PRAYER (LESSON 3)
Tonight is another lesson on prayer. Sometimes things are going on in our lives and we just don't understand why. We pray for healing or deliverance from our circumstance, and nothing happens. Have you ever felt as though God had let you down or left you hanging? You prayed and prayed, and it seemed as though God wasn't there for you? Maybe you had to go through something, and in your heart you were crying out, "Lord, where are you?"
Well, just as we pray and ask for Jesus' help, we are going to read in the Bible about some people who took their concerns to Christ. And, hopefully, by the end of the lesson you will see that although you may not understand why certain things happen in your life, that doesn't mean that God let you down. John 11:1-44 is where we are going to read. We will take it a section at a time and try to relate what was going on back then to our own personal situations.
Let's start here at John 11:1-3. (Click for verses)
As we just read, there was a man who was sick -- so sick that he is going to die soon. This man and his two sisters were good friends of Jesus. So his sisters sent word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus was sick and needed Jesus' help.
Now, maybe there has been a time when someone in your family was sick, and so you called out to Jesus. Or maybe you personally were going through something and you felt "If I have to endure this one more day, I am going to die." Maybe something or someone was killing your spirit and you asked Jesus to help you. I think we've all at one time or another sent word to Jesus to come and make things better. Right? So we can relate to Mary and Martha. Anyway, let's see what happened next.
Read John 11:4-7.
When Jesus heard the news about Lazarus, He didn't immediately go to Judea. He waited two more days before He headed back. And sometimes we feel as though God is delaying in answering our prayers. We feel as though God must not be aware of what is going on with us. But as we will read, Jesus, who is God, knew what the situation was. He knew that Lazarus was already dead. But He was going to turn Lazarus' death into an opportunity to increase the faith of His believers.
Read John 11:11b-15.
Here we see that Jesus is working things out in His own way. He's got a plan. We must remember that even when we don't understand the plan (just like the disciples didn't understand what was going on), that doesn't mean that God is not in control or that He is not working things out in His own timing. God knows what He is doing!
So what do we have so far? Lazarus was sick. Mary and Martha called out to Jesus. Now Lazarus is dead. Things look bad. Mary and Martha are probably feeling as though Jesus let them down. Let's see what they say when Jesus gets there. Read John 11:17-21.
Did you read that! Martha told Jesus, "If you would have been here, my brother would not have died." I wonder if she said it accusingly and stressed the "you" part. Or did she say it with great disappointment, the way you feel when your best friend let's you down? Maybe you have felt like Martha did. Maybe you have felt as though you called out to the Lord and He didn't come when you needed Him. Maybe from where you are standing, it is too late -- the damage is done. In Martha's eyes it was too late for Jesus to help now because her brother was already dead. Maybe in your life you had to face some tragedy (your mother or brother or friend dying) or abuse (someone you trusted took advantage of you or physically or mentally abused you). And now you feel as though, "What's the use?"
But don't you know that with God all things are possible? God is never too late. Maybe you have turned your back on Him, but He hasn't turned His back on you. In Ezekiel 34:16 God tells us, "I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick." Psalm 27:10 tells us, "When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up." Psalm 62:8 "Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us." Job 324:28b, "He heareth the cries of the afflicted."
I will say it again. We don't always understand why things happen. But do not let your circumstance separate you from the love of God or make you stop trusting in Him. In this world you will go through tribulation. That is guaranteed. But we should have the same mind that Paul wrote about in Romans 8:35, 37-39 "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Now, back to Martha. She understood that with God all things are possible and that Lazarus' death wasn't the end, but she was still limiting God. Let's read on. John 11:22-28.
Martha understood the "big picture." She understood about the glories of a place called heaven. But sometimes knowing about heaven doesn't help you in your day-to-day struggles. And on this day, Martha had a heavy heart. So Jesus was trying to show Martha that she must have faith. And not just faith in heaven later, but faith that He was in control right now! The key thing is to understand who Jesus is. Jesus told Mary, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die." Jesus stated, I am. Not I used to be, not You should have seen me back when. "I am" means it's not over. Friend, maybe you feel forgotten, but it's not over. That sinful person who hurt you meant it for evil, but it's not over. We are "more than conquerors through Him who loves us." You may have felt like you were going to die, but you shall live, and your life will glorify God. Sin, death, and evil are in the world, but God can, will, and does use those events to His good. But you have to believe that God is bigger than anything else is and stick with Him even in the hard times.
When the boat gets rocky, you don't jump ship. To do so would mean drowning. To survive, you must find a place in that boat and hold on as tight as you can! Well, Jesus is our ship, our Strong Tower. Hold on. He will bring you through.
Let's see what happened next with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Read John 11:28-37.
Here we read that Mary had a conversation with Jesus that was identical to the one Martha had. Mary was heartbroken, full of sadness. And we read that Jesus felt her pain. He wept with her. Oftentimes when we cry, we feel all alone. But know that when your heart is hurting, the Lord is crying with you. He understands in a way that no one else can. Jesus does not cry because He is helpless or the situation is hopeless, but He cries simply because He loves those who are His own and hates to know that they are hurting. I thank God that my Lord is a God who can and does cry with me!
Interestingly, Mary was surrounded by other so-called friends. Supposedly, they were there to bring comfort, yet their words show something else. Instead of telling Mary and Martha to trust and believe, some of them are saying, basically, "I told you that Jesus wasn't about nothing." How many of us have friends and family who are just waiting to put down our God and our faith? They want to accuse God and cause you to have doubts. They act as though God owes us something, as though saving our raggedy souls from hell isn't enough! With friends of this sort, who needs enemies! Anyway, Let's read on...
Read John 11:38-39.
Martha, obviously, still was somewhat doubting what Jesus was able to do. How many of us have been in situations where we felt: This stinks! Why pray? What's the use? Sometimes we, like Martha, only see the bad and lack faith that Christ can change all things to good. What does Jesus have to say when you have that kind of attitude? Let's see. Read John 11:40-44.
The key words there are, "if thou wouldest believe, thou shall see the glory of God." You have a choice: You can trust in the Lord's providence and ultimately see and experience His glory, or you can let your situation kill you: kill your spirit, kill your hope, kill your joy.
Again, know that Jesus cries with you. He is aware of everything you are going through. Realize that you can let evil triumph in your life, or you can trust in the Lord, even when you don't understand.
When Lazarus was near death, he may have been confused about why Christ hadn't shown up. He may have been hurt. But when Christ said, "Lazarus, come forth," Lazarus did just that! Lazarus did not stay bound in his graveclothes. Follow Lazarus' example. Don't let your circumstance bind you and keep you from the work that God can and will do in your life. Don't let the past dictate your future. God is bigger than your past.
Jesus cried over Lazarus' dying, but He used that tragedy to perform a miracle and, in so doing, increased the faith of His followers. If Jesus would have healed Lazarus immediately, it would not have had the same impact. Maybe Christ is delaying in answering your prayers because He has something great that He wants to do in your life that will only be accomplished with time. Maybe your prayer for healing was met with the Lord's words of "My strength is sufficient" because the Lord wants you to be His ambassador, and you can only do this work by going through this trying experience.
As long as we are on this earth, we will face death and hardship. But with God's help, we can be victorious over every evil thing that we endure. If you have had to go through a bad experience, ask yourself how can I turn that situation around? How can the works of God be made manifest through me now? And then pray to be used by God. The earth is in a fallen state now, but we have God's promise that there will come a time when "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Revelation 21:4) But for now you must keep praying, stay strong in your faith, and never doubt that Christ can and will bring you back from whatever you have had to endure.