Summary: Prayer is one of the seven marks of discipleship our elders have identified for our church. But in our prayer life, we often struggle over the issue of unanswered prayer.
I read a story once about a woman who was dying in a hospital bed. Her two daughters were by her side. All day one of the daughters had been praying vigorously and passionately. But when the family’s pastor came to the hospital room, one of the daughters whispered to him, "I just can’t seem to get my prayers past the ceiling."
How many times have we stood before a silent God and wondered why our prayers were not answered?
Why do our prayers go unanswered?
On September 11th, hundreds of men and women were trapped in planes and buildings praying that God would rescue them so that they might live. But they died.
A man finds his wife has cancer. He prays for healing for her, but it never comes. The cancer grows. The life fades. She dies.
Why were the prayers not answered?
Look at the Bible and you will find many times when prayers were answered. We remember these stories so well.
Abraham’s servant prayed for God’s direction in finding a wife for Isaac, and God led him to Rebekah.
Moses, standing before the Red Sea, prayed for Israel to cross over on dry land.
Hannah prayed for a son and the result was Samuel.
When Elijah prayed for a manifestation of God’s power, the fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice.
We tend to forget, however, that there are many times in the Bible that prayer was left unanswered.
Once in a while we read in the Bible about those saints of God whose prayers simply didn’t seem to "didn’t get past the ceiling."
Moses begged God to let him lead his people into the Promised Land. Moses died on Mt. Nebo, his prayer refused.
Paul prayed three times for the removal of that "thorn in the flesh." He never tells us exactly what that meant, but whatever it was, he prayed earnestly that it would be removed from his life.
But it wasn’t. Instead, he was compelled to make the best of it for the rest of his life.
Even Jesus prayed a prayer that was left unanswered. Jesus cried out in the garden, “take this cup of suffering from me.” He prayed that he would not have to suffer death on the cross. Instead he had to suffer the pain of it.
The Bible is full of unanswered prayers.
In Habakkuk, we see such a prayer.
As we look at Habakkuk, we find that he opens the book with a struggle over unanswered prayer. In verse two of chapter one, the prophet is pleading with God, “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?”
In verse 13, the prophet tells God in prayer, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”
How do we deal with unanswered prayer?
Why is God sometimes so silent?
The answer differs from one situation to another. No one answer becomes a blanket response to satisfy all situations.
I. WE MISUNDERSTAND PRAYER
One reason is that we sometimes misunderstand the nature of prayer. We pray out of selfish motives.
True prayer is God-centered.
But we often turn prayer into a self-centered activity.
In the New Testament book of James, we are told (James 4:3), “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
The object of prayer is that God might be glorified. At times we think of prayer as an Aladdin’s lamp which we use to glorify self. We often think of God as a genie who is at our bidding and command.
A theologian once said, “Our prayers often reduce God to nothing more than a Cosmic Bellboy, who is neither very bright, nor very reliable.”
Can we not pray for ourselves? Of course, but we should pray for ourselves unselfishly. Unselfish prayer for self is prayer which seeks not self-centered comfort but Christ-centered conformity to the will of God. Prayer is not an end in itself but a means to a greater end which is to glorify God.
The Bible promises that God will hear our prayers. It never says that God will obey our orders – and sometimes that is the way we treat prayer. So of course, God may not answer such self-centered prayers.
II. UNBELIEF BLOCKS PRAYER
Another reason why prayer may go unanswered is that the person offering the prayer does not believe. The prayer is simply an empty ritual, or perhaps it is simply spoken as a superstition. It’s like rubbing a rabbit’s foot. Or reading a horiscope. Even people who don’t believe in superstition may occasionally practice these, thinking, “What’s the harm?”