“Why does it seem that my prayers go unanswered?” That’s a question I’m asked more than I’d like as a pastor. If you’ve been around the church (or me!) for any length of time you’ll know that God does answer prayer…just not always as we’d like. He’ll answer YES, NO or NOT YET. Sounds fair, but what is the practical outworking of that?
Well, the yes is easy to deal with. When God answers BIG we praise Him and get that warm feeling all over, happy in the faith relationship we have. The answer may even become a testimony used to encourage others in their walk with God.
Okay, that’s easy. When it’s ‘not yet’ we grit our teeth and grow in patience. God will wait for His perfect timing to unfold and He definitely doesn’t work on our timings. As we sense God moving we may remember Joseph and his time in prison before his ultimate release and elevation to power. While it’s uncomfortable we await the answer with anticipation.
But what about when the answer’s ‘no’, or perhaps even worse there’s total silence from God when we ask? That’s the hardest to deal with. This is perhaps the toughest of tests and often the one that trips us up. Understanding this one is tricky because we live in a consumer-oriented society that has conditioned us to not only expect answers but favorable ones. Yet we read in Isaiah 55:9 that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways, meaning there are some mysteries to a God capable of making everything and some things we won’t know. That’s perhaps easy to understand intellectually but when it’s a heart issue that becomes tougher. But it’s no less true in matters of the heart as it is with our heads. That in many ways is the journey of faith, and the test as well. There are times that God answers ‘NO’ and we just have to accept it. The question then, is do we have the faith, surrender, and relationship to accept it trusting He is with us, working things out for His ultimate glory….no matter what?
You’ve likely heard this all before. So please take this as a gentle reminder. But when the ‘why?” question leads to more questions there are a couple of things we can remember as we go through tough times: First off, remember WHOSE you are. Ephesians 2:10 says we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. So God isn’t surprised by what’s going on, He’s still in charge and He’s working things out for His glory. As much as it’s nice to know we have purpose our main purpose is not what we do but who we are in Jesus. Times of testing show this to ourselves and the world around us, it’s part of our witness.
Next, use the tools God has given us to remain close to Him. Those would be prayer, which we’ve talked about already, but also the Bible. Often we forget in our times of struggle, God’s Word, the Bible, is perhaps our best resource for overcoming the darkness. When Jesus was tempted in the desert by Satan he used scripture to defend himself. We need to do the same thing too. We can pray through Psalms when the words don’t come, we can hang onto God’s promises…all found in the Bible.
Yes, we remember and we remain. Those take purposing to do. We need to be active in our relationship with God. We need to bless Him through our praise, seek Him with our lives, fear the Lord and not man, respecting Him as creator and sustainer of life, and giver of hope and finally trust Him that He will catch us when we fall.
As we deal with the inevitable and very real ‘why?’ questions it’s good to remember that a disappointment can be God’s appointment based on what you do with it. He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4), He’s working things out. Those classic words of Proverbs 3:5-6 come to mind: trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in everything you do remember He is the King of Kings and He’ll make your path straight. Not easy, but straight, and it’ll lead you to a finish line where once crossed there are no more ‘why’ questions.