Chapter 5: Prayer changes Us

In Chapter 5 we explore the way in which prayer changes us. By looking at a number of unanswered prayers from scripture, we conclude that sometimes God’s will runs contrary to our own. However through wrestling in prayer, he is able to reshape our understanding, our emotions and even our own will.

Sermon accompanying chapter 5

Preached by Chris Band at Headington Baptist Church, Oxford on 8th November 2009
Download the study guide.

Questions

  1. Ask the group if they currently struggle with unanswered prayer. Is this experience a problem? Do they feel concerned that God’s eventual answer might not match their expectations, or are they content with this? Has their experience of unanswered prayer had an impact on their prayer-life in general?
  2. Give each person a blank sheet of paper. At the top of each side write ‘the will of God for my life’. On the first side ask them to list some of their key desires and hopes. As they look at their list, to what extent do they believe God should or must grant each of these requests? Now ask them to turn the paper over and to sign the bottom of the sheet, leaving the middle deliberately blank. How does this feel? Do they believe that their lives and futures are safe in God’s hands?
  3. Unanswered prayer may change our will. Read 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. What does Paul mean by a ‘thorn in the flesh’ [pp.94-95]? How many times does he bring this specific request to God? In what way is his prayer unanswered? In what way is it answered? What evidence is there of a change in Paul’s will?
  4. Unanswered prayer may change our will. Read Matthew 26:36-44. What is the ‘cup’ that Jesus is referring to in v39? How many times does he repeat the same request and how does he conclude each prayer? Why is his request denied? In what way was Jesus’ will ‘crucified’ at Gethsemane?
  5. Unanswered prayer may change our understanding. Returning to Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12), why might Paul have reasonably expected God to heal him? How in verses 9-10 does God’s response change Paul’s own understanding of the situation?
  6. Unanswered prayer may change our understanding. Read Matthew 7:9-12. What confidence do we gain from these verses? To what extent does God’s fatherly care help us to rest in his greater wisdom and knowledge when we experience unanswered prayer?
  7. Unanswered prayer may change our desires. Read Psalms 42 & 43. List some of the ways that the Psalmist feels forsaken and forgotten by God. What do we learn about his desires from the key refrain that he repeats three times?
  8. Unanswered prayer may change our desires. Do we make adequate space in public or private prayer for the language of ‘lament’ and ‘protest’? In what sense might the language of lament be termed ‘loyal opposition’ [p.103]?
  9. Read Lamentations 3:22-26. What is Jeremiah’s response in the face of unanswered prayer?
  10. Unanswered prayer is often a painful experience and one that rightly defies easy or slick explanations. It may be appropriate for the group to share some of the individual requests that they feel are unanswered and to sensitively bring these to God in prayer.