In his sermon about unanswered prayer, the pastor of a New Jersey megachurch told his congregation that there is only one prayer that God guarantees an answer to.
"'May your will be done.' That prayer is a prayer of surrender," said Tim Lucas, pastor of Liquid Church in Morristown, N.J. It acknowledges that God's plans are for His glory and the good of believers, he added.
Lucas preached the fourth installment of the church's "God Box" series last Sunday. In connection with the series, many church attendees participated in a 30-day prayer challenge in which they wrote their prayers on paper and placed them in their own personalized prayer boxes.
Lucas opened his sermon by reading the prayer of a woman who has been pleading with God to heal her eye condition.
"I am not sure how much more of this I can take," the woman wrote. "It feels like God is ignoring my prayers for my eyes."
Lucas explained that many people are suffering and are confused as to why God does not provide them with relief when they ask for it, much like the woman who submitted her prayer.
The Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12 that he was tormented by a "thorn" in his flesh, a "messenger of Satan," so that he might not become conceited. Some scholars say he might have had a physical problem like glaucoma, epilepsy or migraines, said Lucas. Others have suggested he struggled with chronic depression, or severe guilt stemming from his role in the killing of many Christians before his conversion.
But regardless of what plagued him, it is important to note the source of Paul's suffering was Satan's messenger, Lucas said.
"God is not the author of disease and disability...the God of the Bible is the author of life, health and healing, but we live in this broken world that still suffers the impact of suffering, sin and death," he said.
Lucas pointed out three types of "thorns" people struggle with – physical, emotional and relational. One person might struggle with a chronic illness, another with depression and still another with some sort of family issue, like a wayward child, he said.
He also suggested several possibilities as to why God might not answer a person's prayer. Sometimes, people go to God with "wrong requests," he said. As an example of a wrong request, he shared the prayer of a woman who asked God to replace her current husband with an affectionate husband who could offer her more security.
Other times people pray with "mixed motives," said Lucas, making selfish requests that "masquerade as pious prayers." Pastors who pray for church growth out of a selfish desire to appear successful, for example, have mixed motives.
"God's not going to answer that prayer," said Lucas. "You know why? Because it's self-glorifying. God isn't going to fill that hole in your heart through the praise of people, only God can fill that hole. So understand: motives matter."
Christians may also simply be subject to the "mystery of suffering," he said. When Christ died for the sins of the world he guaranteed victory for those who believe in him. However, Satan is and will remain at work in this world until Christ comes again.
"But understand something Christian, Christ-follower: Your God will have the final say…He will assert his sovereignty and his judgment on V-Day, Christ's second coming. And because of that ultimate victory, what that means is you have the assurance that the prayers that went unanswered in this life will receive spectacular vindication in eternity," said Lucas.
Paul asked the Lord three times to remove the source of his torment. He replied not by taking it away, but by telling the Apostle, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
One benefit of thorns is they keep people dependent on Jesus, Lucas said.
"According to Paul, disabilities don't disqualify us," he said. "It's just the opposite. Our weaknesses are a chance for God to show his strength in a way you can't even believe."
Lucas founded Liquid Church in 2001. Today the church has four campuses in New Jersey, and its services are experienced by more than 2,000 people each weekend, including by those who watch online.