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HOW TO RECEIVE AN ANSWER FROM GOD

Prayer Can Change Your Life - Part 4 of 4


Luke 1:5-23
Rick Warren


We're in a series of messages on "Prayer Can Change Your Life". The first week we talked about the
four purposes of prayer. The second week we talked about the five conditions of prayer. Last week
we talked about the six steps in dealing with prayer for a difficult situation or problem.

Today I want to talk to you about how God answers prayer or "How to Receive An Answer From
God." There are four attitudes I believe we need in order to have answers to our prayers.

I heard a story one time about a young girl who wrote a letter to a missionary. It was a prayer letter
and she was trying to lend her support to the missionary. Evidently she'd been told not to request a
response to her letter because the missionaries were very busy. So the missionary got a kick out of her
letter. It said, "Dear Mr. Missionary, we are praying for you. But we are not expecting an answer."

I think that little girl summarized the prayers lives of most Christians. We do a lot of praying, but we
don't expect an answer. Why doesn't God answer? We're going to look at that today. How does
God answer? We need four attitudes in order to receive an answer from God.


1. You must be willing to let God answer in His own time.

That means according to His schedule, His timetable. In other words -- whenever God thinks it's best.
The fact is, God often delays answers to prayers. He doesn't answer everything immediately. Why?
Why does He wait? Why does He withhold the gift sometimes for a period of time?

I think that was the reason Zacharias was so skeptical. Sometimes I have a hard time believing God's
going to answer my prayers. But I believe if God sent a special deliverer angel to meet me face to face
and say, "Rick, I'm here to tell you, God has answered your prayer." I think I'd be convinced. I think I
would be pretty certain it was going to happen.

Zacharias was an amazing guy. An angel comes and says, "God sent me here. I am Gabriel, the
archangel and you're going to have your prayer answered." Then Zacharias says in v. 18 "How can I be
sure of this?" He's the ultimate skeptic. Why didn't he believe it?

Because he had stopped praying that prayer years before. If you read the passage casually it looks like
"He went into the temple. He prayed. And the angel came and said, `Your prayers been answered.'"
But the fact of the matter is, they had given up on this prayer years earlier. Zacharias said, "I am an old
man and my wife is well along in years." (That's diplomacy!) He says, "We gave up on that prayer a
long time ago."

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The fact is, God often delays. And the first principle is you've got to let God answer in His own time.
v. 13 "The angel said to him, `Don't be afraid Zacharias, your prayer had been heard'" The tense
of the word "heard" literally means it's already happened. It happened a long time ago.

God answers our prayers immediately, but sometimes there's a delay in the giving of the gift. He hears it
immediately. There's no problem with it taking time for your prayer to get to God. It is there instantly.
But sometimes He delays the giving of the answer for a period of time and that is one of the hardest
things we have to learn.

As a parent, the hardest concept for my kids to learn is this. They don't understand the difference
between "no" and "not yet". It's hard for them. They'll say, "Daddy, can I have a cookie?" Not yet.
They might go into a fit like I'm never going to give them a cookie. Why? Because immature people
don't understand the difference between "no" and "not yet". The mark of maturity in the Christian life is
this: How long can you wait? That's a mark of maturity in life. Babies always have to have it
immediately. But a mature person can wait.

I talked to a person once who said, "I tried prayer. I prayed for two weeks and nothing happened so
I've given up on prayer. I've lost my faith in prayer." No, you haven't lost your faith. You've lost your
patience. You spell faith -- PATIENCE. Faith is patience.

Why does God delay our answers to prayer? Usually it's because He needs to prepare us first. He
needs to get us ready. He wants to bless us and in order to give that blessing to us, He has to prepare
us for it. My little girl comes to me and says, "Daddy, can I drive the car today?" She's a four year old!
I say, "Not today. Someday you'll get to drive the car. When you grow up and you're mature and
you've learned how to drive, then you'll get the request answered. But not yet, because you need to
grow up." God waits many times to answer our prayer for us to grow up.

The frustration we have is we usually think we're ready before God does. We think we're ready to
receive the answer and He's waiting for us to mature. Sometimes I kind of feel like Habakkuk.
Habakkuk's big question was "Why?" "How long, Lord?" he says. Have you ever said that? "How
long are You going to let me go through this?" You wonder, "If God sees everything I'm going through
and if God really cares about what I'm going through and if God has the power to help me get out of
what I'm going through, what's up, God? Why aren't You working?" That's a legitimate question. If
He sees and He cares and He's got the power to do something about it, why doesn't He? Why doesn't
He work it out?

