At a recent prayer meeting, while discussing how and when and if God answers prayer, one person quoted the King James rendering of John 16:24 which contains the familiar words, “ask, and ye shall receive”. And then with great feeling and personal experience continued with “Ask and you shall receive and what happens when you don’t?” He meant, what happens when you don’t receive what you ask for? And this is despite the fact you have followed all the directives the Bible teaches, and you’ve been walking in faithfulness with the Lord all your life. You see, my friend has had significant reason to ask that question. The unrelenting physical concerns he and his spouse have endured over the past number of years have been met with what seems to be silence from God, despite fervent and faithful prayer.
The promises in the Bible are clear. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Matthew 7:7 (NIV). That is pretty clear. All you have to do is ask, seek and knock and you will receive, find and have the door opened. But, the truth is, sometimes those things don’t happen. So what then? It’s not like the Bible is silent on the issue.
Job had many, many questions for God, and they constitute much of the Old Testament book named after him. God’s answers to Job are a thundering response. The Psalmist regularly expressed frustration and impatience with God’s seeming reluctance to answer his prayers. In each case he ends up with praise for a God whose thoughts are higher than his. Habakkuk saw the continued dissipation of his country and still praised God,
Though the fig tree does not bud,
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior. Habakkuk 3:17-18
Paul was famously given what he termed a thorn in the flesh and “a messenger of Satan” (2 Corinthians 12:8). But when he asked for God to remove it, God responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). So sometimes God’s answer is no.
But what about the deafening silence that greeted my friend in answer to his persistent prayers and the prayers of the Church. I had no good answer for him – and pastors are supposed to have answers. And besides, who am I to answer for God? I just know this, it’s from the Prophet Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. Isaiah 55:8. And that has to be good enough. For those of us who have been greeted with silence in answer to our prayer, just maybe, when we get to heaven, we can ask God why our persistent unanswered prayers remained unanswered. But then again, I doubt we will. We’ll be experiencing His glory instead.