I pray for certain things to change or get better and they don’t. Why won’t God answer my prayers? -J
I don’t know.
But I can share a story from my life.
Five years ago this month, my father-in-law called.
He told us his doctor was sending him in for a heart procedure. They would apply dye and make sure everything was flowing well. If not, they would add a stint to open things up.
We were worried and began to pray for his healing.
Papa went through the routine procedure but the doctor said he had too much blockage for a stint alone. He would need open heart surgery. My husband and his sister traveled home to go with Papa and meet the surgeon.
The surgery was immediately scheduled for the next morning.
It felt too fast. We needed time to research alternatives and interview other doctors. But my father-in-law had made up his mind and was moving ahead quickly.
Church prayer chains were started. Family and friends sent word they were praying for his healing.
He came through the operation fine the following day.
The surgeon reported to my husband and his sister that everything went according to plan. They would be able to see him after a few hours in recovery. His family at the hospital breathed a sigh of relief and passed the word onto to everyone who was praying for Papa’s healing.
But within the hour, something went terribly wrong.
I was eight hours away when my sister-in-law called to say she’d been called back to the hospital and she feared the worst. I paced in a circle for an hour crying and pleading with God for it not to be true.
They could find no rhyme or reason for what had happened. The doctor delivered the news that Papa had passed on.
All my begging God hadn’t changed it. I would need to tell my seven year old son, the one who thought his Papa hung the stars in the sky, the life-altering news.
We moved through that night and the following days like molasses.
There was a slow and surreal flow as we planned the funeral and began making arrangements for his farm. He had been bailing hay the week before. Now his cattle would need to be auctioned off.
This man was deeply important to me and I could not accept his leaving.
I was mad at God for taking him away too soon. I told God so.
I had learned through other loss and struggle that God could handle my anger. God would not condemn or shame me for it, rather God would stand or sit or lay or run away with me in it. Wherever my anger took me, God would go.
So I screamed at God in the middle of a Mississippi hay field.
“Why didn’t you answer all these prayers? Why didn’t you save Papa?”
And a Voice strong and soothing said,
It rose up from the center of me yet seemed to come from totally beyond me. Though tears blurred my vision, I looked out at the cattle in the next pasture.
In that moment, I realized Papa lived big and full right up until he left.
If he had come home after open heart surgery, he wouldn’t have been able to get up the rest of the hay. He wouldn’t have been able to care for his cattle. He wouldn’t have been able to do the things he had always done.
He was a strong, proud man. This would have destroyed him.
While everyone prayed for his healing, we assumed “healing” equaled a continuation of his life here on earth. But God had plans to heal Papa permanently. Not just temporary healing that would again deteriorate at some point. As all physical life must.
God did answer all those prayers, just not the way we supposed God would or should.
I often attach the outcomes I want to my prayers and then start praying them.
When my results don’t pan out, I could assume God has refused my request. I could label God as distant, indifferent, cold, or absent altogether.
I could, but where does that leave me? Feeling bitter. Angry. Alone.
So I choose to believe the One who made me knows more than I do.
More about me, my life, the events that will unfold, the struggles I will face, the successes I will have, the contribution I’m designed to make, the help I’m equipped to offer.
God knows what’s best for me, even if it doesn’t look or feel best in the moment.
I know this because I can look back over my life and see God has been faithful to lead and care for me. Over my shoulder, I can now see some unanswered prayers as gifts. Looking back, I can see “results” I never even thought to ask for but God gave them nonetheless.
Over time, my trust has grown stronger than my need to have my own way.
Because I don’t even know if my way is actually best.
Sure, I still pray for things I want and (think I) need. I just don’t get overly attached to the results for very long. If something isn’t happening the way I assume it should, I give it back to God. I pray for God’s best in the situation instead of what I think is best.
It’s not easy, but when I finally hand over my expectations and just ask God to take care of it, I feel a deep sense of relief and peace. Like a great weight has lifted and I can stop obsessing over it.
Why won’t God answer my prayers?
Maybe we need to consider how we are judging if God is answering our prayers or not. Maybe we get stuck on only one way the answer can look and when it doesn’t turn out exactly like that, we throw up our hands in frustration.
When I feel frustrated with God about a prayer that isn’t being answered, I ask, “How can I see this problem in a new way?” Or “What am I not seeing?” Even in painful circumstances, these questions help me reimagine what might be happening while I wait.
Often times I am able to form a new prayer in which I give God the green light to do for me and in me what I cannot do for and in myself.