Unanswered prayers are blessings in disguise. God always responds to prayer with yes, no, or wait. You’ve heard this stuff before, right? I have. I want more.
This morning I had a conversation with my mom that was rooted in what society often sees as the Achilles heel of Christianity. Why does God allow the suffering that He does, particularly to those who follow Him? Where is He when you’re in pain? Why doesn’t God answer your prayers? How can a good God stand by while such awful things take place in this world?
Are you discouraged yet? Don’t be. Because I have an answer for you, one that might take you by surprise.
Before we go any further, I’m going to let you know that I will not be thoroughly delving into the issue of God and His allowance of evil in this world. If you’d like to chew on that, I’d recommend checking out this book (aff. link) by C.S. Lewis.
During the process of losing our second son, there was a multitude of people praying for us and over us. Theo did not live—our prayers weren’t answered like we thought they should be.
When we learned I was pregnant with our third child, we prayed earnestly for a full-term baby, a safe pregnancy, a good outcome. The outcome was not good by our standards. Our third child didn’t survive past seven weeks gestation.
Do you give up? When do you decide that this praying seems fruitless and disappointing at its best? How do you continue to trust that your words whispered to an invisible being aren’t simply the exercise of a weak mind with nowhere else to turn?
Or how about this approach: maybe I just don’t have enough faith. The faith of a mustard seed could move mountains, Jesus said. Am I not praying according to His will? He said if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. Is it my belief? What if I would’ve just believed a little more (whatever that means) that He could’ve saved them—Scripture supports this idea, right? Believe and it will be given to you. Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.
My head and heart begin to suffocate when I let myself get buried under these accusations. As if I could’ve done something differently to change the results.
So here are my two options: Give up on prayer and ultimately on God or engage myself to figure out what it is that I’m missing. What about prayer and about God am I getting wrong?
Giving up means admitting that my pain is meaningless and random and without purpose. Not only my pain but ultimately my entire life. The part of the sermon that I got to hear on Easter Sunday (it turns out rowdy toddlers make for poor church fellows) touched on this idea: Without God, we have no meaning. Our lives are no more relevant than that of a fly or a mouse or a blade of grass for that matter.
Here’s some insight from Charles Spurgeon:
“It would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by his hand, that my trials were never measured out by him, nor sent to me by his arrangement of their weight and quantity.”
Do you see what he’s saying here? The alternative to God sending these afflictions is the empty notion of a completely arbitrary existence. Or something worse. Pointless pain, purposeless pain, is worse than pain allowed to serve a greater good, no matter how deep the pain is.
Are you with me so far? Accepting that sorrow is allowed by God so that He can be glorified and we can be made more like Him is step one.
So what about prayer? Why keep praying if God is going to do what He’s set out to do either way?
There are two points I want to make here—one, petitionary prayer (the kind where we ask God to do something for us) is only a small part of prayer. We get this idea that asking God to grant us requests is the apex of prayer while other aspects like adoration, thanksgiving, confession, and surrender are optional and reserved for ultra-pious Christians.
As Christ-followers, we wrap our minds around pieces of that idea. We know that God isn’t a cosmic genie, floating around granting wishes. But don’t we often treat Him like that and respond in surprise when our wishes aren’t granted?
I know I do.
Prayer is more. Prayer is so much more than simply a wish list. It’s communion with God. It’s coming before the King and adoring Him, thanking Him, confessing to Him, and surrendering all to Him. Of course, He desires us to share our wants and needs with Him as well, and that’s where point two comes in.
Prayer is incredibly powerful. For some reason, God has allowed change to flow through prayer. He’s instituted this direct line of communication between mankind and Himself and has placed a channel of power into the act of praying. That is wild, my friend. And dangerous. What if everything we prayed was granted exactly as we prayed it? This is the genie concept resurfacing, right?
I’d like sunshine on my wedding day, the bride says. I desperately need rain for my crops, the farmer says. Well, that puts the genie in a tight spot, doesn’t it? Obviously, these requests are frivolous in comparison with the request to save a life, but the principle doesn’t change. God has discretionary power over prayer because otherwise, as C.S. Lewis says, it would destroy us.
I realize the question still stands: Why should I keep praying if God’s going to exercise His authority over my prayers anyway?
According to Lewis, God has given us two methods of impacting the direction of our lives: action and prayer. In similar fashion, Pascal said that God “instituted prayer in order to allow his creatures the dignity of causality.” You wouldn’t go deep sea diving without an air tank thinking, “Well God knows that I need oxygen to breath—He’ll provide.” That would be foolish.
You’d take action. You’d get yourself hooked up with the correct equipment before venturing out. You’re physically contributing to your well being, right? Right. Good, you’re tracking with me.
In the same way, God gave us prayer to contribute to the outcomes in our lives. The act may seem arbitrary when we can’t tangibly observe the effects every time, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a dynamic tool that we have at our disposal. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of plugging into this power?
Don’t give in to the lies of culture that your prayers are weak and ineffectual. Dig deeper into connecting with the God of your soul, open your mind to the possibility that you’re missing something big, and develop some discipline in all aspects of prayer.
This is grand stuff, friend. The most epic battles are waged where we cannot see them: in the spiritual realm. Refusing to acknowledge the war makes it no less fervent. Become engaged. Make the commitment. It will be worth it.