I have been reading a book loaned to me by a friend which explored what is wrong in the present-day church. It was an interesting read. As with every book I read, some things I agreed with and some things I did not, but the author brought out some interesting points and asked some thoughtful questions. I enjoyed the time I spent reading it. But it got me to thinking in particular about one question asked by the author. She said one of the biggest reasons people have difficulty with the modern-day church is because of the failure of the church to address the issue of “unanswered prayer”. So I would like to address that very issue right here and now.
The author never delineated between prayers that were not answered and prayers that were not answered in the manner the “pray-er” desired. I suspect she never made that distinction in her interviews, nor did those she talked with make or even think of the difference. Although my memory is shot-through in many instances, I do remember as a boy asking my parents (as every child does) for things that I wanted. Now upon occasion I actually got what I asked for, but most times I did not. Surprised? I learned that I would get an occasional “yes”, or a more frequent “no” or a less frequent “perhaps”.
I never realized until I was grown that when I received that rare “yes” it was because what I wanted matched or coincided with what my parents wanted for me. When I got a “no”, it was because in the wisdom of their experience they knew that what I wanted was not good for me. The less frequent “perhaps” indicated it was either not time yet, or they just had not thought about it and would let me know in the right time. We all have had some kinds of experiences like this. But the real point is that when I as a small boy asked for something, it was usually for selfish and self-serving reasons. James echoes this in James 4:3, “When you ask you do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” I believe this is what is at the heart of the perceived problem of “unanswered prayer.”
If we, as Christians, ask our heavenly Father for something and it is in accordance with His will for us, He will give it to us – even if we ask for the wrong reasons. The Israelites asked for meat in the wilderness and the Lord granted their grumbling request – with so many quail they were physically sick with it. (see Numbers 11) And just because we ask something of our heavenly Father, let us not think for a moment that a “no” answer is no answer at all. As time passes and we grow in the faith, we may discover how very blessed we were not to receive what we asked for in our immaturity. And, since God is in no need of a “Plan B” and His grand purposes are ever marching onward, a “wait” answer would also be an indicator of His loving-kindness to us as we learn patience at the foot of our Master.
In response to the heart-felt questions about the state of our lives, Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” And just a bit later in Matthew 7:11, Jesus said, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” God is neither mean nor deaf to His children. He wants to give things to us. They are called His blessings and they come in many forms.
So is there really any such thing as an unanswered prayer for God’s people? I don’t think so. It is not a question of God not answering our prayer, but of our submitting to His sovereign and loving will for our lives as His redeemed children. Do we really trust that He will provide for us all that we need? Or are we just upset because we don’t get whatever we want? Almighty God is not our personal “Santa Claus” into whose lap we climb and present our wish list, which He is then obligated to fulfill. He is our heavenly Father, who knows what is best for us and desires that we have it all in abundance – according to His will and in His time.
May He find us asking according to His will, patient until He makes His answer known, and content with whatever it may be. Our model is Jesus, and therein is the “peace that passes all understanding”.