When God Seems Silent
By: Laura Ackley
Verse of the Week: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17).
Extended Reading: Matthew 7:7-11
There are few things that tempt us to mistrust God more than seemingly unanswered prayers over a long period of time. We cry out to the Lord for physical healing, yet the healing may not come resulting in loss. We might beg the Lord to draw a loved one to Himself, yet they only seem to stray further from the narrow road leading to life. We might cry out for the healing of marriages or for God to bring us a companion in life, and yet the years seem to fly by as our deepest longings appear to be answered with silence from Heaven. When God appears to be silent on matters close to our hearts, our faith is tested.
The question, “why isn’t God answering my prayers?” is one of the most difficult and gut-wrenching questions to navigate. We are commanded to make our requests known to God. We are to be anxious for nothing, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving [God calls us to] let [our] requests be made known to God” (Phil. 3:6). But on the other hand, Scripture reveals that God is completely Sovereign. He is outside of time, knowing the end before the beginning. He has plans that cannot be thwarted. Can our prayers really change anything? Well, yes. We do find accounts in Scripture where God directly responds to the prayers of His people. For example—Hezekiah! Hezekiah was very sick and at the point of death. The Word of the Lord came to Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah: “Thus says the LORD: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover” (Isa. 38:1). Hezekiah went to the Lord in prayer and asked for healing! The LORD responded, “Thus says the LORD… I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life” (Isa. 38:5). Amazing! Yet, even hearing of answered prayers might disturb our souls while we are walking the path of unanswered prayers. Why do some people recorded in the Bible survive the fiery furnace, the fierce battles, and walk through the Red Sea on dry ground while other Christians are mocked, flogged, imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, and killed by the sword (Heb. 11:36-37)?
While the Bible is rich with examples of God answering His peoples’ prayers, the Bible is also full of accounts in which prayers were either answered with a “no” or a “wait…” sometimes a very long, grueling wait. Abraham and Sarah waited for 25 years before they received the answer to their prayers and their son, Isaac, was born. Without a doubt, after reading or hearing prophesies about the coming Messiah, the people of God described in the Old Testament prayed and asked for the Savior to come and make the wrong things right in the world. He did not come in their lifetimes ,and most of the time their circumstances never improved. Regardless, they clung to their faith in the promises of God and died having not received that which had been promised. King David prayed for his child to live, but His child ended up dying (2 Sam. 12:15-23). Paul asked for the “thorn in His flesh” to be removed on several occasions, but the answer was, “no” (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
Although we will never know all of the reasons why some of our prayers are not answered to the capacity we desire, God has outlined reasons why our prayers might be unanswered. According to Psalm 66:18, if we are in a place where we cherish iniquity in our hearts, the “Lord would not have listened” to our prayers. When one truly loves their sin and is unwilling to give it up, this shows that this person has yet to come to a place in their lives in which they have committed to following Jesus as the Lord of their lives. In fact, when one is abiding in Christ they will not go on deliberately sinning after receiving the knowledge of the Truth in saving faith (Heb. 10:26). While a true Christian will wrestle with sin, they will never love their sin and celebrate it in their hearts. If a person is still enslaved to their sins and rejoicing in iniquity, they are praying from a place of unbelief and their prayers will not be prized by God.
Secondly, if our prayers go unanswered, maybe we are not praying according to the will of God. We are to “delight [ourselves] in the LORD, and He will give [us] the desires of [our] hearts” (Ps. 37:4). As we take time to find joy in our God, study His character and personhood, get to know what He loves and hates, and so on, we will find ourselves beginning to pray in alignment with His heart. As we spent time finding our joy in Jesus, our hearts are transformed to seek His good and perfect will at all times. Our desires become that of our Father’s so that when we pray, we pray according to His will; He will give us the desires of our hearts. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14). The Lord is beckoning each of His children to seek the heart of God and pray from that place. Even Jesus modeled seeking God’s will in prayer. After pouring out His heart in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion, Jesus asked if the cup of God’s wrath against sin could be removed from Him, but then He added “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Our heart posture in prayer should always be to seek the will of God.
As Jesus taught about prayer, He revealed important truths that we can rest in during seasons in which God has answered our prayers with apparent silence, “wait,” or “no.” In Matthew 7 Jesus emphasized the importance of asking of Him through prayer. We desires for us to ask! Remember, “you do not have, because you do not ask” (Jam. 4:2). Jesus assures His people that when we ask, “it will be given” because “everyone who asks receives” (vs. 7-8). Then, He proceeded to give a worldly example of a spiritual truth. Jesus explained that if our children asked for food, we wouldn’t hand them something harmful—something like a deadly serpent (vs. 9-10). In the same way, if we ask our Heavenly Father for something, He isn’t going to turn around and give us something destructive. If sinful parents wouldn’t do that to their children, certainly God would never answer prayers with things of a harmful nature. God, of course, will only give good things to those who ask Him!
From Jesus’ teachings we Matthew 7, we recognize that God responds to our prayers as a Father. God absolutely promises to give good answers to prayers whenever we ask Him for things. In this passage, we do not see God promise to give answers to our prayers exactly as we ask for them, but He won’t give us answers that are worse than we ask. He may not answer our prayers precisely according to our requests, but somehow, He always comes through in a way that is better than we could formulate into a request. This brings us to a third reasons why our prayers might not be answered. The Prophet Isaiah explained God’s nature saying, “for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9). We can conclude that seemingly unanswered prayers might be because our good Father knows that if He answered a particular prayer, it would be destructive to us. Being all-knowing and outside of time, His ways, thoughts, and plans are well-informed.
Another truth that we can carry with us when Heaven seems silent on a matter is that God never simply does nothing in response to our prayers—even if it feels that way. If God’s answer is “no” or “wait,” we can take heart knowing that He has our good and His glory in mind. He works all things for our good (Rom. 8:28), even our seemingly unanswered prayers. If we are in Christ, not a single prayer prayed falls on deaf ears; not one prayer is overlooked. As we are tempted to think the opposite, we must pray “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
Unanswered prayers shake us! They rattle us to our cores. After years of praying and seeking God on a matter, we might struggle with particular verses like Mark 11:24 which states: “I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” As we wrestle with verses like Mark 11:24, we might begin to think, “yeah whatever… I’ve been praying for years to no avail.” As doubts in regard to God’s faithfulness to His Word and goodness fill our hearts and minds, we must abide in God. Prayer is not about obtaining results from God—prayer is about a relationship with God. Prayer is not a one-sided experience between God and man. On the contrary, prayer is an invitation into fellowship with God. Prayer is an opportunity to further know God as the beauty of prayer is rooted in communion with Himself. He is not a genie in a bottle that grants wishes for us. He is not Santa Claus who will give us good things if we are good boys and girls. He is to be trusted as a good Father who will give good to His children as we cry out to Him and soak our pillows with tears.
The temptation to doubt God during seasons, sometimes very long seasons, of unanswered prayers is likely why Jesus explained in Luke 18:1 that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart.” God knows it is easy to lose heart as our faith is but a smoldering wick in a wind storm in the middle of heartbrokenness. Oh, but how we can rest assured knowing that a “bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench” (Matt. 12:20). If “whatever [we] ask in prayer” has not unfolded yet, we cannot abandon hope. Jesus wants us to keep asking. He wants us to come to Him as He reveals His will to us. He wants us to know that He doesn’t withhold good from His children—if we could see the future, we would agree every time, God’s plan and timing is superior. He can be trusted. Come to Jesus in prayer. Even when God seems silent. Come to Jesus.