What to Do about “Unanswered” Prayer

When my new Bible study, Prayer and the Word of God came out this spring, I’d intended to share portions of it in my blog from time to time, so readers could get an idea of what it’s about. Until this week, I’ve forgotten to do that. But here’s a sample now. This one comes from Lesson 6, “Beyond Prayer Formulas.” For my international readers—and anyone who uses an e-reader—you may appreciate knowing that Prayer and the Word of God is available in electronic formats such as Kindle. A list of links appears at the end of this post.


 In John 14, Jesus says, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (verses 13-14).  That’s an amazing promise. And this isn’t the only verse like this in Scripture. Over and over we see promises that God will answer prayers when we remain in Him, agree with two or three people, ask in His name, have faith, and don’t waver (e.g. Matthew 18:19; John 14:13-14, 15:7; James 1:5-8, 5:14-16; 1 John 3:21-22, 5:14-15).  How do those promises compare with your experiences with prayer?

If you’re like me, you’ve probably had some wonderful experiences when God did answer those prayers and you were amazed. But, like me, you may also have had experiences where what you’ve asked God to do is not what He has done—at least not from your perspective.

So what do we do with that? I don’t think there are any easy answers to that question. [However], the primary thing that has helped me when I am puzzled about praying according to God’s promises is to remember that prayer isn’t about using a formula to get the exact results I want. Prayer is about relationship.

Prayer is about relating with God. He reveals Himself to us in His written Word and tells us how life with Him works. But that doesn’t mean we can treat what we see in the Bible as a formula that, if we get it exactly right, obligates God to do exactly what we are asking.

The more I grow in my relationship with God, viewing prayer in the context of loving conversation with my good, wise, and loving Friend, I’m finding that I’m not as put out when my prayers aren’t answered in the fashion I hope they will be. These days, unanswered prayer becomes a topic for lively ongoing conversation with God. I don’t just drop my request in the Celestial Suggestion Box and wait for something to happen. Now I’m more likely to have a running conversation about whatever it is I’m asking God to do.

Here are some of the questions I might ask Him to talk with me about:

What do You see about this situation that I can’t, God? What are You doing behind-the-scenes?

  • How are You working to transform me in this situation, God?
  • How should I be praying concerning the other people involved in this situation?
  • How might You want me to partner with You for the answer to this need?
  • Am I getting in Your way somehow? Will You show me anything in me that hinders You from answering?
  • Should I be asking You for something different, God? Maybe I’m asking the wrong thing?
  • What would You like for me to be doing while I wait for You to come through on this, Father?
  • What would You like me to better understand about You and Your character as I wait on You for this need or desire, God?

Some of the richest conversations I’ve enjoyed with God have come as a result of “unanswered” prayer. When I’ve taken the time to engage with Him about my prayer requests and the behind-the-scenes things He was doing, I’ve experienced a deep sense of His care for me. Many times I find myself saying, along with Paul, that though sometimes God has allowed my “thorn in the flesh” to remain, His grace truly is sufficient for me.


Links to retailers who offer electronic versions of Prayer and the Word of God::

iTunes:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/prayer-and-the-word-of-god/id887601266?mt=11&ign-mpt=uo%3D4

CBD.com:  http://www.christianbook.com/prayer-breakthrough-studies-small-groups-ebook/cynthia-bezek/9781935012559/pd/66143EB?item_code=WW&netp_id=1257130&event=ESRCG&view=details (image is not up yet- we will look into this)

Kobobooks.com: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/prayer-and-the-word-of-god

Google Books:  https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Cynthia_Hyle_Bezek_Prayer_and_the_Word_of_God?id=X320AwAAQBAJ

Amazon – previously published by Amazon Digital Services 6/2/2014

http://www.amazon.com/Prayer-Word-God-Breakthrough-Studies-ebook/dp/B00KRPX4IS/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1402514754

Barnes and Noble published by Harvest Prayer Ministries 4/17/2014

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/prayer-and-the-word-of-god-cynthia-hyle-bezek/1119321648?ean=9781935012542

 

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This Is not the Post I Intended to Write

I’m not writing the post I’d planned to write. I can’t.

