When God Doesn’t Answer Prayer

... At least, how we want Him to answer it.

Our all-powerful, all-loving God encourages us to ask Him for what we want. But sometimes, after we’ve put it out there, He seems to turn and walk in the opposite direction. We are left with questions: Why did He want us to pray if He was just going to say no, anyway? Were we praying “wrong” in the first place? What are we supposed to do now?

I have repeated this cycle multiple times. More than a decade ago, I began experiencing unrelenting fatigue, muscle soreness and waning strength. Countless tests and doctor visits later, I received the diagnosis of chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. For the next five years, I politely asked God for healing, then demanded healing, then finally gave up hope for healing.

As a result, I have been accused of lacking faith by earnest friends and prayer ministers. I’ve confessed and repented of every sin I can think of, wept, protested and spent more than a few days crippled by despair.

We tend to have one of two responses when what we asked for is not given in a timely fashion: trying harder or angry blaming.

Apparently, I am not the only one who struggled because of unanswered prayer. Last week, I invited friends to fill in the blank on my Facebook wall: “Unanswered prayer ... ” I received more than 40 responses, including the following: is deeply disappointing, makes me feel unloved, feels like a betrayal, is confusing, can be overwhelming, is business as usual.

Some of our bewilderment emerges because we actually believe that God is all powerful and that He not only wants us to come to Him like little children, but also encourages us to ask Him for everything, from babies to spouses to jobs to housing to help losing weight. Hence the disconnect when He doesn’t always give us what we want.

This paradox reminds me of our youngest son’s attitude at Christmas. He starts composing his gift list in September, and for the next four months, he will revise, add to and shamelessly share it. Yet when Christmas day rolls around, he is filled with dread—because experience has shown him that though we are good parents, we don’t always give him precisely what he requested. He has told us, “Why bother asking me if you aren’t going to buy me exactly what I want?”

Isn’t this how we feel about our heavenly Father? We tend to have one of two responses when what we asked for is not given in a timely fashion: trying harder or angry blaming.

My five years of spiritual activism post-diagnosis offer you a snapshot of trying harder. I succeeded only in wearing myself out and spiraling deeper into doubt. None of us can make ourselves worthy—that only comes as a gift from Jesus.

Angry blaming similarly leads us into a dead-end. In night four of an insomnia jag, I remember spewing at God, “Why don’t you help me get to sleep? The Bible tells me that you give sleep to those you love! Don’t you love me?” Powerlessness is its own form of suffering. When we’ve run out of other options, anger and blame give us the illusion of control. But it really is only an illusion. It didn’t help my faith, and it certainly didn’t help me to sleep.

What if, rather than interpreting God’s “no” or “not yet” as punishment or indifference, we view it as an invitation to be transformed?

For us to avoid these and other unhelpful responses when our prayers aren’t answered the way we’d hoped, we need to zoom out and glimpse the larger story.

Every day, there is an epic battle being waged for our hearts. The enemy of our soul has an entire arsenal at his disposal, but his go-to weapon is doubt. Adam and Eve didn’t disobey because they craved the apple, but because they fell for the serpent’s ruse that God was withholding good things from them. If you ever find yourself doubting God’s love or questioning His character, push back—hold to what you know to be true.

Expressing gratitude also helps to defuse our despair and suffering. Due to fibromyalgia, I can no longer book all-day photo shoots—but I can still see. I can no longer play basketball with my sons—but I can walk, and I constantly thank God for this gift and many others. Turning our hearts to God in gratitude has the capacity to flip our disappointment upside-down.

Finally, we must be willing to explore any attachment to entitlement that might contribute to our resentment at how God has answered our prayer. We live in a consumer society and have become accustomed to getting what we want when we want it. Jesus does not promise to give us everything that we want but rather asks us to sacrifice everything—including our own desires for a specific outcome or result. This changes everything when it comes to how we pray.

What if, rather than interpreting God’s “no” or “not yet” as punishment or indifference, we view it as an invitation to be transformed? C.S. Lewis writes in The Problem of Pain, “We are a Divine work of art, something that God is making and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character.”

The possibility that waiting and suffering have the capacity to transform us offers us profound comfort while crushing our fear of God being fickle. Rather than needing God to answer my accusatory questions of “Why?” I am free to ask, “How can I find You in the midst of this?” This inquiry provides us with the traction we need to move beyond our pain and into the transformation that God has for us.

Top Comments

Robert Armstrong

3

Robert Armstrong commented…

Enjoyed the article...especially the part about making a choice..to have 'gratitude'. I too have experienced this and the power of just 'being thankful' has to transform a situation....'Kingdom Perspective' is what I call it. Giving thanks in the midst of my questions and hardships is sometimes the hardest thing to do, but it can create a momentum to get back on track in a walk with Jesus.

Aaron Parsons

15

Aaron Parsons replied to Laura Badaro's comment

I remember having this conversation with my wife. She once felt that God says NO to prayers sometimes. While I sometimes agree with that statement (for example; "God, kill that person." "No."), I feel God says "Be patient. I will answer your prayer, but not yet" or "How about _____ instead?" That kind of thinking just makes things simple and keeps me going to Him when I need to feel His peace that surpasses my understanding of this cruel world.

39 Comments

kelly park

12

kelly park commented…

God isn't a "genie-in-a-bottle" just giving us whatever we want....and if you really think about it ..... most of what we think we want either isn't good for us or not what we really want anyway. God has your life written....HE knows what you want...HE knows your heart.....HE knows what's next. Stop begging and start praising!

