Summary: This sermon seeks to show how God answers prayer.
Today is January 1, 2006, the first day of the New Year. It is also the first day of our annual Week of Prayer. Therefore it seems appropriate to preach a message on the subject of prayer.
All Christians pray. Some pray frequently; others pray infrequently. However, all Christians have asked at one time or another, “How does God answer prayer?” With that in mind, let us read Matthew 7:7-8:
"7 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." (Matthew 7:7-8)
Martin Burnham was a missionary pilot for New Tribes Mission in the Philippines. In the summer of 2001 Martin and his wife Gracia were captured by the Islamic rebel group Abu Sayyaf. They were held captive for 376 days. During the rescue on June 7, 2002 Martin was killed in the crossfire. Later, reflecting on their ordeal, Gracia Burnham wrote these words:
"Sometimes I wonder: why did Martin die when everyone was praying he wouldn’t? Why does Scripture lead you to believe that if you pray a certain way, you’ll get what you pray for? People all over the world were praying that we’d both get out alive, but we didn’t."
Gracia asked God for deliverance, but it was not given to them—at least, not to Martin.
Shortly after Thanksgiving one of the New Tampa Christian Academy Moms stopped by my study to ask me to pray for her relatively young mother, who was seriously ill in the Intensive Care Unit at the University Community Hospital. I prayed that the Lord would restore her mother to health and strength. On the last day before the Christmas break I saw the NTCA Mom passing my study window. I ran out and asked how her mother was doing, and was surprised to learn that she had died just a few days earlier.
I had asked God for the healing of this woman’s mother, and God had not answered my prayer.
I am sure you have had the experience of asking God for something, but it was not given to you.
Someone says, “I have been praying for my wife to get better, but she died.”
Or, “I have been praying for my husband to get rid of the pornography, but I keep finding it.”
Or, “I have been praying for a job, but I can’t find one.”
Or, “I have been praying for guidance, but none has come.”
Or, “I have been praying for a baby, but I keep miscarrying.”
Or, “I have been praying for (you fill in the blank), but God has not given it to me.”
I could give many more examples, and you can add your own. You pray, and it doesn’t seem as if there is an answer.
The Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne was the godly young pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Dundee, Scotland for about five years before his untimely death at the age of only twenty-nine in 1843. During the early part of his tenure as pastor of St. Peter’s Church, McCheyne was traveling. He wrote to his beloved congregation on the topic of prayer. He had been teaching on prayer and, apparently, had remembered something that he wanted to add to his comments about prayer. This is what he wrote:
"I do not now remember all the points I was led to speak upon to you, but one, I think, was entirely omitted—I mean the subject of answers to prayer. God left it for us to meditate on now. Oh, there is nothing that I would have you to be more sure of than this, that ’God hears and answers prayer.’ There never was, and never will be, a believing prayer left unanswered. Meditate on this, and you will say, ’I love the Lord, because He hath heard my voice and my supplication’ (Psalm 116:1)."
The Scripture is patently clear that God hears and answers prayer. After all, our text says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).
But, the question still remains, “How does God answer prayer?” That is the question I would like to try and answer today.
The answer I am going to give you is not original to me. I heard this answer years ago in a sermon by Bill Hybels. He apparently heard it from someone else. And, interestingly, it is not very different from the answer that McCheyne wrote to his congregation at St. Peter’s Church in Dundee, Scotland in 1839.