I remember sitting in a room with my friend Scott when he recently moved from a hospital into hospice care. He had spent the past year battling cancer. His condition worsened and it was a hard pill for him to swallow. I was struck with the realization that my friend was dying; yet at the same time, I wished I had more time with him. I got to visit him and see him before he passed away; we chatted and laughed and caught up about life.
Processing through that conversation experience led me to encounter God and realize the mystery of unanswered prayer. This is something all campuses ministers, students, and Christians wrestle with at some point in their walk.
WHEN PRAYERS FALL ON DEAF EARS
Many people have prayed in earnest for a revival and awakening, for family, professors and peers to come to faith, for healing from disease, for broken families to be restored. Yet sometimes, their prayers fall silent; sometimes, their prayers are unanswered. Doubts and questions begin to surface: “Where is God? Why hasn’t He answered our prayers? We have been praying fervently for so long.”
The likes of Hudson Taylor and Mother Teresa faced similar moments.
This article will only shed a little of light on the mystery of unanswered prayer and how to move forward, taking a look from a different perspective. We will skim the surface of the larger topic of unanswered prayer, and hopefully this will help you when you deal with unanswered prayer in your life.
The first thing is that God cares a lot about your prayers for everything including your campus. Your may think He has not answered your prayers, but He cares very much about the people you cry out for, and pray for in earnest. The best illustration of this is given by C.S Lewis’ book, “The Magician’s Nephew.” Digory, the main character, journeys to the newly created Narnia in search of a fruit that will heal his mother. In the journey he encounters Aslan.
“He had for a second a wild idea of saying ‘I’ll try to help you if you’ll promise to help my mother, but he realized in time that the Lion was not at all the sort of person one could try to make bargains with….but please, please – won’t you – can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?’
Up until then, he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws; now, in his despair, he looked up at the Lion’s face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own, and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.
‘My son, my son,’ said Aslan. ‘I know. Grief is great.’”
God definitely cares a great deal about your prayers. However, the mystery as to why they may be unanswered has many reasons. But know that when things seem like they are static and prayers seem unheard, God is still at work. He definitely cares about the suffering you are experiencing and your individual journey.
GROWING IN THE SILENCE
Unanswered prayer is one of the great ironies of life because it can actually become the answer to our prayers. Like in any relationship, there is a moment of separation from our significant other and thus for us as believers, God leaves prayers unanswered. For example, when Jesus was buried in the tomb, we forget what the disciples wentthrough in their agonized thinking. “Will the Lord rise from the grave? What will happen next?”
However in our walk with Christ, for us to grow in maturity, God remains silent at times. In what seems to be His absence, He gives us a chance to walk with steadfast loyalty to Himself and to walk by faith and not by sight. Often times, we rush to the resurrection and forget that in these moments of uneasiness and adversity, we experience the greatest moments of growth in our Christian faith.
Even though we may experience the chaos of death, unanswered prayer, static fellowship, or inner turmoil, I am reminded of Isaiah 49:14-16: But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” (NIV)
Lastly, our unanswered prayer, tears, hopes and dreams may be the greatest contribution to the world to come. Our contributions are being stored up by God in those golden bowls to be poured out for the final day. Tim Chester writes in The Message of Prayer:
“Prayers we think of as directed to the present are in fact being stored up to be answered on the final day. When we pray for those suffering ill health we are expressing our longing for the day when there will be no more sickness (Rev. 21:4). When we pray for God to end wars and oppression we are expressing our longing for the day when the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ (Rev. 11:15). When we pray for mercy on those suffering natural disaster we are expressing our longing for the day when creation itself will be remade (Rev.21:1)….The prayers we think have gone unanswered may in fact be stored up in the bowls of incense held by the twenty-four elders waiting for a greater fulfillment than ever we anticipated… Many of your prayer are lodged there and one day they will determine the ultimate course of history.”
Through my conversation with my friend Scott, through the laughter and chatter, I saw in his eyes something that we all must understand: there is faith for life and then there is a darker faith for death. There is faith for miracles, but also pain. There is faith for God’s will when it’s our will too, but there is also the grace to trust God when His will is not what we would choose. As a new semester begins, walk by faith and not by sight, trusting in the Lord no matter the circumstances.
Anthony Deng is the New York City Metro Campus Coordinator for Campus Renewal. He leads and coordinates volunteers for events such as One Cry and helps facilitate the New York City Metro Area student core team. Anthony was born and raised in New York City, graduated from CUNY the City College of New York, and has a B.A in History and Asian Studies. Anthony gives New York City tours to freshmen of various campuses. On his tour, he teaches and shows students various hidden gems of New York City. On the side, he loves to collect college sweatshirts and t-shirts. In addition, he loves to play and watch basketball and football. He an avid fan of the Pacers & Colts.