Blake Long

Coping with Unanswered Prayer through the Local Church

When our prayers go unanswered, it ought to be a wake-up call to dive back into the means of grace God has mercifully provided for us. One of those means of grace is the local church. Fellowship with like-minded Christians in the gathering of the local church is crucial to a Christian’s spiritual life.

Unanswered prayer can be excruciating. If we’re not careful, it can seem like God has completely abandoned us, left us without any hope. But we know from God’s Word that’s not true. We know God’s character. What we know about God supplants what we may sometimes feel about God. We know he’s good (Psalm 25:8), righteous (Psalm 119:137), and faithful to his promises (Psalm 145:13), even when our feelings say he’s ignoring us.
Our natural instinct is to withdraw, turn away, and shrink back when God tells us no. Our first step is backward, not forward. Instead of digging in, we give up. Rather than pushing forward, we retreat back. We despair, pout, and, depending on the situation, get angry. But we should know by now that God never turns away from the cries, pleas, and supplications of his children. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. He is eager to hear our prayers. The sound of our prayers is a beautiful noise. And it gets even better: he loves listening to our prayers even when he says no them. It’s not as if he throws the unanswered prayers in a divine trash can. No, God wants us to respond to unanswered prayer by pushing further into him, by drawing nearer.
This is a sign of genuine faith. No matter the difficulty— even via unanswered prayer—we push on forward. We lean into him. We keep marching toward him by faith because we know what Scripture says and we know how fickle our emotions can be. We rely on the unbreakable foundation of the Bible rather than the uneasy waves of our feelings.
So, you might ask, if God wants us to come closer to him even after he tells us no, how do we do that? In what can seem to be the most difficult time of our lives—where our whole life is falling apart—how in the world do we draw closer to God?
Four words. The means of grace. What are the means of grace? They’re how we commune with our God and grow as Christians. And one specifically is very important to help us grow: the local church.
Nowadays the necessity of the local church has been thrown out the theological window. When online church is running rampant, it’s all the more important to understand why being in church—in-person with other like-minded believers—is drastically important.
I think all Christians understand the value of living in community with other followers of Christ.
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Jesus Holds Us Fast

When you’re stuck, frustrated, and apathetic, remember these words: Jesus will hold you fast. You can’t do it on your own—none of us can. We weren’t designed to and God doesn’t pretend that we’re supposed to. Hold onto God! Don’t let go! The finish line to true freedom is closer each and every day. 

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  (Hebrews‬ ‭10‬:‭23‬ ‭ESV‬‬)
Recently I was in my car and the Norton Hall version of “He Will Hold Me Fast” came through my speakers. Of course, I began listening to it, for it has to be a rare moment to pass that song up.
The lyrics, like usual, struck me. They just hit different. They hit different because I felt different. On this particular day, I felt rather lousy—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Call it what you want, but my head and heart just weren’t there. So as a listened, I broke.
I could never keep my hold — when I sang those words I began to lose it. Though I felt lousy I knew I didn’t have a lousy Savior. Those words rang more true on that day than others. On a day when I could feel my lousiness and apathy, this song struck me in the heart. I could never keep my hold of Jesus, because unfortunately my love is often cold.
But He will hold me fast. Matter fact, according to His promises, He must hold me fast. And thank God for that.
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Keep the Door of my Lips

When we stay in the means of grace, our tongues become more and more holy, more and more sanctified. We become less sarcastic; we hold our tongue more even when we’d prefer to let our opinion be heard. We don’t feel the incessant need to be in every social media argument. Friends, when we’re grounded in the means of grace, the Holy Spirit is shaping our tongue to glorify God, not self. 

Help me … to be saved from unregenerate temper, hard thoughts, slanderous words, meanness, unkind manners, to master my tongue and keep the door of my lips. (The Valley of Vision)
The Bible has a lot to say about our tongues, the way in which we speak. Take a gander at Proverbs or even James and you’ll quickly notice how we use our tongues is no small subject.
This passage in the popular Puritan devotional The Valley of Vision speaks to this topic as well—and gets very specific. We need to continually pray this prayer and be intentional about the way in which we speak.
This isn’t something we can gloss over or ignore, for the words we speak and how we speak them reveals what’s inside our hearts (Matt. 15:16). We must, as the prayer says, “master [our] tongue.”

The question, then, is this: How can we master our tongue? How can we keep the door of our lips? By remembering three crucial things.

