unanswered prayer, part one
A few years ago, I had the (terrifying) privilege of teaching on this issue at a ladies bible study and then again at a weekend retreat. For me, this issue had become one to wrestle boldly with - God had three times said "No" to my request to let my babies live and I was living in the reality of unanswered prayer. Those were fresh, raw, face-to-the-floor days and I was with God like I'd never been before. And though He has not yet healed my womb, He has given us a child and so that particular prayer was, after great agony and beseeching, answered in the affirmative. That is not always the case. God does not always answer affirmatively to our prayers and we wonder and question and weep at the throne and we either give up and grow silent or angry... or we give up and sink into Him. I think we’re probably all well-versed in this topic: we pray for healing for someone, they get worse or die. We pray for financial provision & someone loses a job. We pray for rescue from temptation, from sin and nothing appears to be forthcoming. We ask for what we need or desire and God seems to be silent on the matter. He makes no promises, He speaks nothing to our hearts. We wrestle with a deep discontent - a dissatisfaction with Holy God, who does not appear to be lending His ear to our heart's deepest cries.
I want to be clear up front: this is a big picture answer to unanswered prayer. He is a big, mysterious God and I just can’t speak for Him with any real clarity or authority on why He does or does not do certain things. And much smarter, wiser men and women have discussed the problem of pain and the issue of unanswered prayer for years with no resolution. I am not attempting to provide a solution, here. I am tremblingly suggesting that if we are nurturing bitter discontent against Father, then there are some things we must begin to do. We cannot live in that dissatisfaction. We cannot and we should not.. There are far greater things to be done with our hearts and our energies.
And yet there are seasons in which the pain and discontent is so great that we cannot seem to work ourselves out of it. So what do we do? How do we respond when God is silent or outright tells us no - that is not for you, not right now, not in these days or in this time.
I believe biblically there are some things we can check our hearts against when our prayers seem to go unanswered. The following passages of Scripture indicate that if any of these things are not in order, we need to right them before God, in order to continue pursuing our issue in prayer. No, there is not a formula for prayer, but there are biblical principles that we want to institute into our prayer lives. And so we ask:
praying for things consistent with the will of God? (1 John 5:14)
We must be mindful of those things that Scriptures teach us could hinder our prayers. The deal is, though, if we spend too much time evaluating how to get our lives all right and organized and situated before the Lord, we end up thinking something along the lines of Now I’ve got it! Now I’m living righteously, so I can ask God for whatever I want!
This is a bad idea. Not the living in obedience part! But…to subject ourselves to a formulaic approach for getting what we want out of God. It’s a selfish pursuit. Selfishness breeds discontent. I was talking with my counselor on this subject and he said, “I don’t know about you, but if that’s all it was about, I’d just use God to get what I need or want.” Am I discontent because I am simply looking for relief, instead of the Reliever? Am I restless because I am going to God to get answers, instead of to get HIM?
If we settle on the idea that there’s a formula, we will live in a constant state of tension, trying to figure out why God isn’t performing the way we want Him to. We begin to view God as the source of what we want, rather than the loving Father He is. We begin to perceive our needs are not being met, so we quiet down, get grumpy, we make demands of God or become outright arrogant. When we see this in our lives – we must stop and repent. We confess (which is to agree with God) that this attitude brings Him no honor and we re-orient ourselves to truth.
I am not suggesting that when very real tragedy strikes, we are to assume there has been an error in prayer on our part and so we are being "punished". This is a faulty view of the Loving Father, who does not create a complicated prayer formula that we must "get right" before He moves on our behalf. As I said at the outset of this post, I cannot speak with authority on why God does or does not answer prayers. But when we find ourselves in a season of frustration, anger, or discontent with God because of His seeming refusal to respond to us the way we want, we must humble ourselves to ask am I asking in accordance with the Word of God?
COMING TOMORROW... Let us assume, for the sake of this discussion, that each of these things are in order and we are still experiencing a discontent with the Father. What then? How do we deal with that dissatisfaction? How do we move ahead in our relationship with Father when we cannot reconcile our unanswered prayers to His loving purposes?