Why Aren't My Prayers Being Answered? - Proverbs 15, Matthew 21

A service plan focused on our prayer lives and the struggles we face when our prayers do not seem to be answered in a series addressing life's toughest questions for Christians.

Worship Service

Theme of the Service

This service deals with the third of "Life's Toughest Questions." The first two questions focused on big life-issues - "What's the Point of Life?" and "Why Isn't Life More Fair?" This one is more specific. It deals with our prayer life, and, in particular, the struggle we have when our prayers do not seem to be answered.

The theme of this service, therefore, consists of prayer, trust and persistence when our prayer life becomes disappointing. Include encouragement to pray, actual praying, and pastoral support for when faith is tested.


WE GATHER IN WORSHIP

Prelude: "The Lord Is My Shepherd", Held [organ]
or: "Songs of the Shepherd", Carter [piano]
or: "The Lord's My Shepherd", Page [handbells]

The Call to Worship

*Opening Psalm of Trust: "The Lord, My Shepherd, Rules My Life" PH170, PsH23, RL89/90, SFL201, TH85/86/87, TWC330/615

*Our Declaration of Trust and God's Greeting:

Congregation of Jesus Christ, in whom are you trusting?
Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Grace, mercy and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen!

The Children's Moment


WE ARE RENEWED IN GRACE

Sung Prayer: "Spirit of God, Who Dwells within My Heart" PH326, PsH419, RL445, TH338, TWC290

The Call to Confession

In Psalm 66 the Psalmist gives thanks to God that he answers our prayers. But he also admits that "if I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened." (v.18) Knowing that, let us confess our sin to the Lord.

Our Prayer of Confession

Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness' sake, O Lord!
Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
For your name's sake, O Lord,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.
Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart,
and bring me out of my distress.
Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.
(from Psalm 25, NRSV)

The Assurance of Pardon

Hear the good news of gospel concerning our forgiveness!
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
(Psalm 103: 8-13, NRSV)

Thanks be to God for his mercy to us!

Song of Gratitude: "Give Thanks" RN266, SNC216, TWC496

God's Call to Grateful Living - Colossians 3:5-17

Anthem: "Let the Word of Christ", Gieseke


GOD SPEAKS THROUGH HIS WORD

The Old Testament Reading: Psalm 61

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Song: "Those Who Wait upon the Lord" SFL 215

The Reading of Scripture: Proverbs 15:29 and Matthew 21:21-22

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

The Prayer for Illumination

Lord God,
help us turn our hearts to you
and hear what you will speak
for you speak peace to your people.
Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

(from Psalm 85:8)

Sermon: Why Aren't My Prayers Being Answered?
(Life's Toughest Questions - #3)

The Prayer of Application


WE RESPOND WITH TRUST

Offertory: "O Rest in the Lord", Mendelssohn

A Reading from Psalm 34

Intercessory Prayers

Sung: "O Lord, Hear My Prayer" (SNC 203, sung multiple times at the cue of the accompanist.)
Spoken Intercessions
The Lord's Prayer [in unison]

Sung Prayer: "Listen to My Cry, Lord" PsH 61:1-4

*The Benediction with Congregational Amen!

*Song: "On Eagle's Wings" RN112, SNC185, WOV779

Postlude: "On Eagle's Wings", Callahan

* You are invited to stand

Sermon Notes:

The material of this sermon takes us into very sensitive territory. Though some may want to push the whole question aside by saying something about all prayers being answered though some are answered in ways that we can't see, the fact remains that many of God's children have to live with the disheartening feeling that God has not listened to or answered them. We should not settle for simplistic answers to this serious faith-testing circumstance!

The two texts which serve as the basis for this message are large, broad and positive promises about God's willingness to hear and answer prayer. Both texts should be explained in their setting. But then we ought to move to the honesty and candor of admitting that often it doesn't seem that way. Citing some illustrations with which listeners can identify will help them to step into the problem being addressed. Some Christians handle that disappointment patiently; others become mildly discouraged; but others become cynical and find it hard to trust God and may even give up praying.

The Bible illustrates six possible answers to this question that may be considered:

1. God will answer but this is a temporary delay. See John 11:1-6.
2. God's "non-answer" is a wise denial. 1 Kings 19:4, 15-18.
3. God may have a better alternative in mind. See 2 Corinthians 12:8-10.
4. The problem may be our nearsightedness. See Habakkuk 1.
5. We may be praying with wrong motives. See James 4:3.
6. We are living in sin. See Psalm 66:18.

