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Sunday Sermon Recap: The Challenge of Unanswered Prayer

by Dr. Stephen Rummage on January 21, 2021

Sermon Date: January 17, 2021, Scripture: Luke 1:5-25


We meet Elizabeth and Zechariah in the fifth verse of Luke’s Gospel. They were an older Jewish couple who lived in the hill country of Judea. Though they had been married for many years, they never had a baby. They wanted one desperately and even prayed for one, but they never got pregnant.

And now, after so many years of asking God, and hoping, and being disappointed, they had nearly given up. But God had something in store for them. Something that would change their lives. Something that would play an integral part in God’s purpose for the Jewish people. Something that would fulfill ancient prophecy and promises from God. Something that would prepare the way for God’s Son, Jesus Christ. 

As we look at what God did in Elizabeth and Zechariah’s lives, we’ll see how God uses ordinary people, with ordinary issues and struggles, to accomplish His eternal purposes. And God accomplishes those things through prayer. This passage in Luke shows us 4 times you can count on God to answer your prayers. 

You can count on God to answer your prayers…

1.  When you are faithful to God, and you wonder, “Who notices?” (Lk. 1:5-6)

Two people with God-honoring positions and God-honoring names were righteous before God and walked blameless in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord (v. 6), but they struggled with unanswered prayers. In any time and in any culture, infertility can cause deep disappointment and hurt. Elizabeth knew that the people around her noticed her childlessness, and drew the worst conclusions. In verse 25, she calls her childlessness, “my reproach among people.” People around her considered barrenness a punishment from God, but that’s why the words of verse 6 are so encouraging. God assures us that Zechariah and Elizabeth were “righteous before God.” When you are seeking God and your prayer seems unanswered and you wonder who notices, the answer is, God notices.  

Most of us are playing out our lives in front of someone. We can become really interested in how we are perceived by our neighbors, our friends, or our family. But the most important thing is knowing that God, who sees the depths of our hearts, counts us as righteous and blameless. That’s when He honors our prayers. You can count on God to answer your prayers when you are faithful to God, and you wonder, “Who notices?” 

You can also count on God to answer your prayers...

2.  When you are calling on God, and you wonder, “How long?” (Lk. 1:7-10)

Have you ever prayed, and waited on God to answer back, and maybe you asked God, “How long?” Sure you have. Zechariah and Elizabeth must have asked that question. Now let’s focus on two prayers here in this passage. One we might call a big, overarching prayer. The other we might call a small, personal prayer. The big, overarching prayer was for a Messiah. Zechariah and Elizabeth joined with all Israel in praying a prayer that had been offered for hundreds and hundreds of years. “God, send a Messiah. Send you Anointed. Send a Redeemer. Send a Savior.” And they wondered, “How long?” The small, personal prayer was the prayer of Zechariah and Elizabeth, a prayer for a child. And they had been praying that prayer for decades. 

Here’s what I want you to consider: God was not ready to answer Zechariah and Elizabeth’s personal prayer until the time came to answer Israel’s national prayer. And God was not ready to answer Israel’s national prayer until the time came to answer Zechariah and Elizabeth’s personal prayer. When you are calling on God and wondering, “How long?” Remember, it’s not just about you. God’s work in your life personally is always part of His larger plan. You can count on God to answer your prayers when you are calling on God, and you wonder, “How long?” 

You can also count on God to answer your prayers...

3.  When you are waiting for God, and you wonder, “What’s next?” (Lk. 1:11-17)

There’s no way that Zechariah, in his wildest imagination, could have been prepared for what happened next. A heavenly messenger — a mighty angel, a warrior of God, Gabriel — appears standing on the right hand side of the altar, between the altar and the golden candlestick. We don’t know how the angel looked, but his appearance must have been amazing, because Zechariah was gripped with fear. Gabriel tells Zechariah not to be afraid. And then, this announcement: “Your prayer has been heard.” Here’s the question: Which prayer? The prayer for a child that he and Elizabeth had brought to the Lord years ago. Or the prayer for a Messiah that Zechariah had just offered at the altar. Here’s the ultimate answer: Yes! God was bringing Zechariah and Elizabeth a son, John, to prepare the way for His own Son, Jesus. They prayed. God heard. And God answered. 

God heard Zechariah’s prayer the moment he prayed. He answered Zechariah’s prayer at just the right time. When you wonder, “What’s next?” And you’re waiting on God, remember, God heard your prayer the moment you prayed. He will answer your prayer at just the right time, in just the right way. You can count on God to answer your prayers when you are waiting for God, and you wonder, “What’s next?” 

You can also count on God to answer your prayers...

4.  When you are uncertain about God, and you wonder, “How so?” (Lk. 1:18-25)

“How so?” In what way are you going to do this? How can I know this? How can this be? Zechariah asked that question, but he should not have been uncertain about God’s ability. He was acquainted with the Scriptures. He knew about how God miraculously brought about the births of Isaac, Samson, and Samuel. He should have known what God could do! When you pray and God answers, and you wonder how His answer is working, keep trusting Him. 

When prayer seems unanswered, God still hears and answers prayer. That’s why Jesus said what he said in Luke 18:1; And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” You can count on God to answer your prayers when you are uncertain about God, and you wonder, “How so?” 

What should you do when it seems like your prayers are unanswered? Two simple guidelines. 

First, check up. Is your heart clean? Is your walk before God blameless? Are you praying for God’s glory, or just for your own desire? Second, keep on. Keep on praying. Don’t stop until you have an answer, whether that answer is “yes,” or “no,” or “God has something else for you,” or “wait,” or “stop.” As long as the burden to pray is there, keep praying. 

No matter what you’re going through, how big or small, we can always bring it to our God in prayer. If you would like anyone to pray with you, or if you have any spiritual needs, please call (405) 302-3030, or you can text your first name to (405) 256-4701.

Watch the full sermon here


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