The Mystery of Unanswered Prayer

jesusprayer.jpgThe following is a summary of a sermon by Bill Hybels. Bill is the founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois.

I thought I’d spend the next post or two discussing prayer. This post covers something we’ve all agonized over at various times in our lives — unanswered prayer.

“Didn’t Jesus say, ‘Ask and it shall be given, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be open?’ Didn’t he say that?”

Yes, Jesus did say that. Then why do some of our prayers go left unanswered? How many times have you heard, “Sometimes the answer is no answer.”?

Me, too…

Bill has an outline that addresses the various responses God has to our prayers: “No,” “Slow,” “Grow,” or “Let’s go.”

If the request is wrong, God will say, “No.”

Maybe the request is a cop-out on your part, an unwillingness to face a real issue. Maybe the request is destructive in ways you don’t understand. Maybe the request is self-serving. Maybe the request is shortsighted. Maybe the request is too small, and God might have something better in mind, and he’s saying no to this one because he has a better plan. Could be you’ll be thanking Him for saying no down the road as you realize it would not have been the best thing for you.

If the timing is wrong, God will say, “Slow.”

We live in a society that demands instant gratification. Like children, we dislike the words, “Not yet,” as God shakes his head at us. God has reasons for his “Not yets;” we must not insist we know better than he. Among them are such concerns as the possibility of you developing some character, some endurance, some trust, some patience, or some submission, while God is orchestrating the timing of the answer to prayer. As human beings we tend to be much more concerned about comfort and convenience than we are about building character through patiently waiting on and trusting in God’s timing. I think God is a whole lot more concerned about character than he is about instant gratification and personal convenience.

If you are wrong, God will say, “Grow.”

Relational discord will cut us off from close fellowship with God. When we disobey, God says, “Why should I honor your requests when you don’t honor mine?” Ouch… It’s a lot easier to point the finger at God for not answering prayer than it is to look in the mirror and to say, “Maybe I’m the problem.” Put that sin away. It’s the only thing standing in the way. Change your attitude on this or that. Stop that practice. End that pattern. Reconcile that relationship. Soften up in your spirit. Repent; receive forgiveness. Come on, grow, grow. It’s the only thing standing in the way!” And God says, “When you grow, I’ll open up the floodgates of power and blessing and pour myself out to you, but you’ve got to grow.”

When the timing is right, God will say, “Let’s go!”

God wants to move that mountain for us; to change that circumstance; to answer that prayer. You’ll be amazed at how often God will say, “Let’s go!” When everything gets lined up, as it fits into the plans that he has for you and for this world, you’ll be amazed at how often God will say, “Let’s go,” because you matter to him and it’s in his heart to meet your needs and grant your requests. It’s really more a matter of you letting him, you freeing him to do it.

What a special gift we have been given by our creator to converse directly to Him.

I’m trying to get out of the way, but I keep bumping into myself!


12 thoughts on “The Mystery of Unanswered Prayer

  1. Kurt

    Nice job! You know somebody once said that we struggle trying to know the will of God down to the minutia, and the reality is that if we knew everything He knows, we’d actually try to change it anyway. True prayer takes us out of the God business.

  2. Jonell

    Thanks! I’ve read this book, and I’m familiar with these points, but you put it out so orderly and concise and even detailed. Good job! Thanks for the reminder … I needed it!


  3. Nikki

    Your site came up with I Googled for “God… says… go… slow… no…” and THANK YOU for the highlights. Allow me to link you up with my blog and share this beautiful message about prayer to many more people. Cheers!

  4. Stef

    Great post, David. My prayers with God lately have been kinda all over the board. He is teaching me “slow” as I would like some answers to why I am on my journey. Not yet is what I am getting back and that is ok. Thanks for posting this. I appreciate the insight.

  5. hatji

    I think the prayers of the type Hybels mentioned, and the answers he proposes that God gives, are relatively easily understood. The difficult ones for many of us are the prayers for those things Jesus regularly did while on earth– thing he continued to do by His Spirit through his servants. Particularly healing. James 5 is so unequivocal on this: sick call, confess their sins, elders pray, healing happens! And sometimes it does. SOMETIMES. It doesn’t seem that it happened every time for the apostles and early church people either. So, could I ask: “What do you tell a broken hearted mother or father when their child goes through a long, grueling illness, eventually dying?” What answer do you give that does not sound hollow or like sterile theology? I know what I try to say, but I would like to hear your responses. I will check back.

    (American, 60, serving God in Malaysia. Married. Joyful dad and grandfather )

  6. David Post author

    Hi Hatji,

    Thanks for your comments. The question you ask is very hard indeed. I have asked questions like yours many times. Honestly, I do not know how I would react if I was in a situation like that with one of my children. One of the most heartbreaking and often times faith-killing things that can happen to a parent is to lose a child. I simply can’t imagine what that feels like and I pray I never will. I would like to think that I would turn to God for comfort rather than blame Him and turn away from Him.

    I do not want to sound hollow or trite in my response, but I will do the best that I know how. It’s only been over the last several years that I’ve come to appreciate the faith and wisdom of Billy Graham. I used to think he was just another televangelist looking to make a buck, but I could not have been more wrong. I’m recalling what he said about grief and how God understands.

    “God knows what it is like to lose a Son. People often react in one of two ways. Some get angry at God and blame Him for causing it. They can’t understand how God could have let it happen, and they decide He must not love them or care about them and many will turn away from Him.

    Others, however, turn toward God when tragedy strikes. No, they may not understand why it happened, but they know they need special strength—and they find it in God. They discover what Christians throughout the ages have discovered, that God truly is “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

    Pray that they will sense their need of God and turn to Him. Assure them that you care, and that you understand their hurt, but then gently encourage them to turn to Christ. God loves them, and bitterness and anger only cut them off from His comfort. We may never understand some of the things that happen to us in life, but “the eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27). ”

    I hope this helps. There are others who can probably answer this question far better than I can, so I am going to open it up to them for their thoughts.

    God’s peace and blessings,

  7. Pingback: Input please… « Grits n’ Grace

  8. faithwalk

    This is a hard one for sure, and Graham’s response was good.
    The Father understands,He gave His only Son to die for a world that continually rejected Him.
    I have lost many people I love; some tragically.
    Why some suffer so terribly is a mystery. All I can think of is that it is part of living a fallen world.

    I know that Gods ways are not our ways. He sees death far differently for ” precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His beloved”.
    Perhaps it is His eternal perspective that this life is but a grain of sand in comparison to eternity. We do not die, but go from a very brief life where there is sorrow, sickness and pain, to one that if perfect. Where there is no suffering, there are no tears…where we love and are loved completely, perfectly, forever.
    I join in the prayer that our times of heartache and sorrow will only draw us closer to God, trusting in His Sovereignty and being comforted by His great love, and hope we can all grasp at least in part, the glory and wonder of the life that awaits us in heaven with Christ.

    Blessings and grace to you always David,

    ps I lost my entire blogroll and just discovered when it was restored it was not complete and you were gone! 😦
    Hopefully you’re back on there now!

  9. Hatji

    Yes, you are all in the same territory where I live. We do not have the answers for all the hard cases. Fallen world, perverse sinful nature, groaning creation (groaning louder lately, it seems)– all remind us that this is a temporary stop in a life that will only make sense in the light of eternity.

    David, the answer is not trite at all. To me, trite answers can only come from trite, simplistic (as opposed to simple) minds and hearts. You are not that. Perhaps the spiritual opposite of trite is sincere. Makes sense to me. And all of you who have replied here are sincere. That is my read.

  10. Pingback: Unanswered Prayer

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