Why prayers go unanswered
Before you start yelling “blasphemy!,” Yes. God’s ways are inherently much higher than ours. He sees things from a different perspective. And I fully believe there are times when we, as humans on this side of eternity, just won’t understand why certain prayers don’t get answered the way we wanted.
But, I think I’ve come to a realization of why at least some of our prayers go unanswered:
Sometimes, they’re really silly.
And no, I’m not talking about praying that your favourite sports team will win the championship. (That’s actually totally legit. For some reason, it hasn’t really worked for the Sens yet, but I haven’t lost Faith yet!)
Maybe the best way to sum it up is to say that sometimes we ask God for things based on emotions and present circumstances, two things which can often distort our perception of the larger reality, and make our requests, in the bigger context, look pretty silly.
And I think sometimes, God looks at our emotion-laden prayer requests, smiles, and says “Sorry, but I have something way better for you, so there’s no way I’m gonna answer that request!”
Let’s take an extreme example from the Bible. Elijah.
Elijah was a massively important figure in the Old Testament of the Bible. He was a prophet during one of the darkest times of Israel’s history, where the majority of the nation had turned from the true God to serve other god’s of the surrounding nations. The king and queen of Israel of that time were frequently trying to kill God’s prophets, but God helped Elijah survive.
In my opinion, two of the biggest compliments to Elijah as a person come in the New Testament.
First, in Mark 8:27-28, Jesus basically turns to His disciples and asks “Hey, who do people around here think I am?”
Some people in towns and villages Jesus had visited thought that He was John the Baptist (the forerunner to Jesus’ ministry, who had been beheaded) raised back to life, but the second most prevailing theory was that it was Elijah, somehow back from the dead.
That’s a pretty good note on your record. You’ve been dead for hundreds of years, and when the Son of God comes walking the earth, people start thinking it might be you, resurrected.
The second compliment comes just a chapter later, at the beginning of Mark 9, when Jesus is Transfigured (basically a fancy word that basically means He shone like crazy, and the disciples who were with Him caught a glimpse of His true glory).
I can’t say I know why exactly God decided to do this, but He had two Old Testament men come down to chat with Jesus. I would love to know what they talked about, but that’s besides the point.
One of those men was Moses, a man who was the primary leader as God freed His people from slavery in Egypt, and in the process did some crazy signs and wonders, like causing a darkness that the Bible says “could be felt.” So yeah, Moses is kind of a big deal.
The other guy that apparently came down from heaven to have this talk with Jesus was Elijah. So, by association, he’s probably a pretty big deal too.
There’s one other aspect of Elijah that is just crazy cool:
He never died.
According to the Bible, there are two people who never actually died, and instead just got brought directly up to heaven. One of them was a guy named Enoch, who we really don’t know all that much about. The other was Elijah.
The follow-up to this?
He prayed to.
So this amazing prophet of God, who was obviously honoured and revered by the Israelites even hundreds of years after his death, actually asked God to take his life.
Think about that. One of only two people that we know of to never die, prayed to. (Check 1 Kings 19:4, if you’re curious to read the whole context)
What if God had just answered Elijah’s request?
For starters, the national landscape of the day would’ve looked pretty different, as God had Elijah anoint kings over both Syria and Israel shortly after denying Elijah’s request to die.
But, more importantly, there also wouldn’t have been any Elisha, who was the successor to Elijah. (I know, those names are confusing. Why did God have to make their names so similar?)
Because we wouldn’t have had Elisha, we wouldn’t have an amazing story of a widow who had a miraculous supply of oil (2 Kings 4:1-7). A Shunammite woman wouldn’t have miraculously birthed a son, and wouldn’t have had that same son later raised from the dead (2 Kings 4:8-37). We wouldn’t have a miraculous feeding of 100 men, which is honestly a story I forgot existed (1 Kings 4:42-44). We also wouldn’t have the super cool story of Elisha relaying the Syrians war tactics that God had told him to Israel, and the follow-up story of God blinding an entire army when they went to try to capture Elisha (1 Kings 6:8-23).
