You may be carrying scars from the painful experience of not getting what you prayed for. You called on the Lord, but you did not receive what you asked for. What you sought was not found. The door you knocked on never opened. And you now find yourself struggling with “the mystery of unanswered prayer.”
Does God really answer prayer? you ask yourself. Yes, God answers prayer. In fact, answered prayer is the true mystery. Why would God be so good and wise and faithful to answer our prayers? But often we do not know what we are asking for. We do not know the consequences of the things for which we ask. We do not know what it will actually cost us for God to answer our prayers. Yet God knows all and controls all. And He answers according to what will be for our good and His glory.
I know how you feel when a prayer seems to be unanswered. Yet the puzzle of why God does not answer certain prayers is easily solved when you consider the puzzle of why God chooses to answer any prayers at all.
Mark it down: The Lord God does not owe you anything. That is, God does not rightfully owe you anything except divine judgment, holy wrath, and eternal condemnation. Yet God the Father commands us to come to Him in prayer. And He waits with open arms to hear and answer and work on behalf of His children. And because of this divine favor upon every believer, we should never allow unanswered prayer to cause us to question the power, wisdom, or goodness of God in our lives. Instead, we can live in confidence that God will hear and answer our prayers. The problem is that we often miss or mishandle the answers God gives, because we are not ready to receive the things we ask God for.
Have you ever thought about that? Have you ever wrestled with the fact that answered prayer can put your life in jeopardy?
Have you ever considered the fact that it could be more dangerous and detrimental to your well-being for God to give you some of the things you want, rather than withholding them?
Ask King Hezekiah about the danger of prayer answered with a yes. One day, the prophet Isaiah visits Hezekiah with a message from God. Hezekiah is deathly sick. But the prophet does not come with good news. His is a message of impending doom: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover’” (2 Kings 20:1). But Hezekiah will not accept this message as the final word. He turns his face to the wall and prays to the Lord. Do you know what happens? God answers Hezekiah’s prayer with a yes.
Before Isaiah can make it off the palace grounds, God commands him to go back to Hezekiah. There is an updated message. The Lord will raise him from his sick bed in three days and add fifteen years to his life (vv. 4–6).
It is a miracle of answered prayer. But the end of that same chapter records how this miracle feeds Hezekiah’s pride, as the king displays all his wealth to visitors from Babylon (vv. 12–13). So God judges Hezekiah, promising that the Babylonians would overthrow his kingdom. The opening verse of the very next chapter reports that during those fifteen additional years, Hezekiah has a son named Manasseh. Second Kings 21:2 reports that Manasseh “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” I wonder if Hezekiah ever wished he had died when Isaiah showed up with the fatal diagnosis.
H. B. Charles Jr., It Happens after Prayer: Biblical Motivation for Believing Prayer (Chicago, IL: Lift Every Voice, 2013).
We have just released a new Bible study on topic of It Happens After Prayer.
These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.