At some point in their lives, most Christians will wonder why it is that some prayers are answered and others seem to be ignored. Philip Yancey’s book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference, has a chapter called “Unanswered Prayer: Living with the Mystery.” He begins by considering the reasons that a prayer might not get a positive response:
Some, but not all, unanswered prayers trace back to a fault in the one who prays. Some, but not all, trace back to God’s mystifying respect for human freedom and refusal to coerce. Some, but not all, trace back to dark powers contending against God’s rule. Some, but not all, trace back to a planet marred with disease, violence, and the potential for tragic accident. How, then, can we make sense of any single experience of unanswered prayer?
We may never know why God says “yes” to some and “no” to others, but when I don’t get the response I want, I take comfort in realizing that I’m not alone.
- Moses pled with God to enter the Promised Land, but his request was denied.
- King David prayed for his infant son not to die, but he did.
- Moses, Job, Jonah, and Elijah all prayed that they would die. Fortunately for us, God said no.
- Habbakuk prayed for deliverance from the Babylonians.
- Jeremiah prayed for Jerusalem not to be destroyed.
- Paul prayed three times for the removal of the “thorn” in his flesh.
- Jesus prayed that the cup would pass.
I know that it doesn’t feel good when we don’t get what we want, but we have to realize that God is God and we are not. John Baillie wrote that we should use our unanswered prayers and our pains as catalysts for something better. He learned to pray this way:
Let me use disappointment as material for patience.
Let me use success as material for thankfulness.
Let me use trouble as material for perseverance.
Let me use danger as material for courage.
Let me use reproach as material for long suffering.
Let me use praise as material for humility.
Let me use pleasures as material for temperance.
Let me use pain as material for endurance.
May we learn to trust that even when God says “no” – he is still good!