The answer is, He usually wants to change you first. He wants to change your attitude. After you've
learned the right attitude, then God's free to go to work on the problem. But God is more interested in
making you mature than He is about making life easy.

So He starts by saying, "You get your life changed and then I'll help you work on the problem." Instead
of going out and saying, "Lord, change this situation!" you start by saying, "Lord, change me." "Lord,
change me in this marriage and not my spouse." "Lord change me in this job problem." Once you're in
line, then God can go ahead and answer.
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Do you have a financial difficulty? Maybe what God's saying is "I want you to learn the right attitude
about money first and then I can help you out." Is there a problem in your marriage? Maybe God's
saying, "First you need to change your attitude and then I can start working in your marriage."

The fact of the matter is this: God is never late. His timing is perfect. We may think He's late but He's
never late. God's delays are not God's denials. "Not yet" does not mean "No".

What do I do? How do I pray when prayer is being delayed? I've prayed and it's not been answered
immediately, what do I do?

You keep on praying until one of three things happens:

1. You get the answer. When you get it then you can stop praying. Obvious.

2. You get the assurance that you're going to get it. And sometimes God does that. He says, "I'm
going to give you this" and you're sure of it and you stop asking God for it and you start thanking God
for it and you start acting on it. Mark 11 says, "When you pray believe that you've receive it, and
you'll get it." You believe it in advance.

When I was in high school, I got a letter one day that said I had received a four-year scholarship to
college. I didn't wait for the money to come in to start acting on it, I started getting ready. I bought
some new clothes for college, got my van in shape. I got ready and said goodbye to my friends and I
took off. I acted in faith. I had the assurance that it was coming. We can act that way with God.

So you keep praying until you get it or until you get the assurance.

3. You keep praying until God reveals to you that it's not His will. When you figure that out, you
become uncomfortable praying about it and you don't have any peace so you stop praying.

So in order to receive an answer from God, one, we must be willing to let God answer in His time.


2. We must be willing to let God answer in His own way.

Not only whenever He thinks best but however He thinks best. God's ways are always better and
usually bigger when He answers. The Bible says in Isaiah, "My ways are not your ways." My ways
are higher, God says. The reason God often delays an answer to prayer is so He can answer in a way
bigger than you thought originally.

What would have happened in this story if God would have answered Elizabeth and Zacharias' request
for a baby immediately? What would they have gotten? A little Jewish baby. And they would have
loved him or her. They would have cherished the baby and it would have been great. But God delayed
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the request for a number of years and then when He answered He gave them John the Baptist, cousin of
Jesus Christ. The last Old Testament prophet, the only prophet able to see the prophecies of Jesus
fulfilled, the forerunner of the Messiah. John the Baptist was like the announcer. He was the forerunner
saying, "Here He is!" and is pointing to Him. Because God delayed the request, He didn't just give them
any old baby. He gave them a John the Baptist.

God delayed Hanna's request for a son many years. But when He finally gave her a son, He gave her a
Samuel, the greatest Old Testament prophet. God does this.

Our problem is two fold: We ask too little and we want it too quick. Instead of letting God work in His
time, in His way to do something big. We don't dream big enough. We don't pray big enough. We
don't think big enough. We aim too low. In Ephesians 3:20 "But God is able to do even exceedingly
above what you are able to think or imagine." You think of the greatest thing in your imagination
and God can do bigger than your imagination. That's amazing!

Sometimes I believe that verse and I try to claim it. I pray, "I'm going to believe You for something
impossible" and I think of the biggest thing I can pray for and think, "This is really going to impress
God." I pray for it and wait for the Wow! from God. I get, "Son, can't you do any better than that?
Where's your creativity? Where's your imagination? I can do that with no problem! Believe Me for
something big! I can do something above what you can imagine."

We've prayed and asked God for 20,000 members in our church. But we don't want them overnight.
We want them a little at a time as the church grows over 20, 30, 40 years. The way God does it, is like
the way He gave the land of Israel to the Israelites. When they were led across the Red Sea and got to
the Promised Land and God said, "I'm going to give you this land, but you're only going to get it little by
little. I'm not going to give it to you all at once because it'd overwhelm you."

If God really gave you all the requests you ask, it would overwhelm you. John D. Rockefeller said, "I'd
never give anybody a million bucks. It would ruin him. They couldn't handle it." God said "I'll give the
land to you little by little and you can take over the land a little at a time."

