What About Unanswered Prayer?

“What?” he asks. Only it’s not so much a question as a two-year-old’s bold reaction to just about everything. 

His forehead draws together, his questioning mouth opens and his head jerks around. His spreads his legs. His little man hand stretches upright like a policeman stopping traffic.

“What?” 

“Wait for me.”

“What?” 

My kids did the “why” stage. This little guy is more a “could you repeat that, please” type,…and hurry it up while you’re at it. 

“You need to wait until I get my coat on so I can go outside with you.” 

“Ohhhhh.” It is an exasperated moan which rises like a little siren at the end. His arms drop like weights against his sides, and his knees bend almost to the floor. But not quite. Obviously my request is borderline intolerable. 

My prayer life can sound like this. At least the silent ones, not the community group type. But the one in my bedroom only God hears, those prayers sound in my ears like a whiny child wanting my own way. At times, my desperate plea is really a disguised complaint. 

There was a time when I felt like “I got this thing” called prayer. But that was B.C. Before our daughter Charity’s big health crisis, before a long long season of wrestling with God like Jacob, “I won’t let go until you bless me.”  

My vision of Who hears my prayers expanded, exploded and richened, at the same time, my understanding of prayer became murky. In some regards I am prone to be like a child stiff-arming with impatience the interruption of yet another whaaaaat? 

Maybe that is why in my Bible reading today Jesus spoke through one of those stories that seemed to me to have no point. 2 Kings 6:1-7 sits between big happenings, but Elisha and the axe head is stuck randomly in-between. It’s a big what? 

Elisha and his prophet friends cut down some trees to build a place to live by the Jordan River. One of the prophets lost his borrowed axe head while he chopped a log. It fell into the Jordan. 

Elisha cut off a stick and threw it in the water and the iron floated. Then the other prophet pulled it from the water and presumably they all went happily on chopping trees. 

“What?”

Why did God grant a supernatural miracle to save an axe head? I really don’t get it.  

Yet, I have such a need for the little miracles of everyday. 

As I pray, often I’m blocked by past seemingly unanswered prayers I begged for in the dark of a hospital or the need of the moment. They muddy the prayer water. 

I confuse what God will do today with what He didn’t do then. And at times my puny arm holds Him off and a voice inside challenges, “What?”

But Elisha and the axe head convicted me of the sin of unbelief.

If God makes an axe head float while a seemingly deeper more significant request is denied, does it make Him unjust? 

God chided Job, after losing all his possessions and his ten children. “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” Job 40:2 ESV

The accusatory pleading of desperation that implies, “You didn’t answer then, so you won’t now” is wrong. For my glimpse doesn’t reveal the whole rest of the picture still hidden.

In these last COVID years, there is so much grief. Sometimes it feels like the entire world is crying, and it is. So many pleas for Jesus to intervene, to step into the water, but sometimes the heavy “axe head” doesn’t float. 

I cannot carry all the “no’s” of God in my heart. They chain me to what I see, and don’t enable me to see “yes’s.” They become a moan of selfishness. My Father does what is best and moves mountains to accomplish the impossible. Even when what I see is no.   

I shrug on my coat and hold out my hand. I feel the hot skin of my grandson’s little hand submit and conform into mine. We head outside. The sun is bright. The air cold. His little body doesn’t even break the crusty covered snow. He slides on top like Peter walked on water.  

The One who holds my hand is good, right and just. Today I’ll look for all the little requests, the axe head ones He has raised to life and used for His purposes. I will be thankful and remember. I will choose to dwell on His gracious goodness and faithfulness. 

“Let’s walk here,” I point ahead to where a path is cleared.

“What?” he shouts.  

 


Recent Articles of mine at:

Christianity.com

Who Was Jairus in the Bible and What Did He Ask Jesus?

iBelieve.com
Twenty Encouraging Verses about Hospitality.

22 Replies

  1. Marilyn Nutter Reply

    “The no’s chain me to what I see” and blind me to all the yes answers was a profound thought. Thank you.

