Our all-powerful, all-loving God encourages us to ask Him for what we want. But sometimes, after we’ve put it out there, He seems to turn and walk in the opposite direction. We are left with questions: Why did He want us to pray if He was just going to say no, anyway? Were we praying “wrong” in the first place? What are we supposed to do now?
I have repeated this cycle multiple times. More than seven years ago, I began experimenting heavily in drugs and became addicted for about six months. This resulted in losing everything that meant anything to me, my home, my children, my career, my car, my family and friends, you name it. but more importantly, it also resulted in my salvation and my freedom. Praise God! I have always believed in God and Jesus, but never had I truly had a relationship with God nor had I ever read the Bible. For the last seven 1/2 years, I asked God for restoration and to replenish my loss. He has done this slowly but therefore during this time I have grown and grown even more with each passing day.
I must confess that during this last seven years, I have confessed and repented of every sin I can think of, wept, protested and spent more than a few days crippled by despair.
WE TEND TO HAVE ONE OF TWO RESPONSES WHEN WHAT WE ASKED FOR IS NOT GIVEN IN A TIMELY FASHION: TRYING HARDER OR ANGRY BLAMING.
Apparently, I am not the only one who struggled because of unanswered prayer. Once, I invited friends to fill in the blank on my Facebook wall: “Unanswered prayer is … ” I received more than 40 responses, including the following: is deeply disappointing, makes me feel unloved, feels like a betrayal, is confusing, can be overwhelming, is business as usual.
Some of our bewilderment emerges because we actually believe that God is all powerful and that He not only wants us to come to Him like little children, but also encourages us to ask Him for everything, from babies to spouses to jobs to housing to help losing weight. Hence the disconnect when He doesn’t always give us what we want.
This paradox reminds me of my daughter’s attitude at Christmas. She starts composing her gift list in September, and for the next four months, she revised, added to and shamelessly shared it. Yet when Christmas day rolls around, she was filled with dread—because experience has shown her that though I am a good parent, I don’t always give her precisely what she requests. She has told me, “Why bother asking me if you aren’t going to buy me exactly what I want?” She’s a good kid, but just a typical teenager… wants everything now! Isn’t this how we feel about our heavenly Father? We tend to have one of two responses when what we asked for is not given in a timely fashion: trying harder or angry blaming.
None of us can make ourselves worthy—that only comes as a gift from Jesus. Angry blaming similarly leads us into a dead-end. In my many nights of an insomnia jag, I remember spewing at God, “Why don’t you help me get to sleep? The Bible tells me that you give sleep to those you love! Don’t you love me?” Powerlessness is its own form of suffering. When we’ve run out of other options, anger and blame give us the illusion of control. But it really is only an illusion. It didn’t help my faith, and it certainly didn’t help me to sleep.
WHAT IF, RATHER THAN INTERPRETING GOD’S “NO” OR “NOT YET” AS PUNISHMENT OR INDIFFERENCE, WE VIEW IT AS AN INVITATION TO BE TRANSFORMED?
For us to avoid these and other unhelpful responses when our prayers aren’t answered the way we’d hoped, we need to zoom out and glimpse the larger story.
Every day, there is an epic battle being waged for our hearts. The enemy of our soul has an entire arsenal at his disposal, but his go-to weapon is doubt. Adam and Eve didn’t disobey because they craved the apple, but because they fell for the serpent’s ruse that God was withholding good things from them. If you ever find yourself doubting God’s love or questioning His character, push back—hold to what you know to be true.
Expressing gratitude also helps to defuse our despair and suffering. Due to my past mistakes, there are some things that I may never have restored, but I constantly thank God for the many gifts He bestows upon me daily. I have realized that turning our hearts to God in gratitude has the capacity to flip our disappointment upside-down.
Finally, we must be willing to explore any attachment to entitlement that might contribute to our resentment at how God has answered our prayer. We live in a consumer society and have become accustomed to getting what we want when we want it. Jesus does not promise to give us everything that we want but rather asks us to sacrifice everything—including our own desires for a specific outcome or result. This changes everything when it comes to how we pray.
What if, rather than interpreting God’s “no” or “not yet” as punishment or indifference, we view it as an invitation to be transformed? C.S. Lewis writes in The Problem of Pain, “We are a Divine work of art, something that God is making and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character.”
The possibility that waiting and suffering have the capacity to transform us offers us profound comfort while crushing our fear of God being fickle. Rather than needing God to answer my accusatory questions of “Why?” I am free to ask, “How can I find You in the midst of this?” This inquiry provides us with the traction we need to move beyond our pain and into the transformation that God has for us.
Finally, when God doesn’t answer our prayers choose to see it as a blessing and a chance to grow in wisdom and ask Him to reveal to you when you need to learn here. God wants the best for his children and no matter what we feel or think, God will take care of us because Our Father does know BEST!