Scripture is clear that God answers prayer. As long as we are persistent in our prayer and don’t lose heart, we will see our prayers answered (Luke 18:1-8). As long as we are praying with the right motives, we will see our prayers answered (James 4:3). As long as we have faith and do not doubt, our prayers will be answered (Mark 11:22-24). In Matthew 7:7-8, we read that Jesus taught us to ask, seek, and knock: “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Clearly, God does answer prayer.
Some may say, “But I do all of the things you just mentioned! I persist in my prayers and don’t lose heart. I believe I have the right motives. I have faith and not doubt. So why does it seem that some of my prayers go unanswered, or that the answers I receive are not what I hoped for?” The answer to that question is one that only God can give. When we are dealing with the disappointment, the dejection, or the doubt that may come when we don’t receive the answer to prayer that we hoped for, we may find ourselves in a low place, in a valley. But, in that valley, we have a choice. We can allow those feelings to cause us to lose faith, or we can invite Jesus into the feelings we are experiencing and ask Him to help us with them. We can allow those feelings to cause us to lose trust in God, or we can look at them as a way to grow closer as He helps us to walk through the valley we are in.
When it comes to dealing with unanswered prayer, one of the things we need to remind ourselves of is the purpose of prayer. In the devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers said that we are off track if we insist on an answer to our prayers. He points out that the purpose of prayer is not the answer but rather that we should grab hold of God. So, the purpose of prayer is not about the results of the prayer. It is about bringing us into the presence of God. It is about spending time in His presence, building a relationship with Him as we share our thoughts, our desires, and our needs with Him. It’s about who He is and not what He can do for us.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that God would take away the suffering He was about to endure. But He then prayed that God’s will would be done and not His own (Luke 22:42). When we pray, we should be praying for God’s will to be done, even if that means that we don’t receive the answer we are looking for. And when we receive an answer to prayer that is not what we had hoped for, we need to submit to His will. God knows what we need. He knows what is best for us. And, although sometimes His answer may not be the one we hoped for, it is surely the answer that is best.
After His resurrection, Jesus met two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus. The disciples did not know Jesus had risen and did not recognize Him for who He was, and so they were dejected. As Jesus talked with them, they explained their dejection, saying, “We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.” (Luke 24:21) Why were the disciples dejected? They had hoped that Jesus was the answer to their prayers. Their prayers were for a political Messiah, a Messiah who would redeem their nation from the oppression of the Romans. They would soon find out that their prayer was answered and, although not in the way that they had hoped, in a way that far exceeded all that they could have hoped or imagined.
Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” We may not always receive the answer to prayer that we were hoping for but we can be sure of this: God’s answer to our prayer is the best possible answer, an answer meant to fulfill His plans for us, plans that have our future and our good at heart.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.