  2. Lois S Reply

    Desperate pleas can be disguised complaints. Waters of prayer muddied by a seeming lack of answers. Assumptions about God’s willingness to answer based on the past. The heavy bondage of carrying the “no’s” of God in my heart. Those are all significant to me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      Thank you Lois. I’m grateful God knows what He is doing whether or not I get it!

  3. Jan Puffenberger Reply

    I have a hard time remembering that His no’s are in my best interest. Frustrating sometimes, and then I realize after the fact and a long way down the road, why He directed my path in that way. “What?” I can hear Enzo saying that now…LOL

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      Yup. It is a struggle isn’t it! Glad I’m not alone. And seriously…that “What?”

  4. Sarah Schwerin Reply

    Yes, I too struggle with whining when I’m praying. Good to know that God’s will is always in our best interest, even when we don’t agree.

  5. J.D. Wininger Reply

    Another insightful post Ms. Sylvia. I’m still learning to discern God’s answers to my prayers, both those He listens to and acts upon, and those He seemingly says “no” to. I’m trying to adopt the mindset that God’s “no” means either “Not now”, or “Wait while I prepare something better for you.” It’s when I can’t sense any action by God in response to my prayers that I start to worry. If I don’t feel His presence when I’m praying, then I stop to look at myself to see how I’ve broken or severed my relationship with Him. He’s hearing me, but He doesn’t listen when I’m not listening to Him. Oh, how your post hits home with me this week. Thank you ma’am.

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      Thank you J.D. You are right. There are times when I need to really check my own heart to see if there is a blockage. So much of my struggle boils down to this trust of knowing His answer is right even if I can’t see it yet. Appreciate you taking the time to read and as always give an encouraging response!

  6. RJ Thesman Reply

    This is my favorite so far. Wonderful prose, Sylvia!

  7. Katherine Pasour Reply

    Your message brought laughter and tears. Those grandchildren (what?) can be exasperating, frustrating, and agitating, but they always fill our lives with joy and blessings. Thanks for sharing the smile! The focus on answered brought brought the tears. Like you, I know God has THE plan and all prayers are answered, just not in the way we may want. I’m still struggling with my biggest unanswered prayer and the ongoing grief which accompanies it. But I know God is with me, as He was during the illness and death of my loved one. Still, it continues to be hard. Thank you for sharing this message of hope and love.

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      Thank you so much Katherine. I’m glad it brought a smile to your face, and I understand the tears. I have them too. Appreciate so much your response, and congratulations on the book!! How exciting!

  8. Jeannie Waters Reply

    Our patience grows thin as we wait for God’s answers, but oh, how blessed we are when He answers. I enjoyed the story of your grandson which made me ponder how I relate to God. Thank you, Sylvia.

  9. sylvia schroeder Reply

    Thanks Jeannie! How often I see myself in those babies! I appreciate you taking the time to read and respond. You are always an encouragement!

  10. Teresa A Moyer Reply

    Even an answer of NO from God is an answered prayer. It took me a very long time before I understood this. I thought that for a prayer to be considered an answered prayer it had to be the way I wanted the answer to be. God showed me the hard way that a NO is an answer even if it is not the answer I was looking for.

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      Absolutely. And they are significant. “I thought that for a prayer to be considered an answered prayer it had to be the way I wanted the answer to be.” Thanks so much for sharing that. God knows and sees what we don’t. The “no’s” also are worthy of His praise! Appreciate you reading and thanks so much for your comment!

  11. Linda Lou Brucato Reply

    Wonderful!! So often I find myself in prayer saying “pensaci tu!” You will get that!

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      Ha! That is a great place to be in prayer! So good to hear from you, thanks!

  12. Joanna Eccles Reply

    I have some prayers that seem like I’ve been asking forever, and I don’t know if the answer is no or just wait and wait and wait. I need to focus on the good and the yeses God has given instead. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      Definitely. I have those too, and between Scripture telling us to be persistent in prayer and Paul’s asking 3 times…I am not always sure if God is saying no or not. Concentrating on the yes’s though is a discipline I need for sure! Thanks so much Joanna!

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