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John 15:1-16

I am the Vine (i):
Receiving the sap - Unanswered Prayer.

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This is a LONG study!

Firstly, I’d like us to look at an interesting Greek word: TARASSO. Its meaning is (Display)

To be troubled / disturbed / perplexed / thrown into confusion. The first time it is used is in Luke 24v38 but let’s read from v36 – Jesus has just appeared to his disciples as a group for the first time since his crucifixion

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.

38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?

Here the word is translated ‘troubled’ – can you describe the feelings of the disciples?

It is also translated ‘troubled’ in John 14 as the disciples are preparing to leave the Upper Room and Jesus is speaking of his imminent crucifixion. Perhaps the Disciples have at last begun to accept that Jesus is really about to die:-

1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

During our study we will come across this word three more times and we will need to remember this feeling of confusion.

To start though, we’ll read

John 15:7-16

7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

It’s very tempting when doing a bible study series like this to skip the difficult bits. But that is always so frustrating when you read a commentary – often the commentator will say ‘this is a difficult passage’ and move on. So instead we need to look at something which arises from our last study ‘We must learn to depend on Christ more – prayer’. And that is the problem of unanswered prayer.

We have two verses in this passage which raise awkward questions. They are verses 7 and 16:

7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.

16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

Let’s be honest. What is our immediate reaction when we read those verses?

That’s not my experience

Jesus obviously didn’t mean it the way it reads

It depends on what ‘in my name’ means

Obviously I’m not fruitful enough

How often when we ask for something in prayer do we feel like we are aiming at a target: sometimes we get a hit, sometimes a miss, and occasionally a bull’s-eye – where our prayer is answered almost before the words are off our lips.

Before we go any further we have to agree that there is no method or formula we can use to guarantee that we get what we ask for. And this study is not going to produce any amazing new revelations either!

So where can we start? We have all heard the response ‘Well the Lord always hears and answers prayer, but the answer is not always yes, it may be no or wait’.

But surely that is not what our verses suggest that we should expect: ‘the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name’.

How many of us have asked believing, in Jesus’ name, and didn’t receive what we asked for?

Would anyone like to share an example?

I personally was asked, with the other leaders of a church, to pray, according to the instructions in James 5:13-15, for a lady with cancer. It was the first time I had ever done this and I truly believed that she would be healed. She died soon after.

The two main complaints that God has not answered prayers are in the areas of sickness and unbelieving relations or friends. Both these are backed up by claims to scripture passages.

For sickness, James 5:14-15

14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well

And for unbelievers, 2 Peter 3:9

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Let’s look at this one first. Why doesn’t God force someone to become a Christian? I’ve prayed for them knowing it’s not the will of the father that any should perish.

Surely that argument attempts to blackmail God into forcing the whole world into becoming Christian. That is not God’s way.

Last time we were looking at the obedience of love.

Is it possible to force someone to love you?

Would you want to if you could?

So God will not force people to love him. Yet we must continue to pray for our friends and family – God would be very surprised if we didn’t. And as a result of our prayers God can influence people and circumstances in ways that we don’t understand or expect.

So what could Jesus do in response to our prayers?

I do believe more opportunities to come to Christ are given to those we pray for. And yes, sometimes Jesus will present his claims to a person in a very dramatic way (like Paul). God can even change the thoughts of a person’s mind.

Perhaps that indicates to us areas in which we could be more specific in our praying. Instead of: Please save John, we could ask: please cause other Christians to meet him, work with him, live next door to him, befriend him. Please change his mind towards the possibility of spiritual things; cause him to accept that there must be an intelligent designer behind creation; cause him to consider what happens after death. Please cause him to pick up a bible and then want to read it, or introduce other Christian books, tracts, pamphlets, and websites to him.

We could ask that he develops a desire to attend activities at his local church. We could ask that he has disturbing dreams. We could ask that his conscience is awakened to the fact that he is a lost sinner. We could even ask Jesus to send his angel to stand in front of him with his sword drawn as he walks down the road!

All these can be legitimate specific prayers.

But the final step of faith is for the individual to make for himself – and not even Christ will force them to do that. Both we and God have to wait for the response of a person’s heart.

Well then, how about sickness and suffering? Surely this is an area where God should act. We’ve all heard of miraculous results of prayer, so why doesn’t God do it every time?

We need to try to see things from God’s perspective.

- God knows what he’s doing and we don’t

- God’s view is from eternity – ours is limited by time


God has a plan for the whole of our lives with this brief earthly section climaxing in our death and resurrection. But our plan is to stay alive on this world at all costs.

But Jesus healed the sick, and what’s the point of James if we can’t pray for healing?

We can and sometimes he answers. But that’s not good enough. Why don’t we see healing every time? And not just prayers for healing. Other things I’ve prayed for believing, and the Father has not given whatever I asked in his name.

Now we get to the crux of the matter.

What we’ll do is look at the prayers of Jesus and see if any of them were refused, or went unanswered. But before that lets look at the prayer he taught us:

How did Jesus teach us to pray?

‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your name’. What does that mean?

If you are using some form of display, reveal each line in turn

‘Hallowed be your name’: 1 God must have the Glory

‘Your kingdom come’ 2 God must be King

‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ 3 God’s will must be done

(Next four lines are a separate section)

‘Give us this day our daily bread’ Provide for us

‘And forgive . . . against us.’ Forgive us

‘Lead us not into temptation’ Lead us

‘But deliver us from evil’ Save us

For thine is the Kingdom (point to 2)

The Power (point to 3)

and the Glory (Point to 1)

Point to 3. Is it possible there can be a conflict of interests here? When we complain that our prayer wasn’t answered, whose will wasn’t satisfied: Our will or God’s will?

