Sunday, September 23, 2012

Finding reason for hope when your prayers go unanswered

It seems that for many Christians not having the prayers they most care about answered for long stretches of time is a painfully familiar experience. During these times the answers to prayer that other people get can be profoundly frustrating and confusing. It can seem like there is some cruel cosmic conspiracy to rub in your lack of whatever it is you think you need. Everyone else's happy Facebook status updates can start to read like a catalog of what you don't have or don't experience!

Over the past few months I've kept coming back to something Chris Wiles wrote at their blog Thorns Compose that has been changing how I process unanswered prayer. The post was about surviving the frustrations of unwanted singleness but don't stop reading if that isn't your situation. I think the point they raise is profound and more broadly applicable to any area of unanswered prayer:
"Pray for love. All of it. Yes, pray for a spouse. But don’t just pray for a spouse for yourself. Doing so will only cause the years of unanswered prayers to weigh you down. Instead, pray for love – all of it. Be thankful when others find love ahead of you, because every love story reveals a God who brings people together against what is very often some very impossible odds."
I think the idea that Chris puts forward is much more redemptive and healthy. Rather than framing other people getting what they want when we aren't as reason for pessimism, frustration with God or assorted other types of angst, we can choose to be thankful and hopeful. We can do this even in our own lack because what we witness in the lives of others is proof that God is not silent or disinterested. Other people's blessings shows us a God who is still actively engaged in bringing about good things. They show us a God whose ability to answer is not constrained by difficult looking circumstances. Rather than focusing on despairing prayers for ourselves, it frees us to channel our energies into hopeful prayers for others to experience good things. It is not at all an easy shift in perspective but I am finding it is one that makes a difference.

Photo by kelby93. Used under Creative Commons licence