In the song “Can Anyone Hear Me” by Meredith Andrews, she wrestles with trusting in a God who feels so silent at times. Can you relate? Have you wrestled with unanswered prayers, or with the feeling that your prayers are just bouncing off the ceiling, unheard, uncared for? Have you had the experience of crying out to God with total vulnerability expecting to see or feel a response to no avail? Are you confused about this felt abandonment when we are encouraged in Scripture to pray continuously? We are encouraged to talk to God about our problems, yet He seems so silent, so uncaring, so slow to move.
What are we supposed to do when real life does not add up to what our theology says it should be? Many people have fallen away from Christ because of the feeling their prayers go unheard. I know many who gave up on God, and I myself have come close to it on many occasions.
What adds salt to the wound is the response others may have when we experience those moments of felt abandonment. No one means to give answers that further wound us, but humans are flawed and we are uncomfortable with the pain and vulnerability of others. We want to fix or give answers that ease another person’s pain, so we open our mouths and say things that are not helpful.
I know of stories where people were told to hold onto faith and keep praying that God would change their spouse in a failing marriage. It was a guarantee, just pray and believe. When it didn’t happen those individuals held the guilt that they didn’t have enough faith to make it happen, or they were angry at God for not coming through the way expected. I have sat with survivors of severe trauma who were told they just needed to pray and surrender their pain to Jesus and He would take away the PTSD symptoms. And when it didn’t happen they wondered why Jesus rejected them. I know of people who have sat vigilant over a loved one who was quickly losing life, praying, believing, and quoting Scripture over the life of their spouse, child, parent, beloved pet, yet the life force drained from the loved one leaving the praying individual confused and angry at God.
Indeed we are told in Scripture to pray continuously (I Thes. 5:16-18), to bring all requests to God (Phil 4:6-7), and that He works everything together for our good when we love Him and are called to His purpose (Romans 8:28). So what are we to do in those moments when we are crying out to God for peace, and peace does not come? This question is much too big to cover in a short article. I would invite anyone who is struggling with this to contact a trusted pastor or Christian friend.
In short here is an answer based on my own studies as well as my experience. Our understanding as humans living in a physical world is very limited. We only see what is in front of us. We do not see motives of others that are hidden from us, we do not see ripple effects of tragedy, we do not see the full picture ever. Sometimes we can look back and see answers to prayer, and sometimes we may never see the answer we wanted, but there is purpose to it all. The pain of loss, trauma, broken-ness has a way of refining us if we let it. Of course the opposite is also true, we can become bitter. But if we learn to surrender our need to live a life free of pain or sorrow, something beautiful happens inside of us. Nowhere do we see in the Bible that everything we want is going to be ours. Never does God promise an easy life, in fact, He promises the exact opposite (John 16:33). But He does promise that when we surrender to what life throws at us in this broken world He will give us beauty in place of the ashes (Is. 61:3). My experience of this is that the beauty aren’t riches, or a pain free life, but it is a beauty of contentment and gratitude for life love and the other important things in life. Losing the need to control life, brings a peace of flowing with what life brings us.
I will be speaking more about unanswered prayer on September 29 if you want to join us. David Brackeen will be speaking on September 22. We would invite you to come join us at 10:00 A.M. EST.