Unanswered Prayer

Life Notes—September 15, 2011

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?  O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.”  Psalm 22:1-2

Through my teen years and into my young adulthood I had one goal in life—to make it “big” in music.  I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I knew I wanted whatever it was.  I enjoyed traveling, but not too much; so being on the road was be fine, as long as I could choose where to go and how long to be gone.  I enjoyed writing songs, but I didn’t want to have to do a lot of rewriting, as I found that tedious.  I enjoyed recording, but too much time in the studio got on my nerves—seeking perfection was never my “thing.”  I didn’t want to move to one of the cities where most music companies were located—New York, Los Angelesor Nashville, as I really didn’t want to live in a big city.  But with those caveats, I really wanted to make it big in music!  I prayed for my dream to come true.  Today, it is clear to me that was a prayer best left unanswered. 

Following my mother’s stroke last summer I prayed for her complete recovery.  Instead, she steadily declined and passed away ten weeks later.  I prayed hard for the healing of the mental illness of a close relative, but it seemed my prayers fell on deaf ears.  I prayed desperately for the reconciliation of the marriage of friends, but divorce resulted anyway.  I have prayed for the faith to move mountains, but most days I can barely move the soil in the garden without getting a sore back. My list of unanswered prayers is long.  Some unanswered prayers are clearly advantageous to have not been granted.  Others?  Well, I just don’t know. 

What is the difference between answered and unanswered prayer?  What motivates God to answer some prayers and not others?  Honestly, I don’t know.  I believe in the power of prayer, but my experience is that prayer is not always answered, at least not in the way we ask.  But I do know this: when I pray, particularly when I pray earnestly and fervently and with a singular mind, I enter an intimate communion with God, as if I become a participant with God in whatever happens, rather than a victim of it.  In such a communion, I know whatever I experience, I do not experience alone.  The words from Psalm 22 are familiar to us.  They were among the last utterings of Jesus on the cross.  Even he felt abandoned at times, but he still sought communion with God to the end. 

This Sunday will be the second in Tom and Mitch’s four-week sermon series titled, “Why?”  This Sunday’s sermon title is “Why Do My Prayers Go Unanswered?”  This sermon series is based on the book Why, by Adam Hamilton. Tom is downtown, where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch will be at the west campus, where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Explore the difficult questions with us.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

2 thoughts on “Unanswered Prayer

  1. Thank you, Greg, for these words. You were a medium for God’s words for me today. I recently had a prayer go unanswered. I’d been knocking at God’s door — and had enlisted everyone of faith to help me knock at God’s door — for weeks and weeks about it. While I waited for a decision to be made about the thing I was praying for, I struggled with trying to strike the right balance of attitude between having faith and being assured (i.e., when does faith that God will answer a prayer offered in good faith turn into hubris?). A friend told me that this was an opportunity to be reminded that it’s not all about me. Then I found out that I wasn’t going to get what I’d prayed for, and I was hurt: why does God tell us that It will give good gifts to those who ask but then isn’t clear with us about how to ask for them? (As if asking the “right” way was really why I didn’t get my prayer answered the way I wanted it.) I didn’t, to quote Job’s wife, curse God and die, but I definitely created some distance between me and God. Yesterday, I was having some struggles of a different sort, and I prayed, “Jesus, help me. I can’t handle this on my own.” And knowing that I’m not on my own — that I’m loved and supported by the Creator of all things — brings me a peace that I can’t get just from having God give me what I want. Your post was a reminder that God really is listening, and the more I listen carefully for God, the more I will hear It. That is the gift of communion, and it’s something for which I am joyful! Praise God, the giver of good gifts!

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    1. Thank you, dear friend, for sharing with me. What an honor that God spoke directly to you through something I wrote! I pray for your continued communion with our common God, and may that communion bring you many good gifts!

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