by Travis Bookout
The efficacy of prayer has often been an issue which has troubled believers. It seems like prayer works sometimes, but other times it does absolutely nothing. There have been times I prayed for things, even very specific things, and they have come to pass quickly, efficiently, and in a manner I approved. In those times it is easy to say, “Good job, God, You handled that very well. Bravo.” However, many times I have prayed for specific things and it seems like the prayer has yielded very little divine attention.
Occasionally, I will have major issues I am dealing with and two facts come to my mind: I know God in His omnipotence can easily and immediately do exactly what I am asking, and I know He doesn’t. It makes me want to cry out, “How long, O Lord, will I call for help, And You will not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2), or possibly, “I cry out to You for help, but You do not answer me” (Job 30:20). David said, “O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest” (Psalm 22:2). Clearly, this issue is not new. Unanswered prayers are a major struggle today, just as they were by many stalwarts of faith in Scripture.
Unanswered prayers not only cause doubt because we feel God’s not listening, but it makes us question the times He does answer us. “Am I simply attributing dumb luck to a benevolent Creator? Surely just by chance things will go my way sometimes. Is there a correlation between how often things go my way when I pray versus when I don’t pray? Is there a litmus test I can develop to verify or falsify the power of prayer?”
This mindset, I fear, is a lot of the problem. We judge God’s existence, compassion, and abilities based on how closely He conforms to our desires. If everything goes my way all the time then God must really exist, care and be quite talented. But when things don’t go my way, it begs some serious questions. Does God really hear? Does He really care? Does He really exist?
If I judge God’s abilities or existence based on how well He obeys me, I have really missed the point. I have essentially switched places with Him. Instead of God judging me based on my response to Him, I have started judging Him based on His response to me.
In the Bible there are many answers given for why our prayers might not be answered as we wish. Sometimes we ask things that God simply does not want to do. Or put another way, “it is against His will.” Maybe His plans are different than our desires (Habakkuk 1:2-3, 12-17; 2 Corinthians 12:8-9). Even Jesus faced this dilemma with prayer (Luke 22:42). Maybe our plans do not fit His timeline (Revelation 6:9-11; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Job 30:20). Maybe we gave up too quickly (Luke 11:5-10; 18:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Maybe we asked with the wrong motives (James 4:3). Maybe we have been bad husbands (1 Peter 3:7). Maybe because of our life choices we have been denied the benefit of prayer (Isaiah 59:1, 2; Psalm 66:18-20).
There are many reasons why God might not answer our prayers, or might not answer as we wish He would. It should cause us to look inwardly and ask if we need to make some life changes. It should cause us to trust in God that maybe, just maybe, He knows best. You know, that whole “Your will be done” thing. But we should never put ourselves in His seat, and base our view of Him on how well He follows our lead. We should not design tests for God so we can judge and score His abilities. We should pray without ceasing, without doubting, without judging, and trust that God is pretty good at what He does. Let Him be the God in the relationship.