“I call upon thee, for thou wilt answer me, O God; incline thy ear to me, hear my words.” (Psalm 17:6)
Have you ever prayed this prayer? I know I have, and I know full well that I will pray it again in the future. I also know there will likely be times when my prayer is not going to be answered in exactly the way I hoped it would. There is probably no more difficult aspect to prayer than what we so often perceive as unanswered prayer.
In order to shed some light on this issue of unanswered prayer, we need to look at a familiar Scripture verse.
“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8)
This statement is all well and good, but it still leaves us with the question of why it seems that God does not always answer our specific prayer.
I think many of us would agree there is little consolation found in some of the traditional reactions we have all heard regarding God’s apparent lack of response to our prayers. For example, being told, “God will give you an answer, but He has to wait for the right timing.” Or hearing, “God does answer all prayers, but sometimes His answer is no.” Personally, I think many people find these responses inadequate—I know I do.
Honestly, if Our Father already knows what we need, we can assume He also knows when we need it. So why the wait, or why no answer at all? Could it be that God is not always on the job, that He takes time off from His care and concern for us? Scripture indicates this is not the case.
You may recall a story from Scripture where Jesus was criticized by the Jewish leaders because He chose to answer a prayer and heal a man on the Sabbath.
“But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working still, and I am working.’” (John 5:17)
I think the answer to what we perceive to be unanswered prayer is not found in God’s lack of response, or that somehow He is not constant in working in our best interest. He is always on the job, and our all-knowing, all-powerful God is always working in our best interest.
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)
Rather, the answer to what appears as unanswered prayer is to be found in our understanding of prayer. The truth is that God does answer every prayer, and He does so even before the prayer is uttered. This is not to say that when we are not getting the answer we want, we are praying wrongly. Instead, it suggests we may require a clearer understanding of what prayer really is.
A very popular saint, Thérèse of Lisieux, had a clear and simple definition of prayer. She defined it this way: “For me, prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus.”
We might do well to step back for a moment and realize that the one who created us, the one who put the entire universe into orbit, the one who controls both time and eternity must certainly have a solid fix on what it is that we really want and need, and when we need it.
According to Thérèse, what we most desire in prayer, and what we really ask for in all our prayer, is an encounter. According to Thérèse, we need to experience something supernatural that literally touches the very center of our heart. This is not just a nice poetic phrase. Think about it—what we most want when we pray is that our greatest hopes and dreams will be fulfilled. We may express this desire through our simple petitions to God, the little pebbles we cast into the ocean of eternity hoping that the ripples will find their way to the One who we pray is listening. But ultimately what we want is to have an encounter, to know that all the eternal promises are real.
We want to be convinced that there is a God, that He created us, that He knows us individually, that He is aware of every little thing that is happening to us and He cares. Most importantly, with every prayer we utter, we desire to know that He loves us and is calling us to spend eternity with Him in indescribable joy and bliss, and that everything that happens along the way of what we call life is just a part of His plan to prepare us for that eternity.
We want to know that the temporary struggles, pains and disappointments, along with the joys and triumphs, are not the full measure and meaning of our existence. As humans, with undeniably limited vision and perspective on eternity, we seek answers to these questions by asking God to manifest Himself to us, even in small ways (through our petitions). But the truth is, we will never become fully convinced of any of this if we do not pray, and if we do not seek God alone. We will not find Him in His gifts, in His manifestations or in His answer to our petitions. We will only find the answer to the deepest desire of our prayer when God is all we seek in prayer.
“God looks down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any that are wise, that seek after God.” (Psalm 53:2)
We might all take some time this week to seek God and pray we are able to not only seek Him, but actually to find Him in our own hearts.
Copyright © 2019, Mark Danis
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