Theology of waiting

Dealing with Unanswered Prayer: When God Seems Silent

 

As the days and months and years and decades go by and still our prayer for a spouse (or something else) goes unanswered it is natural to wonder what is going on with God. If you, like me, take to Google and search the words ‘unanswered prayer’ you will find over 6 million results! Clearly this is a topic that is on many people’s minds. However, despite all the wisdom out there, including a great song by Garth Brooks, when we, like Hannah, have poured out our hearts year after year and still see no answer in sight it is undeniably hard to remain hopeful. So many nights I cried out to God, where are you? Why don’t you answer my prayer? Why do you answer the same prayer for others, but not me? Why does it feel like I am the only one, or at least one of the few for whom you stay silent? In times of prolonged waiting and unanswered prayer it can feel like God has disappeared, that He is uncontactable, that He is just silent.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, we are not the first people to feel like God is sometimes silent. In the Bible we read several accounts, including Job (13:24) who asks the Lord ‘Why do you hide your face and count me as your enemy‘ and the Psalmist who cries out in Psalm 13:1-2 ‘How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?‘. The struggle with unanswered prayer and the silence of God is as old as the book of Genesis. In modern times C.S.Lewis ,after the death of his beloved wife, describes his experience with God as ‘A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.’ So what is our response to unanswered prayer to be?

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If there seems to be no answer, if the door seems slammed shut and bolted tight, if God seems silent what should we do? Job cried out ‘If I only knew where to find Him‘, he, like us, longed to hear from God. What hurt Job the most seemed to be not that he had lost everything but that God was silent and nowhere to be found. It is the silence that hurts me the most too.  When God seems to be silent in the face of our raging, desperate, pleading prayers that we offer up year after year, decade after decade how do we make sense of this?

It can all feel so hard and so incomprehensible, until  we turn to the Bible to find that there was one time where God truly was silent, and that was at the cross. As Jesus hung there for our sins He cried out ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?’ And no answer came, no last minute reprieve, He died, alone and seemingly abandoned by His Father. But why? So that we never would be! He was forsaken so we would be accepted, he was abandoned so we would never be alone. He was rejected and sacrificed so that we would be reconciled to our Heavenly Father for all eternity.  If anyone knows how the silence of God truly feels, it is His Son, Jesus. We may feel like God is silent and has pulled back but the reality is that God promised in Deuteronomy 31:6 that He would never leave us or forsake us and the death and resurrection of Jesus made this possible!

There is a wonderful song from Bethel Music called You Came and the chorus says ‘You came and I knew that you would come’ Do we really dare to trust that God will show up for us, that He will turn up? Do we dare to believe His word which says that Those who trust in the Lord will not be put to shame or In you distress you called and I rescued you. I sometimes find it hard. When silence envelopes me and situations seem to remain unchanged I am more likely to listen to the voice of the tempter who whispers, ‘give up, you are only going to look like an idiot when God doesn’t live up to His end of the bargain’ or ‘Is there really a God, I mean where is He now, you’ve been praying so long and nothing and silence, can you really trust Him?’ . Such seductive words, it is so much easier in the silence to run from our waiting than go through it, so much harder to sit with the Lord and simply wait on Him. It is far easier to lower our expectations and not ask God for much or at least not for anything that might not happen. To not get our hopes up so that we never risk being disappointed but in doing so we never allow ourselves to enter the realm of the miraculous.

In our waiting on an answer to our prayer we are stepping out of the realm of the possible and into the realm of the impossible. We are living by faith and not by sight. By continuing to hope and continuing to believe for something that every natural instinct and scientific explanation screams will never happen, we step off this temporal plane and into the eternal one. We are declaring that what is real is not what we see but what we believe. We are uncomfortable but by enduring this discomfort we are building spiritual muscles and we are saying, we will not be moved, not by silence or by noise. We  declare we are standing on the Word of God and say with the saints through all the ages that we will not be disappointed.

In the silence that sometimes surrounds us, keeping the faith is like planting a standard, a flag for the Lord on the battlefield while the battle rages around us. It is the cry to rally to the flag of the Lamb, to keep on resisting the temptation to give up, to give in, to lie down, to walk away. One day though, one day we will be vindicated, one day every person on earth will see the living God and every knee will bow before Him (A wonderful song declaring this is The Lion and the Lamb). And there will be no more seeming silence, no more apparent unanswered prayer but there will be the joyous sound of rejoicing like we have never experienced before. Hebrews 11 is perhaps the most wonderful treatise on faith and waiting on the Lord that you will ever read and I would recommend that you haven’t read it before to read it now or read it again and ask the Lord to speak to you through it. When we wait on the Lord in faith we are in the most amazing company of saints and what a privilege that is!

Unanswered prayer tests our faith in God, it is a fire that burns through superficial beliefs and earthly comforts, it cuts to the quick of our relationship with God. Because it is when our prayers are unanswered that we have to ask ourselves some tough questions about why we believe in God and who we believe God is. It is easy to believe in God and praise Him when things are going well and prayers are answered and life is comfortable, but it is quite another thing to do this when a huge question mark hangs over us. When faced with prolonged, unanswered prayer we have to decide that we either trust God or we don’t, but we no longer have the luxury to be lukewarm, to have a halfhearted relationship with our Father. It forces us to be all in or all out and if we go all in, we I am convinced that we will start to feel a strength and resilience that carries over into every area of our earthly lives. Jesus said blessed are those who do not see and still believe. The more we do not see and still believe, the more blessed we are. Don’t ever forget this.

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In the Bible there is never a situation where God lets someone down in the long run. In the Old Testament God always delivers, always provides and always saves those who come to Him. In the New Testament we see Jesus heal all who come to Him, provide for His disciples and tell us that He has come so that we might have life and have it in abundance. Even though there are trials and persecutions in the early church at no point do we read that people felt that God did not come through for them. Even Paul, who suffered considerably and ultimately died for his faith, proclaimed in Romans 8:18 that all his trials were as nothing compared to the surpassing glory of knowing Jesus. To put it simply God always comes through, He is as good as His word and though it may seem that He is silent, the truth is He is always at work and He will not let us down.

As you go out today, see your unanswered prayer as the best faith builder in the world. If God feels silent, just keep talking to Him, keep praising Him, cry out to Him and rest in Him. Read the Word and declare with Paul in Romans 8:28 that all things, all things, all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord. Not some things but all things, not a few things but all things and trust that He is answering your prayers, in His way and His time. While it may feel like He has disappeared He is with you., Jesus’ death on the cross meant that we are no longer separated from God, hence the words, NEVER will I leave you, NEVER will I forsake you. Hold this truth in your heart as you continue to wait on Him and I know He will not let you down.

God bless you richly today. If you have any unanswered prayers that you would like prayer for please let me know and I would be so happy to support you in prayer. Or if you have any testimonies of God answering a long standing prayer, please share that too!!

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