There’s no such thing as unanswered prayer. When God’s children bend the knee, He always hears. And always answers.
Yes, there have been many times that I haven’t received what I’ve asked for when I’ve prayed. Like when I asked God to take away the cancer that ended my mom’s life at 54. Or when I asked Him to make a way for my wife and I to purchase a house that—at the time—we thought was perfect for our growing family.
God answered. But His answer was “No.”
Years later, I recognize the supreme wisdom of God’s plan and can even thank Him for every instance that He chose to answer my fervent prayers with that same gut-wrenching “no.”
Because prayer is not simply creating a list of wants and desires. It is about building a relationship with our Father.
Sometimes, we Christians put ourselves in the position of God, as though we knew what was best for us. But the Bible tells us,
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.Romans 5:3-5 NIV
When we approach our Heavenly Father with the understanding that we are building a relationship with Him that transcends anything this life can offer, we are developing that beautiful thing called character. And that is what God values above all else.
The power of unanswered prayer
The Lord’s prayer starts off with those two incredible words, “Our Father.” Jesus here is offering a radical shift in our view of God. He is not just the One we worship. Neither is He only the mighty God who thundered on Mount Sinai. He is the One with whom we are invited to develop a relationship.
Every solid relationship has a foundation of trust. In the case of God, we build our relationship by demonstrating that, no matter what happens, we still believe His Word.
God is not about making us suffer. His purpose is not to overwhelm us with situations that flood the media channels. His goal is to mold in us a character that mirrors the character of His own Son. And that requires time, patience, and prayers that seem to be unanswered.
Yes, society may turn against Him. But we still believe. Yes, liberal ideologies may multiply, and the weakness of the pulpit may spread, but we still believe. Though our prayers for our nation seem fruitless, or our personal lives seems to fall apart, we still trust in His perfect plan. And, through that relentless, resilient faith, God chisels out just a little more of His own character in us.
A father under trial
Not too long ago, a dear friend texted me from California, heart-broken as his beloved daughter received a very negative report from her cancer specialists. I offered Scriptures as consolation and myself and some of my close friends went into prayer. The situation is still ongoing but I couldn’t help but marvel at the deepened faith I saw emerge in that man as he battled the worry and fear that any parent would feel and chose the hope that God’s Word offers.
He had been a staunch Christian for decades but it was here, on this battleground of seeming unanswered prayer that his faith really got the chance to shine.
I can’t help but wonder how many prayers Joseph threw heavenward while he was being unjustly kept in prison. How many times did the dreams that God had given him seem to be only fanciful illusions?
And then there’s Sarah. How many prayers did that faithful woman offer to God as she waited with Abraham for the fulfilment of His promise? She struggled. She doubted. But God still extended His hand and, after 25 years of (un)answered prayer, flouted the laws of science by bringing Isaac on the scene.
By the time God was finished, Joseph had a character that was worthy to rule the world and Sarah’s character was so noteworthy that God held her up as a model for all future Christian women (1 Peter 3:6).
Did God immediately resolve their situations?
No. He was too busy molding His character in their lives. And I believe He is doing the same in the lives of those who are born of Him.