Is There Such a Thing as “Unanswered Prayer”?

Pastor J.D. talks about the pain of unanswered prayer and the realities of prayer for the Christian.

A glimpse inside this episode:

This is a tricky question. I’ve often heard that behind every question is a questioner. When we’re dealing with unanswered prayer, the Bible has a lot to say. But the heart of the questioner matters a lot here. More often than not, when someone asks me about unanswered prayer, it’s not an academic question for them. It’s a question coming from a place of deep hurt. They asked God for healing in their life—and it didn’t happen. They asked God to reconcile a relationship—but the other person still left. They asked God to work in their kid’s life—but it’s been years and there’s no sign of that child returning. 

So first off, I want to say, when it seems like God isn’t answering prayer, that’s legitimately painful. It makes us question God’s goodness. It makes us wonder if he’s real. Those are the kinds of doubts that all of us, at one point or another in our walk of faith, deal with. I’ve wrestled with them. Every great saint has wrestled with them. So if you’re in that spot, don’t despair. Walk through that difficult question with God.

And here, I think, is the best road forward: If we’re walking in fellowship with the Spirit, there isn’t technically any such thing as unanswered prayer. (Now, this is different than the way God responds to those outside of Christ: He may hear them, but he hasn’t promised to.) With believers, though, the Apostle John reminds us, “This is the confidence we have before him: If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14–15). If we are walking with God, we can be sure we have his ear. 

Whatever your situation, whatever your request, if you are God’s child, he’s listening. 

Now, does that mean he says “Yes” to everything you ask? Of course not. At times, since God’s wisdom is so much greater than our own, he re-directs our answer. Or he sometimes tells us to wait. Or sometimes he simply says, “No.” 

But saying “No” doesn’t mean he’s being cruel. As Jesus taught, a good father gives his children food like eggs and fish, not dangerous animals like scorpions and snakes (cf. Luke 11:12–13). The point is that even earthly parents withhold things from their children—but that withholding is a result of their love, not a lack of it. 

Sometimes the exercise of God’s love means he gives us what we would have asked for if we knew what he knew. (I think I first heard that from Tim Keller.) What feels like unanswered prayer is actually God answering according to the wisdom and love of the Father.

Learn more about Just Ask.

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