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7-Day Practical Faith Blog: Reacting to Unanswered Prayer

Mark 9: 22-24; Mark 14: 36

Why doesn't God answer all of our prayers by fulfilling what we request? Unanswered prayers can trip up our faith if we're not careful.

This topic is worthy of a book, or at least a book chapter, not a blog post. Still, let me share some thoughts on the topic of unanswered prayers and our response to them.

I've known people whose faith was undermined by unanswered prayer. Perhaps they have prayed fervently for something, even an altruistic goal or healing for someone, and when nothing changes, they stop believing in God.

My feeling is that we can misunderstand what scripture is telling us about answered prayers. Take the story in Mark 9 of the father who brought his boy to Jesus to resolve lifelong seizures. The father said to Jesus:

"If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."

" 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for one who believes."

Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

Then Jesus heals the boy. But let's look at what Jesus actually said. I feel like we can read his comment as "Everything is given to one who believes." But Jesus instead indicates that everything comes into the realm of possibility when we believe. To me, this indicates belief is a catalyst for successfully answered prayer, but God is not a genie; we don't get wishes that are automatically answered.

Sometimes the answer is no, yet good is still done, and God's will is fulfilled. Tracy Crump, an intensive care nurse and devotional author, shares a story in her book, "Health, Healing and Wholeness," in which a woman's bad cold devolved into a three-week stint in ICU, including ten days on a ventilator. Crump writes, "As frustrating and harrowing as her experience was, her faith and that of her husband never wavered. She knew God would heal her, whether in this world or the next."

I believe this woman's faith is a good model for awaiting on prayer to be answered. She believed the answer would be healing; the form of it was in question. This was a woman for whom all things became possible because of her belief.

Maybe it seems strange to say that God answers all prayers when God seems silent. Teresa of Avila wrote, "God is not really silent. We are deaf." We need to keep talking and praying to God, and to persistently listen for the response. I believe that even when the answer to prayer is not what we wanted, God will eventually bring good out of the bad.

The classic prayer for this rationale comes from Jesus, who Himself did not receive what He requested. In the Garden of Gethsemane, awaiting His arrest and foreseeing His death, Jesus prayed in Mark 14: 36:

“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Jesus knew His faith in the Father brought everything into the realm of possibility but wasn't a guarantee of a positive answer. He prayed to avoid the cross, yet He still had to suffer. As a result, God brought good - ultimate good, our salvation - out of that negative event.

Faithful prayer is when you believe that God will bring good out of life situations when we turn to Him and pray.

Please share this post with someone who needs it.

A good way to start prayer is through use of a devotional. I offer a daily "quick read" series of one-minute devotionals in my free devotional guide, "30 Minutes Over 30 Days." Pick up your free copy by visiting and registering in the pop-up box or by scrolling down the home page to the orange registration box.

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