What About Unanswered Prayer?

3 Reasons to Believe an Answer is Coming

“O sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Revelation 6:10 NIV

Everybody wonders at times about unanswered prayer. It’s not uncommon to ask why it is that God never seems to answer some prayers. One could make a Biblical case that certain prayers prayed with wrong motives, lack of faith, unforgiveness, unconfessed sin, and/or not according to God’s etc. will invariably be hindered or delayed in receiving an acceptable answer. But beyond such discernable reasons there yet remains a mystery as to why some prayers are not answered. When faced with the perplexity of unexplainable causes for our prayers remaining unanswered we can easily become discouraged and disheartened in our praying.

Like many, I have prayed for situations in people’s lives that required major breakthroughs – such things as healing or relationship reconciliation, only to see my prayers go unanswered. In addition there are prayers beseeching the Lord for the salvation of loved ones that I have been praying for longer than the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness – still no answer.

There are basically three possible answers to any given prayer: “yes,” “not yet,” and “no.” With this in mind, for years I have kept a prayer journal, with two columns. In one column I write a one sentence summary of the prayer I am praying with the corresponding start date and in the other column I log the result with a date when the answer comes. I would estimate that my journal documents a 75% success rate with both columns filled to my satisfaction – i.e. I got my “yes.” That leaves approximately 25% of my prayers, whether big or small, that have been answered by God with a “not yet” or a flat out “no.” I suspect, I’m not unusual in this regard.

As I have grappled with the unanswered prayers in my life I have found hope and comfort in reminding myself of three fundamental truths. These truths have to do with the fatherly nature of God, the seed nature of prayer, and the importance of keeping an eternal perspective. Whenever I have acknowledged and chosen to meditate upon these truths, the Holy Spirit invariably begins to blow upon the embers of my discouraged heart and once again fan into the flame my passion to persist in prayer. With that great benefit in mind, I offer them here for your consideration with the expectation that they will encourage you the way they never cease to encourage me.

1. THE FATHERLY NATURE OF GOD – He is a loving Father who wants what is best for each of His children, including me and you! Throughout the Bible, and particularly in the Gospels, this portrayal of God as a loving Father is inextricably linked to prayer. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins His quintessential teaching on prayer with the instruction to direct our prayers to “Our father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9 NIV). A short time later, in the familiar “Ask, Seek, Knock” discussion on prayer, He underscores this “loving heavenly Father” aspect of God’s nature when He states “your Father in heaven gives good gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:11 NIV)! He says this as an encouragement to all who feel like God is not answering their prayers the way they desire; specifically for those who think they have received a stone when they’ve asked for bread, or a snake when they’ve asked for fish (Matthew 7:9). It is critical for us to take note and lay to heart what Jesus is saying in the passage. He is seeking to firmly establish in our hearts this truth: we have a heavenly Father who wants what is best for us, and having the power to grant it, intends to do so.

Practically, this means that even though it may appear He has given us a stone when we asked for bread, if we are committed to patiently holding it in faith, it will eventually turn into bread. This means that when our prayers seem to go unanswered, we must nevertheless cling to our Father’s promise that in the end, He will see to it that all things “work together for good” (Romans 8:28). When we experience God’s fatherly love for us we can be assured that there really are no unanswered prayers for a child of God. Even a “not yet” or a “no” are ultimately an acceptable answer because in essence our heavenly Father is saying “There is something better I have in mind for you!”

I invite you to join me in being encouraged by this wonderful truth. Our loving Father’s answer for our unanswered prayers is that He has something better in planned for us!

2. THE SEED NATURE OF PRAYER – Prayers are like seeds sown into the ground, there is a germination time that must be fulfilled before the answer springs forth. Germination is the process a seed goes through, given the proper soil temperature and moisture, in which it breaks forth sending a root down in the soil and a shoot up above ground. God’s timing in answering prayer, like the germination time for seeds, requires the convergence of the right circumstances and His predetermined purposes before the answer appears.

Understanding the seed nature of prayer encourages us especially in those times when we pray prayers and see absolutely nothing happening as a result. Just as we know that seeds sown are germinating and preparing to sprout out of sight, we can be assured that the prayers we sow are also generating answers out of our sight. This infuses us with hope in the “not yet” season just as a farmer waiting with expectation for his crop to come in and mature before the harvest. In both cases, confidence in the germination waiting process, sustains our belief that the day will come when we will enjoy the fruits of our labors.

So, if you see nothing happening as a result of your prayers, be encouraged as you consider the seed nature of prayer. God is secretly preparing an answer that will be released in His perfect timing.

3. THE IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE – We need to reckon with the fact that this life is not all there is. Some prayers will not be answered to our satisfaction in this lifetime. As Christians who believe in resurrection life, death is not the cut off period for answered prayer. Only in heaven, when we finally see Jesus face to face, will we fully comprehend God’s purposeful resolution to the unanswered prayers in our lives.

It is instructive to consider the instance of Moses pleading with the Lord for him to cross over the Jordan and see the promised land before his death. In denying Moses’ plea God’s answer seemed harsh: “That is enough . . . do not speak to me anymore about this matter” (Deuteronomy 3: 26 NIV). But even though Moses only saw it from afar and died having never set foot in the land, it was not the final answer to his prayer or the end of the story. Remarkably, it took fourteen hundred years waiting in heaven, for him to finally discover that God had something better in mind in answer to his prayer. It was not until the coming of Jesus that we see God fulfilling the desire of Moses’ heart, and that far beyond his wildest expectations. Miraculously Moses does eventually set foot in the land of promise when God sends him to take his place with Elijah, atop the Mount of Transfiguration to talk personally with Jesus (Matthew 17:3).

The case can be made that many saints, ourselves included, may have to continue to wait in eternity for the final answers to our prayers . Does that mean that there is prayer in heaven? The book of Revelation, in which the veil is drawn back for a view into the machinations of heaven, indicates there is. When the fifth seal is opened, God shows John the souls of those who have been martyred for their witness, crying out with loud voices. “O sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 6:10 NIV)? What an intriguing and insightful picture as we realize that the answer to their prayers is still germinating. “Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been (Revelation 6:11 NIV). God’s assurance of an eventual answer to their prayers, and compassionate sustaining grace for these precious saints is noteworthy. It should inspire all of us in our waiting.

Dealing with unanswered prayer can be so frustrating and perplexing. But as we’ve seen, realizing the Fatherly nature of God, the seed nature of prayer and keeping an eternal perspective can provide the encouragement we need to keep praying. These three truths convince us that just because we do not see any results, does not mean God has ceased listening or has chosen not to answer us. To the contrary, He just may be preparing an answer that in His timing will prove to exceed our expectations. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV).




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