THE PROBLEM OF “UNANSWERED” PRAYER

Scripture Reading: Habakkuk 1:1-4

“How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but You do not listen?” (Habakkuk 1:2a)

This is a problem that every child of God faces at one time or another in life. There are times when it seems that God doesn’t hear our prayers, or at least, it seems that He doesn’t answer our prayers. Why is this the case, especially during times of severe distress? There are several facts that we must consider as we ponder this question.

First, sometimes the answer is obvious; it is revealed in God’s Word. This was the case with Habakkuk. God’s Word makes it clear that God is a God of justice. He will deal with sin — “Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:7b). We must search the Scriptures and as we do, we will find many of God’s answers within them.

Second, we may be going through times of severe testing and it is difficult for us to discover God’s answer. This was the case with Job. Job had to go through a process to get God’s answer. The answer was always there, but Job count not see it because he was in such distress and, of course, his friends didn’t help him much either.

Third, there are times in which God makes us wait a while before giving us His answer. Several times we are told in Scripture to “wait on the Lord.” This takes great trust in HIm. We must be patient and keep our eyes open for the answer.

Finally, there may be situations in which we will not find the answer this side of heaven. We have to submit to God and trust Him no matter what.

How, then, do we handle times of distress as we wait on God? We must remember these things about God:

God is God. He is sovereign over all things. He is fully in control.

God is good. His essential nature is one of goodness. All that He does is good.

God always knows and does what is best for His children. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans8:28).

The bottom line is that we must trust God during these difficult times. Habakkuk came to this conclusion when he wrote — “But the righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).

Sovereign and loving God, I know that You hear every prayer I lift up to You. I know that You will answer them in Your own way and in your own time. Grant me grace to wait patiently and to trust You fully no matter what I am facing. I know that You are God; You are good; and You always know and do what is best for me.

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“ONE WHO IS EMBRACED”

Scripture Reading: Habakkuk 1:1-4

“How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but You do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but You do not save? Why do You make me look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.” (Habakkuk 1:1,2)

The book of Habakkuk was written prior to the fall of Jerusalem. God’s people had drifted back into sinful practices. They lived for their own pleasure and had forsaken God and His law. Thus God raised up the prophet Habakkuk to confront the people. His name means “embracing” or “one who is embraced.” We will see how fitting this name is for Habakkuk as we work our way through the book. God will come to Habakkuk during his times of discouragement and confusion and lovingly embrace him.

From the opening words of the book, we see that Habakkuk was struggling with some problems that most sincere Christians wrestle with. Habakkuk had been crying out to God, but God had not answered his prayers — “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but You do not listen?”

Habakkuk was also struggling with the wickedness and injustice that was taking place among the people of God — “Why do You make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.”

Most sincere Christians struggle to understand why there is so much violence, evil, strife, and injustice in this world. We see it everyday. The news is full of stories about these things. Life in this fallen world is filled with disappointments, struggles, tragedies, and conflict. Yes, we live in a broken, fallen world. We must be realistic and we must also remember that God is at work among us. We may not understand what He is doing; but we do know that He is in control of all things.

Our great comfort is the truth found in Habakkuk’s name — we are being embraced by God; we are not alone in our struggles. Read these assuring words from Psalm 15:

“Lord, You have assigned me my portion and my cup; You have made my lot secure.” (v. 5)

“I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (v. 8)

“You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.” (v. 11)

God embraced Habakkuk during his times of trouble and be assured that He is embracing us as we face the difficulties and uncertainties of life.

Lord God, I have known Your loving embrace during my times of trouble. I have experienced Your loving arms as You held me near. Thank You for the assurance that I am never alone. I am in the palm of Your hand and cannot be in a better place.

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GOD’S LOVING PROVISION

Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:16-23

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

As we come to the close of Paul’s epistle to the Philippians, one verse stands out in a prominent way — “And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” What a promise this is! God promises to supply all our needs.

Why do we become so anxious about our future? Why do we fret over what we don’t have? God promises that He will supply every need we have; yes, “every need” the verse states.

Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount come to me — “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25,26). God promises to take care of us because we are valuable to Him. He lovingly provides what we need.

Notice where God’s provision comes from — “according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” He will fulfill His promise to supply our every need according to His infinite resources. God lavishes His love and grace upon us. He delights in supplying all our needs.