Our opinion isn’t always needed. All Christians—and, really, society at large—should take heed of this. Not only is our opinion not always needed, but sometimes even unhelpful. Social media is a perfect example of this. Whatever the platform, everybody gives their hot take on the latest controversy.
The Bible has much to say about giving opinion, but let’s settle on one:
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
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We had Boldness

We have the ability to be bold because we know, at the end of the day, we’re not the ones doing the saving—God is. God perhaps will use us as instruments (which is a privilege), but he is the one who saves, the one who regenerates, the one who transforms the heart. Friends, let’s be bold. Not arrogant, not smug, not cocky; but confident in God as we navigate this world and our relationship with him.

But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.‭‭(1 Thessalonians‬ ‭2‬:‭2‬)
Is it good to be bold? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It certainly depends on the situation—and depends even more on what we mean by bold. There are least two instances in Scripture where we are told to be bold.
In Hebrew 4:16, the writer tells us we can approach God’s throne with boldness:
Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.
We can have boldness when approaching God’s throne because of the merits of Christ. We aren’t to be bold because we’re so good or because we have it all together—it’s quite the opposite. Our boldness stems from Christ’s intercessory work and his ability to sympathize with us. It’s beautiful. We have boldness with the Father because Jesus is our Great High Priest.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:2, we’re told that the disciples had boldness.
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The Agony of Church Discipline Carried Out

Pray for the person’s repentance, for that is what we all want. We want him to come home, or at least reconcile even if that means attending a different church in good standing. Pray for the person to be humbled, for one cannot have godly sorrow without humility. There is no such thing as prideful repentance. Hearts grow harder, and so God needs to break it.

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew‬ ‭18:17‬)
As my wife and I walked into the sanctuary, we were met with the same fellowship we always get. But on this occasion, there was a sense of angst as everybody waited for the elders to speak. You see, this wasn’t Sunday service. It was a members-only meeting.
And just about everybody in the room—including my wife and me—knew what this meeting was about.
With brevity and soberness, our pastor stepped behind the stand and led the members in prayer. He had notes on the podium, which meant he’d be reading off a statement. As he read the statement, you could hear a pin drop—even though most knew what was coming.
Was one of the pastors leaving? Did one of the pastors disqualify himself from ministry? Is the church having difficulty with finances? No.
A member of the church—one that had been my closest friend—was being removed from membership due to willful unrepentance. Biblically, this is known as excommunication, and as you might can tell, it’s a sensitive subject. It’s even more sensitive when it comes to your church, to your closest friends.
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Managers of the Mysteries of God

In our day when the culture is vehemently biting back, we must stand firm all the more in the truths of the mysteries of God—the gospel. We must not compromise the message in order to appease society. The message we are called to herald is a message that is offensive to the world. This truth, however, should not hinder us from proclaiming it without fear, without anxiety, without compromise.

A person should think of us in this way: as servants of Christ and managers of the mysteries of God. (1 Corinthians‬ ‭4:1‬ CSB)
The Bible speaks of the “mysteries of God.” But what does that mean? To put it simply, the mystery of God is His plan for all of history to culminate with setting up His eternal kingdom for us. In short, you could say, the “mystery of God” is the gospel.
And it’s a mystery because, for ages, it was hidden and not fully understood (Eph. 3:5). But God, through the sending of His Son, revealed this glorious plan to save His people through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah.
Furthermore, what’s incredible is God has made us, His people, “managers” of this mystery. He has called us, commanded us to manage His glorious gospel. So, the real question we ponder is this: What does it look like for us to “manage” the mystery of God?
Preach it with undying conviction.
In order to manage the gospel with biblical fidelity, we must do so with conviction. The truths of the gospel—of Christ’s righteous life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection—must grip our hearts and never let go.
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Did Jesus Die for Everybody?

Marvel at God’s love, marvel at Jesus’ redeeming sacrifice, marvel at the Holy Spirit’s sovereign regenerating work. Believer, take this to heart and cherish it: Jesus died specifically for you on the cross. Your salvation is purchased, paid for. Live like it’s so.

