What should I do when God isn’t answering my prayers?

What do you do when God isn’t answering your prayers?

Of course most of the time by that we mean that he is not answering them the way we want, and sometimes what we are praying for seems the most needed and vital thing in the world! It feels as though he is silent.

What does scripture say that helps us to think about this?

It’s important to reflect on this as an issue because you will find some way of rationalising it, some way to explain the silence. And it may not be the right explanation.

Maybe he doesn’t care about me.

He doesn’t see how vital this is to me!

Perhaps he doesn’t hear.

Is he even there?

Reminding ourselves of what we know for sure about God is a good way to find some answers.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose…

 31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:28, 31-32

His ways are higher. His thoughts wiser. Even when we cannot fathom how he will provide for us or sustain us through our situation, he will always do all for our best good. (If you need more convincing, I blogged about this back in April.)

How can we make sure we are praying the right thing? For more thoughts on this, see this previous post! It’s a big subject that I couldn’t tackle all at once.

Based on these truths about God, things we know for sure – His care, our worth in his sight, the level of his wisdom, his steadfast and unlimited love for you and I – may I humbly suggest some better ways to think when you can’t explain the silence?

Is there sin in the way that I need to repent of?

Perhaps he’s calling me to be persistent in prayer? (See Luke 18)

Maybe there is a greater deliverance to come than the one i’m praying for?

His plan is much better than mine.

I don’t know what is going to happen, or how i’m going to get through this, but I know Him, and he will not let me go.

Perhaps this sounds like an odd thing to say, and I hope I say it sensitively – but I also think we should rejoice when we come up against the plans of God, as they conflict with our own agendas.

Because when God’s plan is different, you know that he’s looking out for you, working for your best.

He’s not a disinterested or over-indulgent Father who gives us everything we ask for, including the things that will harm our growth and good, not caring enough to correct our way.

He is a perfect and loving Father, a good and faithful friend, and a wise and shrewd Master. So many times the rejections that we suspect and feel are actually the tender protections of our God!

It’s also a helpful part of growing into a mature believer. Facing our hungers will teach us that we are not on the throne! It cuts us down to size, so that we might learn obedience, and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8)

My prayer is that when God’s plans are not my own, he will draw me closer to himself in trust, even when I don’t understand. This is something you and I need the help of his Spirit to even recognise! Especially when our emotions are in turmoil, and we face fear, disappointment, or loss.

Let us continue to use the encouragement and direction of his eternal word to guide us in our conclusions when heaven seems silent.

What do you think? Anything you would add or disagree with?

Nim

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4 responses

  1. Thanks for this Nim. What an important question to address – we certainly need to have thought about how to respond when it feels like God isn’t answering our prayers, and thanks for reminding me to trust in God’s good and better way. One question I had was regarding where you suggest that a good question to ask is ‘is there a sin I need to repent of?’ and this stuck out for me, because I wasn’t sure how it followed on from the verses you cited, and I suppose because it sounds like my sins can block in the way of God responding to my prayers.

    I guess we always need to be examining ourselves and daily living a life of repentance and faith, and I do believe God disciplines us, but I just know that I’m so messed up that I can imagine asking myself that question and it leading me to almost a wrong sense of guilt – feeling as if God’s turned his back on me and my prayers aren’t getting through because I’ve created a big sin barrier, when in reality he’s done away my sin, and it’s just that he’s got a different plan. Do you see what I mean?

    • Thanks Robin,
      Yes, the comment you pick up on was something I was unsure on whether to include! I wanted to balance my comments in light of several verses that speak of sin affecting prayer (Isaiah 1: 15-18, 2 Chronicles 7, 1 John 3:21-23, 1 Peter 3:7 …) without distracting from my main point.
      Perhaps I should have given it a bit of context, to prevent readers from drawing these conclusions. (I always strive to keep posts short and readable, but this has a downside!)
      I would want this question to be asked in the light of the glorious gospel of grace! For the Christian, sin is no longer a barrier, we are not condemned. But confession and repentance continue to be part of our restored relationship, and so I think it can be wise in wrestling with “unanswered” prayer, to examine our own heart and ask if there is unconfessed or unrecognised sin that needs dealing with by God’s Spirit. As John Piper puts it, our Father God will not “confirm a child in his waywardness by giving him whatever he asks” . As part of his love towards us, he challenges our sin, and may withhold answers to pray as part of loving discipline.
      Personally, in this situation I would ask God for discernment to know if the problem is a specific sin, but would remind myself of my righteousness in Christ to avoid vague, nameless ‘false’ guilt.
      I hope that provides a fuller context which guards against the reaction you anticipate! Thanks for mentioning it! Anything you’d say in response?

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