After setting forth these six, I felt it was very necessary to speak pastorally to all who were listening, many of whom were trying to find their way through their struggles. Three pieces of pastoral advice concluded the message:

1. We should never assume that God's silence necessarily means God's inactivity. When God seems not to be acting, he may be ever so busy behind the scenes!

2. We must learn to live with mystery. There are no easy, simple answers and explanations. Our life of trust calls us to let God do things his way and at times even go without any answers at all, yet still trust him.

3. All our questions and struggles about prayer should never allow us to quit praying. We are called to patience, persistence and faithfulness, even when praying is difficult.

Romans 8:32 provides a comforting and reassuring promise with which to end this message. If we take our struggling listeners to the cross and see the gift there for us, we can gain new strength to trust him for all other things as well.even when we live without the explanations!

Music Notes:

Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations:
PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
SFL Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church, Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America; Great Commission Publications)
TWC The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)

Music Level Key: E = Easy, M = Medium, D = Difficult

  1. The suggestions for prelude music can be found as follows:
    -"The Lord Is My Shepherd" by Wilbur Held, published by Morningstar MSM-10-420 [1999] (E)
    -"Songs of the Shepherd" by John Carter, published by Hope 1967 [1996] (E-M)
    -"Brother James' Air" by Anna Laura Page, published by Alfred 19650 [2001] for 3-5 octave handbell choir.
    The selections for organ and piano are both collections of arrangements of hymn tunes based on the Psalm 23 text.
  2. The opening hymn could be sung with some variation: stanzas 1, 4, and 5 by all, stanza 2 by women and stanza 3 by men.
  3. The anthem "Let the Word of Christ" is based on the passage used as the Call to Grateful Living. It both serves to reinforce that text and to bridge into the Service of the Word. This unison anthem is composed by Richard Gieseke and published by Concordia 98-2903 [1990] (E). It can be sung by children, adults, or as a solo.
  4. The offertory music is taken directly from the piece of the same title in Felix Mendelssohn's "Elijah". It could be sung or the melody line could be played by a solo instrument, accompanied by either piano or organ. It can be very effectively played on an oboe or bassoon. Jan Sanborn has arranged this aria for solo piano in "Piano Music for the Care of the Soul", published by Ron Harris RHP0403 [1997] (M). If you choose to use this piece instrumentally, you may wish to insert the text into your order of service to aid the congregation's reflection.
  5. The closing hymn "On Eagle's Wings" can be sung by all if your congregation is familiar with the song; if not, you may wish to have a soloist or choir sing the verses, with the congregation joining on the refrain.
  6. The postlude is taken from Charles Callahan's "This Is the Feast", published by Concordia 97-6575 [1996] (E-M).

Liturgy Notes:

1. The readings in this service have been selected so that each of them creates an awareness of prayer as communication with God and the great privilege of the Christian.

2. The Children's Moment is placed early in the service so that its message can be something independent of the major question addressed in the sermon. To talk with children about unanswered prayer may be something too big for them to grasp and may confuse them. However, a few minutes with them about the privilege of praying and how they are learning to pray would be helpful.

3. The service of confession (We are Renewed in Grace) is structured and formulated to emphasize the nature and structure of our dialog with God. The liturgist calls us to make confession; we speak our penitence corporately; the good news of pardon is spoken to us; we respond with thanks; and then we hear God's call to make our lives a grateful response.

4. You will notice there are multiple uses of and references to the Psalms, the prayer book of the Bible. Psalm 23 is sung as the opening hymn. Psalm 61 is the Old Testament reading, and Psalm 34 forms a reading after the sermon. Words from Psalm 85 form the prayer for illumination.

5. The post-sermon reading from Psalm 34 might be more meaningful if a moment is taken to introduce it as a Psalm of David, written in retrospect as he recalled the way in which the Lord delivered him from the hand of Saul in Gath.

6. The intercessory prayer is intended to be a responsorial so that worshipers are drawn into it. Introduce them to the sung prayer, and ask them to follow the lead of the accompanist if they are not accustomed to such a format. Such a prayer requires very close cooperation between the liturgist and the accompanist. It is very considerate to write out such a prayer so that the accompanist has a copy of it and knows when to enter. We suggest a pattern like this:

Sung response
A prayer of thanks for evidence of the ways in which God has heard the prayers of his people through the ages.
Sung response
A prayer of intercession for our loved ones who are in difficulty, physically, emotionally or spiritually.
Sung response
A prayer of intercession for those who struggle with their faith and fear they have lost their hold on God.
Sung response
A prayer of intercession for persecuted and oppressed Christians, for the suffering of our world, and for the leaders of nations.
Sung response

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