Did Jesus die for everybody? This question seems rather simple on the surface, but if you peel back a layer of Scripture you’ll find it’s a pretty complex question. Theologians debate, friends argue, and the layperson doesn’t even know it’s a question.
So, did He die for everybody? The short answer is No. And, in my opinion, the Bible is pretty clear on that. There is a plethora of passages to visit, but let’s focus on the over-arching theme that makes this question easier to understand: substitutionary atonement.
Jesus was our substitute, in life and death (2 Corinthians 5:21). And by our, I mean, Christians. And because He was—and is—our substitute means He didn’t purchase a theoretical salvation on the cross, but salvation itself. In other words, Jesus didn’t die to simply make salvation possible, but died in place of real names.
He had the names of His elect, His church, in mind when He died on the cross—for He is our substitute. He lived in our place; He died in our place. Jesus’ death was a substitutionary death—that is central to the gospel!
With this glorious truth in mind—and if we are focused on the text of Scripture and not any biases—it doesn’t require a big leap to conclude that Jesus only died on the cross for those He was the substitute for—the church.
Think about it. If Jesus was the substitute for every single person, then everybody would be saved.
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Don’t Follow Your Heart

Following our heart is terrible advice when we realize how much our desires change. We say, “The heart wants what it wants,” but we never even know what it wants. What we desire shifts on the daily. Instead of following our heart, we must follow God who is immutable.

“Follow your heart.” This is the message of every Disney movie you’ve ever seen. The movies we watch, the tv shows we binge, the music we listen to — all of it proclaims this message: follow your heart and everything will be perfect. Your heart—which is good and reliable—knows what it wants and will take you where you need to go.
The problem is, though, that doesn’t square up in the slightest with the Bible. There are many well-meaning Christians who truly believe the Bible tells us to follow our hearts. However, when they look up the chapter and verse they never find it—because it’s not there. You see, Scripture doesn’t paint a pretty picture about man’s heart. But it’s honest and realistic.
It’s not the popular thing to go against the “follow your heart” message because it is supposed to make us feel good about ourselves. But it ultimately falls flat for many reasons. Let’s explore three of them.
Our heart is wicked. Why should I follow my heart when the Bible calls it wicked (Ps. 41:6)? Of course, this isn’t referring to our physical, beating heart. When the Bible mentions the heart in this way, it’s referring to our innermost affections, our will.
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Why We Need to Talk About God’s Wrath

All Christians, before salvation, we’re sitting under His wrath. The only reason we are now in God’s good pleasure is because of Jesus—not anything we did. As much as we should talk about God’s wrath—for it is absolutely neglected today—we should talk all the more about redemption found in Christ. We simply must not dance around God’s wrath because, without His wrath, we lose redemption.

The wrath of God gets a bad rep. Not because His wrath is somehow deficient or immoral, but because humans don’t like talking about hard things. We hear one sentence about God’s wrath and we’re preaching fear-mongering.
Here’s the issue, though: we need to talk about the wrath of God. It’s too important to ignore. Skirting around it only brings more wrath. We need to face it head on, as eternity hangs in the balance. There are several reasons we must talk about the wrath of God, but let’s just cover three of them.
We need to talk about God’s wrath because it is real. Scripture is abundantly clear on the reality of His wrath (Romans 1:18; John 3:36; Romans 2:5; Nahum 1:2). There’s no getting around it or ignoring it. We must come to grips with what the Bible clearly teaches: God has wrath and, if we do not repent of our sins and trust in Christ, it abides on us (John 3:36).
There will be naysayers and those who try to deny it because they believe in a “God of love.” But a God of all love and no wrath is an idol—it doesn’t exist.
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Feeling Our Sins

Take your sin seriously. Kill it before it kills you. Point it out. Leave no room for silly games or foolish antics. Suffocate your sin. Feel it’s brunt—but remember Jesus.

He that has learned to feel his sins…has learned the two hardest and greatest lessons in Christianity. (J.I. Packer)
We don’t like to talk about our sins. Even as those in Christ—where we know and believe all our sin has been forgiven—we still feel a sense of shame, of regret, of awkwardness when talking about our sin. But talking about sin is the only way forward to sanctification.
Christians needs to recover the art, so to speak, of being honest about sin. Not just sin in general, of course, but personal sin. The more we are honest, open and—in Packer’s words—“feel our sins,” the further we progress in holiness.
Three are three different ways we can do better at this.
Don’t Hide It
Trying to hide your sins—specifically from God—is like attempting to run away from your shadow. It’s not going to happen. Not only is it impossible to hide your sins from God, but it’s also foolish. And it only exacerbates the issue at hand—your sin.
As painful as it may be, confessing your sin is the best thing to do. This is part of “feeling our sins.” In order to truly understand the depth of our sins, we must not hide them, but confess them. Putting them out in the open, in full transparency, helps you become more like Jesus.

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