Finally, notice that God’s loving care and provision is based on the merits of His Son, Jesus Christ. Do you remember these words which are found in Romans 8? “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31,32)

Lord God, I have seen Your hand provide for me and my family over the years. You graciously and lovingly have provided for my every need. I thank You for this glorious promise and trust You to continue providing for my every need. I know that You did not spare Jesus, but freely gave Him to save me. Why should I not expect You to take care of me after You did such a gracious and extravagant thing on my behalf?

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LEARNING TO BE CONTENT

Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:10-13

“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12,13)

Most of us realize this fact — contentment does not come naturally nor easily; it must be learned. Contentment is not based on one’s circumstances. It can never be found in material possessions or even temporary moments of happiness. Our deepest needs for security and significance cannot be satisfied apart from our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Contentment is developed through resolve and dependance. Paul said, “I can do all things.” He had the resolve to move forward. He had the resolve to be satisfied in times of plenty and in times of want. But the real secret of contentment is found in the rest of the verse, “through Him who strengthens me.”

I believe dependence upon Christ is the “secret” of learning contentment. When we learn to depend on Him in both the good times and the difficult times, we can find genuine contentment. Our ultimate contentment is found in our relationship with Jesus. In Him, we have security. We are safe in His hands and He will never let us go. And we also have significance through our relationship with Him. We are His workmanship. We are loved and accepted by Him. We are valuable and precious to Him.

The secret we must learn to practice is found in these words — “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Lord Jesus, I confess that all too often I am not content. Forgive me for trying to find meaning and significance in anything or anybody besides You. Enable me to have the resolve to be contented in whatever circumstances I find myself in, as I learn to depend on You for the strength to do so.

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PRACTICE THESE THINGS

Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:8,9

“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philppians 4:9)

Paul tells us to put into practice the things we have learned. Having head knowledge is not enough. If what we know isn’t influencing our actions, it has little value to us. Earlier in this epistle Paul wrote, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12b). We are to work out the implications of the gospel and put them into practice.

Paul was a mentor and a disciple-maker to many. He lived out his faith. He devoted himself to living a life that brought honor to Christ. Therefore, he could say, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things.”

As I thought about this passage, I realized how important it is for us to have mentors, especially those who will help us grow spiritually. Christ’s call to His church is to make disciples. We must be willing to invest in the lives of others. We are called to model the Christian life in order to equip others to follow Christ and who in turn will equip others.

Another things that stands out in this passage is the difference between education and transformation. If what we are learning isn’t having a life changing impact on our lives, we are simply being educated and not experiencing transformation. The gospel changes us from the inside out. It affects our hearts and actions, and not just our minds.

Think about Paul’s words, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” I hope as a father and grandfather that I can truthfully say these words to my children and grandchildren. We set an example to others by the way we live our our faith. When we realize that the God of peace is with us, we have great ability to work out our salvation.

Lord Jesus, give me the ability to live our my faith. May Your Spirit transform my life as I learn more and more about You. Enable me to be a godly example to my children, grandchildren and friends. I cannot do this without You, but I know that I have the God of peace with me.

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THINK ABOUT THESE THINGS

Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:8,9

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Paul has been writing about the peace of God (v. 7). Now he writes about our thought life. A verse came to me that put these two things — peace and our thoughts — together. It is Isaiah 26:3 — “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts you.” What we think about affects us greatly. Our thoughts can make us sad or glad. It can affect our behavior as we act on the things we are thinking about.

Look at the things Paul tells us to think about — things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent things and things worthy of praise. When we think on these things we feel better about ourselves and we are more prone to act on that which is true and honorable. Our minds have tremendous power over our emotions and behavior.

Self-talk is what we do when we are alone and we are thinking about things. We begin to talk to ourselves into despair or into happiness. When we focus on the negatives, we get negative. But when we focus on the positive, we get positive direction for life.

Read the passage again and do what it tells us to do. Think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and commendable. “If there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” You will be surprised what will happen when you do!

Lord Jesus, I yield my thoughts to You and to those things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and commendable. Let my mind dwell on those things that please You and I know that I will experience Your peace in my heart.

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THE PEACE OF GOD

Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:4-7

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

We must distinguish “the peace of God” from “peace with God.” “Peace with God” is the result of our justification — “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). “Peace with God” is an objective thing. At one time we were hostile toward God, and were enemies with Him (Romans 5:6-11). But because of Jesus’ work on our behalf, we have now been reconciled to God. We now have “peace with God.” We are in a secure and unalterable standing with God.

The “peace of God” is more subjective. It is something we can experience deep within our hearts and minds. Peace is one of the communicable attributes of God. We can share in His peace. “The peace of God” originates in God, who Himself possesses it. It is a gift of God’s love to His children. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23).