I can’t, because I cannot get the latest ISIS news out of my head. The Islamic extremists actually beheaded an American journalist yesterday.

I’ve been disturbed all along by the news from Syria and Iraq. It has often turned me to urgent prayer. But somehow this news went even deeper for me. Maybe it’s because he’s a journalist, and that is the profession I worked in years ago. Or maybe it’s because he’s an American and in my naïve thinking, Americans are supposed to be protected from such barbarism. Or maybe it’s just because we know this person’s name and the names of his family members who are suffering his horrific loss.

At any rate, I can’t get this news out of my head. So I take it as a call to prayer.

Over the days that the ISIS terrorism has been escalating, the Holy Spirit has given me several specific ways to pray. I share them here with you, in case you, also, can’t get the news out of your head.

  • Pray that God will knock terrorists off their horses, proverbially speaking, and give them an encounter with Jesus, as He did that other persecutor of Christians, Saul (Acts 9). No one is beyond God’s saving mercy. May evil men be humbled and turned around by the presence of Jesus Christ the Lord.
  • Pray that God will supernaturally fight this battle. The Old Testament is full of the accounts of God’s miraculous intervention in battles against His people. Do it again, Lord of Hosts—for Your Name and Your glory!
  • Until God does intervene, Christians are being martyred at an alarming rate. Pray that God will fill these brothers and sisters with His Spirit, as He did Stephen (Acts 7), so that they can stand firm in their faith and experience Jesus’s peace that passes all understanding.
  • Innocent people of other faiths are also being senselessly slaughtered. They need our prayers, too. On Calvary, two men died alongside of Jesus. At the hour of their deaths, one recognized Who Jesus was and put his faith in Him. The other did not. Pray that all those who are being killed will recognize Jesus for who He is and put their faith in Him.
  • Cry out to God for justice. Ask Him to deal with His enemies. Some psalms are more comfortable to pray than others. Who doesn’t love praying Psalms 23 and 139, for example? But most of us are pretty uncomfortable praying Psalm 94. Read it and you’ll see why. However, justice is every bit as holy an attribute of God as love and mercy are. Maybe it’s time for us to start praying Psalm 94 on behalf of persecuted people around the world.
  • Ask God to make us—you, me, other believers around the world—faithful to pray for as long as it takes. Jesus told us to pray for His kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. So for as long as those distressing news reports keep coming, let’s keep praying! Let’s not stop until God brings His justice and peace to the world.

About Face

Yesterday morning I did a lot of whinging to the Lord about my stress levels. I don’t feel bad about that because He commands me not to be anxious about anything and to cast my cares on Him. So the way I figure, if I need to whine, then He’s the best Person to whine to.

Anyhow, I was telling Him how overwhelmed I felt. And, as He sometimes does, He probed. He wanted to know why I was so stressed.

“Because I am responsible for too many things, Lord!”

You view responsibility as if it were a virtue, I thought I heard Him say in my spirit.

“Isn’t it?” I asked, genuinely surprised.

I am the responsible one, Child. I own responsibility for how the universe works out. You do not always have to “make things happen.”

It probably shouldn’t have, but this felt like revelation. In my world “being responsible” is right up there with holiness. It might as well be the 11th Commandment as far as I was concerned.

“But Father,” I protested. “Everyone evaluates me on the basis of being responsible!”

Not Me, He said, before I could go any further.  I value your love and faithfulness. It is I who does the work and manages the outcomes. Your job is to trust Me, depend on Me, and to love people.

After a bit more protesting and a lot more dialogue, I yielded. I confessed my need to control outcomes. I admitted the anxiety it causes is me. I repented of my pride about my reputation for being responsible. And I asked God to help me be faithful and loving instead. As I prayed these things, God’s peace washed over me. That matter settled, I was ready to move on. So I opened my Bible to where the bookmark was and started to read.

It was a familiar story—but the words jumped off the page at me: Just as He had needed to change my perspective mere minutes earlier, God needed to change Peter’s perspective, too.