Let God answer in His own time and you let God answer in His own way. If God had answered some
of my prayers exactly as I'd asked them, I would have gotten short-changed. His answer was much
greater than what I asked for. I'm thankful that God hasn't answered all my prayers. Some of them
would have been a disaster!

God says, "Let me answer in My time and My way." You're praying about a job. You want to get this
job change and all of a sudden it falls through. Don't sweat it! God's got a better idea. You're praying
about a situation. All of a sudden, it doesn't work out. Don't worry about it. God's got Plan B.
Actually it is Plan A -- yours was Plan B! Let God answer in His time and His way. Sometimes the
worst thing in the world for us is to get our requests answered.

The prodigal son. What did he say? "Give me my inheritance!" He got it and it ruined him.

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I remember when Kay and I got married, we got a wedding card from a guy named Leonard Ravenhill.
It said, "God always gives His best to those who leave the choice to Him." Let God answer in His time
and let God answer in His way.


3. You must be willing to let God answer in His own power, in His own ability.

Don't try to help out God. Don't ask for it and then you go out and try to work it out on your own. Let
God answer in His own power. That's called a miracle. And God says, "Let Me do it in My own
power."

There's an important truth in this story about Zacharias and Elizabeth. The fact is this: God often waits
until the situation is humanly impossible before He answers. When did God give Zacharias and
Elizabeth a baby? After they were beyond childbearing years. They said, "We're too old!" They were
physically unable to have kids. Then God answered.

Why? Because when God answers an impossible situation, who gets all the credit? Who gets all the
glory? It's a greater miracle.

The same thing happened to Sarah and Abraham. One day God came to Abraham and said, "You're
going to be the father of a great nation." Abraham said, "I don't have any kids, but that's great!" So he
waited and waited... All of a sudden Abraham is ninety-nine years old and still nothing's happened. In
the meantime, he has decided he's going to help God out instead of letting God do it in his own power.
So he goes and gets a second wife and has a child by her. God says, "That's not My plan! Let Me do
it in My time, My way and My power." So at age ninety-nine and His wife is ninety, an angel comes to
him one day and says, "Abraham, you're going to be a Father." Romans 4 says, "Abraham staggered
not." I think I'd have staggered if I heard that at ninety-nine. He goes to his home and says, "Honey,
you're never going to believe what I just heard. You're going to have a baby." That's got to be the first
time in history that the man knew first. What was Sarah's reaction? She started laughing. We know she
didn't believe it because she laughed. A ninety-year-old woman who hears she's going to be pregnant
would not laugh, she'd cry if she believed it. She laughs. Then God gives a child.

The point is that God waited until it was humanly impossible, hopeless, then He answered the prayer
with a miracle.

Warning about prayer: If you start praying about something, particularly a problem, do not be surprised
if it gets worse before it gets better. You're having problems in your marriage and you start praying, and
your mate gets more hostile, or you're praying about a financial problem and all of a sudden it gets
worse, or you're praying for somebody to get well, and they get sicker.

Why? Because sometimes God will let things get to the point of hopelessness in order that He might
gain the most glory out of it. Let God answer in His power. His plan is to let the thing get out of our
control and when you're about ready to give up hope, that's an opportunity for a miracle.
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There's a beautiful story in the Bible that illustrates this. The story of Mary and Martha. They were
sisters. They had a brother named Lazarus. One day Lazarus got sick and so Martha and Mary sent
for Jesus to come for Him to be healed. They sent a message "Jesus, come quick. It is an emergency
situation. We need You right now. Our brother is sick. You've got to come right now!" They were
frantic. A lot of times we pray that way. "God, You've got to do something now! It's urgent. Do it
now!" But nothing happens.

In the story about Mary and Martha, Jesus intentionally delayed. He was just a few miles away from
their home but it took Him three days to get there. You look at it from an outsider's viewpoint and it
looks like Jesus was callous. It looked like He didn't care, just impervious to the situation and didn't
care. He waits three days. Then after three days after this request, He turns to His disciples, "Let's go."
He goes to Lazarus' home. By this time Lazarus has died and Mary and Martha come running out and
they both said the same thing, "Jesus, where have You been? If You had been here when we called
You, this wouldn't have happened. We called four days ago. You delayed and our brother's dead."
They're rebuking God.

We do the same thing. We say, "Why, God? Why are You doing this? What are You doing? Why
haven't You answered? It's still lousy."

