Why Do Some Prayers Go Unanswered?From series The Power of Prayer.
‘If we are going to be honest about answered prayer then we also need to be honest about the fact that it doesn’t always happen when we want it to.’
Framed amidst a story of a time in his life when he was awoken to the sound of his wife’s life being threatened by a brain tumor, the words above were spoken by Pete Greig, director of prayer at HTB London, and founder of the 24-7 Prayer movement, on a two minute programme, which was broadcast by Channel Four on Monday 11th June, 2012.
Prayer is one of the simplest and yet most complex parts of our relationship with God. This primary mode of communication between the divine and humanity can be noisy, can be quiet, it can be spoken by someone with an extensive vocabulary just as powerfully as by someone with a limited vocabulary. Prayer is the catalyst by which peace can be brought to the hurting, birth to the barren, and life to the dead.
However, sometimes the answers to our prayers are not always what we expect, want, or hope them to be.
There used to be a saying: ‘Doctor knows best’ and with that the implication that the educated doctor knew exactly the best course of treatment for his patient; and it was with absolute trust that the treatment was accepted, however painful.
That attitude is sadly one that has been fading away over the past couple decades, helped not least by various factors: patients’ arrogance and an increased consumerist mentality perhaps being the primary one.
The same saying might be said for God. If in prayer we are stepping into the doctor’s surgery and declaring our needs, requests and desired outcomes before the Almighty, then we must also humbly accept his treatment of the situation. However hard, however aggressive, or however unfair the answer may seem, we must be able to say with the apostle Paul ‘In all things God works for the good … ’ (Romans 8:28).
In the treatment of some illnesses it seems like even more pain is being caused, rather than alleviated. The story is told of a mother who, upon discovering her eldest child has chickenpox, decided to make her youngest child sleep in the same bed as the eldest, thus causing both to catch the virus. The mother decides that it is better for the children to have the virus at a younger age, as she knows that the later in life the virus is caught, the worse its effects. What may have seemed unfair at the time, ultimately worked out for good.
It’s easy to blame God when things don’t go the way we want them to, and we should not pretend that we don’t feel hurt or even angry at God. We should express that, humbly in prayer.
However, we must ensure that we don’t base our understanding and attitudes towards God purely upon our human experiences and emotions. If we reduce God, we are in danger of creating a theology that is man focused, not God focused.
We cannot understand why God does, or does not, do certain things; but we must pray for increased faith, asking Him to remove the arrogance in our thinking that we know best, and to trust that God knows best.