So if God had simply answered Elijah’s emotional, suicidal prayer to end his own life, Elijah’s story would’ve ended there, and Elisha likely wouldn’t even be a name mentioned in the Bible.
But instead, God chose to deny Elijah his request, and instead do something better. Because, from God’s perspective, Elijah’s prayer was really silly.
God, looking at the entire timeline of history, might’ve looked down at Elijah as he asked to die, and thought “Really? Seriously? You have no idea the plans I have for you, and for the person who will succeed you. There’s no way I’m sacrificing all of that future awesomeness for your current prayer! Try to think bigger, man!”
So I think that’s a reason why God denies us our prayer requests sometimes. Because really, they’re kinda silly.
And I’ll be the first to admit, Elijah’s example is a pretty extreme one. I’ve never asked God to kill me. You probably haven’t either.
But I think Elijah can still be a helpful example.
Ultimately, the reason God refused Elijah his request was because God knew what was going to happen. Elijah’s request was legitimate to him, in the moment, but God knew that there was something far, far better than answering that request.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, and certainly not when it comes to prayer.
I struggle with how prayer works, and I struggle far more when it doesn’t.
I struggle with how and when to pray for healing for someone.
I struggle with the difference between belief and Faith, and how they actually practically work.
I sometimes struggle with why God even set the world up to make prayer part of the process. (e.g., Why does He even want us to ask for something, if He already knows our request and whether or not He’s gonna answer it?)
But I’m beginning to think that maybe the only reason God ever refuses a prayer request is that He’s got something better in the pipeline. Maybe our unanswered prayers go unanswered because, from God’s perspective, answering them would be flat-out silly when compared with the far better plans God has, not only for us, but for the people that are supposed to be impacted by us and our story.
And I just think the story of Elijah is such a perfect, if extreme, example of that.
One of only two men to never die, prayed to. That’s almost laughable.
I don’t think any of this affects the way I’m going to pray, and ask for things. I think that’s a super valuable aspect of the Christian walk.
However, I hope that this frame of mind will help me with my response to the disappointment of unanswered prayer requests.
In all likelihood, God’s denial of a prayer request just means He’s got something better lined up, regardless of how hard it is to see.
A tech post
Life as a runner
I’m a bit of a runner. Not like those marathon-every-other-week types, and certainly not the ultra-marathon types. I’m not at that level, at least not yet, but I do actually enjoy it, at least after the first 5 minutes of desperate breathing, and I certainly enjoy the feeling right after a run, where I feel like I pushed myself, and feel like I’ve accomplished something.
I think the whole concept of running has so many cool comparisons to life as a Christian. The Apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament section of the Bible, actually drew this same comparison himself a couple of times, but my favourite place is in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline by body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
I think there’s so much good stuff in here, but I’ll just pick on a couple things:
First, the concept of running to receive a prize. We, as Christians, need to run hard. And I think implicitly, Paul is also saying that we shouldn’t worry too much about how others are running. Yes, we need to help others, and be there for them, but we should run our own race without regards to how others are running.
In other words, just because someone else is compromising in a particular area, it doesn’t give you the go-ahead to falter there as well. We should run with abandon, not comparing ourselves to others, to see how much further ahead or behind they are. We should run the race God has set before us, and run it to the best of our abilities, not in a constant state of checking over our shoulder to see if anyone else is slacking off, as if that would give us the leave to do the same. In some ways, our Spiritual race should be run with blinders on, for an audience of One. Jesus’ opinion should be the one that matters the most.
I also like Paul’s comparison between natural runners and Spiritual runners. When we think of olympic athletes, we think of people who are totally sold-out to what they are doing, potentially to the point of unhealthy obsession in some cases. Their entire lives revolve around the fact that they are athletes, and every decision has to pass through that filter before anything else happens.
And Paul is basically saying that, as focused and committed as they are, we should be so much more committed to our lives as Christians. After all, these athletes compete to win a gold medal, something that doesn’t last; we’re racing for eternity. Our lives and decisions should revolve around that fact. We’re not here for here; we’re here for the afterlife, for heaven.
Another concept I’ve always loved related to running and Christianity is that of chasing Jesus.
