I’ve had my share of unanswered prayers.
Let me rephrase. No prayer goes unanswered; there are answers we like, answers we don’t, and answers we’re still awaiting. It’s better to say, I’ve had my share of answers I’ve disliked.
Some I still dislike. We must carry some bitter answers for years before we glimpse the Romans 8:28 in them.
Fortunately, this didn’t drive me away from God, just turned me into a bookworm. I read much fine academia on why God doesn’t grant every prayer. I also absorbed my share of theological self-righteousness, because some of those writings are so steeped in nastiness towards spiritual error that their authors probably aren’t much closer to God than those they criticize. (As the man said in Ratatouille, negative criticism is fun to write.)
I emerged from that leg of my race with a solid theology of suffering and an expectation of nothing from God.
Especially when it comes to faith.
I know why God doesn’t grant every prayer, even if prayed in faith. It comes down to what he wants to do in a situation. He’s more qualified and better positioned to pick the best path for us. He is also running 7,399,999,999 other plans that have nothing to do with us (!).
But I can get too far into this.
If we’re bad at knowing what’s good, and if (to be honest) denial and disappointment have such spiritual value, why would he ever grant a prayer? Why bother asking for anything at all?
Veteran followers won’t be surprised to learn that I’ve won prestigious awards from the International Overthinking Society, but this really is where my thoughts ended up. I’d approach every prayer with skepticism – without exception. I wasn’t making myself expect a “no”; it was just my gravitational pull.
To explicitly say “God never grants prayers” would have been ridiculous to my own ears. But, well, sometimes the lies we’re believing aren’t evident, showing up only at crunch time.
I knew something was off. But in my overly literal mind, surrender was the only honesty I knew.
So I felt stuck between two paradigms.
Between “he will, just have faith!” and “he won’t, grow up”.
Then I arrived at a revelation for which I can only credit the Holy Spirit.
Neither paradigm requires relationship with God.
You can go through your entire life “believing in faith” for any impermanent, worthless thing you desire, and never hear a word from God. Some do.
You can go through your life praying for very little, beating your desires down harshly, justifying it all with theology – and never hear a word from God. Some do.
But engaging him – seeking his will, listening for answers, accepting both possibilities, trusting that sometimes it glorifies God to fulfill a desire, sometimes to supply something better – is what requires relationship.
So God makes that kind of prayer the most effective. It’s a brilliant setup. Otherwise we’d content ourselves with one of the two paradigms and walk away without relationship.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5-6)
Not doubt his character.
That’s the application of faith that can be trusted. No matter the answer, we can trust his character and must not doubt it.