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Unanswered Prayers and the Dialectic of Disappointment with God

July 17, 2012
Benjamin Spalink

Everyone has experienced disappointment because of “unanswered” prayers.  Think of a loved one who has suffered, a family member who falls from the faith, a dream that has fallen by the wayside. Trust in God is shattered when God fails to deliver on important prayers.  So much hinges on whether or not God really does answer prayer that it's devastating when God doesn’t respond the way we want him to, especially when those prayers are for things we believe are good – things that God ought to want to do.

Does God really always answer our prayers?  That’s what is taught in Sunday school anyway, but it doesn’t always feel like it.  As we grow older, we realize that things don’t always work out the way we had hoped. This shouldn’t cause us to give up on prayer, or worse, give up on God. The truth is that God always answers prayer, but in order to see how, we must have an open mind and an open heart.

There are two ways “unanswered” prayers can turn out – one is coherently, and the other is mysteriously.  There are times when God doesn’t answer a prayer the way we want and we will never know why.  Something terrible is about to happen and we pray against it, but it happens anyway, and there is no possible human way to reconcile why God might have allowed it to happen.  This does happen.  But experience tells me that this is rare, and usually our disappointment or disillusionment is the beginning of something more.

What we must be willing to consider is that we have a tendency to miss out on the ways God is answering our prayers. If we allow disappointment with God to lead us to the conclusion that God doesn’t care, or that God doesn’t answer our prayers, we miss a tremendous growth opportunity as well as an opportunity to see God move in response to our prayers.  There are numerous ways this can work out, but consider just a couple possibilities.

First, God could be saying, “Yes, but wait.”   In many instances, God is answering our prayer, just not at the speed that we may want.  God has his reasons and his timing, and sometimes it is for our benefit that he makes us wait.  Imagine what our relationship with God would look like if prayer took no effort and God simply gave us whatever we asked for whenever we asked for it. God is no genie in a bottle. If he allowed us to treat him that way, we'd lose our respect for him. Only newborn babies can get whatever they want whenever they want it.

Think of a time God answered a prayer such that the timing worked towards your advantage?

Sometimes, God is saying, “Yes, but not like that.”  We can never be too careful about putting parameters on God for how God will work and answer our prayers. It's not up to us to determine how God will fulfill our prayers.  God has his way of doing things, and we hurt only ourselves if we insist upon God doing something a certain way.  When God does indeed answer our prayer, we continue in our disappointment because our eyes are not open to his way of doing things.  If we are open minded about how God answers our prayers, we will be delighted to see that God oftentimes does answer prayers we thought had been unanswered.

To be realistic, sometimes, God also says, “no.” But, God’s “no” is always, “I have something better in mind.”  It’s important to remember, that a “no” is not the same as an unanswered prayer. An unanswered prayer would be one in which you got no response.  Think of “no’s” as good.  Be thankful you got a response.  But also remember, part of the whole reason we pray is to discern God’s will.  A “no” shouldn’t be taken as God not caring, or God ignoring you.  A “no” means that God has something else in mind, and God is always going to do what’s in your best interest.  We must learn to trust that and use even the hard experiences of “no” to guide us more fully into the life that God has for us.

Think of a time God said “no.”  What larger greater purpose might God have had in mind when he answered your prayer in the negative?

Remember that God wants us to lift up prayers for all things.  It is inevitable that we will pray prayers that leave us feeling disappointed, but remembering that God is a loving Father who wants to give good things to his children, we must never allow disappointment with God to lead to unbelief or giving up on prayer, but must allow this suffering to make us stronger and ever more reliant on his grace and love.  The ultimate goal of prayer is not that we get everything we want, but that we grow to realize more and more that our life, our joy, our satisfaction, our essence, is found in our relationship with God.  Even in disappointment, God is teaching us how to pray and what to become.

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Rachel

November 14, 2016 12:54 PM

What if God has never, not even once, answered yes to a request you have made?

As a child, I prayed for my grandmother to be healed from cancer. She died in agony at just 63. I prayed for over two decades for my parents' relationship to heal. A few years ago my dad had an affair with another woman and my parents finally divorced after a painful marriage of over 30 years. I've prayed for nearly two decades for my depression to be healed. I still struggle with it. I've prayed for years that God would introduce me to a godly man to marry. I'm 33 and have still never had any serious relationships at all with a Christian man. I have a friend who is not a Christian but thinks he is (he is in a cult). I have explained the Gospel to him and prayed (and wept) over and over for his salvation. I truly believed that God would say yes to that prayer, but to my great surprise,it was again "no."

Even worse, I fell in love with this man that is in a cult, and he with me. Is this some kind of cruel joke from God? "Ha ha ha, Rachel. I won't let you meet the Christian man you've been praying for for years, but I'll introduce you to a man who has all the qualities you're looking for. You'll think he's a Christian for a while, then you'll realize he isn't, but it'll be too late by then because you'll already have fallen in love with him. Now you're in love with someone you can't be with. Oh, and he'll be going to hell, too, because I see no reason to draw him to me." Love, God.

