Unanswered Prayer, Part Two
Yesterday I made some biblically-based suggestions for things we must evaluate before God if we are to be tearing down discontent in the face of unanswered prayers. Because I believe contentment is, by and large, a choice on our part. My initial reaction to difficult things may not be a contented, grateful, fully appreciative one - but I have the mind of Christ. I get to choose how I will continue in response. Yet in those dry days, where I am not able because of some great grief or some great silence from God, to choose contentment and my prayers are going unanswered - there are some initial biblical responses that can help me to realign my heart to God's purpose for prayer. I want to assume, for our purposes, that these things are in alignment. That we are oriented to God through appropriate, biblical prayer and yet...we wait in prayer and the silence is deafening. Please know, before I share, that my heart is not to minimize the genuinely grievous things we experience. I am not suggesting that with the turn of a few pages of the Bible and a good ole cry that all will be well again. But, oh! Oh, we serve a good and loving God. And His heart for us is not to despair, even in the darkness. From a sister who has grieved tremendous loss, let me assure you of His great love! Let me speak tenderly to your discontented, sad or frustrated heart that even in this, He is enough! It does not feel like it. But sister, do not let your feelings have the final say!
From December 2009 through January 2012, we asked God for the lives of four babies He created in my womb. (You can read our story starting here.) Every answer was “no”. The physical and emotional toil of those miscarriages was more than I believed I could bear. I dealt with the unforgiveness in my heart, I was persistent in asking Him, I believe having children was/is consistent with His will for my family, I absolutely believed He could act on my behalf… so why? Why those deaths? Why those losses? I don’t actually have an answer for this. But I am learning what to do when God seems to be silent. When He doesn’t answer my prayer. I call it “wrestling” with God, to mimic the account of Jacob (later dubbed Israel) in the Old Testament. Here’s how:
1. I press deep into what I know to be true of His character.
One of the enemy’s primary goals is to cause us to doubt God. To doubt His goodness, doubt His care for us, doubt His sovereign, righteous, holy, loving heart. So part of wrestling with God in the discontent of unanswered prayer is to go back to what I know to be true of the Lord. I read Scripture, where I am reminded that God is love (1Jn4:8). That He is a victorious warrior & rejoices over me (Zeph3:17). That He is good and is working good in me (Phil2:13). His grace is enough (2Cor12:9). He gives life & healing (Deut32:39).
It goes on and on. Make a list. Write these things down. Look them up for yourself and see that God is working good in ALL THINGS (Rom8:28). Memorize them. Put sticky notes on every surface of your home, if you must. But press into the truth of God.
2. I take my emotions directly to Him.
There’s a big brou-ha-ha about emotions among Christians. We act like they’re inherently sinful and we try to stifle them or feel guilty about them…OR we glorify them and make decisions out of how we feel about things. It’s critical, when we are not receiving the answers we hope for, that we do not make decisions out of our feelings. Listen to me: your feelings are not always accurate indicators of reality. They are often not telling you the truth! Conversely, you are not steeped in sin if you experience hurt, anger, frustration. Your response to emotions can become disobedience – not the emotion itself. So in the silence of unanswered prayer, we take those emotions directly to God and leave them there. This is not to say our emotions cease to exist or change immediately, but we are holding them in proper perspective because we are viewing them in the presence of God.
In the book of Luke, we read the story of Jesus visiting the home of sisters, Mary and Martha. Though I’ve heard many different “spins” on this story, the one that has been most effective in helping me deal with emotions is this: when Martha was upset about Mary not helping, she did NOT stomp around the kitchen, yell at her sister, get all passive-aggressive & make sarcastic remarks, leave the house & make everyone else cook…she went straight to Jesus with her frustration. THIS is the example to follow. Walk right into the presence of Almighty God and tell Him how you feel!
The author of a book I read in that season puts it this way, “the Hebrews believed that God was great and gracious enough to absorb this raw and reckless emotion and strong enough to withstand the hostility we pour on Him.[…] The Psalms encourage us to fight it out – with God.” Take your discontent to Him, sister. Let it not become the heavy burden you are not even made to bear.
3. I keep praying & don’t give up.
We must persist in prayer. The bible instructs us to “be devoted to prayer” (Col4:2). We glue ourselves to prayer. We hold fast and don’t let go. We don’t stop asking God until He Himself provides the answer. The following is from a blog post I wrote a few years ago:
We beg and plead for our way. We think God must be interested in doing what is right for us (which He is), but too often we have predetermined what “right for us” is and we are hoping God does that particular thing.
I have asked God to “provide a way out”, when I could have been asking Him to show me His purposes in the midst of that circumstance. I have asked God to let my babies grow to live outside the womb, when I could have been asking Him to show Me how to receive His life in all things. I have begged with the Lord to change someone’s heart, when I should have been asking how to love & minister to that person in their current state. I have asked God for relief, when I should have been asking to know the Reliever Himself. Too often I have pleaded with Him, instead of thanking Him.
This is what I know: at some point, God will be clear. It may seem, for a while, like you are just waiting and waiting. Or He answers differently than you expected or hoped He would. But at some point we either give up and get frustrated, or we give our requests over to God with thanksgiving. We either stomp our feet and rage at the God who formed us, or we march into His presence and weep & wail in the “shelter of His wings”. We either stop praying altogether, or we learn to ask differently, that He may hear us & respond.
I urge you to persist. If you are going to confront your discontent, do it in the safety of His presence. Go after Him, hard; press into Him, even when all seems silent. He is not a god who delights in tricks & manipulations – He delights in revealing Himself to His children. I believe that God works contentment in the heart of His daughters when they drag discontent into the light, so that He can replace it with gratitude.
After all, He has a history of turning mourning into dancing.