When Our Prayers Go Unanswered

I’ve been away a little while. In truth I haven’t been very well and have had to save the little energy I’ve had for work. It’s been a month where things have fallen further and further down my ‘To Do’ lists, until they’ve fallen off entirely. There are friends I need to call, letters I’m supposed to have written, people I could be seeing. But mostly when I’m not at work I’m slumped on the sofa, exhausted, waiting for it to be an acceptable time to go to bed.

Living with fatigue is a little like driving a car where the engine is leaking.  You can’t refuel it to capacity, no matter how hard you try. You simply cannot predict when you are going to run out of fuel altogether, which small journey will lead to breakdown. It can feel like you’re stuck on the slow lane of life, constantly being overtaken, watching the dial of the petrol gage creep ever closer to zero.

Last week I was away with work on a staff conference. It was challenging not just in the amount of energy it required from me, but also spiritually. As I work for  a Christian Charity, in amongst the talks and activities there was time to sit and pray with friends. During those times I found myself faced again with the question: “What do we do when our prayers for healing go unanswered?”

Maybe you’ve been there. That moment when a friend prays for you to be healed. You try and rearrange your mind into some semblance of expectation that perhaps today is the day that God will heal you. You know your bible, you know you worship a powerful God who can heal and still does today, a God who loves you and wants the best for you. And so you wait with open hands, trying to set aside the doubts and disappointments of the past. Perhaps you feel a sense of the presence of God with you, feel his spirit move within you. But then, for whatever reason, you open your eyes and nothing has changed.

If you’re anything like me, then your first instinct will be to blame yourself. Maybe I wasn’t expectant enough, maybe I didn’t want it enough, maybe I wasn’t saying the right words. Maybe if I was a better Christian, if I prayed and read my bible more, then the story would be different. Maybe God doesn’t love me enough to heal me, perhaps this illness is some kind of punishment or trial for past wrongs. And on and on the mind goes, coming up with ever more damaging reasons for why the healing we long for eludes us.

But how do we deal with these hard questions that rock our faith? How do we hold on to faith, and to hope, when our prayers seemingly go unanswered?

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All of us, throughout our journey of faith, will find ourselves faced with hard questions. Perhaps we will watch someone we love battle illness, and struggle to balance the sight of such suffering with a loving God. Maybe we will see friends and family taken from us tragically soon, leaving us to ask “why?” Or we found ourselves trapped in the trials of every day life, of lost jobs, fractured relationships, loneliness and isolation. How do we navigate such storms?

It can be all too easy to jump in with Christian platitudes, to try and plaster the wound with well meaning bible verses. We’ve all probably at some stage or another quoted Jeremiah 29:11 to a struggling Christian, trying to reassure them of God’s plan for their life. They are biblical words, God breathed scripture. But these are heavy questions, which carry with them so much pain and heartache, they cannot be dismissed so lightly. They have to be wrestled with, taken to God again and again, as many times as it takes for us to find peace. We may not get the answers we search for. We are not God, His ways are not our ways. He is bigger than our understanding.

We cannot hide from the hard questions. of life But we can choose how we deal with them. We can choose to hold onto truth. The truth about who God is and who we are in Him. It’s at our weakest points that we are most vulnerable to attack, most likely to accept lies about ourselves and our situation. It’s these days when we need to be on our guard. Remembering that we have a God who is all powerful as well as all loving. He is completely good as well as totally just. He knows and sees everything, and everyone, holding the whole of creation in His hands. He made us in His image and adopted us into his family through Jesus. We are His children, dearly loved and cherished.

Some days all we may hear is silence, in the space between our seemingly unanswered prayers. It is our choice what we fill this silence with. Do we fill it with trust, in the promises of God, that we are not deserted or abandoned? Do we remind ourselves of the ways we have seen God move before, hoping we will do so again? Do we choose to still praise our God, who gives and takes away, a God far bigger than our circumstances?

I believe even in the silence that God is still listening. Maybe we are not yet ready for the answer, it may come in the fullness of time. Sometimes instead of answering the bigger prayers in our lives, God answers with enough strength for each day, enough courage to keep putting one foot in front of the other, enough hope to persevere.

Don’t stop asking the hard questions or listening for the answers. But lets not mistake silence for abandonment. One day we will see the bigger picture, see in full the tapestry that God has woven through our lives. For now we may have to trust through dark times, to cling to what we know about God and to keep hoping through it all. It may not be easy but it will be worth it.

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

1 Corinthians 13:12

 

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