The only thing worse than unanswered prayers is a clear “No” from God. These tips on how to trust God even when He doesn’t answer your prayers will help you cope with the silence and loneliness that can accompany unanswered prayers.
“Unanswered prayers are often not unanswered at all,” says Michelle on Heartfelt Prayers for Women Who Want to Get Pregnant, which is one of my most popular articles. “It is usually that you just don’t know how it was answered, or answered in a different way than you expected. Therefore, you didn’t notice. You pray for a reason, and you must trust that the God you pray to knows what is best for you.”
Even if you don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ, you may struggle with prayers that God hasn’t answered. And your unanswered prayers affect your level of trust and faith in Him – especially if you’re praying for something good for people. It’s hard to see suffering, grief and pain in the innocent, young, helpless of our world. It hurts when our friends and family members are unhappy, sick, or even dying. Life can get incredibly difficult…and when God doesn’t answer prayer, it seems like He doesn’t care.
My ideas on how to trust God despite unanswered prayer are inspired by my own experiences. I write my prayers and talk to God in my journal every day. I see how many prayers He answers and how many He doesn’t. I don’t “keep track” but I do have a record of answered and unanswered prayer.
Most recently I’ve been saying lots of prayers for healing and recovery, because of my shoulder surgery. Those long dark nights of pain and silence were hard! Most of the time I sensed God’s presence, but sometime I didn’t…and those were the worst times. If you can trust in God’s presence even when your prayers aren’t answered, you can trust Him through anything! And that is my prayer for you.
6 Tips for Trusting God Despite Your Unanswered Prayers
“Go to God with your burdens,” said Jesus. “Be bold when you pray. Trust that God hears your prayers! And, in ways you don’t fully understand, God will see you through this situation you face.”
Unanswered prayers don’t mean God has abandoned you or doesn’t love you – and they certainly don’t mean we can’t trust Him. Another one of my current unanswered prayers (besides healing from surgery) is my yearning to work overseas, to have a more adventurous and deep walk with God. I want to get out of the boat and take a leap of faith into Jesus’ arms! But I have a husband, two dogs, a church community, a house – and I treasure them. But I pray for a richer life, and am learning how to cope with my unanswered prayers to work overseas again.
1. Consider your expectations of God
What are you praying for? When you pray to God for that person, thing, or experience, are you focused on getting something out of God…or are you allowing the Holy Spirit to connect with God on your behalf? Figuring out your expectations of God and your motivation for praying will help you learn how to trust Him despite your unanswered prayers. If you expect God to answer all your prayers with a “yes dear” and grant all your wishes like a fairy godmother, then you need to rethink your relationship with Him.
“I must often be glad that certain past prayers of my own were not granted,” wrote CS Lewis in Christian Reflections: Petitionary Prayer. Sometimes we don’t know how lucky we are when our prayers aren’t granted or answered.
2. Be honest about your motivation for your prayer
My motivation for wanting to live and work overseas is almost purely selfish. I love travel, I love change, and I love adapting to new environments and situations. I love learning, and exploring different cultures. I have a lot to offer an overseas employer, and I could even write and blog about wherever I go.
Notice how many “I’s” are in my list of reasons for working overseas? It’s all about me. My unanswered prayers are based on what I want and think I need in life. But the truth is that I don’t even really know what I want and need….God does. I trust Him to answer my prayers when He is ready. And, I trust that He knows what He is doing if He says no to my prayers.
Maybe you’re not praying for adventure and excitement, like I am. Maybe your unanswered prayers involve emotional healing, loss or grief. You may find it helpful to read How to Trust God After Losing Someone You Love.
3. Be patient with unanswered prayers
One of my best tips on how to deal with unanswered prayers is to allow God to work in His own time. I’d love to start my adventure working overseas yesterday, but that wasn’t the time for me. And that’s okay because if I do get to live abroad, I want it to be the best possible time. God knows if and when I should move to a different country. If working overseas is in His plans for me, then it will happen in His time.
I knew a married couple in my Bible Study who wanted to do missions work in Sudan. Their plans were thwarted several times, but are now living in Egypt. They’re learning Sudanese, and are peacefully waiting for God’s direction to Sudan. How did they deal with unanswered prayers when their plans to move overseas were pushed back by more than a year? They were patient (sort of! Sometimes they got impatient).
4. Practice a childlike faith in God
Maybe I should say we need to have a “dog-like faith” in God! My dogs are faithfully devoted to me, and would follow me to the ends of the earth. If I found an open door to working overseas, they’d be right behind me. They follow me through forest trails that are grown in and up mountain paths that seem never-ending. My dogs trust me, and follow me blindly.
I’m learning to trust God wholeheartedly, the way my dogs follow and trust me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t take little actions steps of faith towards working overseas – such as researching ideas for mission trips for introverted people. Practicing a child-like faith in God isn’t passive. Patience and faith can be active tips on how to trust God despite unanswered prayers.
5. Align yourself with God’s will
What if you aren’t in God’s will? Sometimes I wonder if the reason my prayers to work overseas haven’t been answered is because I’m not in alignment with God’s will for my life. Maybe He wants me to be here, not there. Maybe blogging is where I need to be right now, not working in a different country.
“Prayer is request,” writes CS Lewis in The Efficacy of Prayer. “The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them.”
6. Learn the best way to learn about unanswered prayers
My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers is the best book on trusting God and unanswered prayers. I love this book, and read it every morning.
Here’s what Chambers says about not having to ask God what His will is for your life:
“This friendship means being so intimately in touch with God that you never even need to ask Him to show you His will. It is evidence of a level of intimacy which confirms that you are nearing the final stage of your discipline in the life of faith. When you have a right-standing relationship with God, you have a life of freedom, liberty, and delight; you are God’s will. And all of your commonsense decisions are actually His will for you, unless you sense a feeling of restraint brought on by a check in your spirit. You are free to make decisions in the light of a perfect and delightful friendship with God, knowing that if your decisions are wrong He will lovingly produce that sense of restraint. Once he does, you must stop immediately.” Bold emphasis mine.
I love this idea, that we ARE God’s will. How does this relate to unanswered prayers? I am free to pursue a job working overseas even if God doesn’t drop a job offer in my lap. But, I feel a sense of restraint because of our life here. So…perhaps I’m not coping with prayers that aren’t answered. Perhaps His answer right now is no.
And I’m okay with that.
I welcome your thoughts on trusting God despite unanswered prayers. What have you been praying for, and what do you think God is doing in your life? If you’re anxious or fearful, read 3 Easy Ways to Trust God With Your Future.
May your prayers ring straight and true, may you trust God with all your heart, and may the Holy Spirit lead you in peace and joy.