We know that Paul prayed that the thorn in his flesh be removed – three times, but he was refused.

Were Jesus’ prayers ever refused?

What did Jesus pray in the Garden of Gethsemane? Matthew 26:39

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

He even prayed the same thing three times. Why?

We mentioned before that as humans our strongest instinct is to preserve life. God is therefore not surprised if that is what we pray. In fact he would be surprised if we didn’t. Of course Jesus’ prayer was more than that. There was unimaginable suffering and separation to face as well.

Did Jesus know what his Father’s answer would be? Yes.

Why did he pray then – three times?

If that question is too difficult, break it down.

1. Is it right to pray in every situation? It is actually unthinkable that Jesus should not pray at this moment of darkest despair.

2. Is it right to ask for relief from suffering? Psalm 116:3-4 The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, save me!”

3. Is it right to be persistent? (Luke 18:2-8)

4. Is it right to ask for something even if you doubt that it is God’s will. (Jesus prayed ‘If it is possible . . .)

The answer to each question is a resounding yes. When Jesus prayed he was speaking to his Father. And as a father God responded. But how could he respond to this prayer of Jesus? He couldn’t save Jesus from this situation but he could help him through it.

Luke 22:42-43

42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.

Often this is the answer we receive today

Obviously Jesus had known his destiny before he ever came to the world but in the days leading up to his own crucifixion the reality of the coming suffering was more and more in his thoughts. Let’s look at John 12:20-28 but first glance at the passage in verses 12-15

Jesus has just entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. His crucifixion was only a few days’ time. The next passage must have happened either on the first or second day of Easter week. Now look at John 12 from verse 20:

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

Jesus responded with the gospel message:

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.

But the terrible reality of what he has just said interrupts his thoughts. He is TARASSO – troubled, disturbed, perplexed, thrown into confusion. He is the seed that is about to die. He begins to debate with himself whether he can pray to his Father to be relieved of the coming suffering

27 “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?

No - it’s still a few days away and Jesus can tell himself that it is for the Father’s glory that he has to be obedient.

No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.

Is God far away? Is God slow to answer? God is watching Jesus as closely as any father could, anxious to answer his son’s prayer, if only it is the right one! Jesus knows he cannot pray ‘Save me’ – that is denied him. The only prayer left to him is:

28 Father, glorify your name!”

And instantly God’s answer breaks through audibly:

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” In the willing obedience of his son.

Before we move on, look again at the word in verse 27 ‘my heart is troubled

What was it that troubled Jesus? Was it the conflict between his human will and God’s holy will?

The next time we come across this word is in chapter 13. I think Jesus had to face the reality of unanswered prayer when he was with his disciples in the upper room.

Jesus has just made a statement of fact: John 13:18-21.

18 “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfil the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’

19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. 20 I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”

But then we read verse 21

After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”

Did Jesus ever pray for his disciples? Would he have prayed that they would come to a knowledge of the truth and that they would recognise him as Saviour and Lord?

Is that the cause of his troubled spirit this time? The fact that a disciple he loved could choose to turn against him. Knowing that this too was God’s will, he still had the question: why? And it troubled him. Here is a man Jesus had prayed for (John 17v6 NIV heading) turning his back on him. Surely if anyone could pray that one of his friends would come to know and love Jesus, it was Jesus himself when he prayed for Judas. And so we read again, Jesus was troubled in spirit.

Let’s look at another occasion. This is the death of Lazarus, and I think it’s safe to assume that Mary and Martha would have prayed that Lazarus would not die. John 11:32-37.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

And now we read

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.

What was the cause of his trouble this time? Was it the again the conflict between his human will and his Father’s will?

His whole nature was of compassion, healing people with a word or a touch. To have to deny the request of his best friends in order to be obedient to God’s will was not easy. So we read he was deeply moved in spirit, and troubled. And verse 35: Jesus wept.

As God, Jesus fully understood why these things had to be, but as a human, Jesus struggled.

Display a circle with a dot at the centre.

There used to be a time when everyone believed that the Earth was the centre of the universe, and the sun and stars revolved around it. Finally it dawned on someone that actually the earth went round the sun. This was not received well. It needed a major change in people’s thinking and many could not accept it.

Do we need a major change in our thinking? Do we act as though we are at the centre, with God surrounding us ready to respond to our requests? Or do we recognise that God is central, surrounded by those of us who are ready to do his will?

When we pray do we ask ‘Thy will be done’ or ‘My will be done’?

But we still have our verse John 15:16

16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

And also earlier in John 15:7

7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.

How many have watched ‘Strictly come dancing’ or ‘Skating on Ice’ on the television. Or who has seen Torville and Dean ice skating?

As they move round the dance floor or on the ice the two partners seem to move as one. Sometimes there is an obvious leader, but both partners always seem to move with the same mind and understanding. Occasionally they separate to do their own thing but even that is part of the planned sequence of events, enhancing the whole.

Does it come naturally, or is it a result of hours, weeks or perhaps years of practice, living and working together?

In our walk with Jesus, he leads and we follow. Often we appear to move as one, and occasionally we can do something by ourselves where it fits his perfect choreography. But it’s not easy and we need to work at it. It needs constant practice. We need to learn and practice how to stay close to Jesus; how to watch each movement, each step; keeping in tune and in time with him.

Then as we come in prayer we will begin to know his heart and mind. He will put things in our hearts to pray, but we can never expect to know all things. God has said ‘my ways are not your ways neither are my thoughts your thoughts’.

We should delight in praying as much as he delights in hearing our prayers. One day there will come a time when The Word is fully in us and his fruit is ready for the harvest and then we will be able to say: Thy will and my will be done!

John 15h John 15j NIV Copyright