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When God Doesn't Listen

Prayer is a serious business that should not be taken lightly in connection with individual and communal sin.

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I did something I thought I would never do in my life: I went to a NASCAR race. I know some of you are big NASCAR fans, but I'm just not into it. Several of the racers were reading my book and doing a Bible study, so they invited me out to the race and said I could sit in the pits—right where they change the tires and all that stuff. I thought, If I'm going to experience a race, that's the way to do it. So I went, and I sat in Pit Row, and I watched the guys taking tires off and pouring gas in. It was fun. I have to admit, it was a good time. The sound, the rush, trying to understand it all. It was a good time.

Now, I won't ever go back—unless I get to sit in the pit again. That was pretty cool. In fact, next time I go, I want to help somehow. Maybe I can be the guy that slaps the car. You know? Wouldn't that be fun? Right after the pit stop, the guy always runs up and smacks the car as it's driving away. I can do that. Let me do that. But if one of you invites me and says, "Hey, you want to go to the NASCAR race and sit in the grandstand with everyone else?" The answer will be no. I'm not that into it. So would you call me a NASCAR fan? No. I'll go if everything's just right, the way I like it, but I'm not going to sacrifice or keep up. I don't know who won today or yesterday or if they raced. I don't care.

I say all that because, when I look at church in America, there are so many people that, let's face it, will only participate if everything's just right. You have to have the right speaker, the right music, the right people. You have to have the right programs, the right time of day. It can't be too long. There better be something good going on for the kids over there. You'd better have something at the church where I can just find people exactly like me, whose personalities I enjoy, and I'll fellowship with them. Everything has to be just right.

But I'm looking in the Scriptures and I'm thinking, Man, these guys would do anything—these followers of Jesus, these fans of Jesus. And you have to wonder: Are we just playing a game here? Is this the real thing? Sometimes when you see the real thing when it comes to following God—we've got people around the world that are really suffering, and many of them are suffering for the sake of Christ and for his namesake—you see that and you go: Wow, that person is that intense? That person would give up anything for Jesus.

And then you think: I don't know if I'm the real thing. I don't know if I get it.

Prayer is serious business.

Today we're kicking off a week of prayer—like, of intense prayer. I really encourage you to be focused on prayer this week. I think back to how I was raised in the church, when people would tell me to pray: "Just start talking. Just say whatever you want to say." And when I read the Scriptures, I don't see that so much. I don't see that. Ecclesiastes tells us to guard yourself as you approach God. Don't be quick. Don't be hasty to say just anything with your mouth.

And definitely don't start making vows before God. "God, I promise I'll never …." Because God is going to hold you to that. It's serious. You don't just start opening your mouth and saying careless words before God. When you pray, there should be thought behind it. You think about who you're speaking to and what you want to say to him. I understand it's a relationship, but haven't we gone too far in this sloppiness?

Another thing: some of you could pray all week and God would not hear a word you say. Do you realize that? No one ever told me that. They said to just start talking. But they never told me that sometimes God doesn't listen to you, and so you're wasting your time. You're wasting a whole day. You're wasting a whole week, a month. Some of you guys have wasted hours and hours and hours praying in such a way that God is actually disgusted by some of your prayers. At least, that's what the Bible teaches.

I had a guy a while back who said: "My wife and I haven't been getting along. Things just aren't right, and I've got this job opportunity somewhere else, and so I'm going to leave my wife and my family. Would you pray for me that I would have a great new start?"

I replied, "You've got to be kidding me right now. I'm not praying for you. God's not going to listen to that. Look at what 1 Peter 3:7 says: 'Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way. Show honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.'"

Not too long ago another person came up and asked me to pray for healing. And that's great. I'm glad you have the faith. James 5 says, "Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you can be healed." And I said, "So, do you have anything you need to confess?" And he goes, "Ah, there's a little business thing, but I think I got that fixed. And there's a little thing here, but I got that fixed. No, I'm good. I've confessed everything." And right before we start the prayer he says, "Well, I'm living with this girl."

That's a little problem.