I think sometimes, Jesus actually hides Himself to force us to chase Him. To work for it. A test to see how much we really want Him.
Sometimes, this chase is as easy as a God-thought while driving down the road. Sometimes, it can be a hard process, lasting days, weeks, even years. Sometimes it means worshipping loudly in the midst of God’s momentary silence. Other times, it’s forcing yourself to be quiet so He can speak.
Whatever the circumstances, whatever the pathway, I want to chase Jesus, in any and every way possible, until the day I die.
That leads to my final points:
As a natural runner, I always like to sprint the last little bit in a distance run. (To the more proper runners out there, I think this may technically not be the best thing to do for recovery, but I promise I do cool down after!).
Anyways, I like to sprint the last little bit in a race, just to make sure I’ve burned up all my energy reserves. Nothing left in the tank, no thought of how I could’ve had a better time if I had just given a little bit more. I like to give it my all in one last sprint before letting myself rest.
That is exactly how I want to end my Spiritual race as well.
And I know that, as we age, natural things like running get harder. Running a 10k 25 years from now will likely require a lot more discipline and hard work than it does today. I’m expecting to have to work harder for it when I’m older.
I like to look at my Spiritual journey the same way. As hard as I work to stay chasing after Jesus today, I expect to have to work even harder as I get older.
And as my Spiritual race nears the finish line with the end of my natural life, I don’t want to slow down in this chase of Jesus. I don’t want the last 10 or 15 years of my life to be spent just sitting around cheering other people on in their pursuit of Jesus (though of course I want to do that too!).
I want to sprint. I want the last years of my life to be one long full-tilt, head-first, all-or-nothing sprint to the finish line of my Spiritual race. I don’t want to have any bit of energy reserves left in the tank when I finally trade in this temporary body for an eternal one.
The chase may get more difficult as time goes on, but I have no doubts every tired step will be more than worth it.
And when I finally break the ribbon, and leave my body behind, I want heaven to have that good-tired feeling. I want to know that I gave it my all, and that I didn’t skimp out on chasing Jesus.
When I get there, I want to hear something along the lines of:
“Well done, my good and Faithful servant”
“I'm chasing You, with all my life, captivated, I just can't get enough. I'll spend my days running after Your heart"
The Love in Delay
Recently, I was reading through the story of Lazarus, from John 11. Generally speaking, it’s probably a pretty well-known story:
- Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, dies
- Jesus goes to him, and raises him from the dead
- Commence party
Ok, that last one isn’t actually in the Bible, but I think it’s a good guess.
However, as a I was reading over it, two verses (5-6) struck my in a new way. Here’s verse 5:
“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”
Just to clarify, Lazarus was the brother of Martha, and Mary, who happens to be left unnamed in this particular verse.
So there’s these three siblings, and the Bible takes extra time just to clarify: Jesus loves these people. Really, you could argue that John (the writer of this passage) didn’t even need to bother pointing this out; Jesus loved everybody, didn’t He? Why would you even take an extra verse to re-emphasize that fact for these particular people?
Well, there’s probably multiple reasons, but I think one reason to lead into the following verse, verse 6:
“So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.”
Ok, so wait. Jesus knew Lazarus was sick (verse 3). Jesus loves Lazarus, as well as his sisters (verse 5). He clearly had the ability to heal (see, like, all of the rest of the “Gospels,” the first 4 books of the New Testament). In fact, Jesus didn’t even need to go anywhere in order to heal (see Luke 7:1-10), but there seems to be a sense during this story that, if Jesus is going to heal Lazarus, he’s going to be right there for it.
However, given all this, Jesus… Kinda doesn’t do anything. It just says that He stays two more days in the place where He was. It’s possible that Jesus was doing all sorts of miracles during this time, but the Bible certainly doesn’t indicate that; it seems at least possible that He was really just hanging out there.
This seems a bit nonsensical.
If Jesus truly loved Lazarus and his sisters, why wait? Martha and Mary clearly had Faith that Jesus could heal (later on in the passage, they both, independently, greet Jesus with “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died”). But instead of healing, Jesus allows Lazarus to die.
