I think one of the toughest challenges that Christians struggle with is the issue of unanswered prayer. It raises doubts. It leaves us wondering if there was something we could have done differently to change the outcomes. Did we pray right? Why does God not want to answer that prayer? We pull out all the prayer scripture to remind God that he should answer. But sometimes, in his sovereignty he doesn’t. It could be because of selfish prayers and not in alignment with what is best. But mostly, we just don’t understand.
Some will make the claim that God always answers prayers. If you pray for an outcome and it doesn’t happen, then that is essentially God saying “no”. I recently got into a few discussions about this and one person was adamant that we cannot insist that God does not answer prayers; ‘God always answers’, this person says even suggesting that the contrary was a direct violation of scripture. It sounds plausible. It sounds like closure. And I think it sounds dishonest. It is a dismissive response that essentially has the impact of saying ‘God answered, get over it’.
Christians are commanded to pray. Pray without ceasing. Pray fervently. Pray for one another. Pray with expectancy that God does hear. Some common passages that support this expectancy (and ones I tend to rely on anyway)
- Mark 11:24 – Therefore, I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted to you
- Matthew 7:7-11 – Ask, and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him.
- John 14:14 – If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it
Also, we’re told in James that the doubters do not receive (1:6-8) nor do requests with wrong motives (4:3). More than just a perfunctory exercise, it is communication with the most high who has so graciously allowed access to his presence through Christ (Hebrews 4:16)
I do believe that God wants us to approach him with expectancy of a response, that he hears our prayers and will respond. I believe that He delights in responding to our prayers. Sometimes, prayers are answered immediately. Sometimes, the response is years in the making. Sometimes, the response does not come at all. Why? Because in his program he is working out something far greater than we can ever understand.
But to that person for whom the expectancy was met with an outcome contrary to the request, it is essentially being denied the request. I think we should be honest about that and not force trite answers for the sake of preservation. I think this is more than just an issue of semantics. “No” is of little value in these cases and as I said before, is dismissive of this very real challenge. What is meant to provide some type of solace, I believe can actually push the griever into further doubt.
So I would encourage desisting with the use of “no”. It is no answer. But rather, address the real issue that in God’s plan and program, he will sometimes have to deny the requests of his children for a much better outcome though at the present, it leaves us in bewilderment, sadness and in some cases disillusionment. But he is good and deserves our trust regardless.
Here is an interesting article on the subject.