Hebrew chapter 11 verse 1 says, “faith is being sure of what we hope for, and confident about that which we do not see.” Today, I have entitled my word unanswered prayer… when God ‘doesn’t’ listen. As I was thinking about this, I wanted to delve into what I found to be the most profound lesson that I have learnt this year.
To me, it’s clear—after a period of what some may deem bad luck, a series of unfortunate events, or a period of deliberate testing, I found myself constantly questioning God and his ability to respond in our time of need. In a legal context, we often talk about the elements of a law, separating our statutes into particular words that can be interpreted to give meaning to a whole sentence.
Taking on a similar approach to this topic, I have spent recent months attempting to ascertain the requirements necessary for God to answer our prayers. I have recently arrived at the conclusion, however, that these requirements are not definable, measurable, or at times, even conceivable.
David as an illustration
To illustrate this point, I wish to look at King David. We know that David was a man of great victory, but also experienced what it was to see the manifestation of unanswered prayer. After David had sent Uriah to be slaughtered in battle and had impregnated his wife, the Lord caused his newborn son to become very sick. David fasted and prayed to God for the baby. On the seventh day, the baby died. Then David got up from the floor, washed himself, changed his clothes, and went into the Lord’s house to worship.
In this story, it is very clear why God chooses not to respond favourably to David’s prayer—ultimately because of his grave adulterous sin. Sin is always going to be the biggest void between us and God and often remains the primary cause for unanswered prayer. Just like God proclaimed over the Israelites living in rebellion: “but if my people would call on my name, humble themselves and pray, then I would hear their prayer and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles chapter 7 verse 14)
So, what are some other reasons God not responding to my prayer? Well, one reason is because of God’s Will. We often think we know what is right but actually we don’t necessarily. Billy Graham’s wife once said she was glad God didn’t answer all her prayers or else she’d have married the wrong man at least three times. We all, at times, have prayed something very passionately and only with hindsight do we see why God didn’t answer our prayer.
The Bible says, God’s ways are not our ways and sometimes that can be complete agony if we are praying for healing for example, and the person dies. So, it can be very difficult to understand that Will, however, we do know that it is always loving and always purposeful.
The second reason why sometimes prayers aren’t answered is because of God’s war. We are in a battle and sometimes God’s Will gets resisted. When a child is forced into slavery, and when a girl is trafficked, that is not the Will of God. We know that God, even though he is God, doesn’t always get his Will done. There is a constant battle raging, not only between us and human evils, but against other spiritual powers.
And that is one of the reasons we have to pray because in prayer we wage warfare proclaiming, “let your kingdom come and let your will be done,” because it’s not an inevitable thing. That is why we pray for the persecuted Church, for people to come to know Jesus, and for the sick to be healed.
So tying this all together, how do we grapple with these different reasons? What can we do on a practical level? Firstly, you look at your life, because the Bible is clear that there are times when God will not listen. Is it a doubt, is it a bad relationship, is it impure motives? Is there something in your life keeping God from listening? And secondly, pray more. Prayer is a partnership between us and God, where we ourselves have the power with faithful and united petition, to move the hand of God favourably towards our situation.
We only ever see a few of them
God is often masterminding a thousand details behind the tapestry of our lives, and we only get to see a few of them. Sometimes we see them immediately. Sometimes we don’t for years. Sometimes we don’t see them until we’re with him in eternity. And yet the truth remains:
He is still in the business of answering our prayers. I really like this particular story of David because even after David’s prayers had been unanswered, what did he do? (1) He got up from the floor, washed himself, and changed his clothes, and (2) he went into the Lord’s house to worship. And this is the way God is calling us to respond. When it appears as though our prayers are not answered, we pray.
When I can’t see God working, he is there. When I think my prayers are going unanswered, he is not silent. When I wonder if he has forgotten me in the pain of my circumstances, he is present. As the great architect of my life, he is crafting a story that will be greater than I can now imagine.
David Lean is a Press Service International young writer from Brisbane