One answer for unanswered prayer

“Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.”  Ecclesiastes 4:6 (NIV)

One of the most frustrating things everyone has to deal with at one time or other is unanswered prayer.  Unanswered prayer is so perplexing because it brings us face to face with the mystery of God’s ways.  It is an unsettling reminder that God does not always do things our way nor operate according to our time table.  It confronts us with the reality, as Steven Curtis Chapman sings, that “God is God and I am not!”

It is particularly difficult, if not painful, when the unanswered prayer is a strategic one; a prayer upon whose answer so many other things and breakthroughs in our lives depend.  It can be a prayer for the mending of a broken relationship, a financial release, a healing and deliverance from some affliction or wisdom to make a critical decision etc. 

When prayers like these go unanswered they have a way of putting our lives on hold.  It is as if everything hangs in the balance upon God answering that prayer.  Sometimes even our relationship and trust in God can seem to be at stake, because we feel that if He doesn’t answer such an important prayer in our lives, He must not love or care for us. 

This type of prayer might be called a linchpin prayer.  A linchpin is a fastener that holds two important parts together, like the pin that keeps a wheel from sliding off an axle.  Without a linchpin the wheel eventually comes off, the car breaks down, the journey comes to a halt, plans are put on hold and we are stuck.  The natural reaction then is to begin to pray desperately, fervently for a linchpin.   Linchpin prayers demand answers because we depend upon them to get our lives unstuck and moving ahead in God’s purposes. 

My wife and I have had to deal with that reality over the past two years in our prayers to sell our vacation home.  Everything I know about prayer in 40 years of walking with Lord has been applied to that end.  We have done it all: faith confessions, crafted prayer with scriptures, prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of agreement with other believers, binding and loosing prayers, forgiving and blessing prayers, humbling with repentance and fasting prayers etc. etc.  But seemingly it has been all for naught and we have not had one bite in two years!  It is as if God has totally ignored our prayers to sell the place.  We did rent it out for a year, which gave us a reprieve from our concern about it, but our renters moved out last month and now we are back to square one – once again wholly dependent upon an answer to our linchpin prayer.

Yesterday as I was praying again about this I had a revelation.  I believe it was inspired by the Holy Spirit for it had never crossed my mind before. The thought came to me, “maybe you should change the way you are praying about this.”  Hmmmmm.

It was a liberating thought because although I have sought to be persistent in this prayer, as Jesus teaches, I was finding very little peace and confidence in the process. (Luke 18:1)  Sometimes praying linchpin prayers simply fuel our anxiety rather than faith.  That was a nagging effect my praying was having upon me.

We can become so obsessed with an answer coming our way in our timing that we slip from the “tranquility” of faith into the “toil and chasing after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 4:6)  Sadly then, we can fail to pick up on God’s subtle re-directives through unanswered prayer.  That realization dawned clearly upon me as I prayed yesterday.  I sensed for the first time that God was leading me to change the way in which I was praying about our vacation home.  Long story short, I have stopped asking Him to sell it.  Now I pray for peace in my heart regarding it, God’s provision and protection in preserving it and the grace to enjoy it as a gift from Him.  Faith and an accompanying peace have now once again permeated my soul and for the first time in several years I am confident that God has a plan for that home and will unfold it in His time.

When I first became a Christian the Serenity Prayer, often associated with Alcoholics Anonymous, seemed to me to be a cop out, a prayer for those who really did not have genuine persistent faith.  “Why,” I thought, “anything can be changed if enough faith and prayer grease are applied to it.”  My years of walking with the Lord however have significantly humbled me.  The wisdom of that prayer, whose origin by the way has never been verified, now seems very applicable in situations where the mystery of unanswered prayer persists.  “God grant us the serenity to accept the things (unanswered prayers) we cannot change (get answers for), courage to change the (ways we pray for) the things we can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

What are you learning about unanswered prayer?

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10 thoughts on “One answer for unanswered prayer”

  1. Yes pastor Tom, who hasn’t struggled with the issue of “seemingly” unanswered prayer. God bless, let me know when the house is sold.

  2. When we find ourselves in these kind of situations-usually God is trying to get at someting far deeper in us that can only be touched by the circumstance and our stance in the midst of it. Be encouraged and stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.

  3. Tom,
    I have so appreciated this entry. I’m in the midst of a 6 year season of seemingly unanswered prayer- a ‘linchpin’ to so many areas- without a breakthrough, my life has been ‘on hold’. I’ve had a few brief seasons in these years of relative peace, but then the waves begin to billow and roll again, and I wonder if this time I’ll drown.

    I also have been through the seasons you mentioned- beginning with repentance. What was I doing wrong? Was there hidden sin in my life that I wasn’t identifying? As a result of that season, I’ve come to know a deeper fear of the Lord than ever before, and I’ve kept a short “account” with Him. I don’t dare let unconfessed sin linger. Then seasons you mentioned- faith, crafted prayer, fasting, thanksgiving, warfare etc. etc. I too, have approached my need with every biblical principle I could find.
    Nothing budged. I’ve survived, but I have not seen the answers or movement that I’ve felt I’ve so desperately needed. I’ve thought a lot about Joseph, Job, John the Baptist and David. I’ve thought about those who were tortured, who experienced mockings and scourgings, chains, imprisonment, stoned, sawn in two, tempted, put to death, destitute, afflicted, and ill-treated.

