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"I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer" (Job 30:20 NIV).

A Sunday school class wrote letters to missionaries informing them that they were praying for them. One missionary got a letter that read, "Dear Mr. Missionary, we are praying for you, and we don't expect an answer."

How many people pray yet don't expect an answer. They feel like Job. "I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer" (Job 30:20 NIV). They go through life wondering if God will ever answer their prayers. They are not alone.

Ask the twelve-year-old who says, "I don't believe in God anymore. Once I prayed for a trip to Disney World, but it never happened." Or, ask the single adult who has prayed for a spouse yet marriage seems as distant as the moon. Or, ask the young couple that has prayed earnestly for children yet remain barren. Or, the businessperson who has prayed for a job yet remains unemployed. Or, the wife who has prayed for her husband's salvation yet he seems farther away from God than ever.

Nothing is more baffling than unanswered prayer.

Jesus' outrageous promises appear to be part of the problem. He promised, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened" (Luke 11:9-10 NIV). He taught that if "You ask me for anything in my name . . . I will do it" (John 14:14 NIV). Jesus' promises awaken an expectation that our prayers will be answered. This leads to profound disappointment when our prayers go unanswered. In addition, we are told that God is a father who does not deny any good thing from his children. We think we are good and deserving that God will and should answer our prayers.

The fact is God does not answer some of our prayers. Some of the reasons we'll never know on this side of eternity. Yet some of the reasons are quite obvious, if only we'll look. Here are a few:

1. God did not answer all the prayer of prophets, kings, Christ's disciples; therefore, we should not expect answers to all of our prayers.

2. When God does not answer a prayer there is a legitimate reason, but we may never know it in this life.

3. Answered prayer is foremost about God's will and not our personal convenience and comforts.

4. Answered prayer must fit with God's sovereign purpose and desire.

5. When God does not answer our prayer that is no reason to quit praying.

6. Answered prayer is always about God's glory, not our personal needs.

7. Through unanswered prayer God allows us to feel a significant amount of discontent and dissatisfaction in life-longings that will never be fulfilled on this side of eternity. (We're not completely happy here because we're not supposed to be. Earth is not our final home; we were created for something much better.)

8. Some prayers will not be answered on this side of eternity.

9. If all our prayers were answered we would not have to depend on God for strength and help.

10. Prayer is foremost about relationship not requesting.

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Comment by Catherine Gray on May 31, 2011 at 12:00am
Some of our prayers are answered, not just in the way we 'think' they should be and they're not always answered in our timing.  God's timing is not the same as ours'.  We must just trust him.  He knows what he's doing and his answer is ALWAYS right.  Our answer..or what we think it should be, isn't. We must just trust him because He is a God that never fails.
Comment by Andrew R. Wheeler on May 21, 2011 at 10:20pm

Here is where I really appreciate the example of Paul, whose prayer for God to remove his "thorn in the flesh" went unanswered (2 Cor. 12:7-10).  Not only did he accept God's answer but he really incorporated it into his life, learning an important lesson that would serve him well in ministry.  I've always thought that it was this very lesson that enabled Paul to learn "the secret of being content in any and every situation", as he would later write to the Philippians.

I think that our ability to see God's answer is determined by where our heart is when we ask of him.  If our real desire is to see him glorified in our lives, we'll be able to see answers that we might not see if we're focused narrowly on having things exactly as we ask for them.  I think that many times God does answer but we don't see it because the only "answer" we can imagine is exactly what we ask for.

I think the final point above is perhaps the most important - prayer is about relationship.  Part of that relationship involves asking, but that's only part of it. 

One final thought - some of my prayers can only be answered if others respond to God's leading.  I might pray for the salvation of a family member or close friend, but God isn't going to force that on them.  He may draw them, He may bring circumstances that will point them toward Him, but ultimately there's a component that involves a personal decision on that person's part.

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