Why Prayers Go Unanswered

Why Prayers Go Unanswered

Donald L. Norbie

In this instructive study Mr. Donald L. Norbie of Greeley, Colorado, gives us some helpful insights on the subject of unanswered prayer, particularly in relation to suffering.

A friend of mine joined a health club to get into better condition physically. During workouts, an attendant kept urging him on. The motto was “No pain, no gain.” Muscles must be stressed until there will be no growth, no increase in strength.

My wife fell and broke her kneecap. During recovery she needed physical therapy. A sign in the therapy room proclaimed vigorously, “No pain, no gain!” Muscles which have been inactive must be stretched and worked. The toning and growth of those muscles will hurt. In order to walk again, and to know good physical health, pain must be endured.

A hiker was on his first long hike of the season. The trail was steep, and his muscles cried out for rest. But he pressed on, pushing himself. “Tomorrow,” he thought, “I’ll really ache!” But if he would condition himself for more strenuous hikes, the pain must be endured.

Yes, it is true: “No pain, no gain.”

If this is true in the physical realm, is it not also true spiritually? Yet there is a line of teaching today, popular in some Christian circles, that God wants all of His children to know perpetual good health and continuous financial prosperity. Some preachers demonstrate this doctrine by their own luxurious style of living. After all, God wants the best for His children — right?

He does indeed, but what is best for His children and material prosperity may not be the same things. Both Scripture and experience contradict this new gospel of prosperity and wealth. Instead, some of God’s choicest saints have known chronic illness and financial lack.

Preach health and prosperity to the millions on the edge of starvation and you will just rub salt into their wounds. The message may sound feasible in affluent America, but not in suffering Ethiopia.

So what is the biblical perspective? We know that sickness may come to a man or woman of faith even when no sin is apparent. Hear the anguish of Job as he sits on an ash heap and scrapes the pus oozing from his sores: “Why did I not die at birth? Why did I not perish when I came from the womb?” (Job 3:11).

Just prior to this Job had lost his wealth and his children all in one day. This was the man of whom God said, “There is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil” (1:8).

Or consider Paul, that unique servant of God, whom God used to write Scripture and to plant churches. Surely he is an example to emulate. Paul had some physical ailment, unknown to us today, which he described as “a thorn in the flesh” and “a messenger of Satan” (2 Corinthians 12:7).

One writer thinks Paul’s problem might have been recurring attacks of malaria. Others suggest a debilitating eye disease. Whatever the trouble, it was something Paul desperately wanted removed. He pleaded with God intensely three times for its removal. Nothing happened. Paul endured it as a chronic weakness and source of pain.

How should the Christian respond, then, to these difficulties, particularly when prayers go unanswered? Are we to become bitter, angry, resentful? “If God is a God of love, why is He doing this to me?”

Such resentment does no good. The heavens remain silent. No response is heard. It is as if we beat our heads against a stone wall. The circumstances refuse to budge.

Job endured excruciating pain, but in the end he experienced tremendous spiritual growth.

After he had been ground in the mill of life, he looked up to God and cried out: “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5, 6). He had come to know himself and God in a way he had not known either before. “No pain, no gain.”

Paul, too, learned much through his pain. The Lord answered him in a way he did not expect.

“My grace is sufficient for you,” He said, “for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

In response, Paul wrote, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities that the the power of Christ may rest upon me.” With Paul it was also true — “no pain, no gain.”

To reject the circumstance of life, to become bitter against God, is to cease to grow. All of life is a training period. At times the training is painful, but if we submit and learn, growth will come. “Now no chastening seems to be joyous for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).