    These years have humbled me, softened me, strengthened me- and weakened me in my own flesh at the same time. I know that I have been refined. I also know that I cannot trace His hand completely. I don’t understand. I can see the good, but I can’t yet see this method of learning them as being necessary. My own contribution and impact in the Kingdom has been lessened; I’ve been sidetracked and distracted with more mundane sort of survival things. It’s hard to understand. I think often about how God never told Job why. It would have been so easy for Him to tell him, “Job- my beloved, blameless servant! There has been a whole heavenly drama going on up here! You’ve done great! I’m so proud of you!” But He didn’t- instead he said who was Job to question Him, and to stand up and take it like a man!

    I’ve landed in the past year on the concept of ‘acceptance’. At first it felt like a lack of faith, a giving up or giving in. But I realize that ultimately, my trials- my unanswered prayers are beyond my control and are completely and wholly up to Him. In some ways, I believe my lack of ‘acceptance’ has been a refusal to accept- rebellion against what is His will/timing/plan for my life. A year or so ago I asked Him about His promises to me, what exactly was I to believe Him for? His answer took me months to absorb- He promised me I could count on my eternal salvation, that He would always be with me, and food/clothing. I know now that that is a lot, but at the time it was pretty bleak. I was looking for some more substance towards my specific areas of need. I still wrestle with it- and what I hear from Him is that He is good. He loves me. He knows the best way. His leadership is perfect. He is good to those who wait. So- having nothing else to do- nowhere else to turn, I wait. I wait on the Lord my God, knowing that He is FOR me- even when I don’t understand.
    Anyway, thanks Tom- I’ve wrestled with acceptance that His answers have not come according to my timing and may never come according to my way. This was confirmation, as I press into acceptance, letting go of my wants and perceived needs and trusting Him regardless of outcomes- that my ultimate goal is to be found faithful no matter where the path leads me.
    A tip- to those who have known a season of trials- Steven Curtis Chapman’s CD “Beauty Will Rise”- is a CD that has ministered to me greatly- it came out of his painful trial, the tragic death of his daughter, and his journey of acceptance. The lyrics are well written and applicable to all kinds of suffering…. It reminds me that God IS in control, that sometimes life hurts, and that yet, He is faithful.

  4. ps.
    an extended version of the Serenity Prayer, attributed (apprently with some controversy) to Reinhold Niebuhr, that I’ve found helpful:

    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
    the Courage to change the things I can;
    and Wisdom to know the difference.
    Living one day at a time;
    Enjoying one moment at a time;
    Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.
    Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.
    Trusting that He will make all things right, if I surrender to His will.
    That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.

  5. Ann – so true. Only trials and the testing of faith seem to best access the deeper things God is wanting to get at in our lives. Thanks for your perspective!!!

  6. Judy – I believe that your heartfelt account of the season you have been enduring will touch and minister to many people who are experiencing similar trials in their lives. Thank you for allowing us a window into your soul. When we gaze into it we see the reflection of our own pain and perplexity and yet find hope and solice in your willing acceptance of Gods hand upon your life. Blessings and thanks also for the tips and insights shared. Tom

  7. Look, I’ve probably had more rejections, failures, shattered dreams & unanswered prayers than many people. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are some people in this world that have no calling, no useful gifts to share, and are not meant to fit in anywhere. They can do only one of two things: pray for others (because any prayer for themselves will go unanswered), or performance art (one don’t need any talent to do that).

    I’ve been told from grade school on (and in a so-called “Christian” day school at that) that God regretted creating me because I’m “different:” I don’t look, think, speak, or act like my peers. I couldn’t share anything with others as a result. It was always, “You can’t do this, you can’t say that, you can’t think that; Ah shut up, shutten-up!” Even at home I got the same, & was put in hospital to try to make me “normal.” I left home as a result & will never return. But even now, I have a husband I can’t love, no job because no one wants me, a worthless “music ministry,” & nowhere else to go. I hate the Serenity Prayer & Footsteps in the Sand. I won’t seek counseling & I abide by Matthew 10: 14-15, & Matthew 18: 15-18..

  8. Hi, Jey-Anne, I truly know how you feel, I have really grown up inside from the horrible times in my life of regret, rejection and having to stay quiet many times when folly dressed in robes came dancing in my life, despite I have loved, sacrificed, stayed humble, never tried to knock anyone when they are down, saw the sad when no one else looked and uttered a prayer for them.
    have a ministry yet no take offs, have been given the look over by those who could have given me a break and yet slighted me and looked the other way, though should they be ever in my place I would have listened or put up what ever I owned to help. I have since come to see God gets the same treatment, one way to know him is to come into his pain, he has somewhat limited his power by his love to allow humans to love him back despite anything. you will emerge, time has a way of turning the tide, but the brain must be trained to say this which is in my life does not match the goodness of God, therefore happiness and joy is peace on earth and good will towards men, this proclamation was issued by the angels to declare that Jesus would come in the name of goodness not heartlessness. Seek out the good no matter what and leave the proud who know know they are evil.

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