Finally, I'm coming to the painful realization that God either literally does not hear me or truly does not care about my life or the lives of the people around me. I'm really beginning to believe this. How can I pray for something like the salvation of another person, and God still says no? I have even told God that I don't care if this man never speaks to me again, I just desire his salvation because I love him. But apparently God's will is not for people to be saved.

How can people say God always listens, and always answers, it's just not always how we want? I feel like that's a copout. For example, if a child asked his parent for something, and the parent didn't say anything at all back, would we say the parent answered the child? That the answer just wasn't yes, but no or wait? No, that's ridiculous. The parent didn't answer because he either didn't listen or he didn't see the reason to give any answer at all. Why is God held to a different, easier standard than a human parent? If I hear nothing from God and see no evidence of any change in my life or others', ever, in response to prayer, then God is either listening and not answering at all, or He is not listening in the first place.

I've been trying to figure out if I've been doing it all wrong all of my life. I'm realizing everything I keep reading online puts a bunch of conditions on prayer. You need to have enough faith, you need to have thankfulness, you need to repent from all your sins, you need to have no problems in any or your human relationships, you need to ask for the right things, and on and on and on. So many conditions are put on our prayers for them to be answered that it makes the statement "God answers prayers" almost laughable. No one can 100% meet every condition I've seen spelled out. I feel like if I'm not thanking God for absolutely everything in every prayer, living in spasms of joy, not sinning ever, having perfect relationships with everyone around me, or believing 100% in God with not even the slightest doubt, then He will look at my prayer as insufficient and won't answer. It degenerates into magical thinking. Like, the problem isn't that God doesn't answer prayer, it's that me and my prayers are always wrong.

I've prayed when I've been joyful and when I've been depressed. I've prayed with huge doubts and with 100% faith. I've prayed when I've been in sin and known it, and I've prayed when I've confessed and repented of sin. It never makes one iota of difference in the answer (or non-answer) that comes from God.

Basically, I no longer believe He loves me, cares about me, or any of that apparent nonsense I've believed all my life. If I use evidence, not just some wishful thinking, I just can't come to any other conclusion except that God does not answer prayer.

I dare not turn away from believing that Jesus died for the sins of the world, and that includes mine. But I believe I'm just included in that because I'm part of the world, not because I'm someone special to God. And I now believe this out of fear, not love anymore. I'm too afraid of what would happen to me after death if I stopped believing.

God is supposed to be my Father. How could I ever trust, believe, or love a father who would never listen to me, someone who powerful and perfect and is there keeping the business of the world going, but who never responds to me?

I'm despairing because knowing that God doesn't really love me, notice me, or care about me as an individual makes my life completely meaningless.


Cs

August 27, 2016 8:05 AM

Helen,

You asked every questiom that I have been asking. My husband also abandoned and divorced me. I live in a no-fault state so he divorced me without my consent, left all belongings in our home, amd from the day he left I never heard from him again. It's been just over three years.

If our spouses were repentant, then yes, they would leave their sinful lives and return to us amd God. They would become faithful leaders in our homes. If they continue on with this life it will lead them right to hell.

I believed in God for restoration and even believed He would in fact restore this marriage.I thought God told me He would. But of course, we have to learn many hard lessons. Sure, God might still do it but realistically, I havent seen or heard from my spouse in over three years. He created a new life and has been blessed abundantly. The likelyhood of him giving him up everything to return to a wife with little to offer and whom he clearly has never missed? I doubt that happens. 

I have seen marriages restored but not with abandonment. Ive never seen or heard about a restoration where the spouse has never to do with the other. I thought this would be a time for God to shine but I have to be realistic too. I cannot tell you the disapointment I feel in God and my spouse. I have learned that you can spend a lifetime being unsure if God has said "no" or "wait." There arent always answers from God and sometimes it hurts us more than it benefits us when we go through trials. Its not fair, its not comforting, and it doesnt fit all the typical Christian cliches like "Hell never give you more than you can handle. God just wants you to be happy, Youll come out of this stronger, God did this so you can find someone better...." I wish the Church would be more truthful so were not terribly let down.


Helen schirmer

July 08, 2016 11:30 AM
After my husband of nearly 35 years abandoned and divorced me almost 3 years ago, I have prayed for a new relationship. i wanted human love again as well as affectation, attention, and intimacy. I desire the verysame things that married women want. But, instead I continue to feel like the wives "put away" in the OT to make way for a new women. I do not understand while God started allowing divorce in the OT for husbands benefit. All women were considered property to be disposed of at their sexual whims, This allowed men to do it without hesitation or guilt. It still continues more and more. We are told that allowing or letting this happen is from God. That his control being displayed. Well, we certainly cannot work against God or men and hope for any triumph. Is God directly involved in couples coming together? Is so, how would we become aware of it or are we unable to be aware? Does man's free will choices become God's sovereign will? We are taught God does not override free will. Also, does God give p blessings to marriages that resulted from adulterous affairs? How could a person be repentent and demonstrate repentance if they were staying in the marriage? I thought this required agreeing with God and going away from the sin? What would meaningful repentance look like in an ex husband and father?

