A few months ago, someone I know was disappointed to hear that my health was not improving. There was mention of another upcoming surgery and with a sigh, this person responded, "Well I guess God's not listening to my prayers since you're still pretty sick. I thought you would be healed by now." I was taken by surprise with this remark and replied, "I know He's listening to your prayers, but He doesn't always respond in the way we hope He will. I'm still here able to do His work and that's good enough for me." Completely taken off guard, this individual had nothing more to say. I know for a fact that God does indeed always listen to our prayers, but I also know that He does not always answer them as we think He should.
"For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer." ~ 1 Peter 3:12 (ESV)
We too often pray and expect a positive response to our request that satisfactorily meets our expectations. Feelings of frustration are evoked and our faith in Him trembles at the prospect of unanswered prayers. The problem is that we think that the answer we want is the answer that should be given. We treat God like a vending machine...put in the work or request, and expect a return that solves our problem. Our prayers ought to be a conversation with God...acknowledging and praising His holiness, requesting forgiveness for our sins and help for the day ahead full of temptations, thanking Him for all He has given us, learning more about who He is, praying for our fellow brothers and sisters, etc...not strictly a conversation that is had only when we want relief or resolution for ourselves. Prayer ought to be one of the best ways we seek to know the Lord and His heart; it is one method of how we can deepen our relationship in Him, which is the most important relationship we will ever have on this earth and in eternity when believers dwell forever with Him. When we are met with what we see as an unanswered request, we must make certain to stay firm in our faith in the Lord, knowing that He is working all things out for good and for His glory.
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose." ~ Romans 8:28 (ESV)
There is power in prayer, and we should approach the throne of Christ with confidence when we share with Him our requests, praises, and gratitudes. Nevertheless, answers are not always granted in the way we imagine or hope them to be. We forget that our purpose in life is to glorify Christ. Sometimes this is best accomplished in brokenness, sometimes it is best accomplished in brokenness made whole. The Lord never promised us a perfect or whole life here on earth. If anything, we are told in the Bible that being followers of Him will be extremely difficult and may cost us everything.
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." ~ 2 Timothy 3:12 (ESV)
Maybe an unanswered prayer is the best way He is most glorified. Can you be satisfied with that? We are absolutely told in Scripture to make our request known to God, but we should also not lose our faith or grow angry towards the Lord when these requests are not granted. Think back to when Christ was praying to the Father in the garden before His crucifixion on the cross to pay the cost of the sins of humanity and He begged the Father to take away the heart-wrenching action He was about to partake in. This verse is one of my favorites as it has turned into a constant ending to my prayers, "Not my will, but Yours be done." The Lord knows best; He sees the big picture of life and we are only seeing the tiny, immediate section of life in circumstances of life. I want to always pray as Jesus did by being transparent about my struggles and requests for resolution or alteration of the circumstances, but also submitting fully to the Lord's will in how He might use a particular circumstance for His glory. Can you trust Him when you are met with an unanswered prayer and still stand firm in your faith, grounded in knowing God and His character, and let His will be done in your life?
“Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” ~ Luke 22:42 (ESV)