I wrote a post some time ago where I wrestled with the idea of unanswered prayer. The two reasons I gave for unanswered prayer in that post are:
- Our sin can hinder the efficacy of our prayers.
- God sometimes chooses to withdraw Himself for reasons only known to Him.
I still believe that these principles are true and are found in Scripture (James 4:2-3; Psalm 66:18; Psalm 10:1).
But after thinking about it some more, I believe the term “unanswered prayer” can sometimes be misleading when speaking about our prayers.
What is Unanswered Prayer?
The word unanswered means “not receiving a response or a reply.” So an unanswered prayer is where God doesn’t respond to our prayers. In other words, instead of hearing a “Yes” or a “No” from God, we hear nothing.
But we Christians can unintentionally use the term in one particular situation where it doesn’t apply:
We asked God for something but didn’t get what we wanted.
Sometimes we think that if we ask God to do something and He chooses not to, then God must have ignored our prayers altogether! But this is certainly not the case.
For example, let’s say you are praying for God to heal you. You are very consistent in seeking the Lord’s face and trusting Him with your situation. But you don’t receive healing. Instead you wrestle with this health issue for the rest of your life. Does this mean that God did not respond to your prayers? Not at all.
We know this because Paul mentions this exact experience in 2 Corinthians 12:8-9. He asked the Lord to heal him three times but God chose not to heal him in this life. Instead God responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
God answered Paul’s prayer and clearly responded to him. God just said “No.” And I believe this happens to us all of the time. God hears and responds to our prayers; we just don’t always like His answers.
Another side effect of using the term “unanswered prayer” is that it paints prayer as if it is only about requesting things from God. But of course, prayer is profoundly relational. In fact, our prayers should contain much more than just a laundry list of requests. Prayer should include thanksgiving, praise, lament, and everyday conversation.
God is Listening
In the end, if you believe that God consistently ignores your prayers for no apparent reason, then you are more likely to believe that prayer is a waste of time.
But when we are in right relationship to Him, we can be confident that God both hears our prayers and responds to them!
When we have sinned against God, He has promised to forgive us if we confess our sin to Him (1 John 1:9). And the great thing about this is that God never responds “No” to this prayer!
Yes, prayer is hard. Yes, sometimes it feels as if nothing is happening. Yes, sometimes it feels like we are just wasting our time.
But God is listening to us. He enjoys hearing from His children. He is still answering our prayers.