I have heard many people (myself included) whine about how God does not hear or answer their prayers. They bring before God a list of wants (some needs) and then wait for Him to wave a magic wand...and poof...everything is just the way that they would have wished for. They believe in some misguided way that God is nothing more than a genie locked inside a bottle that they can rub on their knees and know that He will make their every want and need happen.
Like I said, I have even been at this point in my own life. I have come before God with a list of wants, handed them to Him "graciously", and then complained that God did not hear me, or, if He did hear them, He simply chose to ignore me. This is what I call "The Myth of Unanswered Prayer."
Yes, I said MYTH. As in the exact opposite of fact, or even truth. But I will not make such a bold statement without supporting my belief that unanswered prayer is a make-believe phenomenom we create.
"Indeed, he who watches over (you) Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." --Psalm 121:4
If God is not someone who sleeps or slumbers, then how can I believe that He does not hear me? Has he gone deaf? Dumb? Blind? Mute? No, God is never sleeping, unlike the gods of the Philistines:
"At noon Elijah began to taunt them. "Shout louder!" he said. "Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened." --I Kings 18:27
As the story continues, we see Elijah taunt the followers of Baal to arouse their god to action. In fact, in an attempt to get Baal to respond, these worshipers went so far as to cut themselves until they bled! And yet, Baal never responded. Elijah waited as the men "worshipped" for hours, all to no avail. Then, to show the power of the One true God, he called on the name of the Lord as he rebuilt the altar, doused it heavily with water (including the surrounding areas). In a short prayer, Elijah called to God to fall upon the altar in fire. Lo and behold, the altar and the surrounding areas were consumed with fire.
Now, the God of Elijah is the same God that I love, worship and serve. If God was able to hear and to drop fire upon the altar, why would He not be able to hear and answer my prayers?
"'Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.'" --Jeremiah 33:3
First, let's look at this in bits and pieces. This is God speaking to the people of Israel. He begins His promise with a command: call to me. Note that God did not make a stipulation on when, where, or how to call upon Him, just that we do it. We must call upon Him. Second, He promises us that when we do call upon Him, He will answer us. Yes, that's right...He will answer us. It doesn't say He might answer us if He has time, if the tide is right, if our prayer is poetically stated. It says simply that He will answer us. PERIOD. If this is the same God that consumed the altar doused with water for Elijah, we have no choice but to believe that He is listening and powerful; He is the One True God. What He says He will do, He does. We can ABSOLUTELY count on Him to keep all of His promises.
If we believe the above things, then it is simple. There can be no such thing as unheard or unanswered prayer. God has promised to hear us when we call. But it gets better!
In the last part of the verse, God promises something even better! I will tell you GREAT and UNSEARCHABLE things you do not know.
Great means big, of an extreme degree. Not just large, but powerful, huge, beyond our comprehension. Unsearchable means that these things are things that we cannot find on our own. So when we say that God did not hear or answer our prayer, we are undermining God's promise to us.
Perhaps the real problem is this: not that God is not listening to us and answering us, but that we are not listening to God's actual response.
How many women have prayed repeatedly for a man to be a part of their life and then become angry at God when one did not magically appear? Girl, I have done it myself! But perhaps, it is not that God did not hear the prayer, but that God heard it and in His infinite wisdom, instead of waving the "magic wand" and producing a man, God has asked me (or you) to wait until we are walking with Him, seeking His will first, and then allowing the man we are to be with for life to mature to a point to love us as God has called husbands to do. Perhaps the "No" we thought we heard was simply a "not yet". Perhaps the silence was divine provision to protect us from a potentially harmful relationship.How many of us have prayed that God will increase our financial blessings, only to struggle for months, perhaps years, to make ends meet? In frustration, we think that God must not hear us, or if He does, He does not truly care about our "needs". I have been there too! But perhaps it is not that God has ignored us or fallen asleep, but that He knows that there is a better way, and that the struggle to bring our finances in line with His will (and sometimes also to develop a reliance on Him, and to develop humility through broken pride) will require that we come to the edge of total disaster before we can be blessed. Remember, Jesus told the rich young man in Matthew that it would be easier for a camel to enter through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God! Perhaps, until we have learned humility and Godly stewardship of our resources, we are little more than "poor" rich young men. We seek God, kinda. We seek Him so long as His will allows us to have new furniture (nevermind that the current "paid for" furniture is still in fair condition), to buy a new toy (a boat on a 30 year loan seems great the first year on the water), or the week long vacation in the tropics (which was great until we peeled from the sunburn and read the interest statement on the credit card we used to pay for the trip). But perhaps God wants us to learn to be frugal and to become givers (not just takers) before He will expand our financial resources. I think of the early church in Acts. We are told that they sold everything they had and shared with each other according to need. Clearly, there were some in the early church who were more financially stable than others. But when they were willing to give it all up, even those who had no income were provided for. God rarely hands us a $10,000 check when we come up short. However, He will provide meals for us that we don't have to buy. He will provide blessings in the form of entertainment for the single mother who has nothing left after paying the bills for her family to enjoy. He hears us and answers us. Generally, the problem is that His answer is not "our" answer.
I could continue to go on and on with examples. But the point is simple. I once believed that God simply did not answer every prayer. However, with time, prayer, and patience, God has taught me that every prayer is answered. Some are answered immediately; others take years. Some are answered with an emphatic "yes", but many more are answered with "not yet", "not now", or simply "no." When I come to a prayer request that seems to be unanswered, I simply step back and look harder. I let go, listen more, and wait. God does NOT slumber or sleep. He does NOT ignore His children. He simply sees far more and can do far more than we will ever be able to fully grasp.
And you know what? I'm glad! For every "unanswered" prayer I've griped about, there has been a great provision and blessing in God's answer that wasn't what I was hoping for.
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test what God's will is--his good, pleasing, and perfect will." --Romans 12:2