When The Heavens Turn to Brass (Unanswered Prayers)

Bible Book: Psalms  66 : 8-10
Subject: Prayers, Unanswered; Praying
Introduction

Tonight I’m going to speak to you as a church family about an issue that concerns every child of God. Every Christian, at some point in time, will ask the question as to why his or her prayers seem to go unanswered. Only God knows the answer to that question, but there are some clear indications in the Bible about why God will not hear or does not answer the prayers of believers. I cannot exhaust the reasons for unanswered prayer this evening, but I do want to share four reasons with you in this time of worship.

We need to be aware that the door to heaven is open to the children of God for prayer. That door was unlocked through the blood of Jesus, who tore down the wall of partition which existed between sinful man and Holy God. As Jesus died on the cross, the veil of the Temple was rent in two from top to bottom. It is not only significant that the veil was torn and the Holy of Holies opened up, but it is also significant that the veil was torn from the top to the bottom and not from the bottom to the top. The point is that man did not open the way by tearing the veil from the bottom, but God opened the way into His presence by tearing the veil from the top downward. Man does not work his way into a place of acceptability with God, rather God has given us grace through His Son and has provided a passageway to His throne

The Holy of Holies was the innermost sanctum of the Lord. Only the High Priest could go there during the Old Testament days of the Tabernacle and Temple worship. All others stood at a distance with fear and trembling. But Jesus is the Great High Priest, and He has gone into the Holy of Holies in heaven, and He has taken His blood and put it on the eternal altar of God, thereby opening the way for all of us. Thus, we are told to come to the Throne of Grace boldly!

But why is it that sometimes we cannot seem to walk through that open door? Why do we sometimes experience a sense that the heavens have turned to brass and a wall separates us from our God when we pray? That is our question for tonight, and with God’s help we are going to learn why this is sometimes the case for the children of God.

Granted, prayer is a mystery and we do not understand it totally. Of course, we don’t have to understand it to stand upon it! Moses did not understand the power of the Rod of God, but it did not keep the rod from being the conduit of God’s power. Gideon did not understand the dew and the fleece, but it did not prohibit him from experiencing the mighty power of God. The little lad did not understand the miracle of loaves and fishes, but it did not keep the glorious banquet from taking place among the thousands present that day.

While we seem to have no problem with the miracle of answered prayer, which certainly we can't fully understand or explain, we seem to have great problems with unanswered prayer. Ted Turner has said that he would never become a Christian because God did not hear him when he prayed for his sister to survive when they were young. Thus, he is man who turned his back on God forever because of one unanswered prayer. We often talk about the power of prayer, but few of us realize the power of unanswered prayer - the power of doubt that can then condemn the human soul.

One thing is for sure, if we think we know someone who can touch heaven with prayer, we want them to pray for us. We know how important prayer is and we desire for our prayers to be answered in the way which we feel is best for us and those we love.

A Pulpit Committee was searching for a preacher and they asked the Associational Missionary for a name. Since all the men in that west Texas church were big burly fellows, the missionary thought they might want a big man. The missionary asked, “How big a preacher do you want?” One of the men on the committee said, “Well, we don't care how big he is, just so when he gets on his knees he is big enough to reach heaven!” Yes sir, that is big enough! We all want someone who can reach heaven for us.

Actually, each born again believer can pray, for each of us has equal access to the Father. The Bible says that God is not a respecter of persons and He does not respect me more than He respects you. There is no spiritual gift of prayer. Granted, agreeing with each other in prayer has value, but the Bible points out that the effectual, fervent prayer of ‘a righteous man’ avails much. That means that just one righteous man can pray a profitable, advantageous, and victorious prayer.

So, why are our prayers not always answered the way we desire? What is the problem?

I. Contaminated Prayers

Some prayers are not answered because they are contaminated.

Look at Psalm 66:16-18:

16 “Come and hear, all you who fear God,

And I will declare what He has done for my soul.

