Reeling From Unanswered Prayer

It’s every small child’s favorite game to play at the pool with their parent:  You stand on the edge, waiting for daddy to raise his hands up, too excited to even notice the concrete starting to burn your tiny feet.  Daddy holds his hands out toward you and beckons you to jump.  Heart racing, you squat down and prepare for liftoff.  No water wings, no floaty, no lifeguard.  The only thing separating you from a terrifying fate is the waiting arms of your father.  Your adrenaline may be pumping, your heart may be racing, but really, deep down, you know that you know that you are safe.  Daddy would never let anything bad happen to you.

Lift off.

Daddy catches you and somehow keeps your head above the water, because, of course he does.  And all that can be heard over the splashing of the water and gleeful squeals is a squeaky voice exclaiming, “Again!  Again!”


I was 13 when I met Jesus, and He was an instant best friend.  My world revolved around Him.  He was my first thought in the morning, my last thought at night, and nearly all of my conversation throughout the day.  I learned to pray for everything, and out of my closeness with the Lord, I had high expectations from Him to answer those prayers.

It wasn’t until my late teens that I had something to pray for that was serious.  This wasn’t the, “Help me pass this midterm” or “Help my friend finally say yes to my youth group invites” kind of prayer, not that that’s not important.  This was a major,  earth-shattering, change your life forever kind of problem.  This was something that brought me to my knees every night, that caused me to cry myself to sleep, and threatened to tear apart the life I knew.

My boyfriend (and now husband) and I would fast and pray.  I would meet with my youth pastor and church leaders who would stand with me in prayer.  I was armed with all the right promise scriptures, properly invoked the name of Jesus, followed the right formulas, believed without doubting, and waited with great expectation for God’s miracle.

But it didn’t come.

girl-woman-underwater-dressI jumped into the pool of trust without any insecurity, knowing my Jesus well, but daddy didn’t catch me.  All I could do was cling to the side of that pool,  coughing up the burning water of pain, confusion, betrayal, and embarrassment.

What. The. Hell. Lord?

During a prayer retreat many years later that event was identified as the root of the underlying anxiety and mistrust that was running my life, and needed to be healed and set right.  But what can be said to someone who is still reeling from unanswered prayer?


Western Christian doctrine has some mistruths about suffering and entitlement that set us up for damage when prayer results don’t go our way, and our responses are usually the following:

  •  It causes us to walk away from God or be angry with Him.
  • We blame ourselves for not having enough faith and take on that shame.
  • We try to protect God’s reputation – and/or our own embarrassment, by coming up with theologically false excuses as to why we didn’t get our miracle.
  • We stop praying and believing God for things.
  • We stop believing that God is good.

Do I believe it’s God’s desire to heal everyone who is sick?  Yes.  His name is Healer.  Jesus healed every sick person who came to Him.  Every last one.  Does everyone who gets prayer for illness today get healed?  Nope.  Do I know why?  No, I don’t.  Do I believe that God wants to provide for His children?  Yes.  His name is Provider.  He is our Father, Shepherd, the supplier of our needs (Phil. 4:19).  So what are the Christians in third world countries dying of starvation or being beheaded doing wrong that God is withholding His blessing?  Absolutely nothing.

My boss sat with me in my office one day while I cried over another unanswered prayer and she asked me, “What do you believe you are owed by God?”  I was taken aback by the question.  She was a pastor, so she should know.  If we’re God’s children, then we’re owed everything that an heir is entitled to.  Many scriptures back that theology up. But when I couldn’t shake the question, it led me to examine all of the not so sexy promises of scripture.

We are going to suffer. ( John 16:13, Romans 5:3-4, 2 Cor. 4:17, Phil. 3:10, 1 Peter 2:21,)

We are going to die. (John 11:25-26, 2 Cor. 4:17-18, 2 Cor. 5:8, Rev. 12:11, John 14:1-4)

We are going to mourn. (Psalm 147:3, Revelation 21:4)

Understanding this comes much more naturally to Christians who live under different systems of government.  The concept of living under a King’s authority isn’t so foreign.  We’re so used to voting our officials in and out that we tend to vote Jesus in and out of the office of our lives depending on what it seems like He does for us.  We become sold on the benefits of Jesus rather than understanding that we are in fact bought.  Not coincidentally I’m sure, believers in these parts of the world also see many more miracles than we do here.

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” – John 8:28
boy-flying-happy-boy-693381_960_720Nothing that we will go through in life changes what is true.  The truth is God loves us so radically that He Himself paid the price for our sin so that we would not be separated from Him, thus removing the sting of death. That is everything.  He might not have cured a mother’s cancer, which was contended so hard for, but He is THE cure for all of us.  He is good.  It’s safe to jump into the ocean of trust because no matter what happens, He already caught you the day He saved you.  And He is so good, that when the waves crash painfully down on us, He gives us His own Spirit as a comforter and mender of our hearts.

We won’t get all the answers we want on this side of Heaven, and it’s important to note that trusting in God’s sovereign Lordship doesn’t mean we don’t continue to approach the throne and contend.  Joanie Earekson Tada, who has spent nearly 50 years as a quadriplegic says, “Just as we cannot box God in and say he always heals, we cannot box him in and say he never heals. This is why the Bible encourages us to pray for healing (Jas 5:14).”  When Wes Sutton of Acorn Healing Ministries asked a doctor about continuing to have faith for healing, her response was this, “I have been a practicing GP for over 30 years. I know that not everyone leaving my consulting room has done so with a cure, but I would never consider giving up medicine, and perhaps that is also true for Christian healing prayer?”

I will never stop contending for miracles and breakthroughs.  I have seen my best friend healed from Crohn’s disease.  I have experienced miraculous provision.  I’ve seen broken homes reunited and become healthy, I’ve seen drug addicts completely restored, and I have also seen heartache and loss, even where prayers abound.

To those who mourn, who have left, who have given up, who don’t know if you can believe for something again God is pursuing your heart.  He wants to hold you in His arms and wipe the tears away from your eyes.  Let Him.

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