Aaron Parsons

15

Aaron Parsons replied to Laura Badaro's comment

I remember having this conversation with my wife. She once felt that God says NO to prayers sometimes. While I sometimes agree with that statement (for example; "God, kill that person." "No."), I feel God says "Be patient. I will answer your prayer, but not yet" or "How about _____ instead?" That kind of thinking just makes things simple and keeps me going to Him when I need to feel His peace that surpasses my understanding of this cruel world.

Laura Badaro

3

Laura Badaro replied to Aaron Parsons's comment

"Be paient, I will anser your prayer, but not yet". This is something you made up. "How about ____ instead?" When did God give you something in place of other thing you needed? Normally when I need something desperately, He gives me a bigger problem, so I would shut up and work harder. So no, Gov does not give us things nor answers our prayers, we have to fight alone in this world. Just because you want to think about God in a softer way, it doesn't mean He is doing your life any softer. He can, but He won't. For some of us, of course.

Ruben A. Ramos

5

Ruben A. Ramos commented…

Great article! I appreciate the work!

Elizabeth Anne Swann

7

Elizabeth Anne Swann replied to Dorothy Greco's comment

Thank you...that spoke to me very eloquently today.

Gabriel Huguet

1

Gabriel Huguet commented…

Here's a video by the talented Auderset / Moon Dog Studio team that also illustrates the subject really good ! Enjoy ! It's funny, and relevant !

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=UqqoMDxtqq8

Jill

1

Jill commented…

July 2013 our 70lb australian shep. started having a pattern of grand mal seizures every full moon and he would cluster 4-5 times in a 12 hour period. Not wanting to put him on traditional medication because of the toxiity to the liver, we tried everything else. The dog went to see holistic vets, changed food to a raw organic diiet, blood work, x-rays, chinese medicine, acupunture....and nothing changed! We prayed over this dog daily, had him on every prayer list and I questioned over and over why God wanted to allow our dog to suffer this way. He is just like one of my children and watching him go through this just crushed me to the soul. On valentines day, at 10:40 PM he clustered for 1 hour with more than 40 seizures back to back. My daughter and I were hysterical, we were screaming, crying and begging God to take his life and spare him from the agony( and us) of these horrible seizures. I even called several emergency vet hospitals to get them to come out and put the dog down....no body helped. I cried out to God again begging for this dogs life to be taken. An hour later he lay on the floor in a puddle of urine, feces and spit. He was blind , paralyzed, and unaware of anything around him. I slept on the couch that night praying to God that I would not have to be the one to get his 70lb paralyzed body off the floor to get him to the vet to have him put down. By 6 am the next day the dogs vision had returned and he had an appetite. I could see movement in his legs but no strength to stand up. By 10 am I had made a makeshift gaiit belt and started pulling him into standing and actually got him out the door. By the end of the day we walked around the block. The next day we went back to the vet and immediately we had him put on medication. She had also suggested rechecking his thyroid with a special lab who did a breed specific thyroid test. Well the blood work came back and it was discovered that he had an underlying thyroid issue which causes seizures in dogs. This was not caught by the other two vets we had taken him to.
I look at this dog now daily and thank God for answering"NO" to my prayer for our dog Asher to die that night. God knew that he would make a full recovery, I didn't I have never been so thankful and grateful for a prayer that was answered with a "NO"
I can now more easily accept "No" and know that God has a bigger better plan....Which I praise his name for!
This "NO" is now imprinted in my brain. I like the author had the feelings in the past of God doesn't love me, what have I done, God wants to punish me, etc.... When prayers weren't answered.
Today I sit here feeling frustrated because I have prayed for a new job and have been praying to go back to school. The doors keep getting slammed in my face. I can now say I probably won't stop getting frustrated and wondering why I don't get a yes, But I have living proof of my dog Asher who was God's perfect answer of a "NO" I have to remember he knows best and we don't

Frances Lindsey Dow

1

Frances Lindsey Dow commented…

So, here's the thing that's so hard to reconcile for me in Romans 8 it says: 31 What then shall we say to [all] this? If God is for us, who [can be] against us? [Who can be our foe, if God is on our side?]

32 He who did not withhold or spare [even] His own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also with Him freely and graciously give us all [other] things?

33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect [when it is] God Who justifies [that is, Who puts us in right relation to Himself? Who shall come forward and accuse or impeach those whom God has chosen? Will God, Who acquits us?]

34 Who is there to condemn [us]? Will Christ Jesus (the Messiah), Who died, or rather Who was raised from the dead, Who is at the right hand of God actually pleading as He intercedes for us?

35 Who shall ever separate us from Christ’s love? Shall suffering and affliction and tribulation? Or calamity and distress? Or persecution or hunger or destitution or peril or sword?

36 Even as it is written, For Thy sake we are put to death all the day long; we are regarded and counted as sheep for the slaughter.

37 Yet amid all these things we are more than conquerors [m]and gain a surpassing victory through Him Who loved us.

...That love feels like a token...a "I'll stand and watch you go through, I'm here if you want to talk feelings" but not an action/rescue oriented love. Maybe sometimes He's just not able to do anything about the situation. For me it's lead to trying to guess ahead of time what He may or may not answer so that I don't get disappointed when I depend on Him. Sometimes I'm prayerless and I use my own efforts to solve my problems instead.

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