Unanswered Prayers

Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? 

Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.

Why do you hide your face?

Why do you forget our misery and oppression?

– Psalm 44:23-24

At times it seems that in crucial and critical moments of our lives when we need God most, when we need a miracle and divine intervention in our lives, the heavens are silent and God does not answer our prayers. The problem of unanswered prayers is real. It is one of the most dangerous pitfalls of spiritual life. It can rapture our trust in God and make us question the role and importance of faith in our lives.

In one of today’s lectionary readings, apostle John boldly proclaims and states, “if we ask anything according to his will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14). Over and over throughout the entire Bible, we are urged to raise all our worries, requests and prayers to God who is always there to hear and stand with us as a loving parent. So, why are there so many unanswered prayers in our lives? Why are we left all alone, helpless and hopeless when we turn to our loving Father in heavens for help and support?

“The Lives and Sayings of the Desert Fathers” is one of the most precious and priceless early Christian writings from the third and fourth centuries. It is the chronicle of the lives of the holy men and women who left everything they had behind in search of Christ  and holiness in the wilderness of the Egyptian desert. One of the shortest stories found in this collection is about a blind monk who lived a holy life and had the gift of healing others. Yet, when he prayed, he never asked God to grant him healing and recover his eyesight. Instead, he beseeched the Lord for his divine will to be done and revealed in his life.

This short and humble story holds the key that can help us  untangle and understand the problem of unanswered prayers. It reminds us about the divine will – a small but crucial detail we often overlook while glancing over the biblical passages on God’s promises to fulfill all our prayers and requests. 

Yes, God does indeed promise that we can ask anything from him and that he will hear and give us an answer, but there is always one condition. Our requests can be realized only within the scope of his divine will and providence. The very idea and concept of prayer and the divine will always go hand in hand within the Bible. That is exactly how Christ taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). That is how Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane prayed, “not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39; cf. Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). And that is also what we see in today’s scripture reading, “If we ask anything according to his will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14).

Yes, God knows we struggle and He suffers with us. And yes, God does want to help, heal and care for our wounds. But first, we need to embrace a life of faith, trust in the love and care of God, actively pray for and seek his will and plan for our lives, and be ready to accept it.

In a way, we live in a dual spiritual universe. One constructed by our understanding of who we are, what the direction and purpose of our lives are. Then, there is the divine providence and will for our lives, who we truly are and what we are called to accomplish and achieve in life. These two realities drift closer or apart from each other depending on where in life we are. Sometimes, we might drift so far away from the divine loving will and plan for our lives that we end up living trapped in a lifeless bubble that aimlessly floats in a cold world constructed entirely by our projections of life, purpose and identity.

The strive and prayer for divine will are what bring these two worlds closer together, helping us merge our reality, our hopes and dreams with God’s will and plan. In the works of Timothy Keller, “the basic purpose of prayer is not to bend God’s will to mine, but to mold my will into his.” Once we find and embrace the divine purpose and will for our lives, we will be stepping into God’s reality, the true life we are called to live and experience in communion with Christ. Only then we will hear the gentle whisper of the Lord saying, “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them” (Mark 11:23).