17 I cried to Him with my mouth,

And He was extolled with my tongue.

18 If I regard iniquity in my heart,

The Lord will not hear.”

You can clearly see that God will not hear our prayers if we regard iniquity in our hearts. When the Bible says God will not hear, the text doesn’t mean that He can’t perceive what we say, but it rather means that He will not listen to the request as if ready to answer it.

The idea of regarding iniquity in our hearts means something very specific. The word ‘regard’ speaks of knowingly keeping a sin in our lives while praying as if all is well.

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale told a story from his childhood on one occasion. As a boy, Peale had seen men smoking cigars and it looked so enticing and grown up that he determined to smoke one himself. He happened to find a cigar in an alley and he lit it and took a puff on it. Just then, he saw his father coming down the street toward him. He placed the cigar behind his back in an attempt to hide it from his father. Please noticed a sign across the street about a circus coming to town. As his father got closer to him, he sought to distract his father’s attention by pointing at the sign and asking, “Father, may we go to the circus while it is in town?” His father replied, “Son, never make a request while holding a smoldering disobedience behind your back!”

Be assured that God will not answer positively our prayers when we are hiding sin in our hearts. After all, no sin is hidden from His eyes! Jesus said, in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” We need to examine ourselves from time to time to be sure that we are not keeping a sinful habit, thought or practice in our lives while trying to pray.

So, first, God will not hear the prayer of a person who is holding iniquity in his or her heart. Next notice the subject of…

II. Unforgiving Prayers

In Mark 11:25 we read, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”

This is a very serious passage of scripture, for it reminds us that we cannot pray properly while holding a grudge against another person. This is true even if the person has injured us in some way and we have a human right to want some type of revenge. We must forgive the wrong done to us and then our prayers can be offered. This doesn’t mean that illegal wrongs may not be pursued in a proper and legal manner, or that crimes committed against us should go unpunished by authorities. This speaks of the attitude or our hearts before God regarding these matters.

Some years ago, a preacher did something to hurt me. At first, I was angry and a feeling of revenge rose up in me. While praying one day, God brought this issue and my attitude about it to my mind. I sensed that the Lord was prompting me to promise Him that I would help that preacher if I ever had the opportunity to do so. It may sound easy as I tell you about it, but it wasn’t easy at all. I promised the Lord right there in that prayer that I would do that very thing. I promised, perhaps thinking that such an opportunity wasn’t likely to present itself to me anytime in the future. But, a couple of years later I had the chance to recommend that preacher to a church. It happened that the preacher in question had been removed from his former church and was in a secular job. I recommended him enthusiastically to a pulpit committee and they called him to be pastor. What a joy came over me, knowing that I had done what God asked and it had turned out so well. Then, after a short while, that pastor suddenly and prematurely died. Oh, how my heart was overcome. You see, I had been given only one chance to obey God in this matter, and I had acted properly. Had I missed it, that preacher would have died and the fact that he never pastored again would haunt my mind the rest of my life.

When you hold a grudge, you don’t hurt the other person, you hurt yourself. To hold a grudge is like putting poison in a drink and then swallowing it yourself.

God will not answer your prayers if you bear judgment and hate toward others. This doesn’t mean you have to like what someone has done to you, and certainly doesn’t mean that you are to put yourself in a position for a person to harm you again. Keeping a grudge means that you don’t desire revenge for revenge sake. You don’t desire to see the person harmed or hurt. It means that you are able to forgive and leave the issue with God without any feeling or desire for reprisal or payback. No, it isn’t easy, but if we desire to have an effective prayer life, we must learn to accept God’s way of handling he hurts that are done to us by others.

One piece of advice might help at this point. When you have been damaged financially, harmed physically, or wounded emotionally by the actions or words of a person or persons, the memory will inevitably return from time to time. This can cause you to suffer all over again, or to seethe inside as you think about the pain you felt and still feel. How can one deal with such a problem? Remind yourself that you left the issue with God. You can say to yourself, "Now, remember that you laid this at the feet of Jesus a long time ago. He has it. He'll take care of it. Move on!" In other words, you have to talk to yourself sometimes before you can talk to God in prayer! Also, it is good to remember someone like Joseph who saw what his brothers had done to him as a means of God granting him and others blessings that might not have occurred otherwise.

