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Touching heaven: When God seems far away

Does God seem too busy to answer your prayers? Do the answers you receive seem as if he never even listened?

Stephen M. Luchterhand

We sometimes think that the almighty Creator and Sustainer of all is quite busy. He must have bigger priorities to tend to than the infinitesimally small and insignificant chirpings, tweetings, whinings, postings, and pleadings by the likes of us. God just doesn’t always message back as quickly as we think he should.

Communication, then, would seem to be better with people we can actually see and hear. In our digital age, we communicate with more people in more ways more often and more clearly than ever before. Because we are so connected, miscommunication and misunderstanding are at a minimum. Right?

We wish! It’s not even close. When we’re not communicating well with one another, it’s ugly. The question isn’t so much “Can you hear me now?” Raised, angry voices can be heard. The question is “Are you listening to me now?”

If we have trouble communicating with people we can see and know and love, we’re going to have trouble communicating with God. Why? And how do we keep the lines of communication open so we can touch heaven with our prayers?

PRAYER BLOCKERS

What hinders communication with God? Are there so-called prayer blockers that keep us from praying and prevent our prayers from reaching God’s ears?

For starters, we’re busy. We allow other things to get in the way of taking the time to pray. We may spend more time thinking about prayer than actually doing it.

Another impediment to prayer? We’re selfish. Review your prayers and ask, “Am I telling God what to do or am I asking him? Do my prayers follow the example of the prayer Jesus taught us to pray?” Not until the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer—halfway through—do we pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” Do our prayers concentrate first and only on our personal needs? Are we forgetting other important concerns like our church, our missions, our young people? The list goes on.

Another prayer blocker is doubt, a lack of confidence. “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord (James 1:6,7). Our prayers should be spoken in confidence, knowing that our heavenly Father wants his children to bring their requests to him. He promises to listen and respond. Trust his invitation and promise.

But of all the things that sabotage communication with God, the number one prayer blocker is sin. Isaiah emphasizes this: “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). Sin separates us from God. We’re not referring to a few slipups a day, but sins of thought, word, and deed as countless as grains of sand on the beach, every one of which deeply offends God.

Isaiah spends most of chapter 59 highlighting our natural spiritual condition and how we act on that sinful nature. Later, he writes, “For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities” (59:12). Three different words for sin appear in this one verse, a testament to the stunning ability and creativity of humanity to explore the depths of depravity. The meaning of the Old Testament Hebrew word for offense is a rebellion against the love and faithfulness of God and his standards. Iniquity is to follow a crooked path or to deviate from God’s standards. Sin means to miss the standard set by God.

When your home wireless Internet connection goes down, it seems as though the world has come to an end. This is only a slight exaggeration. Smartphones revert to satellite links and chew up data. Laptops and iPads become less useful, and Netflix streaming comes to a halt. No effort is spared to remedy a broken wireless connection. There is no rest until the connection is restored.

God spared no effort to solve our spiritual dilemma. He planted a tree on a skull-shaped hill: a dead tree, two pieces of wood lashed together in the form of a cross. He placed his Son there and on his shoulders put our rebellion against him, our crooked actions, our misses and failures, and our sins—my sins, your sins, the sins of the whole world. Before we ever asked him to, before we ever said we were sorry, before we were even born, God carried out his plan of love. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). A risen Christ assures us of forgiveness and life with him forever. God has removed the barrier to our communication with him. We have access; we pray.

RESPONSES TO UNANSWERED PRAYERS

And yet we have questions. In the trenches of daily life, in the midst of the ongoing battles we face, how can we reconcile a God who is able to do anything and everything with a God who often seems far away? God, it seems, remains silent or at least takes considerable time to answer prayer.

When prayers seemingly go unanswered, rather than complain to God or look elsewhere for help, we will do what God’s people have done since the beginning of time: we will seek God’s clear counsel in his never changing, life-giving Word.

In time of trial, rather than question God or blame him for things I don’t understand, I will remember that he sees the big picture. He holds me in the palm of his hand and close to his heart. I will praise him for promising that he won’t give me more than I can handle and for promising that he does answer my prayers in his own time and in his own way—always for my best. Sometimes God will leave the problem in my life, and his answer is simply, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

When someone dies despite prayers for healing or when we ourselves face death despite fervent prayer, we will not second-guess our Savior. Remembering that our times are in his hands, we will praise him with the words of Job: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:21).

Whenever we search in vain for answers, we will remember the wondrous ways of our God: “ ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’ ” (Isaiah 55:8,9).

In the end, there is only one way to think of God’s response to our prayers: “I prayed, and I got exactly what I needed.”

Stephen Luchterhand is pastor at Deer Valley, Phoenix, Arizona.

This is the sixth article in a seven-part series on prayer.

 

 

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Author: Stephen M. Luchterhand
Volume 102, Number 09
Issue: September 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Touching heaven: Prayer 411

Prayer 411

Information, please. What can we learn about how to pray from God’s Word?

