I usually prepare seven days in advance for my weekly blog and often have 20-25 “drafts” in a digital file that contain subjects I’m pondering.
But this morning, at the end of my devotional time, something inside me said I needed to write on the baffling and sometimes agonizing subject of unanswered prayer.
I’ve learned to recognize that “nudge” by the Holy Spirit. Maybe one or more of you need some encouragement on why some of your prayers aren’t being answered.
My thoughts on coping with unanswered prayer.
The popular teaching is that no prayer remains unanswered. We are told that all prayers are answered either:
- YES – we receive our request and are thankful.
- NO – it is not God’s will.
- MAYBE or WAIT – because the answer has to do with timing.
I agree with this general perspective, but the subject is a little more complicated than that.
Prayer is talking to or communicating with the God of the universe. God is a moral being who thinks, feels, and acts in infinite and wonderful ways. We are moral beings too. Take a moment and think of some of the conversations you’ve had with your Creator throughout your lifetime that refreshed your soul or brought tears to your eyes.
A friend recently shared with me a vision he had of God’s love in a dream. The revelation was so powerful and meaningful that when he woke up he wept for twenty minutes.
That’s the power of hearing from God.
The Almighty can easily talk to everybody in the world at once. If lowly human beings can make computers that accomplish 200,000 trillion calculations per second –then think how the omniscient, omnipresent God finds it amazingly simple to communicate with 7.7 billion human beings simultaneously with the complete past in mind and the future guided by his providence.
Don’t worry about getting a “busy signal” when talking to God. He could answer the phone if there were trillions of galaxies teeming with moral beings.
Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).
Prayer is simply talking to God. In other words, it’s a mind-to-mind transaction where we share our hearts and concerns to the One guiding the cosmos. We hear back from him via thoughts, feelings, revelations, insights, encouragements, or just a sense of peace.
I believe God speaks to us more than we realize. He puts a smile on our face when we glimpse a beautiful flower; His love wells up in our hearts when we hear from a loved one; He brings memories to our mind of fond past experiences; He also convicts our conscience, enlightens our understanding and makes us feel secure in his presence.
Unfortunately, most of the time we don’t give God credit for these intrusions into our consciousness.
Learn to be a better listener for God’s voice.
I take a 30-minute prayer walk most days. I spend the time talking to God–offering up requests, asking for insight, telling him I love and praise him, and just thinking with him. God is a Spirit – John 4:24 (mind = not limited to a body) and our relationship with him is mind-to-mind, heart-to-heart.
There’s nothing like this mental exchange with God on earth. And it will be full blown and complete in eternity.
Many of our prayers become requests for his aid or help–especially involving people we love. These contain supplications (to “plead humbly”) or intercessory prayers where we ask God to bless or do something specific in another person’s life.
One leader I admire who is well-practiced in God-talk is author and Bible teacher Joy Dawson. I sat in awe while hearing of her “conversations with God” when I was a twenty-something.
I wanted that same intimacy. But Joy made it clear that “the Lord confides in those who fear him” (Psalm 25:14). It is respect and reverence for God that allows his voice to resonate.
Joy Dawson also shares the clearest definition I know about intercessory prayer. She believes that “prayer gives an impartial God a reason to be partial in someone’s life.” In other words, when we pray for someone, it moves the heart of God to act in a way that is not unfair to others or showing favoritism. He acts by way of specific requests.
We treat our own children similarly. We love them all the same (and uniquely), but we respond individually to their requests in a way that is not unfair to the others. The request begets the action.
But why doesn’t God answer all our requests? Let’s consider a few reasons that better clarify the “yes, no, and wait” perspective on all our prayer requests.
First, we live in a moral world where freedom to choose is a sobering reality. Many times God hears our requests for loved ones/friends–for salvation, health, peace, security, etc.–but the object of prayer freely rejects God’s will or desires.
Free will answers many disappointments on earth–maybe most. Biblical faith is unique in teaching that human beings are fallen and possess the moral ability to reject God’s influences. Our Creator could make us all robots–with no one dissing his will–but then we wouldn’t be free beings with the ability to have relationships.
There is no real love without moral choice, necessitating the liberty to say yes or no.
That’s why sometimes we pray for changes in a person’s life for their good–and don’t see answers for decades or more. That’s the power of free will.
Another reason for unanswered prayer is the timing element. I believe God “stores” our prayers for the right moment when he alone sees that a person is ready to respond. We can always trust God in these aspects of timing and keep the “bottle of stored prayer” filled up so that when God sees the right circumstances, then divine influences pour out in a convicting, life-changing stream.
On Sunday I saw such a gusher. I baptized a friend-of-a-friend in their home after probably fifty years of prayer going up for this person. I used a cup to sprinkle her, saying it was a “down-payment” on later immersion in water symbolizing death to self and spiritual resurrection (Romans 6). She wept as she chose Jesus as “boss” of her life.
Oh the joys of wait-for-a-lifetime prayers!
A third reason for unanswered prayer is also found in this story. It involved the suffering and character growth of her brother which led to the woman’s salvation. In other words, God sometimes does not answer a prayer because he needs the “wait” and sufferings of some to do his best work of forming the character of Christ in others.
I remember crying out to God for seven long years about a physical ailment–which he eventually cured. During that stretch, I learned some of the greatest character lessons of my life, such as those found in Paul’s experience in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
“To keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”
Unanswered prayers form powerful character building blocks. They just might accomplish God’s greatest work in our lives.
To sum up: Understand free will. Know that timing is everything. And grow through the pain caused by God’s wise restraint.
But never stop praying. Trust in the promises and character of God. He will do all he can, when it’s the right time, while forming his character in you and those around you.
Despite what appears to be unanswered prayer.