One of the bigger conundrums in Christian living is unanswered prayer.
You don’t need to be a biblical scholar to conclude that unanswered prayer doesn’t make a ton of sense in the mind of the New Testament authors.
Paul tell us not to worry, but instead to pray (Phil. 4:6). The assumption is God will take care of you. James says that the prayer of a righteous person that is prayed in faith is powerful and effective (Jas 5:16). The author of Hebrews reminds us that when we pray, Christ is mediating for us so we can have a crazy amount of confidence (Heb. 4). I could go on and on and on.
My point is that the Bible is chock full of verses that command us to pray. And to make it more confusing, it says that God wants to answer our prayers! Seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened! Why is it that we spend so much time seeking and knocking in faith, and yet we get seemingly nothing in response?
Jesus gives this analogy about prayer that points to some answers. When teaching about the Lord’s Prayer he says, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (Luke 11: 11-13)!”
I think these verses teach us two things about unanswered prayer.
First, I think there is an assumption that everything we are asking for is good and right. When we pray for a particular thing, the reason we are praying for it is because it’s what we want to see accomplished. We assume that because it’s our desire, we’re praying for “fish and eggs.” But have you ever considered that you might be praying for serpents and scorpions, and you just don’t know it? Have you ever thought that God isn’t answering your prayer because it would actually be harmful to you, not helpful?
If we know that God is a good father who delights to gives good gifts, the inverse is also true. He is not a bad father and he doesn’t give bad gifts. You might pray for a new job or for Mr./Mrs. Right to come along, and you can’t understand why God doesn't answer that prayer because it feels like a good gift. But perhaps your perspective is foggy. Maybe those would be terrible gifts for you right now and God is keeping you where you’re at because He has something different and better for you in this season of life. You’re looking at a puddle. God made the ocean.
Don’t assume you know what good gifts are and aren’t. Trust what you know about God. If you know that he won’t give bad gifts, you can have confidence that everything He is and isn’t giving you is good.
These verses teach us one more thing about prayer.
Notice what he does give us: the Holy Spirit! We spend so much time asking for stuff and what God really wants to give us is more of Himself! God wants us to experience more of Him, the Giver of good gifts, more than gifts alone. Ultimately, this is what we all need anyway. You might be praying for temporal things, which may even be real needs, and that is good. But what God wants to give you is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness (Gal. 5:22).
This means that what looks like unanswered prayer might not be unanswered at all. Sure, you might not have more tangible things you can point to, but it’s hard to imagine a person who spends quality time in prayer who doesn't become more loving and joyful and kind. There’s never been a wasted minute in prayer because in prayer He is giving you what you need most…Himself.
March 22, 2019