The most common concern people access me with is prayer. They wonder why their prayers seem to be unanswered or delayed. They are typically genuine believers who have followed the principles for prayer taught in the Bible. They are usually hurting and bewildered. They are seldom judgmental of God, but often judgmental of themselves.
Most of them experience a sense of guilt and failure. They mercilessly interrogate themselves with questions like, “What’s wrong with me?,” “Is my faith too weak?” or “What am I doing wrong?”
There are no easy answers and the trite, superficial ones offered are not very helpful and can be hurtful.
One primary roadblock to answered prayer is that God has given man free will. No matter how fervently or biblically I pray for someone, they still have to choose.
I suspect that one reason for God’s delays in answering prayer is so that He can produce growth and maturity in us. Prayer, after all, isn’t a Christmas wish list and God is not Santa. He’s a Heavenly Father raising strong children, not spoiled brats.
Sometimes, God answers prayers, but the answer is misunderstood or perhaps missed entirely, as in the following account.
A lady married a man who was a model husband and father … but he wasn’t a believer. She prayed fervently for years and felt confident that one day he would believe in Christ. However, one morning he was in a car accident. He was killed on impact and the car was totalled. She was devastated by her husband’s death, but also by her prayers being unanswered.
Later, she went through the items from his car. The only thing out of the ordinary was the business card of a man she’d never heard of.
Out of curiosity, she called the number on the card and asked the man how he knew her husband. The man explained that his car had broken down and her husband had gone out of his way to give him a ride to work. She told the man that this was the same morning as the fatal accident.
The man expressed his sympathy and said, “That is why he never called me! “
He explained … “You see, your husband and I talked about how to become a Christian and he trusted in Christ that morning. We were going to have a Bible study together. Now I understand why he never called.”
“And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him.” (1 John 5:14-15).
Pastor Ross Helgeton is senior pastor at Erskine Evangelical Free Church.