Have you ever heard this complaint?
All who take prayer seriously will sooner or later struggle with unanswered prayer. I’ve struggled with it!
God in his wisdom does not always answer as we desire. C.S. Lewis suggested that, “Every war, every famine or plague, almost every deathbed — is the monument to a petition that was not granted.”
Jesus himself shared in the agony of unanswered prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Prayer is certainly not about manipulating God to do our will; it’s our seeking His will. In this sense, Jesus’ prayers 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 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?
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, 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.
Pray your way to God’s perspective
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.”
The late Martyn Lloyd-Jones acknowledged that, “Of all the activities in which the Christian engages, and which are part of the Christian life, there is surely none which causes so much perplexity, and raises so many problems, as the activity which we call 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
I go through seasons of prayer when I feel I am not being heard. Usually these are times when I am presenting specific requests to God that weigh heavily on me. When I feel this way, I question my motives (James 4:3) and the condition of my walk with God (Psalm 66:18; James 5:16) because I know these are important considerations to effective prayer. At a deeper level, I wonder if my requests are according to God’s will (I John 5:14). And then there is the matter of presumption versus faith. Perhaps I am presuming on God in my request. “Is this faith or presumption?” I ask myself.
Like Jesus’ early disciples, I have times when I say, “Lord teach me to pray” (Luke 11:1). The well-known saying, “Prayer changes things” often turns out to be ”Prayer changes me.” Yet, in the midst of my uncertainty, I cannot stop praying (I Thessalonians 5:17). I remind myself of the words of the psalmist, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (Psalm 62:8). I want to be bold in my prayers for the advancement of God’s work. I have persevered in prayer through many uncertain seasons (Luke 18:1) and witnessed many amazing answers from God! But each new season offers deeper challenges. Can you identify?
Reflect on these words:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11, NASB).