Now notice another reason are prayers are not answered.

III. Selfish Prayers

Look at Proverbs 21:13:

“Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor

Will also cry himself and not be heard.”

What a thought that is – when I hear of a need and shut my ears to the cry, God may just shut His ears to my cry when I am in need!

Look at James 4:3, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”

Selfish prayers are narrow and tend to treat God as Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. God is not an errand boy who jumps at your whim and whine. Prayer is serious business and we must be careful not to turn it into a “wishing well” mentality.

The text found in James 4:3 speaks of praying for worldly prosperity rather than spiritual opportunity. It means that we are trying to keep up with the Jones’ rather than keeping up in our walk with Jesus. A desire for increased power, possessions or pleasure expressed in prayer can block the answer to our other prayers as well. How many times have we prayed for God to grant us greater wealth so that we might decrease the sorrow of the poor or aid the suffering of others? How we pray about such matters can make a great difference in how all our prayers are answered!

This does not mean that we cannot and should not pray about our personal needs. Certainly we are call upon God in such matters. But, we cannot pray the way Janice Joplin sang some years ago:

“O God, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz;

My friends all have Porsches and I must make amends.”

Often our prayers are like little children whining for another toy when the closet in their room is full of them. God takes no pleasure in such prayer and those who offer them take the chance of shutting the door of heaven on all their requests.

Lastly, look at another reason God may not hear us when we pray.

IV. Doubtful Prayers

Lastly, let’s look at a fourth and final reason our prayers may not be answered.

In James 1:6-7 we read, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord…”

Now, please know that the Bible is not saying that anyone who has qualms about getting an affirmative answer to prayer will never be heard by the Lord. No, if you look at this passage very closely you will notice that James using an illustration about a prayer without faith being like the sea that is driven by winds. This means that we must not pray and then look at everything happening around us to discern if God is answering. Many winds blow in our lives and sometimes the worst winds carry us to be best shores. We must not allow our minds to be tossed all over the place by every circumstance once we have prayed. We must pray and leave the matter with God – there is no peace for a Christian in any other manner of praying.

When I pray, I am to know for certain that God has heard me because I’m hiding no sin from Him, I am holding no grudge against another person, I am not praying for self-enrichment at the expense of others, and I have enough faith to trust God to answer my prayer in His own wisdom and His own way. Prayers of that kind will always be heard and always answered in God’s will.

Note one other issue regarding a prayer of faith. James tells us that if we lack wisdom, we are to ask God for it. That means that we can ask God to help us know how to pray about a matter. He will grant us wisdom to trust Him through the entire process. We may be required to go through many hardships along the way, hardships that seem to have no relevance to our prayers. We are not to look at those problems but to keep our focus on God. He is working. The wise Christian will know that. God is working and He doesn’t do it my way. We are to keep our faith in Him, in His wisdom, in His power and we are to know that He cares about us. He is working out His perfect will in every situation where prayer is offered correctly. Oh, what peace that brings!

Conclusion

We all go through periods when we feel our prayers are not being answered. If you have been a Christian for a while, you know by now that God doesn’t work on your time schedule. Yet, in due season you come to see exactly what God was doing with your prayers, even though you were blinded at the time to His workings on your behalf.

So, let us be sure that we are meeting God’s conditions for proper praying, and to continue praying with importunity, steadfastness and faith.

Daniel prayed once for three weeks but his prayer was being held up by the devil. Daniel didn’t quit praying, he didn’t question God about it, and he didn’t get mad at God. Even though He didn’t know why a quick and ready answer was not given, he prayed on with faith and persistence. He just continued faithfully and prayed through! So can you and so can I!