That’s an awfully important question for your faith. My faith too. The answer to that question speaks volumes about how mature you and I are, and how much we truly trust the Lord. The answer to that question may also become the key to both your contentment and to your usefulness in God’s kingdom.
The dread season of unanswered prayer begins with fact that we Christians usually have a “Prayer #1” that constitutes the thing we most want from our lives on earth. We’re often only semi-conscious of “Prayer #1”. Indeed, sometimes we don’t even pray it, like the child who wants the doll in the store window for her birthday and hopes her longing glances from the sidewalk will be noticed by her mother. But this desire of our heart abides deep in us, and often we’re afraid to share it with others. It’s too naked, too vulnerable.
Then we become aware of God’s love for us and hope awakens. We begin to understand that God truly is good and truly wants to make us happy. We read a verse like Psalm 37:4
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
We become more bold about Prayer #1, more overt that this abiding desire is something we can bring to our Father.
Parenthetically, do you know your own “Prayer #1”, as I’m calling it? It will be helpful if you try to articulate it right now. You’ll track with what I’m saying better if you can name that desire of your heart. Now if it that prayer has been fulfilled, I am happy for you. And if you have surrendered that prayer, you have my admiration. But if you are in the season of unanswered prayer, which usually lasts years, please read on.
There are 4 reasons why God does not fulfill Prayer #1:
1) It’s the wrong thing
2) It’s the right thing for the wrong reason
3) It’s the right thing for the right reason at the wrong time
4) It’s the right thing for the right reason being thwarted by evil outside
Of these four, the hardest to handle is usually #2. At root this is a problem of self-will. During this time God seems aloof, withholding, and stingy. But God in his sovereign wisdom is electing to sanctify you. Did you forget that you need to be sanctified? I forget this on a regular basis. Did you assume you were pure? No, sister. No, brother. We are not yet fit for heaven. We are deeply selfish creatures.
That’s a blunt thing to say – a horribly blunt thing to say to someone who has prayed for a seemingly good thing, like “God, please let me have a child”. It’s horribly blunt, and I know it can provoke rage. But that word is an ax laid to the root of the tree. It is a hacksaw on the bars of the cage that imprisons you.
God is not Amazon. Being a Christian is not a membership in Amazon Prime and we don’t get free shipping of Prayer #1 no matter how correct and legitimate the prayer is. God is God. Sovereign and free.
But here’s the good news: God uses this bitter season to change our character. Then, when he finally answers your prayer, you have not only the thing you prayed for but also the character to enjoy it. And our delight becomes God himself, not Prayer #1.
If you’re in the pain of unanswered prayer, you can step out of that long slow torture right now. You can forsake your dream. Completely surrender it. Be utterly free of it. You can realize that there is a you that exists independent of Prayer #1. You can realize that you’ve become enmeshed in and entrapped by that desire. Are you beginning to feel just a little bit free? Like there are other possibilities for your life?
If so, this might be a good time to come to the Lord in prayer.