The Perversity of Unanswered Prayer

Verla WallaceA new friend recently told me she had never prayed out loud–especially with other people. She was afraid she wouldn’t “do it right.”

I reassured her that it required no special language or training. It’s just talking to someone who knows everything about you, loves you anyway, and who’s eager to talk anytime you’re willing.

I told her I often have running snippets of conversation with God throughout the day. Nothing weird. I don’t go up to the grocery checkout lady and ask her if she wants to meet my invisible friend. Rather, it’s a silent (or verbal if I’m in the car) ongoing chat about this and that. I want to feel comfortable with him, especially for those times (and they always come) when I’m shedding sloppy tears and praying more desperate prayers.

I also try to have a more specific sit-down time with God each day, where we can get down to business on specific matters–his or mine. I often begin by saying, “Okay, here’s the truth about me.” God already knows the truth about me, so I don’t expect him to smack his forehead and say, “No. Really? I had no idea?” It’s just my way of stating the obvious–that I agree with him about mistakes I made that day, wrong attitudes, mixed motives, or whatever happens to be my Screwup of the Day and I need his forgiveness. No sense wasting time tap dancing about it. I want to deal with it and move on to other things.

Today, for instance. I wanted to talk about how ticked off I am with him

It’s a little risky getting ticked with God. He is God, after all, and I’m not. He doesn’t answer to me, his ways are higher than my ways…I know, I know.

I’m still ticked.

Today, I am surrounded by people I care about who are going through unspeakable pain and suffering. Two friends have adult children either on their way to jail or just coming out of jail. Three other people I know have family members dealing badly with serious drug problems. One long-time friend with end-stage breast cancer just learned on the eve of surgery that her coverage had changed and her surgery was cancelled.

Another professional colleague is going through his umpteenth round of chemo and is sicker than a dog. One couple continues to struggle with the loss of their adult son who left behind a young family with no father. Then there’s the woman I mentored through unbelievable challenges who is now on the verge of homelessness thanks to actions of a no-goodnik boyfriend.

I came to God with an attitude. Are you listening, God?

Ps. 34:18 promises he is listening, whether it feels that way or not. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”  That almost makes it worse. If he’s listening, why am I not seeing miraculous answers to prayer?

Coincidentally, today I’m in the middle of a Bible study of the life of the apostle Paul. (Are there really any coincidences with God?)  Paul is a poster child for suffering and unanswered prayer. In II Cor. 11:22-27 Paul says (and I’m paraphrasing), “You want to talk about suffering? I’ll tell you about suffering: I was imprisoned, repeatedly faced death, was beaten severely, stoned, shipwrecked three times, constantly on the move from danger and from my own countrymen, sleep deprived, often cold, naked and hungry. I was worried sick about the churches where I’ve been that are going in the wrong direction. I’ve felt constantly weak. I’ve been tempted.” Paul, ever the overachiever, even trumps the rest of us with his suffering.

In fact, Paul admits in II Cor. 12 that he, too, had prayed desperate prayers–especially about an ongoing unnamed issue he called his “thorn in the flesh,” which God never did take away. All that suffering gave Paul street cred with me. I was eager to read how he dealt with his pain.

In II Cor. 12 he says God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  So Paul decides from then on he will boast (Say, what?) about all his weaknesses and hardships and suffering. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

(sigh) That wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear. I live in America. We’re not keen on suffering and we sure don’t brag about it.

I must admit, as my relationship with God has matured, I don’t like his timing when it comes to answering prayers. And I often don’t like his tactics. He’s confusing. He won’t hesitate to delay an answer if there’s something we need to learn or if he’s weaving multiple agendas into the solution. He just keeps acting like he’s….well….GOD!

In the end, when life bears down like a tsunami, I’m forced to cling more tightly to his Word (full of promises) and his unchanging character (faithful, loving, fair, peace-giver, comforter, counselor, provider, healer, friend).  Is there anybody else on earth to whom you would deny thanks, if they delivered the same benefits and never sent you a bill?

There are still reasons to be grateful in the midst of pain. But we’ll never see the blessings if we stay fixated on the awful spot where our feet now stand, instead of focusing on him.

This entry was posted in Answers, Prayer, Suffering and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Perversity of Unanswered Prayer

  1. I enjoyed your when God is silent post. I am that friend that wants to be married and thinks something is wrong with me. Like im good enough to be the friend but not the wife. At this point I have gotten so sad that I have said forget marriage. But I still feel sad. Do you have advice on what scripture I should read. Im a single mom, I go to church, I try not to do anything wrong. People say im too holy. I feel lost sometimes and I go to God and let him know.

    • Thanks for your heartfelt words. I will attempt to write you privately with my response, since this is a deeply personal note. However, the URL you gave me does not exist. So, if your email address is also not correct, you will not receive my response. There is so much spam these days on the Internet, that sometimes hackers “plant” poignant emails on a blog, hoping to get a response and unleash problems, so we must be extra cautious in approving reader comments. I’m sorry it’s necessary. Please know I am praying for you. Thanks for sharing your need.

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