Why does it seem that sometimes my prayers go unanswered?

Why does it seem that sometimes my prayers go unanswered?

People pray on bended knee, opening their hearts to God, asking him for a myriad of things: healing of cancer, a job after all these months, a buyer for their house in a frozen market, the end of pain. Some prayers will be answered, and the recipients will look heavenward with thankful praise. The grateful will share openly what God did, leaving out no detail—God meeting particular needs in spectacular ways. We smile thinking about the God-stories we've heard; they never become old.

But what about the nights we cry out to God and the only thing we hear is the sound of our own voices? When we open ourselves up and yet come away empty?

Yes, God answers prayers; he can do anything. But he decides the tailor-made answer for each petition.

Sometimes God answers immediately.

When we were stationed in Germany, we drove to Switzerland on vacation, chose a moderate hotel, and then decided to satisfy our growling stomachs. The dark made it difficult to find our way back to our hotel. Eventually we had to admit that we didn't know which way to go. My husband pulled off the road, turned on the dome light, and opened his map.

"Help us, Lord."

Sometimes it's the simple prayers we remember.

A moment later a car pulled ahead of us onto the shoulder, and an older German gentleman tapped on our car window. "Where will you go?" he asked.

Surprised, my husband rolled down the window as the man once more said, "Where will you go?" now pointing to the open map.

Knowing just a handful of German words, my husband tried explaining our dilemma to the stranger. Finally, it dawned on him to reach into his pocket and show him our hotel key, which included the name of our hotel.

A huge smile crossed our Good Samaritan's face and he motioned for us to follow his little Audi, guiding us all the way to the hotel.

We wondered if perhaps we had met one of God's angels, as many did in Scripture. Regardless, we know God met us where we were, literally, and answered our prayer immediately.

Sometimes God takes his time.

No one likes waiting. When we are in a doctor's waiting room, it seems like we're there forever. It feels like a punishment, but we know it's not. So it is with God's waiting room. As we mature in the Lord, waiting becomes easier. It's still difficult to wait, but the longer we know the Lord, the more we see his faithfulness in our lives and understand our waiting is for a reason. Sometimes God uses the waiting to work on our, or someone else's, character.

God often chooses waiting to conform us into the image of his wonderful Son. Sitting across the desk from our army base's Hospitality House director, my husband and I shared our latest trial, in detail. We were expecting empathy. Instead, his words surprised us, "I'm excited you have an opportunity to trust God."

Was he kidding? He saw this as an opportunity? We saw our situation as more of a curse. Through the years and many more trials, I have come to understand what our friend meant. One day we'll be in heaven, standing in the presence of almighty God in all his glory. We will see the one who loved us so much that he suffered and died for us. That will not be a time of faith for us. Our time for faith is now. This is the only time we get to exercise our faith muscles.

When Joseph was imprisoned for a crime he never committed, the Bible tells us, the Lord was with him (Gen. 39:20-21). Joseph quietly waited for God's hand, without ranting and raving. He didn't curse the day he was born. He waited. And God honored Joseph's good attitude, an attitude totally submitted to God. Each step of Joseph's journey led him to the place where he could wait well.

Sometimes God says nothing.

There are times when we hear nothing. We know that there is no partiality with God; he doesn't play favorites (Deut. 10:17). Yet, in the silence, we can almost hear the enemy of our souls say God has forgotten us; we don't matter. At these times, we need to remember that God's ways are not our ways and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isa. 55:9). We trust, seeing nothing, hearing nothing.

The more we learn about God, the more we see he is trustworthy. Our faith can't grow unless we are relying on God for something bigger than us. Proverbs 3:5 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." Instead we lean heavily on our own understanding, trusting we'll figure things out.

Edith Schaeffer told a story in her book Affliction. She imagined in heaven a place where saints would be recognized for their areas of trusting God. For example, if Satan asked God, "Has anyone trusted you with their finances?," there, in a designated place, someone would be displayed as a person who trusted God for their needs. That person undoubtedly believed that God meant what he said in Philippians 4:19.

The areas we trust God for may differ, but the end result will be the same. We will be transformed into the Son's image. God uses different experiences to grow us. As baby Christians, our trials are baby-sized. As we grow, so do our trials.

Author and preacher Charles Swindoll once said we look at our lives the wrong way. We look at trials as the exception, but trials are the normal part of a Christian life.

So, what do we do when heaven is silent? We can become still and remember God is still God. We can praise him for who he is, almighty, all-knowing, all-powerful. We can ponder what he has done for us in the past and thank him for what he is doing in our lives now, even though it is unseen to us. We can thank him for what he is doing in or despite the situation. God is not limited by our circumstances. With God all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).

There will be times you'll pray and God will immediately answer. There will be times you will need to wait for the answer he'll graciously provide. And then there will be those times when you hear nothing and can lean hard on God. Each of those scenarios is God-chosen for you—chosen by a God who counts the hairs on your head, knows when a sparrow falls, and sings to us.

When we pray and heaven is silent, then we need to get silent too. We need to be still and know that he is God, and thank him for the opportunity to trust him.

Anne Peterson is a poet, speaker, and freelance author. Visit Anne at facebook or at annepeterson.com, where you can read her blog and listen to her poetry.

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