Fear, suffering, hope and empathy are some of the reasons we turn to God in prayer for ourselves or for others. We’ve done all we can without the results we hoped for. So we turn to God, usually as our last resort, and ask Him to do what we couldn’t….wondering if He has even heard us or will do what we’ve asked. Some times we hear nothing.
The most unfortunate thing about “unanswered prayer” is that since you don’t know God’s mind, you may turn away from God because He didn’t do what you asked Him to do.
After I went away to college, I came home to visit friends and family when possible. During one visit, I stopped to see my friend, Tammy, with whom I had attended high school (secondary school). Tammy was also a regular at my church. Tammy’s mother had recently died and Tammy was mad at God for not stepping in to prevent it….she turned her back on Him. I never saw her again, but would get occasional updates from mutual acquaintances. Tammy became the president of an agency for handicapped individuals but then died in a car accident when she was in her 30s. I’ve always wondered if she reconciled with God.
Even if many people pray for something, it doesn’t mean that God is going to respond in the way that seems obvious to us. Jesus said “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I also”. But He doesn’t say He will answer prayer as we outline it.
Hyperbole, the Art of Exaggeration
Part of our misunderstanding about God’s response to prayer is because of our literal interpretation of Biblical scripture.
And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, …. even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:21-22)
We read this and are confused when our prayers aren’t answered. Some will say that the failure lies with you. You were not trying to please the Lord, or you had unconfessed sins, or you didn’t have enough faith. Read the miracles that Jesus performed and you will see that those who received those miracles had not always asked for them or confessed their sins.
Adam Hamilton says, in his book Why, that he doesn’t suggest that living for God and seeking to please God is not important. But to explain that God does not answer our prayers because we are not holy enough seems odd for a faith built on Grace, whose Savior gave his life for us “while we were still sinners“ (Romans 5:8), and which teachers that we are saved by God’s grace and not by our works.
Jesus said, “truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain “move from here to there “, and it will move. “A mustard seed is smaller than a grain of salt, Jesus’ point was that the smallest impulse of faith would touch the heart of God.”
So lack of response to your prayers isn’t because you have unconfessed sins or lack of faith. But what is the reason? Adam Hamilton suggests that the answer lies not in how we pray but how we understand what Jesus said. When Jesus spoke, he frequently used hyperbole, an overstatement or exaggeration, used by prophets and first-century teachers, to make a point. However, when we read the Bible, we take it too literally.
In Matthew 5:29-30, Jesus said that if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Jesus wasn’t encouraging self-mutilation, he was saying that we should do everything we can to avoid sin.
In Luke 18:25, Jesus said ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God’. Taken literally, compared to the world at large, anyone with a roof over their head and adequate food for the day isn’t going to get in. That isn’t what he meant. What Jesus was saying is that wealth can have a destructive impact on your soul, so handle I carefully.
We use hyperbole in some of our modern expressions and we all know not to take them literally.
- It’s raining cats and dogs
- It’s hotter than hell
- I have a million things to do today
And we can’t take some of Jesus’ word literally either. We want to ask God to do something, we ask in Jesus’ name in faith (we “claim” it) and then it should happen. Right? What if we prayed for something that would hurt someone else, even though we may not know it? Perhaps what we prayed for limited another person’s choices. Would God force them to do as we asked? God will not suspend another person’s free will to satisfy our request.
If we take these words of Jesus literally, we human beings don’t have to work, do research or do anything. We pray for food and it appears. We pray for money and our pocket is filled. We pray for health and we are instantly well. We have no need for other people, there is no opportunity to build character, we don’t need to exercise or eat healthily, and initiative is pointless.
God Works Through People….Miracles are Rare
God knows far more than we do and what we pray for may not be the best for us or for others.
Rather than suspending the laws of nature, that God created, and bypassing the human beings that God created to do God’s work, God typically works through natural law and through people. In the Bible this is how God most often worked, and it is how God typically works today. I believe that miracles can happen but by definition a miracle is rare. The miraculous is not God’s ordinary way. Miracles occur for reasons we cannot always see at the time, and they are the exception, not the rule. Most often God works through people, calling us and nudging us into action, working in our hearts and lives to be the instruments God uses to answer the prayers of others.
I have also learned over the years of that, in the face of suffering or adversity, Gods answer to my prayers is often not to deliver me or others from the suffering, but to walk with me or them through it, and then to transform it and use it to change my life, their lives, or the world.
Here are a couple of examples of how God is using people to change the lives of abused women and children in Malawi and the lives of abandoned and orphaned children.
Pray With Your Heart….Quality is Better Than Quantity
“But when you pray, don’t use vain repetitions like the pagans do, for they think they will be heard for their much speaking.” (Matthew 6:7)
No one experiences answered prayer when he prays merely with his mind, relying fully on words and thoughts, because there is no opportunity for the spirit to break through into our consciousness. The absence of the fruitage in prayer merely bears witness to our failure to go deep enough into our inner being to make contact with God’s presence which is always there and available.
The prayers that are answered are those deep within a person. No words or thoughts are needed, but the hunger, desire, or longing for God makes the connection. Here is more detail about how to talk to God.
Prayer must be a desire for spiritual fulfillment. Through seeking first the kingdom of God, giving up hope of gaining anything, and being satisfied to let God provide for us, we open ourselves to fulfillment. In prayer, it is important that we leave behind all our preconceive notions or ideas of what we want -our hopes and ambitions and desires -because there is no assurance that God will fulfill them on our terms. He is not our servant.
As long as we are advising, suggesting, or outlining to God, or even hoping that God will act according to our personal wishes, we are not praying or going to God, but to our own limited mind.
God Can be Trusted to Provide for Us
It is not the nature of God to withhold from you and then give you things when you pray for them because you have been good. The more you realize that God is not a rewarding God or a punishing God, but that the nature of God is infinite love and infinite wisdom, the clearer you will see that there is no need to tell God of your needs or ask Him to for fulfill them. Joel Goldsmith
“Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him”.
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him.” (I Corinthians 2:9). In other words, those who love God cannot even imagine the great things that He has in mind for them.
Let us go to God as if we really trust Him as the divine Love and the divine Wisdom of this world, which in truth He is.
“Not my will, but Thy will be done”. God is the all-knowing intelligence of the universe. When we pray, we must surrender ourselves – our hopes and desires, our fears, our aims and ambitions– into His hands.
If we hope to see the fruitage of answered prayer, let our prayers be an inner stillness in which God‘s words flow into us reminding us “Son, all that I have is thine”.
We need to learn how to release the whole situation to God, willingly admitting, “I certainly have messed up my life so far. Let me give it to You and You take over.“ Then we may be amazed at how the miracle begins to work in us and how quickly what, we have thought of as our destiny, changes.
If we interpret scripture literally, we are confused when God doesn’t answer our prayer in the way we ask Him to. We tend to tell God what to do when it comes to the things we care about the most. But is God NOT our servant. He knows everything about us and loves us anyway. And because God loves us, we can trust Him to take care of us without telling him how to do it. After all, He is all-knowing. God may not give you the answer you are hoping for, but He will be with you through bad times and good times.