What should you do when your prayers are unanswered?

Do you feel like giving up praying for the salvation of your loved ones when they are not responsive to the gospel? Or, do you get discouraged when your prayers seem to fall on deaf ears? We often hear this advice from older Christians that God answers our prayers in one of three ways. It is either a ‘yes’, a ‘no’, or ‘wait’. Sometimes, we are frustrated when we do not get an answer immediately. In his book, The Remarkable Prayers of the Bible, Dr. Jim George encourages us to be persistent in our prayers through the example of Abraham in Genesis 18. On this occasion, God revealed two things to Abraham. The first is that Sarah will give birth to a son in a year’s time (Gen. 18: 10, 14). This announcement came as a guarantee to Abraham that God would fulfill what He had promised 25 years ago. The second is that God will destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18: 20, 21). Abraham was troubled when he heard that God was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. He could not bear to see Lot and his family coming under the impending judgment. So he pleaded with God on their behalf. Thus in Genesis 18 we find one of the greatest examples in the Bible of intercessory prayer. From this passage, Dr. Jim George draws three lessons about prayer which I will briefly summarize below. First, answers to prayers are not always immediate. As in the case of Abraham, he waited 25 years before his prayer was answered. Could we wait 25 years for answers to our prayers? Would we be satisfied if one or all of our prayers were never answered to our satisfaction? We must come to God praying like our Lord Jesus did, “Your will be done” (Matt. 6: 10; 26: 42). Second, our prayers should be motivated by a desire to see God glorified. Abraham was concerned about the fate of the people in the two cities. At the same time he was more concerned about God’s character, asking “Shall not the Judge of the earth do right?” (Gen. 18: 25). In other words, Abraham was concerned about the glory of God. Are we more concerned for our own selfish desires rather than the desire to see God being glorified in our lives? Third, God’s love for the lost is greater than ours. God did not rebuke Abraham for his interest in sinners. We see a ding-dong negotiation with God (‘Suppose there were fifty… forty-five… forty… thirty… twenty… ten” Gen. 18: 23-32). In the end, he won a promise from God. “I will not destroy it for ten’s sake” (Gen.18: 32). We know that in the end God did what was right because He could not find ten righteous persons. However, God did spare Lot and his two daughters in answer to Abraham’s prayers. God said, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezk. 18: 23, 32; 33: 11). As God encouraged Abraham, so He encourages us to pray for those without Christ. We must never stop pleading with God for lost family and friends. As long as they are still alive on earth, we must never give up on them. God will surely honour our persistent faith in Him.

Rev. Mark Tay