I said, "You claim to be a Christian, and she claims to be a Christian, and you guys are sleeping around?" Then I said: "Let me ask you something. If you were sleeping with one of my daughters out of wedlock, would you have the nerve to come up to me, face me, and ask for a favor?" He said he'd never thought of it that way. I said: "You're with a daughter of God, and now you're going to approach him and ask for a favor—and you want me to come with you?!" No, you repent. God is a forgiving God. He's an awesome Father. He'll forgive you, but there's no way I can pray for that. God's not going to listen to that. Why pray?

James 4:3 says, "You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly to spend it on your own passions." On your passions. You see what this verse says? God is telling you why you don't you get any answers—why don't you receive what you pray for. Because you ask in the wrong way. If you don't ask the right way, you're not going to get answered. In this case, you're praying for something so you can spend on your own passion. You're not concerned about the things of God. It's all about you.

In James 1:6 he says this: "But let him ask in faith with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. That person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord. He is a double-minded man, unstable in all of his ways." If you're going to pray and you're going to doubt the whole time—you doubt that anyone's listening up there—don't waste your time. Don't suppose that you're going to receive anything from the Lord.

Answered prayer is a tremendous blessing.

Before I go on, let me make something clear here: I don't think there's anything I enjoy more than answered prayer. You know what I mean? When you ask for something specific and then it's answered, and it's answered supernaturally, and you know there's no way that was coincidence—isn't that an awesome feeling? It's knowing that I just spoke to God, he heard me, and he did what I asked for. That's insane. I just spoke to God, and God heard me. I know he heard me, because that could not have been a coincidence. There's nothing like that.

You know how sometimes you'll say, "Oh, I got to meet this person?" Oh, whoopee. I talked to God. Like, the Creator. Like, you're breathing right now because of him. He made the world. I said something to him, and then he said: Francis, I heard you, and watch what I do now.

I'm just telling you, there's nothing like that. I want you all to experience it. I want you all to get that. This prayer thing isn't about, "Oh, we have to do this. As Christians we're supposed to pray." I'm telling you: there's nothing like knowing that God hears me.

Answered prayer is conditional on our obedience.

Look at Isaiah 58. In Isaiah 58 you have these people who were praying. They were even fasting, so they weren't eating because they were praying. They come before God and some of them are even stripping themselves of their normal clothes and wearing sackcloth and ashes and throwing dust over their heads—they were really suffering as they cried out to God. And here's what God said to them:

Is that what I wanted? Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble themselves? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I choose—to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house, when you see the naked to cover him and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn and your healing shall spring up speedily, your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call and the Lord will answer; you shall cry and he will say, "Here I am."
If you take away the yoke from your midst and the pointing of the finger and the speaking of wickedness. If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noon day.

God says: What, you think you're going to bow before me and go, "Oh, look at how humble I am," and I'm going to listen to your prayers? Is that what I ask for? What I ask for is to go out and find the people in need and take care of them. Share your home with other people. Share your stuff with other people. You do that, and then when you cry out to me, I'll be there.

I love that. But it's conditional. That's why I don't want to have a week of fasting and prayer if all we're going to do is fast and pray. I want you to be the people that God has called you to be. I want you to be givers. And I believe that's why God's hand has been on this church—because we're trying to care for the people who are in need. And that's why I've seen the hand of God in some of your lives. Why? Because you live for those people.

So it's not about praying more. Sometimes it's just about praying. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective, because an unrighteous person can pray all day and hear nothing, but a person who pours himself out for the hungry, for the afflicted, the moment they say, "God, can you help me with this?" He'll say: Yes, here I am.

Answered prayer is influenced by our community.

But now turn to Joshua 7. It's a pretty interesting passage. This is one of the ones I was really wrestling with. It caused me to wonder, Am I as serious about God's commands and purity as he is? And the answer is definitely not.

Joshua 7:1 says: "The people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan, the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things, and the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel."

