When prayer seems more like struggle than relationship, when I find myself repeating the same requests over and over and even wonder, "Is anyone really listening?," I take no small comfort in remembering that Jesus, too, had unanswered prayers. Three come to mind.
As Luke records, Jesus spent an entire night in prayer before choosing the inner core of twelve disciples. Yet if you read the Gospels, you marvel that this dodgy dozen could be the answer to any prayer. They included, Luke pointedly notes, "Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor," not to mention the pettily ambitious Sons of Thunder and the hothead Simon, whom Jesus would once address as "Satan."
"O unbelieving generation," Jesus would sigh about these twelve, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?" I wonder if, in that moment of exasperation, Jesus questioned the Father's guidance.
Technically, I admit, the particular makeup of the twelve does not qualify as an unanswered prayer, for we have no reason to believe that any other choices might have served Jesus better. Yet I find it comforting that while on earth Jesus faced the same limitations as does anyone in leadership. The Son of God himself could only work with the talent pool available.
Eventually, except for Judas, the twelve underwent a slow but steady transformation, providing a kind of long-term answer. John, a Son of Thunder, softened into "the apostle of Love." Peter, who earned Jesus' rebuke by recoiling from the idea of Messiah's suffering, later urged his followers to "follow in his steps" by suffering as Christ did.
The second "unanswered prayer" occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane when, as Luther put it, "God struggled with God." While Jesus lay prostrate on the ground, sweat ...1