DD

March 20, 2016 4:58 AM
I found this website moments ago, I'm hurting too, my many years of disappointment with God are starting to show up once again. I cannot explain, nor do I wish to, but I'm tired of the false hope. Listening to people who are ill-equipped and talk off the top of their heads or who just outright blame the person for the bad things that happen. When it comes to matters of your heart, your children etc, don't talk to the person about foolishness. Ignorance and compassionless garbage, you add to the pain and the confusion, you further exacerbate a place of frustration into a place of anger with God and perhaps a person falling away completely. Belinda and Lyn, I read your post and my heart is broken for you, I lost my brother whom I miss so very much and I've been fighting for years to get my son to this country. There are no words my dear sisters in Christ, your pain and your suffering I have no words but I from my heart feel your pain. I say to people consider my shoes, how far in that mile have you walked? And many will tell you they have not, but they are quick to spout scripture and talk nonsense. I know your hearts have been broken, I know that the depth of your disappointment with God is at times immeasurable. I can only stand with you in Love and say I've walked some of the mile in your shoes and I know from my heart to yours it hurts like hell and you are confused and you too are demanding answers. All I can honestly say dear hearts, is go and yell and cry and do whatever you have to with God, don't be afraid of him and tell him your true heart. I'm going to again today. And you let him exactly how you feel. He'll come had this time he will resolve it. Much Love, Many roads of peace and blessing.

Allen B

December 21, 2015 1:06 AM

I am 70 yrs old and I too have known suffering. Paul said to live is Christ and to die is gain. What do we learn while walking in this life? Suffering, joy, love, hate etc. Jesus saw/experienced it all and suffered greatly. He was tested and not found wanting. Has all this been a test to prepare us for a greater life? Have I lived life to its fullest? Have I achieved conformity to Christ? I don't know! I do know I want to know God and I find that all I have ever done or experienced in the flesh is worth nothing. The short time on this earth cannot be compared to life with Christ for all eternity! I agree, suffering I do not want or ask for, but I know it will end someday thanks to my saviour who will come again for me and you! 


L Bryant

April 20, 2015 10:43 PM

@Belinda and lyn

First off, I am truly sorry for what both of you are going through and I can't imagine the pain that you must feel and the struggle that you have been through! But I urge you to not give up on God! His thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His ways are higher than our ways. He has a reason for everything whether we understand it or not. I would encourage you to read the book of Job if you haven't already. Also, Paul encourages us in Phillipians 2:5-11 to have the same attitude as Christ. He was God, but humbled Himself into the form of a man and came to serve. Imagine that! The God that created everything became a human being just like you and me! He experienced birth as a baby (Matt 1-2, Luke 1) , life as a man, hunger (Matt 4), temptation (Matt 4), grief (John 11:35 "Jesus wept."), suffering (Isaiah 53:5) , and ultimately an extremely brutal death in addition to God totally abandoning Him for 3 days! He understands what you have been through because He's been through something just like it! And the best part is that He did it because He loved you so much that He wants you to live in Heaven with Him forever! Matthew 11:28 says, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." He cares for you more than you may think.


Belinda

December 10, 2014 8:27 AM

How did God use my miscarriage for "my good"? How could allowing my baby to die and letting me pray for a healthy pregnancy when the baby in my womb was already dead be "in my best interest"?

I'm not trying to be facetious here ... I'm really struggling to process this. If Jesus came to 

give us life, and life in abundance, why did He allow me to even fall pregnant, after 6 years of infertility, if this was His plan?


D

April 05, 2014 8:20 PM

@lyn if i were you, I'll cried out to God day and night! Until He answers my call!

 

I had gone through some terrible things in life. Betrayal, affairs, my dad had had cancer for three times and the death of my sister's son.

 

You may not understand now but I pray that God will give you strength and grace to endure.

 

Taking care of six kids is tough and even tougher now that you had cancer. Do you have anyone helping you?

 

Is your church helping you? If they don't help you with anything you may want to look for a new one who us truly caring and God fearing.


Lyn

August 20, 2013 10:42 AM

I hate hearing "God has someting else in mind, and God is always going to do what's in your best interest" or anything like that.

I asked God to heal my brother, and now he is dead.  Tell me how that works out for anyone's betterment.  I asked not for myself, but for him, having had a very aloof relationship with him.  After our mother died, I had hoped that my brother would learn to find his way in life.  Instead he's dead.

I've asked God for family - a heartfelt desire he created me with, and the answer was "no" - God put us 2,500 miles away from family nearly 40 years ago.  My kids have all moved away.

My husband's dad died of cancer 40 years ago - leaving his widow in poverty with six kids to raise.  And still she was faithful.

I continue to try to be faithful, but I'm tired and in despair.  I'm nearing the end of my life, when it will be too late to have those prayers answered.

So my point is, sometimes God just doesn't answer prayer.  And He does not treat His children fairly - blessing some and cursing others.  And to teach otherwise defies reality.


James Kim

July 18, 2012 5:41 PM

Yes, that's why we should keepy praying!




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