Unanswered Prayers, God’s Silence and the Demand for the Instantly Miraculous

Unanswered Prayers, God’s Silence and the Demand for the Instantly Miraculous June 23, 2017
we demand instant prayers answered just as we do instant food
We want instant miracles in the same way we want instant food. Photo credit: brizzle born and bred via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

We demand in our prayers instant healing, instant riches, instant love, instant solutions to all our problems. We insist God intervene consistently with miraculous answers to all human dilemmas.

A few weeks ago, I attempted to answer this question: What good is prayer, in a practical sense?  When I try to pray for the nation these days, I remember the many people who prayed for their lives during WWII. What use is prayer, at the doors of the gas chamber? If God did not/could not save those innocent lives, He certainly won’t help us now.

When I wrote my struggle with the silence of God and too many easy answers for that silence, I received a large number of comments. The two below represent what many said. Both gave me permission to publish them in this follow-up column.

Why pray? Doesn’t God have a perfect plan for your life? If you pray for a cure for cancer say, aren’t you trying to circumvent that perfect plan? Does that not imply that you know better than God? Isn’t that blasphemy?


Thank you for your article. I was taught that “sometimes the answer to prayer is ‘NO’ ” and that is why my x-husband kept embezzling, and my friend died of cancer, etc. We can blame everything on the “wisdom of God” both good and bad. I wonder then, if “God is in control,” why the Evangelicals are so aghast at same-sex marriage, because after all, “God is in control.” If “HE” doesn’t approve of same-sex marriage then He could have stopped the supreme court from ratifying it. And on, and on, and on . . .

As I read the responses and once more visited my struggles with prayer, I saw an article that suggests much of US Christianity bases its theology on the need for God to intervene consistently with miraculous answers to all human dilemmas. We demand instant healing, instant riches, instant love, instant solutions to all our problems.

We act as though the nature of life, the rhythms of life and death, of winter sleep, spring awakenings, summer growth and autumn harvests, all mingled with hard work and often much disappointment, can be escaped by praying the right prayer and getting the miracle from God.

We have left behind written prayers

One thing that much of US Christianity left behind, and this is particularly the case in the Evangelical world, is the emphasis on written prayers, the ones prayed for eons around the world. We most easily find these in the Book of Common Prayer (freely available online), first published in 1549, and very much in use by those where worship patterns hail from the more strongly liturgical lines.

However, other Christian groups like Baptists, Pentecostal, and Independent Bible churches have simply discarded them. In those traditions, prayers are not to be written or prepared in advance but are to come spontaneously, poured out from the heart.

And that may be our problem.

divinehoursvol3_80Some years ago, I stumbled on Phyllis Tickle’s incredibly helpful work, The Divine Hours: A Manual for Prayer, which makes these historical prayers so much more accessible to people not schooled in liturgy or able to decode the mysteries of The Book of Common Prayer.

They liberated my prayer life.

I think that many who find the “God answers ‘Yes, No, or Wait’ to all prayers” an overly simplistic response to “Why doesn’t God DO SOMETHING” prayers would benefit from these.

Three daily anchors

Below are three examples, great ways to anchor the day, morning, noon and night.

Upon awakening: “Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day:  Preserve me with your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen”

At noon: “O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing. Send your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

In the evenings, before bedtime:

“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.

Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised; for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see: a Light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen.”

Give it a try. You may find peace.

The Thoughtful Pastor

Note: A version of this column is slated to run in the Denton Record-Chronicle. The Thoughtful Pastor, AKA Christy Thomas, welcomes all questions for the column and would especially like questions your children/grandchildren/students ask. Although the questioner will not be identified, I do need a name and verifiable contact information in case the newspaper editor has need of it. You may use this link to email questions.

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  • kentuckywoman2

    This is exactly the kind of prayer which Jesus exhorted us NOT to pray! These kinds of prayers stymie the relationship between us and God…prayer should be heartfelt, a conversation, not a repetitious prayer that one recites by rote. We would perhaps make one exception, with The Lord’s Prayer – but even that prayer teaches us about how to pray.

