Unanswered prayer leaves me disconsolate. At times, I have offered pleas to a God that seemed absent. On difficult days, I lifted up my longings to a God who was often silent. There were times when I languished in God’s silences and lamented as one who has no hope. Sometimes I cried out as one whose faith is spent.
There you have it: my candid and disturbingly honest confession about unanswered prayer. I could offer excuses for it. Or I could try to minimize the reality that this is a serious lapse of my faith. I could try to explain how, through the years, I have known trauma and trouble, as I hope for your sympathy. Or I could rest comfortably in your commiseration with me, together admitting that God is indeed absent, silent and uncaring.
But to believe those things about God would harm my faith and yours.
Good news: I am not alone in my feeling of abandonment. Remember David, who in his darkest hour, felt that God was absent:
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1)
And hear also these words from the Psalmist that bring to light a sense of abandonment by God:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2)
So back to unanswered prayer.
To buy in to a “silent God” theology would be to deny that God has, in fact, sustained me on every step of my faith journey. When God seemed most absent, God’s presence in time became most clear. When I felt that God had abandoned me, I soon felt embraced by God’s strong, grace-filled hands. When I cried out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” I found God very near, saying to me: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Isaiah 41:10; Hebrews 13:5)
Most of all, I discovered that unanswered prayer, in the throes of deep angst, creates a stronger faith and a more abiding hope. I love the hymn, “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart” especially this stanza:
Teach me to feel that thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear.
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh,
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.*
*Hymn Text: George Croley, 1854, public domain)
Please take a few minutes to hear this beautiful hymn In the video below: