Today we will pause in our reflections on the Lord’s Prayer, to touch on the issue of unanswered prayer. We have looked at some wonderful promises which give us confidence to ask God boldly and to make big requests. But what about when God apparently doesn’t say “Yes”?
Before continuing, remember a time when you wondered why God didn’t answer your prayer. Perhaps it is something you have been praying for in recent months, and you are feeling troubled or confused. How did this issue affect your faith? How did it affect your attitude in your prayers?
To think about unanswered prayer, we will consider another aspect of who God is. We have seen that God is Father, Holy, and King. As well as these things, the God we pray to is wise (Job 12:13). He sees, understands, and governs over every event in the universe. This means that only he sees the big picture and truly knows his purpose in each situation.
But God’s wisdom is not just knowledge. It is his knowledge and goodness. And he asks us to trust that his wisdom is for our good. Paul says:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)
God doesn’t often show us exactly why we he didn’t give us what we asked for. But knowing that God is wise and good tells us one reason: Because he is busy giving us something much, much better!
Often the “good gifts” God is giving us take much longer to produce than our short-term requests—and because God loves us, he is much more patient than we are (2 Pet. 3:9). Moreover, we often focus on asking God to change our circumstances. But God is much more interested in changing us through our circumstances, so that we learn to trust him more deeply. The fruit of the Spirit takes a long time to grow!
Even the Apostle Paul had to learn this lesson. Though he begged God to remove the “thorn in his flesh”, God did not, to humble him and to help him to learn one thing: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:7-9).
All of these truths should encourage us to ask God even more boldly when we don’t see the answers we expect. The following paragraph from Tim Keller’s book on prayer helps us to see why. As you read it, keep in mind the unanswered prayer you thought of earlier. Then talk to your Father about it again. You may also like to read some of the Bible passages below.
“Ask and you shall receive” (Matt 7:7-8)—Ask with confidence and hope. Don’t be afraid that you will ask for the wrong thing. Of course you will! God “tempers the outcome” [i.e. he improves it] with his incomprehensible wisdom. Cry, ask, and appeal—you will get many answers. Finally, where you do not get an answer, or where the answer is not what you want, use prayer to enable you to rest in his will.