Prayer as Discipline: Unanswered Prayers

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Psalm 116:1
M’Cheyne Text: Daniel 8; Psalm 116

Prayer: As we saw yesterday [1], spiritual disciplines are ways to lay ourselves in the path of God’s grace. This week, we will think about one of those disciplines – prayer [2]. Interestingly, Americans are overwhelmingly convinced that there is a God who answers prayers. In fact, according to a 2010 Gallup Poll, 92% say that there is a God, and 83% say that this God answers prayers [3]. The Psalmist celebrated, “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy” [4].

Unanswered: If we are honest, however, we doubt whether God answers our prayers, and our doubt often keeps us from praying, which then keeps us from experiencing the fullness of God’s grace. In Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference, Philip Yancey writes, “Unanswered prayer forms a barrier that blocks any desire to keep company with God … and poses an especially serious threat to the faith of trusting children” [5]. He continues, “I do not doubt that God answers prayer. Rather, I struggle with the inconsistency of those apparent answers” [6]. Why does God answer some prayers and not others? He suggests that unanswered prayers sometimes “trace back to a fault in the one who prays” and other times “trace back to God’s mystifying respect for human freedom and refusal to coerce” [7].

Fundamental: Our most fundamental prayer, however, is always answered. As Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” [8]. Our primary prayer is that the Lord’s name be made holy. In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” [9]. Was his prayer answered? No, in the sense that the cup did not pass. Yes, in the sense that the Father’s will was accomplished. As a result, his deepest prayer – namely, the joyful redemption of his people – was answered.

Prayer: Lord, We confess that our prayers often do not end, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” For we struggle in knowing how to pray for the things that we perceive as needs in light of our primary prayer, “Hallowed be your name.” Yet teach us to devote ourselves intentionally to prayer as a discipline, as you increasingly show us that you are always working to make your name holy in our lives by answering our deepest prayers and giving us our deepest joys [10]. Amen.

(Optional) Post-Reflection Worship: Be Still, My Soul



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[1] See 843 Acres, “Spiritual Disciplines for the Goal of Godliness.” 22 October 2012.  |  [2] Luke 5:16 ESV; Jesus prayed (e.g., Matthew 6:5-9; Luke 9; 18:1); the Scriptures command us to pray (e.g., Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17)  |  [3] Jeffrey Jones. “Few Americans Oppose National Day of Prayer.” Gallup. 5 May 2010.  |  [4] Psalm 116:1 ESV  |  [5] Philip Yancy. Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference. Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan (2006), p.216.  |  [6] Id. at 220.  |  [7] Id. at  232. Obviously, the topic of unanswered prayers and the reasons for them is a complicated and nuanced one. This quote by Yancey is a summary that is unlikely to be fully satisfying, in which case I point you to the entirety of his book, especially Part Four (“Prayer Dilemmas”), which includes chapters 16 (“Unanswered Prayer: Whose Fault?”), 17 (“Unanswered Prayer: Living with the Mystery”), 18 (“Prayer and Physical Healing”), and 19 (“What to Pray For”). Given 843 Acres’ limited 400-word count, this reflection hopefully acts as an honest admission that we struggle to believe that God answers prayer and also is a spark to ignite a desire to learn more about and practice the wonderful and mysterious discipline of prayer.  |  [8] Matthew 6:9-10 ESV. See also Luke 11:2 ESV.  |  [9] Matthew 26:39 ESV  |  [10] One of our deepest prayers is, “Cause me to hallow your name, to cherish it, to treasure it, to exalt in it, to love your glory and majesty more than anything.” As we increasingly pray like this, our prayers and desires increasingly align with the heart of the Lord and, then, we increasingly see the fulfillment of His great promise, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4 ESV).

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5 Responses to “Prayer as Discipline: Unanswered Prayers”

  1. Greetings, Bethany et al. This was so very appropriate today, as I happened to be meditating upon the Lord’s prayer this afternoon and arrived at the same conclusion that you did in your last footnote. I believe that the chief benefit of prayer is that it yields a humble confidence–that is, a confidence that God does and will provide for our ULTIMATE needs. One day our “physical” needs will be denied, and our bodies will return to the dust. But God’s name’s sake, our REAL selves will be raised up. God bless you. I will be praying for you all as Sandy approaches.

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