Jesus just calmly looked at them and said, "Mary, Martha, if you'll just believe, you will see the glory of
God. You'll see a miracle." He walks up to the cave, because they buried them in caves. They moved
the stone out of the way and Jesus says, "Lazarus, come on down! Come forth!" Somebody has said
that it's a good thing that He said, "Lazarus" because if He had just said, "Come forth", everybody who
was dead would have come forth. That was a rhema. It was a specific word, to a specific man, at a
specific time. He says, "Lazarus, come forth." He never said that to every other dead person in the
valley. He just said it to one man and that man came forth.

The point is, Jesus waited until the situation was humanly impossible and then He bailed him out. He did
it in His own power.

Which gives God the most glory? Raising the dead or curing a sick person? God always does it in a
way that gives Him the most glory.

Another story in the Bible. Jarius had a twelve-year-old daughter who was sick, dying. One day, he
comes to Jesus in a crowd and says, "My daughter is dying, she's very sick. Please come." So Jesus
starts walking and as he's walking, there's another lady who had a problem -- there is also the twelve
years. The daughter was twelve years old and this woman had been ill for twelve years. She had a
hemorrhage in her body and she could not stop bleeding and it had bothered her for twelve years. She
comes up behind Jesus and touches Him on the back in the crowd. Jesus is walking to Jarius' home and
stops and turns around and says, "Who touched Me?" The disciples are saying, "What do You mean,
`Who touched Me?' You're in a crowd." But He felt this woman's touch.

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What would you do if you were Jarius? Your daughter's dying and Jesus says, "Who touched Me?" --
"Jesus, who cares who touched You. My daughter is dying. Get on the stick! Let's move it. There's
everybody all around You. Let's go." Jesus stops and hears the woman's story and He heals that
woman right there on the spot!

That means there was a delay. He starts up again after this interruption and Jarius' servants come from
the home and tell him, "Forget it! It's too late. Send the Master back. The girl's died. It's too late."
Jesus turned around to Jarius and says, "Jarius, don't worry about it. Just keep on believing." And He
goes in and raises the girl from the dead.

The point of that story is this: While you are waiting for God to answer your prayer, keep your eyes
open to see confirmations of God's power in other people's lives. Jarius got a living example. It didn't
matter if the girl were alive or dead. Jesus was going there. He turned around to the woman as if to
say, "Jarius, hold your horses! Watch this. You ain't seen nothing yet." And He heals the lady.

When you are waiting for a prayer that's been delayed, you keep your eyes open to watch God at work
in other people's lives and it will build your faith.

Do you want to have an answer from God? Be willing to let God answer in His own time. Be willing to
let God answer in His own way. Be willing to let God answer in His own power.


4. Be willing to let God answer for His own purpose.

Not only whenever He wants, however He wants, but also for whatever reason He chooses. Why
does God answer prayer? What are His reasons? The entire Bible summarizes why God answers
prayer in two statements: For our growth, and for His glory. That's why God answers all prayer. First,
for our growth, for our gain, for our blessing. Two, for His glory. He answers a prayer when He can
be glorified in that answer. Then He answers.

Why did God answer Elizabeth's and Zacharias' prayer for a son? Because He needed a John the
Baptist. He had a purpose for that little boy. He knew that Elizabeth and Zacharias would raise him
well.

Remember the story of Joseph in the Bible? God said to Joseph in a dream, "You're going to be a ruler
one day. You're going to be the ruler of a great county." Then what happened? Joseph was promptly
sold by his brothers into slavery. He goes as a slave into his master's home, his master's wife tries to
seduce him, he would not give in, so the wife has him put in jail. That's not exactly the way to build a
political career. Sold into slavery and then maligned and put in jail. His whole career is downhill. But
God made him second in command in Egypt in His own time, in His own way, with His power --
Joseph had nothing to do about it -- for His purpose.

I think the greatest example of what I'm trying to say we can see in the life of Paul. Romans 1. Paul
was willing to let God answer his prayers in His own time, in His own way, in His own method, His own
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power, for His own purpose. Romans 1. This is a letter that Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome,
which was the capital of the Roman Empire at that time. v. 7 "To all who are in Rome who are called
by God called to be saints." He says he's been praying for them -- v. 10, "In my prayers at all
times and I pray now that at last by God's will the way may be opened for me to come to you."
v. 15 "That is why I'm so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome."

Paul's desire, his one motive in life, his ultimate goal, his dream was to preach in Rome. "I want to go to
the most significant city in the world. I want to preach to the movers and the shakers." I can imagine
what his dream was. "I'm going to go to Rome. I'm going to rent the coliseum for three nights. I'm
going to pass out flyers. I'm going to get a great PA system and a good Christian rock group to back
me up and we're going to have one great crusade. Nero's going to get saved...." He had visions of
preaching in Rome.

