Unanswered Prayer

Have you ever prayed for someone in need and been frustrated by God's inadequate response?

A fundamental conviction of the Bible is that not only does God have compassion for those who are hurting, but that God also has the ability to do something about it.  Psalm after psalm in the Bible reveals a praying community that believes that God has the capacity to respond to human need. The opening line of Psalm 54 puts it well: Save me, O God, by your Name;/in your might, defend my cause. The person offering this prayer is being attacked by others and believes that God has the power to help him.

Therefore, whether we are praying for ourselves or others in need, the biblical pattern of prayer encourages us to implore God to change the situation.  This kind of prayer shows us that there is nothing wrong with bringing our needs and concerns to God and expecting God to have the capacity to make a difference. For 30 years, my mother suffered from mental illness. Shaped by the biblical understanding of prayer, I begged God to do something about it. I could see no good reason why a 58 year old women, and the husband who cared for her, should be so afflicted. I demanded God do something, but for thirty years she didn't get better.

How did God’s response affect my prayer? My prayer life adjusted to the facts on the ground. I never stopped asking God to heal her, but the longer nothing happened the more my prayer expanded. I basically said, “OK God! If you aren't going to fix her anytime soon, then give us, especially my dad, the strength to love and support her and one another.” I still wanted God to restore her, but my attention turned from my mother to her family and friends. I believe that this prayer was answered. I have no other way to explain how my dad found the capacity to patiently care for her for so many years, even when she could be very angry and ungrateful for all that he was doing.

My intercessory prayers for my mother began by asking God to change her and then moved to asking God to change us.  But then another phase of my prayer emerged.  Praying for my mother and dealing with the pain of it all deepened my relationship with God in a way that I never could have imagined. Although I was often frustrated with God, I was growing closer to God.  In fact, I was relying more on God than ever before. I slowly began to realize that what I needed God to do the most was not fix my mother—although that would have been wonderful! What I needed God to do the most was let me know that God was with me, with her, and with my dad; and that we were all caught up in the mystery of God in this world.

I believe that God can dramatically change situations. I have seen it happen.  My frustration with my mother's situation hasn't deterred me from believing that my prayers and the prayers of others can work wonders. I also don’t have any adequate explanation as to why God changes some situations and not others. (By the way, the Bible has no satisfactory explanation for this either.) Therefore, bring your needs to God. Beg, cajole, demand, implore! If nothing happen, express your frustrations. But whatever happens, don't be surprised if you receive something even better than what you originally asked for.