Now, knowing the full story, it’s easy to say that Jesus allowed the delay and the eventual death for God’s glory, to prove that God can really conquer the final enemy, death. And yes, that’s certainly a reason, but I’m not sure it’s the primary one.
Verse 6 starts with the word “So…”. It seems then that the primary reason that Jesus delayed was because He loved them. Jesus loved them, so He delayed.
This led me to a crazy conclusion:
Sometimes, the fact that Jesus is delaying is proof of His love.
Sometimes, Jesus is standing there, seeing our questions and requests, and saying “Hey, I could answer that instantly, but because I love you, I’m going to wait.”
That very much goes against what my intuition would tell me, but I guess that’s no surprise; Isaiah 55:8-9 is a pretty familiar passage as well:
“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways’, says the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”
God’s ways don’t make sense to us. They aren’t really supposed to. The way God sees the world is so vastly different from the way we see it, that God just wanted to let us know that things won’t always make sense.
Like, for example, Jesus proving His love by delaying.
I know I, for one, find this fact comforting; it can be frustrating to have a situation that just simply is taking longer than I think it should. But having this backstory to the resurrection of Lazarus serves as a reminder that any delay in what Jesus is doing is because He loves me. As long as I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing to the best of my abilities, and trying to listen in case God’s telling me something new or different, delays are actually in my best interest, even if I never see why.
I like knowing that there’s love in Jesus’ delay.
The Versatility of God
“Jesus is my all in all.”
If you’re a Christian, that’s probably not a new concept for you. The idea that Jesus is everything one needs is pretty well established. Of course, God also created us to need people, but I think most Christians would agree that Jesus is enough (or at least, is supposed to be), even if we were designed to walk life out as a group of people.
With that established, let me take you back to a prayer meeting at my church.
Church-wide prayer meetings are awesome, and my church generally has them once per month. It gives the church a point during the month where we can all come together and focus on advancing the Spiritual attack, if you will.
But prayer meetings aren’t generally relaxing, especially for those people who help out at prayer meetings, like running sound, lights, or playing on the worship team. They’re always good, but I often leave feeling fairly exhausted, and spent; like a good workout, you’re glad you did it, but you definitely leave feeling void of energy.
I think this is because the nature of most prayer meetings is offensive; we’re targeting specific things as a church to pray for an into, and that takes energy. We’re intentionally bringing God’s presence down, and advancing His Kingdom in some way.
However, during one of our last prayer meetings, God showed me personally (and I think most other people who came) something fresh about His nature, and convinced me more completely that He is truly our all in all.
God isn’t just our leader in battle. He’s not just our encouragement during hard prayer sessions, or the voice calling us to push a little further.
He is all of those things, but that’s not all He is.
He’s also refreshment, and relaxation when we need it. He’s like a gulp of fresh air after staying underwater for too long. Like a cool drink of water after a long, hard run. He’s safe arms to fall into when we’re too tired to do anything else.
That’s basically what happened at that prayer meeting. An hour and a half of just hanging out in God’s presence, drinking it in, and being filled up and refreshed. It wasn’t what I expected when the meeting started, but as it went on, I realized more and more that it was exactly what I needed at the time.
One thing I love about Jesus is that He’s so versatile. He’s everything I need, and when what I need changes, God adapts.
Jesus can pump me up, and slow me down.
He gives me energy, and rest.
He leads the charge into battle, and gives me a place to sleep.
He’s my inspiration, and consolation.
He leads me through valleys, and makes me lie down in green pastures.
Jesus is everything I need. Or at least, He has the potential to be.
I wish I had the self-control that, when I’m tempted to just veg out in front of the TV, I instead take a few minutes to find somewhere quiet and hang out with Jesus. I have no doubt it would be worth it.
God knows what I need at various times better than I do. I’m beginning to realize that the more I trust Him with control over my life, the better it’s gonna be. Trusting Him to push me harder and further when I need it, and trusting Him to be a soft place to land when I just need to catch my breath.
I just need to remember that, in the daily grind, trusting God with control of my life is the best thing I can do with it.
Given the chance, Jesus really is everything that’s needed for life in this world.