Sunday Sermon #3: What If You Pray But Nothing Happens?

Does that mean your prayer life is garbage?

Does it mean that God is not listening or simply not there?

Does it mean you’re being punished for some sin?

Does it mean you need to pray harder, longer, faster, stronger?

The going platitude these days is P.U.S.H.:

But what should be happening?

How do you know you’ve “pushed” enough?

I can back that up scripturally, you know. In Acts 12, the saints prayed until Peter popped out that jail scot-free. Or how in Daniel 3, Daniel prayed for 21 days until he got an answer from the Lord. Or how Paul told us all that the effectual fervent prayer of the righteous availeth much. Or how God told Habakkuk after he said I’ma stand here and wait on an answer to write the vision and make it plain.

I can also scripturally disprove its effectiveness. How Moses stood before the Red Sea and God told him, “Bruh! Stop talking to me! What’s in YOUR hand?” Or how David prayed that God would spare his child and the child still died. Or how Job got reamed for asking all them questions and still got no real answer to his plea. Or how Paul asked God 3 times to remove something from his life only for God to say, “Or…nah.” Or how Jesus kneeled and pleaded for a pass because…crosses hurt.

What does it mean then to “push”? What should you expect in response? And how do you know?

We often pray for situations to change, for things to happen or not happen because the immediacy is of the moment demands we do something. And I figure praying is probably the best thing to do. But I wonder if sometimes we are praying selfishly–you know, asking God for something with a wrong heart.

Just a week ago, I was literally whisper-screaming a prayer to the Lord for a good hour because the place I have found myself in was so untenable to me. My battle scars had scars and I was exhausted. When I finished, a simple thought flashed across my weary mind. I’ll tell it to you: anger lives in the heart of a fool. That’s scripture. And the Holy Spirit was gently showing me the heart of my problem. I was (and still am) angry. And what I was asking God to do in that moment was born out of my anger, and not God’s will. It smacked of distrust that God not only could but would do what was best for me. And that, in the mean time, I had some more work to do inside myself.

I think praying until something happens works; just be prepared that the “something” has nothing to do with what you’re praying for. God’s purpose always prevails, and God’s first purpose is always what’s in your wallet–in other words, what are you carrying around with you?

Is your life being defiled by what’s coming out of you? Is your struggle, your circumstance that you’re praying about a moment of inner reckoning gone public? That’s what Jesus said in Matthew 15: that the things that come out of our mouths come from our hearts and those things defile us. So what are you praying for? About? What do your prayers sound like? I’m not talking about how “churchy” they sound; God doesn’t care about that. I mean are you listening to yourself as you pray? Are your inner issues and selfish motives shining through? It could be that the thing you are praying about is an opportunity to fix yourself, as Jesus goes on to say in that same passage:

He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted. (Matthew 15:13)

And that is the hard work. You cannot get around it if you’re walking with God–the rooting out, the pulling up of old habits, emotions, ideas. You will accrue enough mercy to make it through, but grace kicks in where you admit that there are yet things not like God inside your heart choking you out.

And you cannot pray your way around that. In the words of Iyanla: You Gotta Do The Work. You cannot substitute prayer for denial and laziness. Which is not to say that prayer is a lazy thing; I mean to say that praying but never doing the life changing work necessary to grow is a waste. Once God shows you the true nature of the thing you’re wrestling with, you must dedicate yourself to healing and deliverance (whatever that might look like based on God’s plan). You cannot go back to the same way expecting different results.

Pray until something happens means that we ought to pray until God shows us the work we need to do. For me, it meant dealing with my anger so that I could make some real decision from a place of wisdom. For Jesus, it meant facing his fear and the cross. What dos it mean to you?

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