The Problem with Prayer


“Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”” John‬ ‭11:1-16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Our Problem with Prayer:

This entire chapter really deals with our perception and understanding of illness, death, our perception and God’s response. So, let’s dig into the story and see what Jesus has to say. John establishes first the primary characters in the story. He introduces us to Mary, Martha and their brother, Lazarus. John tells us how intimate the relationship was between Jesus and this family. We always talk about how Christianity is about relationship with God. This story really illustrates this idea clearly. Jesus cares deeply about them, and the sisters know this and send word to Jesus of Lazarus’ illness. The expectation appears to be that Jesus would come and intervene and provide healing for Lazarus. 

To be honest, this describes our expectations of God too. Doesn’t it? Don’t we have a tendency to approach our relationship with God with assumptions and expectations? Well, if God really loved me then he’d heal me or my loved one. Surely with all of the things I do for God, he will give me what I really want in this circumstance. So, let me ask you a question… Do you give other people everything they expect from you? Do you have any relationships where the expectations of others are unreasonable or outrageous? What it really comes down to is do we really want God to give us our wishes or His will? Now, before you jump on the Sunday School answer for that question, consider how you pray.

One more question, have you ever wanted something from someone that turned out later to be a really bad idea? We do the same thing with God… 

One of the challenges we all face is to learn the simplicity of praying in accordance with God’s will. Now, don’t misunderstand me. There are certainly times when prayer is not simple. But, take a look at this…

“”And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew‬ ‭6:5-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

When you pray, it is important to have the right posture:humility… place:private… phrases:not repetitive… person:loving father… priorities:kingdom first, obedience second, daily physical and spiritual needs, personal purity… 

So, praying is more about getting our hearts right and ready for God’s response and less about trying to convince God of what we need. 

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew‬ ‭6:31-33‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Jesus’ Interesting but Intentional Response:

So, the sisters send word to Jesus regarding Lazarus illness with the anticipation he will come quickly and heal him. Now remember, Jesus doesn’t need to be present for his healing power to be effective. We’ve seen this when he healed the official’s son in John 4. Three observations regarding Jesus’ response: 1) He responds that the illness wouldn’t end in death and was intended for God’s glory; 2) John specifically notes that Jesus loves Lazarus and his sisters; 3) Jesus waited two additional days before heading towards Bethany. Why are these things important to the story, and why should they matter to us? 

Don’t miss this… Lazarus illness is intended for God’s glory, but so is his resurrection life. I’m not suggesting that illness is intended to be used as and will result in a miraculous sign pointing people to Jesus. But I am suggesting that our lives, every aspect of our lives, are intended to bring glory to God. It doesn’t matter whether those circumstances are positive or negative. Now, I realize this is hard to hear and even harder to accept but Jesus’ response is intended to draw attention to it. Don’t misunderstand, I am NOT stating that God caused Lazarus’ illness but I AM saying that because it happened God intends to use it for His glory. Are you willing to let God receive glory regardless of what you face and how you respond to those circumstances? 

We are generally willing to be an example of grace when things go well in our lives but what about when things go poorly? How do we respond when the challenges occur in our lives? Now, I’m not suggesting this is a test of Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ love. I’m convinced Jesus knew exactly what he was doing and how they would respond. This WAS for God’s glory. Is your life being lived for God’s glory or your own? Instead of asking, “Why me?” are willing to say, “Here I am, send me!” 

Jesus tells the disciples that it is important to “walk while it is daylight.” In other words, it is important to do things at the proper time otherwise you will stumble and fall. When we learn to trust God during the daylight times of our lives, then our trust of Him will helps us during the dark or nighttime of our lives. Will you learn to trust God and walk with him while it is daylight so that you will trust Him and be able to make it through the nighttime? This brings me to the last item… 

Headed for trouble…

In the early part of this story, the disciples point out that Jesus is headed back into the lion’s den. 

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” (vs. 7-8)

But, Jesus tells them the time is now and he must go, and he’s glad He wasn’t present when Lazarus died so that they will believe. He’s preparing them for his own death and subsequent resurrection with the things they’ll learn from Lazarus death and resurrection. The disciples believe that he’s going to be killed by the Jews when he goes back to Bethany. But notice Thomas’ response in verse 16: So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him. 

Let’s go too, that we may die with him! 

Let me tell you something most people don’t realize about Jesus, and very few are willing to embrace… to follow Him, you must be willing to die. Wait, what? While Jesus is preparing them for His death and resurrection, that’s not all he’s doing. He’s prepping them for what He is going to demand of them… and he’s prepping us for the same thing.

We are going to explore this further in the coming weeks… stay tuned.

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