What do you do when God hasn’t answered your prayer?
Of course, there are some requests that we recognize why God didn’t answer them. We threw them up more as wishes than actual prayers. We basically rub a lamp and think, “Can’t hurt to ask.”
Those “prayers” were silly—we recognize that. But what about the ones that are real, honest, genuine prayers?
What about the prayers we ask for something good and unselfish, something that seems to be in line with God’s will: healing of sickness, saving of the marriage, salvation of the lost?
What does it mean when God seems so silent in those instances, even when our prayer is good?
Right now, we cannot completely know the mind of God and understand His motives, but I think one passage of Scripture can give us a glimpse at what might be going on.
John 11:1-45 tells the story of Lazarus, his sickness, death and ultimately his being brought back to life by Jesus. We focus on that final part, often not realizing the pain and questions required to make it to that joyful moment.
Verses 5-7 make it clear exactly what is happening.
Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. Then after that, He said to the disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again.”
Because He loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus, he did not answer their request to come quickly.
Because He loved them, he did not heal Lazarus from his sickness.
Because He loved them, he allowed Lazarus to die.
Yes, in this instance, Jesus knew that He was going there to perform another sign and demonstrate His power over death, which He would later fully demonstrate in His own resurrection.
But He still refused the request of three of the people He loved most because He knew something better would result. It would be harder and more painful, but it would be better.
It would be for their good and for His glory. But they couldn’t see that. All they could see was Lazarus falling sick and then dying, when Jesus could have saved him.
All you can see are the circumstances swirling around you. What you can’t see is God. He’s not acting and you can’t understand why.
Why would He let this happen to your child?
How could He allow your friend to develop cancer?
What would it take for Him to answer your prayer about your father who refuses every gospel invitation?
Why will He not answer these good prayers? I certainly don’t know, but He does. He knows what it is He is about to do.
It may be to bring in a miraculous response or it may be to allow the seemingly worst possible outcome to take place.
Sometimes good prayers go unanswered, but they never go unheard. A good God will always listen to His children bring Him their requests, thoughts, joys, hurts, pains, questions, and sorrows.
Jesus didn’t answer Mary and Martha’s request immediately because He knew His delay would bring a greater blessing to them and all those who saw or heard about it.
He didn’t answer because He knew the Father’s will and all that could be accomplished in this situation.
We ask and we pray with confidence, knowing He hears us and loves us, but also recognizing we do not have His perspective on things. Most of all, we pray and trust Him to answer with wisdom our request given in ignorance.
We have confidence, knowing Romans 8:26, that in our weakness, in our inability to know the best thing to pray for, the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf, knowing the will of the Father and bringing our request (properly understood) into His presence.
Sometimes our good God recognizes our good prayers could get in the way of something better. He understands that He can work even the worst situations together for our good.
But more than anything else, He knows that ultimately He Himself is better than any answer He could ever give. Maybe this is a moment we can deepen our relationship with Him.
When God doesn’t answer our good prayers, we can rest in the arms of our good God. And that is enough for this moment.