March 21, 2010

The Problem of Unanswered Prayer

Habakkuk 1:1-4

How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?
Habakkuk 1:2


In the book of Habakkuk we find two complaints that the prophet directs at God. We might call the first one “the problem of unanswered prayer.” Like Habakkuk, we know this problem all too well.

Why doesn’t God seem to answer some of our prayers? There is no quick or complete answer to this question, but there is one thing that may help us understand this mystery: sometimes God’s refusals may well be the best answers to our deepest yearnings.

Philip Yancey illustrates this point in his book titled Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? He writes about how Augustine’s mother, Monica, prayed fervently for her son’s conversion. Once, she stayed up all night praying that God would prevent him from going to the wicked city of Rome. He went anyway, and it was on that trip that Augustine became a Christian. Later, Augustine liked to say that God denied his mother’s prayer once so she could be given what she had prayed for always.

On the cross, Jesus also experienced the pain of unanswered prayer (see Matthew 27:46). When he asked his Father why he had forsaken him, no answer was given. That silence is the ultimate answer to all our prayers. God’s refusal of his Son on that day made it possible for us to be saved. Jesus, who took on the punishment for all our sins, is the best answer to all our deepest prayers.

Lord, sometimes we have so many questions that go unanswered, and our prayers seem to go unheard. Keep us close to Jesus and help us always to trust in him, we pray. Amen.

About the author — Peter Hoytema

Peter Hoytema has been a pastor for nearly 30 years and has served congregations in Ontario and New Jersey. He is currently the pastor of a congregation in Strathroy, Ontario. He is a graduate of Calvin Theological Seminary and San Francisco Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Grace, are the parents of four adult children.

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