Why won’t God help me or answer my prayer?

We have to be honest: this side of the World-to-come there will be some (many?) things that we simply won’t understand. No amount of supposed certainty in the Christian faith can obviate this fact: we’re not omniscient and God doesn’t reveal everything to us that we wish we knew.

It’s that way with unanswered prayers. However, there are some facts that we can know. And what we can know can sustain us. Here are some thoughts for those who are struggling for why God hasn’t answered your prayer request (yet):

1.      The real, true God, as described in Christianity, exists and is perfectly moral. He’s not a meanie. He’s not a bully. We see this throughout the Bible in how God rescues people who don’t deserve it, gives guidance to those who don’t deserve it, forgives those who don’t deserve it, heals those who don’t deserve it, and on and on. A Psalmist summarizes it this way: “Taste and see that the Lord is good!...” (Ps 34:8). Now, if you don’t know God at all, or barely, then His supposed obliviousness might be overwhelming to you. If I tried to get you to trust my friend whom you’d never met, it’d be difficult. You’d really need to know my friend yourself before you’d say, “You know, I don’t know where he is right now or why he didn’t show…but, I know him well enough that I trust that wherever he is there’s a good reason. Don’t start trying to trust my friend based on his absence. Wait until you’ve met him. He’s great.” It’s like that with God.

 Are you praying to the right God? Are you trying to start with trusting a God you don’t even know?

 2.      The Christian God revealed to us perfectly what His personality is like in Jesus of Nazareth. What Jesus makes abundantly clear is that our life is not about being happy, rich, or independent of God. God designed life—how humans are supposed to operate as an engineer designs an engine. The goal of human existence isn’t human flourishing. (That might be true if atheism is true. If we’re merely fairly advanced chimps trying to survive on a speck of dust in the universe, then you’d have a point. But, that’s false nonsense.) Survival is not the goal of existence. Nor is human flourishing or a long life or stress-free existence. Instead, God is chiefly interested in His Kingdom, or rule, being established in people’s hearts. He wants to adopt us as His sons and daughters because He loves us. Thus, God can use answered and unanswered prayer requests to accomplish that end. Most prayer requests aren’t about God’s Kingdom being established at all; they’re often about the particular passion at the moment. James says a common Jewish assumption: “You desire and you do not have; you murder and envy and you cannot obtain; you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask; you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, so you can spend it on your passions. (4:2-3 NET).

 Are your prayers really about just trying to be happier? Are they about your fleshly passions? Are they utterly self-centered? Has it occurred to you that God might not want that person to be healed, that a long, “healthy” life isn’t God’s chief prerogative for you or that person for whom you’re praying?

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 3.      When God answers your request, it will always be what’s best for His Kingdom and good for you. Jesus said that just as much as a good human father would never give his child a snake instead of a fish or a scorpion instead of an egg, so our Heavenly Father would never give His children things that would hurt them, only good things (Lk 11:11-13). James said it like this: “All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above…” (James 1:17). I say “no” to my own children all the daggum time. If/when I say, “yes,” it’s because I’m convinced that what I’m granting is good for them and for their parents. In a similar way, God is infinitely intelligent. He knows perfectly well if your request is good now and in the future. We have no way, whatsoever, of having His perspective on what we think is good.

 Are you totally confident that what you’re praying is best for God’s Kingdom being established? How do you know that the answer to your request furthers His Kingdom in fifty years? Are you sure your desired answer really is “good” for Him and for you? If you’re not utterly sure, then stop being mad at Him for something you don’t know.

 4.      Yes, there are times when Jesus says what seems like blanket statements of request approval (e.g., Lk 11:9-10; Mark 11:23-24). Yep. But there is NO way that Jesus was teaching His disciples that God, the Father, is a Cosmic Genie or Cosmic Santa Claus. It cannot be a blanket statement. Why? Because a blanket statement of request approval would (a) completely violate Jesus’s entire message of surrendering to God’s reign and His will no matter what (e.g., Mk 8:34), (b) completely violate Jesus’s own denied request for another way of accomplishing the Father’s will (Mk 14:36), (c) completely violate other examples of prayers not answered (e.g., 2 Cor 12:8-9). Sharyn Dowd’s dissertation (Prayer, Power, and the Problem of Suffering) makes the best case: Jesus’s point about “asking anything in my name and you’ll get it” was to encourage first-century Jewish Christians to keep praying even though the Temple had been destroyed. Even if you don’t buy that explanation, surely Jesus’s statements must be interpreted as hyperbole: exaggerations to make a point. What’s the point? Pray. You keep assuming that God is real, listening, and considering your requests in His Kingdom’s establishment.

 5.      It’s very common for people to ask God to do something that is logically impossible. Think about it: Are you asking God to change someone’s free will? Are you asking God to make a person stop doing something? To start doing something? If so, God will never answer your request. What you’re asking is nonsense. You might as well ask God to draw a square circle. Can God give someone advice? Can He influence? Absolutely. But, He cannot make a person choose a behavior because He created humans with a free volitional will. God is not a rapist. He doesn’t force creatures to do anything. He invites, He woos, He encourages and challenges and corrects us in our mind and heart. But, what we are ultimately choose to do is up to us. This is why humans are held responsible for their moral choices—what we do really matters. It can be good or evil. God gives you—and other people—the option to do evil or good. He’ll judge us in the end of how well we did…which is why everyone won’t fair well. We need forgiveness…

 Are you asking God to do something that He’ll never, ever grant because it’s nonsense? Who are you trying to get God to control? He doesn’t control you; He won’t control that person, either.

 6.      When our emotions are on overdrive, we want relief immediately. We can cry out to God in despair and get very angry with Him when He doesn’t do what we want. Our emotions will betray us. They’ll convince us that He’s not listening or not real at all. Imagine if my wife thought that I didn’t exist, or worse, that I was a villain, when I didn’t do what she wanted. (Some people have a really hard time with trusting when they’ve been hurt by parents or authority figures in the past.) We must remember that even when God doesn’t do what we think He should do, it doesn’t mean He ceases to exist or ceases to be good. It means we must do what we’ve always needed to do in the first place: we trust Him. I ask that my friends trust me when my behavior is inexplicable and I don’t offer input as to why I did or didn’t do it. Why? Because that’s what friends do. They have enough evidence built up in our relationship to be able to trust me when I don’t make sense to them. It’s the same with God. Trusting Him isn’t a cop-out; it’s the very thing our relationship is built on when we’re dealing with the Creator of the universe. That’s good news though: He’s good. He’s trustworthy.

 Are you trusting God for your requests? Or, do you distrust Him? Are there wounds from your past that are making you “take it out” on God?