But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.
Disobedience can fracture our relationship with God in such a way that he will not answer our prayers. David acknowledges this just prior to talking about answered prayer, “If I had harbored sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”
Yet our obedience doesn’t earn answered prayer. If this were the case Jesus’ experience in Gethsemane would have been vastly different.
Jesus obeyed every letter of God’s law with exacting precision and still faced unanswered prayer. “Remove this cup from me” he begged with such intensity the blood vessels under his skin ruptured mixing blood, sweat, and tears. Yet the Father had other plans.
Christ would have known this — for, as Hebrews says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” He faced greater battles than we face, yet he was perfect where we fail.
Christ not only prayed to have the cup of the crucifixion and God’s rejection taken from him, he also prayed, “Your will be done.” This is the prayer of a fully surrendered man — a man fully and sacrificially committed to the Father.
Unanswered prayer reveals whether our heart truly trusts God. In this way prayer is different from thinking about God. “To the thinker, God is an object. To one who prays, God is the subject,” observes Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book Moral Grandeur.
What we receive in prayer is greater than any request we can make. In this way no prayer goes unanswered because all prayer deepens our relationship with God — something worth far more than anything we could imagine.
As for the particulars of our prayers, which are God’s joy to fulfill, “God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows,” says Timothy Keller.
Our intimacy with God is deepened through prayer — which is what we need most. Trust becomes the foundation we stand on — in longing expectation — when our prayers are unanswered. Our satisfaction in God makes him the object of our rejoicing when our prayers are answered.
Father, help us to know you more deeply through prayer. Help us to develop a discipline of intellectually honest, emotionally vulnerable, and dedicated times of prayer. Answer our requests. Direct our desires. Guide our hearts.
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org