Sold signs & the mystery of unanswered prayer

September 23rd, 2010 · by Tom Stuart · Answers to Prayer!, Relationship with God

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  Matthew 7:11

It could go without saying, but as a follower of Jesus Christ and a pastor to boot, I am a huge advocate of prayer.  Not only have I been a praying man but I have also taught extensively about prayer and encouraged others to be pray-ers.   But even after nearly forty years of walking with Jesus I still marvel at the mystery of unanswered prayer. 

The recent trials and transitions in my life have convinced me as never before that getting an answer to prayer is not a matter of following some prescribed recipe for success.  As much as all of us would like to believe, and teachers like myself have taught, prayer cannot be reduced to some sure fire formulaic approach to getting what we want.  It just doesn’t work that way, primarily because we cannot reduce God or our relationship with Him, to a formula.  It is much more complex and mysterious than that.

Sometimes we can throw everything we know about prayer into the mixing bowl of faith, and put it in the oven of hope, only to discover each time we open the door that absolutely nothing is happening.  That can be very perplexing and frustrating.  A case in point for me has been my prayer project to sell our vacation home in northern Wisconsin.  As a mighty man of faith and power I knew exactly what to do when we put it on the market over a year ago. 

I got my mixing bowl of faith out and began putting in all the key ingredients I knew to bake a large “Sold” sign.  Starting with appealing to my heavenly father as His son, declaring my intention to give Him all the glory, standing on the promises from His word, confessing repeatedly my faith in Him, examining my heart and seeking to maintain a forgiving attitude toward all, rebuking the devil and commanding the release of God’s blessings, I was confident that all the necessary ingredients were in place for that “Sold” sign to pop out of the oven.

But as the weeks passed into months with very few inquiries and no offers, I began to wonder if some ingredients were yet missing.  So I started throwing other things in the mixing bowl.  Why, maybe it’s time to stop being so persistent and insistent in asking, and instead, start praising God in faith for the answer that His word assures me is already on its way.  Or maybe I need to be praying more diligently for others who have homes for sale.  So every time I would think about that house just sitting there in the oven I would imagine the “Sold’ sign in the front yard and praise God.  And I would be reminded to pray for others.

Then about a month ago when Susan and I were there for the weekend, I had a revelation.  It happened while I was plodding up a hill on my morning run.  I was preoccupied with the frustration of not being able to sell the house.  I was trying to thank God for that missing “Sold” sign imagining that it must be lost somewhere in the realtor’s storage shed.  And then my eyes fell on a competitor realtor’s “For Sale” sign along the side of the road.  Voila, maybe the Lord is saying we need to switch realtors.  The further I ran, the more of those realty signs I noticed, the more convinced I became that was the answer. 

So when I got home, I told Susan about it, emailed that realtor and made an appointment for later that morning.  When we met with them, no real bells and whistles went off and we came out of the meeting more confused than ever.  On a whim we decided we would stop in at our realtor’s office to talk about the situation.  Our realtor wasn’t in but the man at the desk mentioned to us that they had received a call from a man in Eastern Wisconsin that was inquiring about a rental.  He wrote out his name and number on a slip of paper, handed it to us and said “why don’t you give him a call?”

Long story short we did follow that up and amazingly worked out a rental agreement with him and his wife.  That takes a lot of pressure off us as we head into winter.  Where is the “Sold” sign?  I still don’t know.  Is there something still missing from the faith mixing bowl?  I don’t know.  Why would God send a renter rather than a buyer?  I don’t know.  But one thing I do know and it is a prayer promise related to seemingly unanswered prayers.  Twice in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:7-11 and Luke 11:9-13, in the context of Him encouraging us to ask, seek and knock, He says a very important thing. God the Father does not give us bad gifts when we ask for good.  Sometimes they may look bad, like a stone rather than bread, or a snake rather than a fish, but looks are often deceiving. 

And here is the clincher.  Ultimately it’s not so much about Him giving us a “Sold” sign as it is Him wanting to give us more of Himself.  I believe this is part of the mystery of unanswered prayer. “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)  The real answer to prayer is a closer relationship with Him and when all is said and done, I would rather have that than a “Sold” sign.

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2 Responses to “Sold signs & the mystery of unanswered prayer”

  1. I drove to work this morning and happened to have KLove on the radio. Matt Redmond was on and he was going to perform a new song on his album which is yet to come out. The song was inspired by a family he met who lost one of their children. The main point in the song was that even in the midst of a hard situation, an unanswered prayer-there is hope and it brings us to the place of looking/longing for home-which is not of this world-but in residence with our Lord and Savior. I was really moved and found myself looking back at some of my life situations and discovered that a right focus is the key to victory-and yes this to shall pass and God’s ways aren’t always my ways. Who knows-your not being able to sell might be an answer to this man’s prayer of needing to rent!

  2. When He seems to be quite on our Prayer -Request, it means I am standing at a door closed, since my Father has a better door already open for me.It takes time for me to realize the Reality of that Door. Since He has always the Best for me, in His plans for me. So instead of looking at His hands, let me look at His Face & stay in His bosom.
    Did Abraham pray for a son? Did God kept him suffering without son after a promise ? I feel He prepared Abe to be strong in Faith to be willing to sacrifice his most beloved ,without a hitch, & became a friend of God, father of faith. Abraham had no clue what he was heading for, in the journey of Obedience.
    Since the best buyer is yet to gather his finances, you are given a tenant. You asked for less & He wants to give more than you can ever imagine. Glory to Him !

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