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God and Unanswered Prayer
Are You There God?
I remember when my faith in prayer was tested for the first time. I was 15 and my 16-year-old brother, whom I loved and admired was hit by a drunk driver while riding his bicycle. I prayed and cried and prayed some more. I called to mind a verse where Jesus said that if you have faith enough you could move mountains (Matthew 17:20).
I can still remember the doctor coming into the waiting room and saying those words that devastated me: "We tried everything we could try but we were unable to save him!"
"What went wrong!" I thought. "Are you there God?" "Did I do something wrong? Didn't I have enough faith?" I think this was the first time that I really questioned if God really loved me, my brother, or my family. It made me reevaluate my faith which to that point had been immature and not fully thought through.
Life is so overwhelming at times. A major illness, the death of a loved one, a financial reversal, or the end of a dream that we were sure was God's will can send our head spinning and makes us feel so helpless. It is at these moments that we realize that we are not the master of our fate or the captain of our soul.
Sometimes we feel like David, the King and the sweet Psalmist of Israel who wrote: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?" (22:1).
We wrestle with our faith in these hours and wonder if we did something to make God mad at us. It seems that His blessings are held back from our lives, while others are experiencing His wonderful favor and protection.
We pray for relief, only to be met with more troubles and a seeming silence from Heaven. Then our prayer life moves to a plea for strength to make it through and a hope that He will indeed listen to our petition.
What do we do when it seems that God isn't listening to us? Does he really care? How do we proceed when it appears that our prayers are unanswered?
I. Our God is Indeed in Control
The first thing that we must realize is that God is sovereign. Psalm 103 begins as a magnificent hymn of praise to the Lord. It talks about His blessings and compassion as a loving Father to us His children. The Psalm ends with a universal call for praise. That call begins with verse 19 and a declaration of God's sovereignty. It is this wonderful sovereignty that gives our Lord the ability and freedom to show His magnificent blessing and compassion spoken of earlier. The verse states:
"The Lord has established his throne in the heaven. And his kingdom rules over all."
We also find in Jeremiah 32:17 that God has made the heavens and the earth by His great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too difficult for Him. There is absolutely no situation that can happen to us that takes the Lord by surprise or causes Him to worry. Nothing is beyond his rule. And this same God, who rules over all, as He was with Israel of old, so also He will be with us. And He'll never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6).
II. Our God is At Work in Our Lives
The next thing we must understand is that for the people of God, Scripture teaches that this sovereign Lord we worship is diligently at work in our lives. Philippians 1:6 tells us that we can be confident that "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." It is God who has initiated the relationship with us. It is He who will see that this relationship continues into eternity.
And what is the purpose of that which happens to us? No matter what, all things work together for good if we love God (Romans 8:28). Notice it doesn't say that all things that happen will be good. Obviously, that isn't true. Rather they work together for our good. The ultimate good that comes out of these things is that they conform us to the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). God is making a new humanity; a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17) patterned after Jesus, the second Adam (I Corinthians 15:45). And we His people, are part of that new humanity.
We must realize that God'sultimate goal in this life is to make us holy, not happy. Our complete happiness will come in the next life in the New Heaven and the New Earth where there will be no more death, mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21).
III. Our God Has Reasons For Unanswered Prayer
When we think that God isn't there and that He's abandoned us, indeed the opposite is true. Jesus who quoted David's words on the cross and said: "My God, my God why have you forsaken me" was the only one ever truly abandoned by the Father. And His abandonment was because He took upon Himself my sin and yours. That sin had separated all humanity from a holy God. Jesus took our sins and removed them as far as the East is from the West. Now, through faith in Christ, no man, woman or child, ever has to face separation from God again. As Christians, our prayers are given to a God who loves us and has our best interest at heart. He may not give us everything that we want. But He gives us everything that we need.
With that in mind, let us look at the main reasons for seemingly unanswered prayer.
