The first thing to acknowledge is that if you believe God’s real, then you are going to wrestle with the fact that sometimes, He doesn’t seem to answer our prayers. If you don’t believe that God is real, or that He answers prayer, you don’t struggle with unanswered prayer. Instead, you just think, `Well, I didn’t expect it to work in the first place.’
But if we do believe in the power of prayer, the good news is that we are part of a faith that is all about wrestling; and in fact, the Bible is more honest about unanswered prayer than most churches are. Jesus himself lives with unanswered prayer; he prayed that his church would be united. Last time I checked, this hasn’t happened yet!
So if Jesus lived with unanswered prayer; if the Bible can be honest about the struggle of faith; we need to start to create space to honestly wrestle with these things.
It’s a form of faith; it’s not unbelief.
Honestly, most of the time, there aren’t ever going to be easy answers to the questions we wrestle with. But when we’re asking ourselves why God hasn’t answered our prayers, it’s helpful to think in terms of three things: God’s world, God’s will and God’s war.
First of all, some prayers aren’t answered because it’s just the way God’s made the world to work. C.S Lewis said: “Nothing can seem extraordinary until you have discovered what is ordinary”. We need to live in a world where the laws of nature are exactly that; so that when miracles do happen, we recognise them for what they are. This can be painful and challenging at times – if a political system is voted in that makes corrupt decisions; that’s because of the way the world works.
The next reason that some prayers aren’t answered is a little more complicated: it’s to do with God’s will; sometimes, we just have to accept that God knows best. Obviously, it can become complicated – it can be very difficult to make sense of God knowing best: when someone dies, or is someone that we long to see come to know Jesus; or wrestles with singleness, it can seem like the answer to prayer is obvious.
And that’s where we have to talk about the third factor – God’s war:
The Bible teaches that there are things that happen in this world that God does not want. We are in a spiritual battle – God’s will gets resisted. When a woman is raped, I do not believe that’s the will of God. When a child is struck down in the street by a car, I do not believe that’s the will of God. This is why our prayers are vital; we can wage warfare and ask for God’s kingdom to come.
But even when God’s will is resisted, I do believe that he can take situations and turn them to something good. Romans 8:28 says: `All things work together for good for those who love God.”
But we have to remember, just because your prayers aren’t working, or God seems a million miles away, that doesn’t mean that he is absent. He promises in the Bible, `I’ll never leave you and I’ll never forsake you.’ God’s silence is not the same as his absence.
And so this is the good news we have in Jesus: that he is with us always. And even when we don’t understand, we can still trust. Even if we have unanswered prayer, we can still have faith.
If you ever meet old people who have been through life, yet are still rejoicing and trusting God, you see something even better than faith – faithfulness. We will never learn what it means to be truly faithful until we live through unanswered prayer; when we still trust in God even though it doesn’t make sense.
And here’s the real amazing fact of faith: we believe in eternity, and sometimes we will lose people; we’ll lose battles; but we do not grieve as those who have no hope, because we believe that ultimately, God wins.
Designed to help small groups explore the hardest questions we all ask about prayer.