“I tried prayer. It didn’t work!”
Have you ever heard this complaint?
All who take prayer seriously sooner or later struggle with unanswered prayer. I’ve struggled with it.
Should we give up on prayer when God doesn’t answer as we hope and expect?
According to a recent survey, 87 percent of Americans believe that God answers prayer and 29 percent say they pray to God more than once a day. The more prominent requests include prayers for health and success, and strength to overcome personal weakness. 51 percent do not think God answer prayers to win sporting events. After events like the Super Bowl, I am sure more are convinced he doesn’t answer such prayers.
When God doesn’t seem to answer
C.S. Lewis suggested that, “Every war, every famine or plague, almost every deathbed — is the monument to a petition that was not granted.” Even Jesus shared in the agony of unanswered prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. God in his wisdom does not always choose to answer as we desire.
In “Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?” Philip Yancey confessed that, “most of his struggles with the Christian life come down to two themes: Why God doesn’t act the way I want Him to, and Why I don’t act the way God wants me to.” “I readily confess” wrote Yancey, “that I tend to view prayer through a skeptic’s lens, obsessing more about unanswered prayers than rejoicing over answered ones.”
Yancey concluded, “Prayer has become for me much more than a shopping list of requests to present to God. It has become a realignment of everything. I pray to restore the truth of the universe, to gain a glimpse of the world, and of me, through the eyes of God.”
“In prayer, I shift my point of view away from my own selfishness. I climb above timberline and look down at the speck that is myself. I gaze at the stars and recall what role I, or any of us, play in a universe beyond comprehension. Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God’s point of view.”
Jesus taught us to put God first in prayer. In his model prayer (identified as the Lord’s prayer), Jesus taught those who pray to start with the honor of God’s name, an urgency for His kingdom and a passion for His will. These are not just lines to be repeated. They are deep longings of Spirit-filled hearts and minds prayerfully expressed with passionate devotion! After these concerns, focus can be given to personal needs (give us, forgive us, and deliver us) (Matthew 6:9ff).
Prayer is not about manipulating God to do our will. It’s about our seeking of His will. In this sense, Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane did not go unanswered because he included in them the condition of all true prayer: “Not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). The apostle John wrote, “If we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (I John 5:14).
Prayer and God’s promises
How should we understand the promises about answered prayer? Jesus said, “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted to you” (Mark 11:24). A simple reading seems to covey that prayer with belief will get you what you want. Is this some kind of spiritual blank check to get whatever we want from God?
Certainly Jesus is not suggesting that if you believe hard enough, God will switch places with you and do your will instead of His. Yes, praying in faith honors God. But trying to exercise faith for something contrary to the will of God as revealed in Scripture is presumptuous. He is “our father” in heaven, not “our servant.”
If we delight in the Lord, He will give us……
Sometimes we think we know exactly how and why God should answer. Since our request doesn’t violate God’s revealed will and since Scripture promises that if we pray, believe, and delight in the Lord he will give us the desires of our hearts, therefore, we expect God will answer.
What do we do if God does not answer when or as we expect? How do we respond when God does the opposite of what we are asking? It forces us to search our hearts as to whether we genuinely want God’s will to be done. It also reveals how much we are actually delighting in the Lord.
Think maturely about prayer
God’s children must learn to think maturely about prayer. During World War II HIS magazine ran a brief article by an army chaplain titled “Some Pray and Die.” The following quote from this article summarizes mature thinking on prayer.
“Is there such a thing as getting the ‘breaks’ in prayer? What about the fellows who pray regularly, but get killed regularly? I wish people would stop writing about the soldiers who pray and have their prayers answered by not getting killed. Why do all the other soldiers seem to get the wrong answer?”
“What I want to know is this: What sort of an extra-special, super-powered prayer is needed to make everything turn out the way you want it? That sounds facetious, almost irreverent, but I’m serious. I really want to know. I’m an army chaplain, and I could use some special prayers with my men — and heaven knows, we need them badly at times. Because the fact is there are always more men who pray to come back than there are men who get back–a lot more.”
“What is the deciding factor? The thing for all of us to remember is this: Someone else does the answering. What you have in mind may not be what God has in mind. If you ask him something, you must be willing to ask what he gives. That is why I am a bit depressed by the writings of those who try to get other people to pray what they want. People must learn to want what they get.”
“When I talk to soldiers about prayer I try to tell them that they must be adults. God expects us to be men. Only children demand a happy ending to every story. How old must we be before we begin to realize that even prayer can’t get us everything we want, unless the thing we want is right for us to have? Who gets the breaks in prayers? Nobody. There is no such thing. We get what God in his infinite love and foreknowledge, sees fit to give. That’s not always the same as getting what we want. But it ought to be.”
See: Unanswered Prayer
Good thoughts about prayer
- “Prayer is not getting things from God; prayer is getting into perfect communion with God; I tell Him what I know He knows in order that I may get to know it as He does.” – Oswald Chambers
- “Never make the blunder of trying to forecast the way God is going to answer your prayer.” – Oswald Chambers
- “Prayer does not change God, it changes me.” – C. S. Lewis
- “In prayer, I shift my point of view away from my own selfishness. … Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God’s point of view.” – Yancey
- “We get what God in his infinite love and foreknowledge, sees fit to give. That’s not always the same as getting what we want. But it ought to be.” – US Chaplin