When Jesus taught his followers to pray, he not only gave permission to bring our requests to the Father, (Matthew 6:9-13) he gave great latitude in what to ask for. (Mark 11:24) Oh the joy of answered prayer! It’s one of the sweetest thrills to know the God of the universe is interested in our needs and desires. But sometimes, things don’t go as we hope and the answers don’t come. How do we deal with the frustration and disillusionment of unanswered prayer?
It’s hard to understand why our prayers would go unanswered. There is no blanket explanation, but we want to offer four possible reasons:
The request is off – Some prayers, no matter how well-intentioned, are simply inappropriate and a loving God says no. We feel like the child whose parent says no to a third bowl of ice cream. Ice cream is delicious and we can’t imagine why anyone would ever say no. Our parents see past the moment into the future. We may not understand why God would say no, but our perspective is limited. Sometimes our requests are not the best thing for our life in the long run.
We are off – We are so desperately human and there is a laundry list of ways we can be “off” when we pray. One is unresolved conflict. Jesus told his followers if they had an issue with their friend, they should go make it right before they came to offer their requests. (Matthew 5:23-24) Peter taught husbands to be considerate of their wives so their prayer would not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7) There is no point in agonizing over unanswered prayer if we are not willing to release bitterness, extend forgiveness and resolve the conflict in our relationships.
We live in a fallen world –Tragedies, accidents and disease are the tender reality of life on the planet. We face the consequences of our own sin and the consequences of others’ sin. The enemy is still active, but his years are numbered and when Jesus comes again he will make all things new. Prayers that seem to have been unanswered on earth will be vindicated in eternity.
The timing is off – Who wants to wait for anything? We live in an instant society that offers instant gratification. God is not intimidated by our impatience. Sometimes the answer is, not yet. During that delay God works on our character. We learn endurance, humility, patience and trust. If you are waiting for an answer to prayer, don’t give up. Don’t quit! Keep praying. Keep seeking. Keep asking. Every prayer is like a seed planted in the ground. It disappears for a season but eventually it will bear fruit.
Prayer doesn’t just change circumstances. It changes us!
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