walking to Jarius' home and stops and turns around and says, "Who touched Me?" The disciples are saying, "What do You mean, `Who touched Me?' You're in a crowd." What would you do if you were Jarius? Your daughter's dying and Jesus says, "Who touched Me?" "Jesus, who cares who touched You. My daughter is dying. Let's move it. Let's go." Jesus stops and hears the woman's story and He heals that woman right there on the spot! There was a delay. Jarius' servants come from home and tell him, "Forget it! It's too late. The girl's died." Jesus turned to Jarius and says, "Jarius, don't worry about it. Just keep on believing." He goes in and raises the girl from the dead.
Point of that story - While you are waiting for God to answer your prayer, keep your eyes open to see confirmations of God's power in other people's lives. When you are waiting for a prayer that's been delayed, you keep your eyes open to watch God at work in other people's lives and it will build your faith. Do you want an answer from God? Be willing to let God answer in His own time. Be willing to let God answer in His own way. Be willing to let God answer in His own power.
4. I Must be Willing to Let God Answer for His Own Purpose
Not only whenever He wants, however He wants, but also for whatever reason He chooses. God answers prayer - for our growth and for His glory.
Why did God answer Elizabeth's and Zacharias' prayer for a son? Because He needed a John the Baptist - He had a purpose for that little boy. He knew that Elizabeth and Zacharias would raise him well.
Story of Joseph - God said to Joseph in a dream, "You're going to be the ruler of a great county." Then what happened? Joseph was promptly sold by his brothers into slavery. He goes as a slave into his master's home, his master's wife tries to seduce him, he would not give in, so the wife has him put in jail. That's not exactly the way to build a political career. His whole career is downhill. But God made him second in command in Egypt in His own time, in His own way, with His power - Joseph had nothing to do about it - for His purpose.
Point: Sometimes God answers our prayers through the most unlikely people.
When you pray and the request is not right, God says "No."
When you pray and you're not right, God says, "Grow."
When you pray and the timing is not right, God says, "Slow."
When everything's in place, God says, "Go."
He gives the green light and you're able to move.
What about your prayer life this morning? Are you willing to let God answer your prayer in His way, anyway He sees fit? In His time, whenever He sees fit? Whatever way He thinks best? In His power? It may mean that things don't go all as planned for a while, and they may get worse, so God can do a miracle when the situation becomes humanly impossible. Are you willing to let God answer your prayers for His purpose? What is His purpose? Your growth and His glory.
Why are you praying what you are praying? What's your motive? If you're praying for health, what are you going to do with that health in your body once you're got it? If you're praying for financial freedom, what are you going to do with all that money once you've got it? If you're praying for a new job, what are you going to do with it? Will God get any glory out of it? Are you willing to let Him answer in His time, in His way, in His ability, for His purpose?
“Lord, help me to know You better. Help me to realise how much You love me. Help me to know Your plan for my life. Help me to cooperate in that plan. I want to know You personally, not just a religion but a relationship. Make Yourself real to me this morning. I want to believe in You. I do believe in You. Thank You for loving me. Thank You for dying on the cross for me. Help me to understand it more.
Lord, thank You for Your word. Thank You that it's practical and relevant and it applies to our lives. Help us to let You answer our prayers in Your way, in Your time, for Your purpose, in Your ability. We know that Your ways are always better and usually bigger. In Jesus' name. Amen.”