Where Do Unanswered Prayers Go?
By Jennifer E. Jones
As I write this article, I am having a quite lengthy conversation with a friend of mine about God answering prayer… or rather, not.
It happens. The longer you walk in Christ, the more you realize that life isn’t as cut-and-dry as they made it out to be in Sunday School. In fact, things can get downright messy. Who among us doesn’t have a personal story of how we prayed earnestly for something that we thought God wanted too only to see the clock strike midnight without an answer? In some cases, you really stuck your neck out for God. You planned your life around His approval of your request. You told everyone your son would be healed this time, you’d get the job, or you’d get married in 2009, 2010, or 2011. When things didn’t work out as you hoped, the initial flash of embarrassment can take a dangerous turn into bitterness or heartache.
Let me level with you. The mere concept of God is beyond our comprehension, and His thoughts and plans for our lives are very rarely understood. That’s Scriptural.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9
Some days, you won’t get what He’s doing. It’s a reality of having a relationship with an infinite being who orchestrates the universe. You’re not allowed to be privy to the step-by-step details of the master plan.
Luckily, you’re not alone in this. The greatest men and women of God throughout history can attest to missing the mark on occasion. They all sent a prayer requests into the “God Hotline” and got a busy signal. As close as they walked with the Lord on this earth, they understood that it’s simply impossible to know His every thought. There will be moments when you get ahead of God and wait for Him at a spot where He never intended to go.
So, do prayer requests sometimes go unanswered? The attentiveness of God’s nature (Luke 12:7), particularly towards His children (Prov. 15:29), would imply no. He answers every prayer, probably very similarly to how you answer your children: yes, no and not yet. When you find yourself in a situation where it feels like your prayers are hitting the ceiling, it’s a good time to stop and ask God, “In what way are You answering me that I’m not seeing?” Ask Him. He’ll show you.
Getting a “yes” is naturally wonderful. It’s exactly what you wished for at the right time. We can all celebrate the yeses in our lives. However, as the Rolling Stones once said, you can’t always get what you want.
“No” is tougher to take and even harder to hear. What’s good about “no,” though, is that we have the promise of grace to deal with the situation. Remember Paul praying earnestly for the thorn in his flesh to be removed in 2 Corinthians 12? That’s where we get the verse: “My grace is sufficient” (verse 9). In other words, it will make up the difference. It’s the promise of His presence in loneliness, His strength when we’re weak, and His peace when anxiety gets the best of us. It fills the gap.
On the plus side, I wouldn’t be surprised if “not yet” is a more reoccurring answer than we suspect, especially when you know your prayer lines up with the Word of God. The kicker with this option is that it requires patience and trust. We have to believe that God hasn’t forgotten us (Isaiah 49:14-16) and that – like Habakkuk’s vision – it will surely come (Habakkuk 2:2-3). Easier said than done, I know, but we still have to try.
The walk with God is one more of endurance than it is speed or achievement. He asks, “Who will say, ‘Come what may, even when our wills clashes, I’m sticking with You’?” I think if God prayed, that would be His prayer. So the real question is, will you respond to the call? I hope the answer is yes.
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