1. Sometimes God Says "No"
If we don't seem to get a response, sometimes it is the Lord answering our prayers with a "No". Like any loving parent, God knows better than we do what is best for us. The Apostle Paul found this out in II Corinthians 12 with his thorn in the flesh that he prayed to have removed, not once but three times. The Lord had allowed this thorn, whatever it was, to be there because he didn't want Paul to become proud as a result of the great visions that he had given the great Apostle. After each prayer, the Lord responded:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness" (12:9).
As far as we know, Paul's thorn in the flesh remained the rest of his life.
2. Sometimes God Says to Change
There are indeed times when our own sinful attitudes and actions get in the way of God giving us our petitions that we are asking. For instance Psalm 68:18 says that:
"If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:"
God, in this instance, is telling us to repent and change in order to restore our fellowship with him.
Also, in the book of James, it tells us that at times we ask with wrong motives. He says:
" You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (4:2,3).
James earlier indicated that doubting God could cause him to say no to us in our prayer life. He states:
"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith, without doubting, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not expect to receive anything from the Lord" (1:5-7).
Still another instance in which God wants us to evaluate our lives in order to open up the flow of his answers to our prayers is in the husband and wife relationship. The Apostle Peter tells husbands regarding their wives:
"Likewise, you husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered" (I Peter 3:7).
Each of these instances is caused by the believer's sin and we must evaluate our lives on a regular basis to see if our prayers are being blocked by our own lifestyle.
3. Sometimes God Says "Wait"
Besides "No" and "change" sometimes our Heavenly Father tells us to wait. We at times forget that Abraham was 75 years old when he was promised a son through whom God would make him into a great nation and that through whom the whole world would be blessed (Genesis 12:4). By the time he and Sarah, his wife received their son Isaac Abraham was 100 years old (Genesis 21:4) and Sarah was 90 (Genesis 17:17).
Abraham and Sarah waited 25 years for the promise of a son. During that time they became impatient and Sarah gave her handmaid Hagar to Abraham in order to have an heir (Genesis 16). So Ismael enters the scene. However, this was not God's will. He intended Sarah to be the woman who had the promised child. They needed to learn to wait upon the Lord.
It can be wonderful when we ask for something and get an immediate response in the affirmative. However, we have to also remember, like Abraham and Sarah, that God's delays are not always God's denials. If it is something that he has promised or thinks we should have, he will come through in his good time, every time. If that is true, then how should that affect our prayer life? It should make us persistent in prayer.
Our Job is to Persevere
Sometimes we get the feeling that we are bothering God if we ask him over and over for the same thing and he doesn't answer us right away. Jesus taught something different, however. In Luke 18:1 we read this:
"Then he spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart."
Our Lord then proceeded to tell this parable of a widow who continually requests justice against her adversary from this unjust judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. For a while, he refused to help. However, because of her persistence, he eventually gave in and gave her the justice that she deserved. Then the Lord tells his disciples:
"Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you that he will see that they get justice and quickly...." (Luke 18:6-8).
The point is that God is not like the unjust judge. He cares for us and wants the best for our lives. He would have his children keep on praying because he hears us, he rewards our persistence, and he desires to see our faith in him.
So our communications with the Lord should include our needs and desires. Further, we should be persistent, trusting God for the answer. But they shouldn't stop there. We need to evaluate ourselves to see if our lives and our prayers are in tune with God's will to make us holy.
Having done that, our prayers should be prayers like: "Father if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet nevertheless, not my will but thine be done" (Luke 22:42). Or just the opposite: "Lord you know how badly I want this, but only let me have it if it is what your desire for me and for your will. Please Give me the strength to accept and follow your will no matter what you allow in my life." And our prayers should always include the giving of thanks that he is there and in control no matter what.
Our God loves us with an everlasting love, and nothing that happens to us in this life will change that fact. We are a blessed people, for we belong to Him forever. And He will never forsake his children. We need to give our prayers to this God of love and entrust ourselves to him for the answers. For ultimately his answers are right and they are for the best!
© 2012 Jeff Shirley