What happens when it feels like God isn’t answering our prayers?
by Mark Pierson
My prayers were answered!” We have all heard someone rejoice like this or have even said it ourselves. When we ask God for something and then receive it, we tend to say those prayers were answered. But what about the countless other prayers we have uttered that appear to make no difference? What of the times we have begged God for help, perhaps even crying out to Him in desperation, only to have nothing happen? Too often, Christians tend to think such prayers went unanswered. We assume God either failed to hear us or chose to ignore us since we did not get what we wanted. Scripture, however, tells us otherwise.
God always hears and answers the prayers of those who believe in His Son (1 John 5:1315). Sometimes, though, that answer is the opposite of what we want. King David asked God if he could build the temple. God’s answer was no. The prophet Elijah wanted God to let him die because he was so disheartened that nobody believed the Word he preached. God’s answer was no. Moses implored God to send someone else to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. God’s answer was no. Though none of them jumped for joy at this response, it caused none of them to doubt God’s good and gracious will either. Instead, they trusted that He would be faithful to His promises, despite their disappointment.
When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, among the petitions He taught them was “Thy will be done.” As fallen sinners, our will can often be at odds with God’s will. So by praying that His will be done, we are actually praying against our sinful selves. Thus, it is out of God’s love for us that He tells us no and does not always give us what we want. As was the case for David, Elijah and Moses, what we ask for can be selfish or shortsighted. Even when something appears good from our perspective, it may not be in accord with God’s will. He alone knows what is best for us and works all things for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).
This does not mean we will always understand why God says no. In fact, much of the time we will not. Consider another instance when God told David no. The child David had fathered illegitimately with Bathsheba became terribly ill and was near death. David prayed again and again for God to spare the child’s life, but God let the child die instead.
Tragedies like this are not rare. We witness pain and heartache in the lives of those we love, and our own lives are ravaged by disease and death. If we simply judge things based on our experiences or on whether God solves all our problems exactly how we want Him to, we will likely conclude that He is distant, silent or even mean. But if we cling to the promises of God in Christ Jesus, we can be confident that one day there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Rev. 21:4). Even David’s child, who now sleeps in the dust of the earth, will hear the voice of Jesus and rise unto life everlasting (John 5:25). On that day, our will shall be in accord with God’s will, and He will have no need to tell us no ever again.
In the meantime, we boldly and confidently pray to God, asking Him as dear children ask their dear father. This does not amount to making a wish while blowing out birthday candles, nor is it akin to reciting an itemized list to Santa Claus. Those models only set us up for frustration when we fail to get what we want. Rather, we pray knowing that no matter how God answers, He still loves us.
The ideal model here is, of course, Jesus. Three times He asked His Father to take the cup of wrath away, but He ended each of these requests by saying, “Not My will, but Yours be done.” Jesus received an answer of no from God. But instead of wavering in faith or pouting or becoming frantic, Jesus trusted that His Father’s will was best and so went obediently to the cross.
We find additional comfort in the fact that though we neither pray nor trust in God perfectly, Jesus always did. Though we regularly rage against God’s will, Jesus didn’t. And this obedience of Christ’s has been credited to our account because He has taken away all our sins.
At times, God may tell us no, but we can rejoice in knowing that all His promises for us find their yes in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).
About the Author: Mark Pierson is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in New Testament studies.