Okay, what's he talking about? There were certain areas where God said to just destroy the place—destroy everything in there. Take the items you find and give them to the Lord. Don't touch them. Don't mess with them. But this guy named Achan saw some things in Jericho that he liked, and he took some. He took some of the spoils from this defeat, and he hid them for himself. And the text says, "The anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel."

Wait. God got mad at everyone because of one guy? Yes. And when you read on, the Israelites were about to go to war. No one knows about Achan and what he stole and what he hid. And then in verse 4 they're about to go to war against a city called Ai. And about 3,000 men went up there from the people of Israel, but they fled before the men of Ai. The men of Ai killed about 36 of the Israelites and chased the rest before the gate as far as Shebarim. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water.

Here's what the text says:

Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the LORD, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. And Joshua said, "Ah, Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! O Lord, what can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?"
The LORD said to Joshua, "Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.
"Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, 'Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: That which is devoted is among you, O Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove it.'"

So Joshua is crying. He's praying. He's fasting. The elders are fasting and praying. They're saying, "God, what in the world happened? How did we lose? We never lose. You're out God, and now you turned your back on us." And God says: Get up, Joshua. You know why I turned my back on you? It's because someone sinned. Someone took some of those things that I told you guys not to take.

Wait. Someone? One person, and you're going to punish all of Israel? Did you notice that? God says: You're going to be destroyed because you didn't listen to me. You better find that guy and deal with it. Get him out of your midst, so I can bless you again.

So what did they do? They found this guy, Achan, and they stoned him to death. They burned him up. They covered him up and said, "God, are we good now?" And God says: Yes. I'll be with you in battle now.

Now some of you hear that story, and I know what you're thinking: That's not fair. Right? I mean, 36 people died because of the sin of some other guy. Face it: that doesn't seem fair to you, does it? So tell him that.

This is just one of the passages where I look at it and I go: "I'm not as serious about this as you are, God." You wanted a purity amongst your people so much that when this one guy sinned, because the people weren't on top of it and trying to figure this out, they were all punished for it. And yet the moment you got that sin out of the camp, you put your blessing right back on those people again. You see, this is the thing: How serious are we about the purity of the church?

In the New Testament, remember Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira? They came before the apostles after they sold some property, and they laid the money at the apostles' feet. They brought the money to the church and said, "Hey, here's the money." And the apostles go, "Is it all the money?" And they go, "Yeah." But they were lying. They had kept back a little bit. And both of them are struck dead by the Lord. They just collapsed. And then the Bible says, "And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of it."

God is still serious about removing the evil from his church.

And I know this bothers some of you. You're thinking, Wait, he can't have such a high standard. And that's why you have a problem with hell. That's why you have a problem with any of his punishments. You have a problem with him flooding the earth. But he says: No, you don't understand. I asked you to live a certain way. I gave you my Spirit to empower you to live a certain way, and yet you refuse. It's serious stuff.

Take a look at 1 Corinthians 5:9-13: "I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. 'Expel the wicked man from among you.'"

Okay, this is something that we were taught wrong, a lot of us: the idea that we are not supposed to judge. What does the text say? Aren't you supposed to judge? Yes, we are supposed to judge those that are inside the church. We are not supposed to judge those who don't call themselves Christians. And for too long the church has got it backwards. We keep judging the evil world out there. And God says: Stop that. I didn't ask you to judge them. I asked you to look in your midst and get serious about the purity of the church and get those people out of there, the people who call themselves brothers or sisters. I don't want someone taking the name of Christ and living that way, and you shouldn't want that either. Purge that person. Get that person out of there.

And I know this is not a popular doctrine. I know there are many people listening to this who say: "Well, I don't agree with what he did in the Book of Joshua. And I don't see why you would ever disassociate with someone and not even eat with them." I understand this, too. But again, we're talking about people who call themselves Christians.

Some of you are just visiting today. You're checking things out, and I'm so glad you're here. And what you do in your own time, that's your business. You know what, I'm not going to get in your face and say, "I think you drank too much last night," or, "Hey, I saw you over there." It doesn't matter. You do what you want. I'm just glad you're here and you're checking things out.

