Unanswered Prayer: What to do when prayer disappoints us
Prayer can be a life-giving encounter with the Creator of the universe. Prayer can also be disappointing, challenging and painful when our prayers aren’t answered in the way we’d like or expect.
When our boys were very young and Sammy was extremely unwell, I became their primary caregiver. It wasn’t easy coping with two children under three, the relentless demands of a growing ministry, and the trauma of frequent trips to the hospital under flashing lights. We were barely surviving and then, just when I thought we had reached our lowest point, Danny contracted chicken pox. Suddenly his perfect little baby body was covered in itchy, prickly spots.
Watching Danny in such distress was horrible. I yearned to tell him that it was going to be OK, that he wasn’t going to feel like this forever, that some people were even saying that he would have immunity in later life as a result. But, of course, a five-month-old baby can’t understand words, let alone concepts like the progression of time and the science of viral immunity. All I could really do to soothe his distress was to bathe him and hold him close, waiting out the days and the interminable nights, as he screamed and scratched and cried himself to sleep in my arms.
Often, like Danny, we simply feel pain, not understanding why our prayers aren’t being answered. But this is when we need to step into the Father’s comfort the most.
In our passage today, we read one of the most honest prayers of Jesus. When Jesus prays “Abba, Father”, he is anchoring himself in God’s unconditional love, even in painful circumstances.
But then, Jesus surprises us. Still holding onto God’s power, “everything is possible for you”, he appears to go off-script by continuing with, “take this cup from me”, praying for an alternative to the cross. This line is a powerful example of the importance of honesty before God.
It is hard to overstate the extent to which these five words, at the heart of Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane, have given permission to people ever since to pray imperfectly, honestly, and even improperly at times of tribulation.
Today as you come before God in prayer, begin with this powerful, honest prayer of Jesus:
Abba Father, everything is possible for you. Today, I lift to you the challenges, frustrations and unanswered prayers of my heart.