Just as He had done with me, God showed Peter a vision that challenged his personal sense of piety. Peter would not be effective in his ministry if he continued in his old mindsets. So, while Peter was at his regular prayer time, at 3 in the afternoon, God grabbed his attention. He gave Peter a startling message that went contrary to everything Peter had believed. Peter was credulous at first, so, like me, he protested and asked questions. But God patiently continued the conversation until Peter was convinced—just as He had done with me.

If I hadn’t known God was speaking to me earlier, I sure knew it now. By following up our out-of-the-blue dialogue with scriptural confirmation, I knew I needed to take to heart what He had said.

And I also realized how important those established prayer times are. When I meet with God regularly, sharing my true self with Him, He meets me there. He grabs my attention and changes my direction. It’s no different now than it was a couple of centuries ago when He did an about face for His friend Peter. The old saying is true: prayer changes things—but prayer also changes me!

Praying for Strangers

Last week, God gave me a special assignment. He asked me to pray for someone I don’t know and probably will never meet. His name is Dr. Kent Brantly. You may have heard of him. He’s the American missionary doctor who contracted the Ebola virus while serving stricken patients in Liberia.

I have plenty to pray about. I wasn’t looking for a new prayer assignment. But from the moment I heard about Dr. Brantly last Friday, I haven’t been able to get him off my mind or out of my heart. So I’ve prayed. And prayed . . . and prayed. I think I’ve prayed for Dr. Brantly just about as earnestly as if he were a member of my own family.

I know I sound a little surprised. This type of thing may not seem strange to you. I’m learning that it’s not unusual for God to ask people to pray for strangers. Still, it fascinates me. You see, if I try to work up passion to pray for something that seems important I usually can’t. Plus, I don’t follow world news very closely. I’m not on any global intercessor teams. I keep pretty busy just praying for friends, family members, my church, and the ministry I serve.

But praying for Dr. Brantley has been different. Every morning I wake up and scour the Internet to find updates on how he’s doing. The Holy Spirit brings him to mind multiple times each day—and sometimes in the night. So I ask Jesus to heal him. I plead with Him to use this very public situation to glorify Himself and to advance His kingdom. And I ask Him to have mercy on the hundreds of nameless (to me, but not to Him) Africans who are suffering from Ebola.

This isn’t the first time God has assigned me to pray for strangers. There was a season when He asked me to pray for Donald Trump. Another time it was the Pope. Go figure. I really don’t know how God decides who I should be praying for. But when it happens, I know it’s God, and I know I need to follow through. Besides—He puts it on my heart in a way that I couldn’t not pray, even if I wanted to.

Intrigued by all this, I asked some friends if God ever gives them special prayer assignments. Do they ever pray for strangers? Most of them told me rather matter-of-factly that He does. And they do.

A former teacher said that she prays for lost or kidnapped children. Whenever she hears about them in the news, she can’t stop praying for them until they are found. They seem to be her special prayer assignment.

A 20-sometihng told me that God has captivated her heart concerning the thousands of Christians who are fleeing northern Iraq because of persecution.

I knew that another friend had prayed for the 300 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped from their school in April. When I asked her yesterday if she was still praying for them, she reminded me that God hasn’t answered yet—so of course she’s still praying!

This same friend also prayed many months for Meriam Ibrahim. Ibrahim is a young mom who was held in a Sudanese prison many months awaiting execution for her Christian faith. God answered that prayer—Ibrahim was released and arrived safely in the United States with her two children last Thursday.

If I were in prison or fleeing my home because of my faith . . . if I had a deadly virus that kills up to 90 percent of its victims . . . if my child were missing or kidnapped . . . I would want others to pray for me! So it makes sense that God would put strangers on the hearts of people He knows He can trust to pray for them. After all, He tells us to “remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3). He instructs us to “be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18). And He reminds us that we “know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing . . . sufferings” (1 Peter 5:9).

So I’m curious: What special assignments has God given you? What have they been like for you? Will you post a few words to encourage other readers of this blog?