I tried prayer. At one point in time, I tried prayer a lot, a whole lot, not one circumstance changed for me in life. Not one thing changed that did not require my active effort to make a change. One minister told me that I was being tested, another said I was not praying correctly. Now, I asked, if I am being tested do I get a gold star or a better part of heaven? I also asked who is the best at prayer if I am doing it wrong. Is there a special teacher as to how to go about it? …. I did it simply on my own, with no remarkable insight or feeling of comfort, no transformation, no amazing response to words sent out into the vast emptiness. (Magick1 6/14/10)*
To not get an answer to prayer, especially if you have been trying unsuccessfully for a long time to hear something from God, can be extremely frustrating and disillusioning. I, too, have been tempted at times to give up and just rely on myself instead. However, whenever I start to move in that direction, away from God and faith, something tells me that it’s a mistake. I’m not talking about feeling guilty, but getting an intuitive sense that I need to be open to something that I don’t yet understand about God and prayer.
Over time, my experiences of unanswered prayer have led to great growth and learning. I often ask God to help me to see what I need to see and to help me to reform my requests, often resulting in sudden shifts in my perspective and experience.
Magick1, I understand why you have drawn the conclusions you have, but, there are indeed teachers who can help. No one can tell you for sure why God does not answer your prayers. And no one can give you a formula to use to get the answers you want. However, there are many time-tested ways to learn and grow through periods of unanswered prayer, taught in Scripture and practiced by millions of Christians regularly. Here are three of them:
1. Remind yourself that your spiritual pilgrimage calls you to walk by faith, not by sight (or hearing). When all is dark, and even if your life is cut short; when you cannot see evidence of what you hope for, and cannot imagine how God could provide for you; choose to continue to trust in the faithfulness of God, and take actions that correspond to believing that “God exists, and rewards those that earnestly seek God.” (See Hebrews 11:1, 6.)
Continually look for God to produce good things in your life, trusting that God is at work for good in everyone who loves God and is called according to his purposes. Trust that nothing can separate you from God’s love through Jesus Christ, and that God will not abandon you. (See Romans 8:28-39: Hebrews 13:5.) Stay on course and work the plan that you believe best fits with God’s calling on your life.
2. Second, remember that your life is chiefly about knowing, loving, and serving God. Your job is not to cling to your life and to try to use God to further your own purposes (however noble they may be), but to cling to God and use your life to further God’s eternal purposes. Prayer fits in as a way to connect personally with God, to gain wisdom and understanding, to help you to align your will with God’s, and to experience spiritual transformation to help you to better live out your purpose in life.
When your prayer request aligns with God’s will for you, expect to receive what you ask for. Since you can’t know for sure when your desire aligns with God’s will, ask for everything on your heart; but accept whatever you receive. Pray for whatever you want, but always offer up your will to be reshaped by God’s will.
Jesus is our example here. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he pleaded with God the Father to take the cup of suffering from him, yet he concluded his prayer with, “but not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
3. Third, look for ways God may be at work in your life through his silence.
Magick1, you gave up on God and prayer because you thought nothing happened when you prayed, and that only your own action brought about changes in your life. That’s one possible conclusion, but what if God’s silence was God’s answer? What if God deliberately did not change your circumstances, because he wanted you to be changed instead? What if, among other lessons, God intended to teach you to take more responsibility for your own life, and to show you how much is possible if you put your mind to accomplishing something—which is just what happened? You say you experienced no transformation, but your response indicates just the opposite. You’ve changed a great deal, but you cut God out of the equation along the way.
Instead of jumping to the conclusion that God does not exist, does not care, or has abandoned you when your prayers go unanswered, ask God to teach you through your experiences. Listen to what your pain and suffering are telling you about your world and yourself. If God will not give you what you most want, ask for the Holy Spirit to help you to see what you need to see in order to clarify your thinking, to change your heart, to purify your motives, to strengthen your character, to lead you to deeper levels of repentance, to learn how to rely more on others in the body of Christ, or to better align your will with God’s. Look for God’s leading and working through closed doors and unanswered prayers, and not just through the blessing of your requests and plans.
Often we can only see the hand of God in retrospect, but the more you look learn to look at your life through the eyes of faith, and continue to trust in God’s faithfulness even in the midst of unanswered prayers, the more likely you will be to see God at work for good in your life. Yes, you can do so much on your own. God created you that way, and wants you to discover your full potential. But God also wants to be in a relationship with you and to teach you how to take what you can do and use it for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.
Where is God in unanswered prayer? God “is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13, NRSV).
Scripture “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.” (Romans 8:28-29, NRSV)
A Prayer “Creator God, it’s so hard for me when you don’t answer my prayers. Please help me to appropriately adjust my expectations of you and prayer, without rejecting you, and without giving up on prayer. Please teach me through your silence and my disappointments, and shape me through my painful experiences. Free me from myself, that I may more and more embrace your often obscure purposes for my life, and be able to see the good you are accomplishing in me and through me.”
*To read the original Huffington Post article that prompted this response from a blogger, click here, “When Prayer Makes a Difference in Suffering.”