But if you call yourself Christian, if you call yourself a brother, and if you are telling people, "Yeah, I'm a part of Cornerstone Church," and yet you're holding on to sin that you refuse to let go of, we need to get you out of here. It's for your good, too, but also for our good. Because it's not just about you. You hurt us. You affect the body. And your sin could impact our prayers.

Do you understand that this prayer thing is not just about you and God? A lot of you guys know the Lord's Prayer. What is the first word of the Lord's Prayer? "Our." Even the Lord's Prayer is something that was meant for us as a group of people to come before God and pray together. Jesus said: Here's how you pray: "Our Father."

It's us. It's about us. It's always been about us. Do you understand that? When you got baptized, you became a part of us. In the Old Testament it wasn't about just Achan's sin. Oh, Achan, that idiot. No, Achan was a part of Israel. And so God took his hand off of Israel as a whole because of the sin of this individual, because he was a part of a bigger entity. It's the same in the New Testament. Jesus we start our prayer by saying "Our Father."

So let the world see something, because unity is weird. Unity is something that the world doesn't see. They see everyone ditch each other. But unity, no, that's a different thing. And it's unity of purpose. So let's show them something different and together let's pray. But we can't do that if we're all living double lives, if we're holding stuff back. I want us to have a powerful, powerful week of prayer, but that happens when we first repent and realize that our sin affects more than us; it affects the whole camp, it affects the whole church.


Now, what I don't want you to do is get so wrapped up in that one issue that you don't take the log out of your own eye. This message is about you. It's about me. It's about us, and wanting the hand of God to bless us—wanting to be like the nation of Israel so that we purge the sin and God's blessings fall upon us again. So I want us to kick off this week of prayer with repentance. Otherwise, why would God even listen to us? It's when we humble ourselves, turn from our wicked ways, and seek his face—that's when he's going to listen to us.

And I don't think anyone is fooled in this room. We know there's a bunch of lies in here, and it affects you, it's killing you; but it's also killing us. And yet haven't you had those times when you finally just got it out and you finally just fell on your face, bawling your eyes out—times when you say: "I know this is wrong before God; I've tried to defend it, I've tried to rationalize it, but I just know it's wrong. God, I'm sorry and I'm ready to give it up." What a great thing. That's what I want you to leave with.

Maybe some of you in this room are thinking, I'm not ready for that. Then let me just beg you not to call yourself a Christian, and certainly don't tell people that you're a member at Cornerstone. If you're going to keep holding on to your sin and you're not a believer, that's fine—keep coming. But if you're going to call yourself a Christian, please, either just confess the sin and get it out of your life, or don't come back here until you're ready to do that. Because you're killing us.

This in no way is about us being perfect and never screwing up. I screw up. I screw up every day. I sin every day. But afterwards, it's like, "Oh, that was wrong, I've got to walk away from that." That's part of life. That's part of the sanctification process. I'm talking about the person that's holding on, saying, "No, I'm not giving this up yet." And I'm saying, either give up Christ or give up your sin, but you can't have both.

I'm not here to judge in the sense of condemning anyone, but I am here to judge the church. I have to. I'm called to do that. But it's for your good, and that's what you signed up for—that's what you wanted. And the greatest thing is when we can just do it on our own, come before God and come clean. We don't have a bunch of spies checking out your life. That's not what this is about. It's about you just coming clean and saying: "Here it is, God. I'm hurting this church, I'm hurting myself, I'm hurting your reputation, and I need to change."

To see an outline of Chan's sermon, click here.

For your reflection:

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Francis Chan is an American Protestant author, teacher, and preacher.

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Sermon Outline:


When we see the examples of men and women from Scripture—and from places of suffering around the world today—we begin to question whether we are the "real thing" in terms of following Christ.

I. Prayer is serious business.

II. Answered prayer is a tremendous blessing.

III. Answered prayer is conditional on our obedience.

IV. Answered prayer is influenced by our community.

V. God is still serious about removing evil from his church.


We either have to give up Christ or give up our sin; we can't have both.