Romans 15 is Paul's great prayer. He lived and breathed his desire to go to Rome. v. 20 "It has
always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known so that I would not
be building on someone else's foundation." That's been a life verse of mine. v. 24 "I plan to do so
when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my
journey there and I have enjoyed your company for a while." He wants to come to Rome. Then he
says, "Pray that I'm going to have a prosperous journey." Did God ever answer Paul's prayer?
Yes, but notice how He did it.

Acts 28:16 Luke says talking about Paul "When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by
himself with a soldier to guard him." That's not exactly what Paul had in mind -- house arrest. Paul
went as a prisoner to Rome. That's how he ended up getting there. He had been put through the
Roman court system and he ends up in Rome as a prisoner in a house chained to a Roman centurion.
That's not exactly his plan. He had written, "Pray for me that I might have a prosperous journey." What
kind of journey did he have? He was in a shipwreck, in chains, in the middle of winter, and he got bitten
by a bunch of snakes. It's not exactly your typical Mediterranean cruise. It would never make it on
Love Boat. It wasn't our opinion of a relaxing way to Rome. He gets there as a prisoner and then is
kept in house arrest.

The point is this. Paul made it to Rome. But he was willing to let God work it out in God's way. How
did Paul get there? Through Felix and Agrippa and Caesar -- Roman leaders. Point: Sometimes God
answers our prayers through the most unlikely people. He'd probably never imagined that Felix,
Agrippa and Caesar were going to be the answer to Paul's prayer to get to Rome.

Second, God answered in His own time. No telling how many times Paul packed his bags and tried to
head off for Rome. It was in his blood. He wanted to do it more than anything else. The fact of the
matter is, God is never in a hurry. You study the Gospels, and read about Jesus' work, how many times
did He say, "It's not time yet." He was never in a hurry.

Then God answered for His own purpose. Paul wanted to go to Rome to preach. Why did God want
Paul in Rome? To write. While Paul was in Rome under house arrest, he had a lot of time on his
hands. What did he do? He wrote a bunch of letters to different Christians all over the Mediterranean.
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They put them together and it's now called the New Testament. We got the New Testament because
Paul was allowing God to answer in His own way, His own time, for His own
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purpose. Paul was such an activist the only way God could get him to slow down and write the New
Testament was put him in jail.

Paul's real desire was that he might make an impact for Christ on the world. He thought the best way to
make that impact was to preach in Rome. Sometimes God denies our original request to give us what is
really the desire of our heart. What made a greater impact, preaching in Rome for a three-day crusade
or writing the Bible? Obvious.

Summarize: When you pray and the request is not right, God says "No." When you pray and you're
not right, God says, "Grow." When you pray and the timing is not right, God says, "Slow." When
everything's in place, God says, "Go." He gives the green light and you're able to move.

Prayer:

What about your prayer life this morning? Are you willing to let God answer your prayer in His
way, anyway He sees fit? In His time, whenever He sees fit? Whatever way He thinks best? In
His power? It may mean that things don't go all as planned for a while, and they may get worse, so
God can do a miracle when the situation becomes humanly impossible. Are you willing to let God
answer your prayers for His purpose? What is His purpose? Your growth and His glory.

Why are you praying what you are praying? What's your motive? If you're praying for health,
what are you going to do with that health in your body once you're got it? If you're praying for
financial freedom, what are you going to do with all that money once you've got it? If you're
praying for a new job, what are you going to do with it? Will God get any glory out of it? Are you
willing to let Him answer in His time, in His way, in His ability, for His purpose?

Would you pray this prayer in your heart? "Lord, help me to know You better. Help me to realize
how much You love me. Help me to know Your plan for my life. Help me to cooperate in that
plan. Jesus Christ, I ask You to come into my life. Make me a Christian. Make me a new person
inside. I want to know You personally, not just as a religion but in a relationship. Make Yourself
real to me this morning. I want to believe in You. I do believe in You. Thank You for loving me.
Thank You for dying on the cross for me. Help me to understand it more."

If you prayed a prayer like this, a prayer of commitment, God brought you here for a purpose
today. This is a new beginning for you. I made a decision like this a number of years ago and it
was a turning point in my life. I didn't understand it all but just like you, I prayed a simple prayer.
The purpose of our church is to help you grow.

Lord, thank You for Your word. Thank You that it's practical and relevant and it applies to our
lives. Help us to let You answer our prayers in Your way, in Your time, for Your purpose, in Your
ability. We know that Your ways are always better and usually bigger. In Jesus' name. Amen.