Stephen M. Luchterhand

Misinformation about prayer abounds. Skeptics consider prayer an unnecessary waste of time and breath. Believers may treat prayer rather mechanically as they go through repetitive motions long imprinted on spiritual memory muscles. For many, prayer is nothing more than the spiritual equivalent of a 911 emergency call. Others consider prayer a mere task to check off one’s “to do” list.

These perspectives on prayer minimize God to a mere divine ATM or a vending machine with ears. Ask for something, put enough prayer into the effort, push the right buttons, and wait for the results. If you don’t like what you receive, try again or feel free to express your disappointment.

There is so much more to the precious privilege of prayer. What information do we need to pray? If you need telephone information, you can dial 411. Prayer 411 is simply dialing into God’s Word for his information. Before your next heaven-bound missive, consider some basic information about . . .

Prayer GPS

GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) technology is all about location. In more remote regions of the United States, mobile phones can struggle to pick up a cell tower signal. Expansive forests and mountain ranges can hinder connections and leave a person “off the grid,” unable to establish a connection.

So when praying, does our location matter? The prayers of believers all end up at the same place: in heaven, at the throne of our heavenly Father. “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12). Our prayer connection isn’t dependent on a satellite or cell tower. Faith is the connection that establishes a link between God and his people. We can pray from any location, anytime, anywhere.

Jesus does offer some guidance about location. Prayer is a part of public worship and is God-pleasing. Jesus often prayed in public. He gave thanks for the food at the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:19). He prayed before a gathering of people in front of Lazarus’ tomb just before raising him from the dead (John 11:41,42).

Motivation is important in determining whether or not public prayers are God-pleasing. If done for show and to bring attention to self, Jesus says, “Don’t bother.” The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is an extreme example (Luke 18:9-14). Temptations for pride in public prayer are significant, so much so that Jesus often recommends praying in private. “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. . . . But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:5,6).

Public prayer is certainly acceptable, even desirable at times, “but Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16).

Prayer posture

Nowhere in the Bible does God prescribe a specific prayer posture. Believers throughout both the Old and New Testaments prayed in standing and kneeling positions. David wrote of lying down: “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:6). It’s hard to imagine Jonah standing up while inside the belly of the great fish that swallowed him.

What do we do with our hands during prayer? David spoke of lifted hands during prayer. “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2). A more common practice is to pray with hands folded to limit distractions and to aid concentration.

While heads can be raised and eyes opened while praying, especially when lifting up one’s hands, it may be more common for heads to be lowered and eyes closed. Such posture helps concentration, keeping one’s mind focused on prayer. If you are praying while driving, however, keep your eyes open! Again the Bible does not dictate specific prayer posture, but practices like these aid attention and focus.

Readiness speaks to posture. Christians are ready, at any moment, to offer up prayers to God. Prayer can be part of a regular routine. Daniel prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10). In his brief treatise A Simple Way to Pray, Martin Luther asserted, “It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night.”

The apostle Paul encouraged the Thessalonian Christians to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Elsewhere he urged, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18). God’s people are already ready to pray. Whether offering praise reports, urgent 911 intercessions, or requests on behalf of others, God’s people cultivate a constant prayer posture.

Prayer patterns

So when we pray, what should we say? Jesus offers an ideal template for prayer in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4). Entire volumes have been written to discuss and dissect each phrase and petition of this prayer. Because it covers so many aspects of doctrine, Luther’s Catechism treats the Lord’s Prayer as one of the six chief parts of Christian doctrine.

The Bible is filled with hundreds of prayers that cover the entire landscape of circumstances and emotions. Some great prayers of the Bible include:

● Genesis chapter 18 – Abraham’s plea for Sodom.

● 2 Samuel chapter 7 – David’s response to God’s promises.

● 2 Chronicles chapter 20 – Jehoshaphat’s prayer for help.

● Psalm chapters 32 & 51 – David’s confession and rejoicing in forgiveness.

● Psalm chapter 139 – David marvels at God’s power.

● Daniel chapter 9 – Daniel’s prayer of confession.

● John chapter 17 – Jesus’ prayer for his disciples.

● Colossians chapter 1 – Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving.

● Revelation chapters 5, 7, 19 – Prayers of praise to the Lamb of God.

In A Simple Way to Pray, Luther encouraged praying through parts of the Catechism. Using some of these great prayers of the Bible can help expand the patterns we use in our prayers. When we read these passages from the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is always present to strengthen our faith. He has promised to work through the gospel.

Is it permissible to make up our own prayers, known as ex corde (from the heart) prayers? God welcomes this. Such heartfelt, personal prayers break down the misconception that God is a mere divine ATM or a balky vending machine with ears. We have access to the throne of the King of the universe! This access to God is more than just being within range of a connection or somewhere close by. By faith, we are as close to him as a child sitting on his father’s lap, free to discuss anything and everything that comes to mind . . . in our own words.

Appreciate the many details and the rich texture of prayer. Rejoice in the thoughtful, powerful way God enables us to speak with him. Whether your next prayer is a 911-type emergency or a praise report, simply begin. Pray. Talk to God. Touch heaven.

Stephen Luchterhand is pastor at Deer Valley, Phoenix, Arizona.

This is the second article in a seven-part series on prayer.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Stephen M. Luchterhand
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us