“The peace of God” is founded upon God’s grace. One author wrote that it is “the smile of God reflected in the soul of the believer.” It is the firm conviction that He who spared not His own Son will surely also, along with Him, freely give us all things” (Romans 8:32).

In many ways the “peace of God” surpasses all understanding. We can be going through times of intense difficulty and suffering, and yet have peace. It doesn’t make sense to unbelievers. It doesn’t seem reasonable or even possible to them. But God’s children know the peace He gives regardless of our circumstances. We know that He is with us and that we have nothing to fear. That is “the peace of God” in action.

Lord Jesus, You are the Prince of Peace. Thank You for making peace with God possible for me. And thank You for giving me Your peace in my heart and mind. You said, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

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DEPENDANCE UPON GOD

Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:4-7

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving list your requests be known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

Prayer delivers us from anxiety. Prayer shows our utter dependance upon God. We come to realize that we cannot, but He can. Believers know how dependent upon God we really are. Prayer reminds us of this dependance. It allows us to rest in our Lord and to know He will do all things well.

Prayer enables us to see life from God’s perspective. It causes us to rest in His sovereignty. David understood this — “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1). David had one driving desire in his life — “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in HIs temple” (Psalm 27:4). Yes, prayer takes us straight into the presence of God.

We do not have to be anxious about anything. Rather we are to pray about everything. We are to let our requests be known to God — all of them! We must learn to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand as we cast all our cares upon Him — “Humble yourselves therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you” (I Peter 5:6,7).

When we pray, we must remember how much God cares about us. He knows what is best for us. Therefore, all our prayers should include thanksgiving. When we pray specific supplications with thanksgiving, we can be assured that God hears and that He will act in His own time.

Lord God, thank You for the blessing of prayer. I know that I can come to You at any time and lift up my requests to You. Thank You for hearing my prayers and I am certain that You will always do what is best for me.

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REASONABLENESS

Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:4-7

“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:5)

Being reasonable has to do with learning and practicing self-control, which is one of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23). It means remaining stable, keeping your balance and being at ease. It involves controlling your thoughts and actions.

I have witnessed people who go to pieces when they face times of difficulties and troubles. They actually dissolve into uselessness. They loose control of this emotions. Some become angry and bitter and they become totally unreasonable.

In seeking to define the Greek word used in the text, one commentator wrote, “There is not a single word in the English language that fully expresses the meaning in the original.” A combination of the following words helps us move toward an understanding of the word — forbearance, yieldedness, kindness, gentleness, sweet reasonableness, considerateness, charitableness, mildness, and generosity.

Reasonableness has to do with the way we respond to crises and uncertainties. It means not being reactive but being thoughtful before we act. Then we can be proactive rather than reactive. Reasonableness enables us to act with a divine perspective in mind. Being reasonable helps us overcome anxiety.

The great truth that helps us respond to difficult and uncertain situations is this fact — “The Lord is near.” We are never alone for the Lord is near. When we realize this fact, we can be reasonable in our thoughts and actions. Jesus is with us and we have nothing to fear!

O Holy Spirit, may I yield more and more to Your presence in my life. May Your fruit permeate my mind and heart. Give me the ability to be self-controlled, to be reasonable even when I’m facing the uncertainties of life. I know that Jesus is near me and that I have nothing to be anxious about.

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REJOICING IN THE LORD

Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:4-7

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)

Praising God is so important for those of us who are believers in Christ. Psalm 53:1 says, “Praise is becoming to the upright.” It is the right thing for a Christian to do. Our chief end according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Praise enables us to do both.

When we praise God we find incredible joy. We also find direction for our lives. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” I really love that verse. When we come into the presence of God and delight in Him, we will find fullness of joy. We will see God for who He truly is and we will experience His joy deep within ourselves.

When we praise God, we will get our perspective right. Praise causes us to lift our eyes above our circumstances and turn them toward our loving, sovereign Lord. We know His power and we grasp His sovereign control over our lives. When we realize these things, we are set free from anxiety. It is then that we can even rejoice in our sufferings — “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:2b-5).

When we rejoice in God, we too will rejoice — “For as he thinks within himself, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7). Our feelings will follow the way we think and act. When we rejoice in the Lord, we will feel joy in our hearts. There is no greater joy than the joy we experience when we rejoice and delight in our glorious Savior.

Lord Jesus, I lift up praise to Your holy name. You are my Savior, Lord, King and the great joy of my life. I rejoice in You for who You are and for what You have done for me. May my praise be pleasing in Your sight this day.

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