    We pray to thank God for His gifts & blessings, for our lives, etc. Praise should always be part of prayer, as well as gratitude. We pray to repent and to ask forgiveness. We pray that God’s Will be done. We pray for other people…and that’s a big one. We don’t need to pray a long laundry list of our needs because God already knows our needs. But it is in lifting others up that our own needs are met. I believe it is part of the concept of giving and receiving, even when it comes to answered prayer.

    God does not always answer our prayers the way we want Him to do. God knows what is best for us, what we can handle at any specific time, etc. We must trust God and IN God that He will answer our prayers in His own time, and in the manner of His own choosing. And sometimes, not at all. Not all prayers are meant to be answered.

    I believe the main thing prayer does is foster a relationship with God. When we talk to our family and friends, we don’t recite memorized conversations. God doesn’t want that, either. No growth or real depth can develop in that kind of routinized prayer life.

    Better to pray from the heart, regardless of the time of day, where one is at, what one is doing. Talking to God should be like talking to one’s best friend, only more so, much, much more so. And you won’t get that with a few memorized lines. Just my opinion.

    • C_Alan_Nault

      “God does not always answer our prayers the way we want Him to do. ”

      Bible says that Jesus said the following:

      Matthew 17:20 For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.

      Matthew 21:21 I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.

      Mark 11:24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

      John 14:12-14 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.

      Matthew 18:19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

      So, if you don’t get what you ask for in prayer one of the following must be the reason:

      – the Bible is wrong, Jesus never said these things

      – the Bible is right, Jesus said these things but Jesus was wrong

      – the Bible is right, Jesus said these things but Jesus was lying
      – the Bible & Jesus are right but no one that prayed for something requiring divine intervention had any faith
      – the Bible is a collection of fables & myths

      • Ivlia Blackburn

        And nowhere does it say that the mountain instantly fell into the sea. Time is not stated, nowhere does it say that what you pray for will happen instantly. The point is, belief. There are many tales of divine intervention, but in the past people were prepared to wait and let God do things in his own time, it is only recently that we have expected God to drop everything – metaphorically speaking – and do as we demand NOW.

        • C_Alan_Nault

          “There are many tales of divine intervention”

          Yes, there are many such tales. There are also many tales about leprechauns and alien abductions.

          The question is: i there any actual EVIDENCE of divine intervention in response to a prayer? If so, present it. If not, there is no reason to believe prayers are answered by any deity.

  • Xavier Corothers

    I think there should be a balance between both forms of prayer. God does answer prayers, God may just not answer a prayer in the why people expect. I see no reason an answered prayer has to be “instant” or “a supernatural display of power”. To me an answered prayer can be completely mundane and within the bounds of nature or it can happen over time.

  • Maura Hart

    you guys want it every which way! doesn’t jesus himself- in red letters no less- admonish us about “vain repititions” matthew 6:7. but jesus also says ask, knock that’s all ya need to do! if zombie jeebus can’t make up his mind, then why should you not pray even though god who has known you before you were born jeremiah 1:5, clearly his perfect plan can be changed by your prayers. of course only zombie jeebus speaks in red letters so, god has plans? bfd

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “If God did not/could not save those innocent lives, He certainly won’t help us now.”
    Save us now? Can anyone present any evidence for god answering a prayer ( one that would require divine intervention ( praying you get a promotion at work or prying a loved one comes out of surgery OK aren’t eligible since neither requires divine intervention) ever being granted? The Bible has several passages where Jesus says whatever you ask for in prayer will be given to you if you have faith.. and you only need as much faith as a mustard seed.

    • Chuck Johnson

      It’s not God who answers prayers, it’s us humans that do.
      It’s a psychological and social phenomenon.

  • Chuck Johnson

    As a skeptic and scientist, I see that the only effectiveness that prayer has is on the person that prays and on the people who come in contact with that person.

    Psychological and social factors are the ones that create the agency of prayers.
    Magic and voodoo have been shown to be ineffective.

  • Linnea912

    I have found that praying the Daily Offices (I’m Episcopalian) on weekends and engaging in morning and evening prayer on weekdays really helps me stay “grounded” in my faith.

    As for the ideas presented here, I agree that prayer shouldn’t be about demanding miracles, though I’ve been as guilty of that as anyone. The way I look at it, prayer is about tapping into God’s love, which empowers me to not just make it through each day, but also to do my small part to change this world for the better.