Unanswered Prayer is a Misnomer: God Always Answers

He just doesn’t always do what we want when we want it.

Unanswered prayer can be frustrating, I agree. Carolyn and I have prayed for years about things that have never happened. Sometimes we feel like “what’s the use.” But we keep on asking, since what we request seems so reasonable and important.

Do you ever feel that way? Of course you do. Unless you don’t pray at all!

Years ago, I heard an answer to the question of unanswered prayer that made a lot of sense to me. It was that God always answers prayers, He just doesn’t always do what we want Him to do.

Here’s why unanswered prayer is a misnomer and in fact God always answers our prayers in one of four ways:

1. “No”

Sometimes the seemingly unanswered prayer is indeed answered and the answer is “no.”

Of course, the problem is that we don’t want to take “no” for an answer! This is especially true when what we request makes all kinds of sense to us.

We think “How could this be? God, what are you thinking?” As if we could outthink God!

The great American theologian Garth Brooks (actually a famous country music singer) sang a wonderful song titled “Unanswered Prayers.”

Here’s how the lyrics begin:

Just the other night at a hometown football game
My wife and I ran into my old high school flame
And as I introduced them the past came back to me
And I couldn’t help but think of the way things used to be

She was the one that I’d wanted for all times
And each night I’d spend prayin’ that God would make her mine
And if he’d only grant me this wish I wished back then
I’d never ask for anything again

Picture Garth as a high school young man praying like crazy that he gets to spend the rest of his life with this girl. He had a tremendous case of “puppy love” but it could have led to a dog’s life, as revealed in the second verse:

She wasn’t quite the angel that I remembered in my dreams
And I could tell that time had changed me
In her eyes too it seemed
We tried to talk about the old days
There wasn’t much we could recall
I guess the Lord knows what he’s doin’ after all

God had said “no” to his prayer, and it took the perspective of time to figure out that God wasn’t saying it just to deny him. There was a good reason—God had something better:

And as she walked away and I looked at my wife
And then and there I thanked the good Lord
For the gifts in my life

The song concludes:

Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs
That just because he may not answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered

Some of God’s greatest gifts are all too often unanswered…
Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers

2. “Slow”

Sometimes the answer to our prayers is “yes” but they seem like unanswered prayers because the answer takes so long to come.

Carolyn and I bought a property to build a new home in 2005. We thought we’d build and be moved in within a couple of years. Then the mortgage crisis hit, family members got ill and other issues got in the way.

No bank that we could find would loan money for construction. We hired a professional to help but he said, “I’m pretty sure I cannot get you a mortgage.” One bank said they’d loan us the money to build if we had a million dollars’ cash in the bank. Yeah, right!

We prayed, we strategized, we tried various angles, but nothing was working. We almost gave up hope of ever building our new home.

But eventually, guess what? We got a loan and built our new home. As I write, we’ve been moved into our dream home for two years.

God’s answer wasn’t “no” but it was “slow.”

Why? I really don’t know why? Maybe to make it sweeter when we finally moved in. Maybe to make our finances more stable before moving. Maybe simply because the economy was terrible in the “Great Recession.”

But here’s the lesson: God’s “no” doesn’t mean “never.” It might mean “slow.”

So, don’t give up, don’t stop praying and asking. God may simply have you waiting.

In Luke 18:1 we read “One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up.” (NLT)

He then told a story about a widow who refused to stop asking a judge for justice. His point was clear: keep praying and asking.

3. “Grow”

Sometimes God’s answer is not an unanswered prayer, it is that before He can answer the prayer, we need to “grow.”

Have you ever asked God for something that you realized later you weren’t ready for at the time? I have.

I remember asking God to grow my church, but what really needed growing was ME!

  • Some who ask for marriage might need to grow more first.
  • Some who ask for a promotion might need to develop leadership skills first.
  • Some who ask for a bigger house might need to earn more first.
  • Some who ask for more honor might need more humility first.

Do you remember the story about Jesus’ disciples and how they were having a hard time seeing deliverance for a demon possessed boy? But Jesus took care of the problem easily. Then we read:

“And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ And he said to them, ‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.’” (Mark 9:28-29 ESV)

They needed to grow more—to grow in prayer and devotion

Where do you need to grow first before your prayers can be answered? Perhaps you know right away. Perhaps you need to seek the Lord for an answer. In either case, remember that you might have unanswered prayer because you need to grow.

4. “Go”

This is the answer we always prefer. And indeed, if

  • the situation is right
  • the timing is right
  • we are right

Then God delights to answer “go.”

Psalm 37:4 promises:

Delight yourself in the Lordand he will give you the desires of your heart.” (ESV)

In summary, there really is no such thing as “unanswered prayer.” God is always answering prayer, but not always in the way or timing we prefer.

Your thoughts are welcome! Please leave your comment below.

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