The Blessings of Unanswered Prayer

When God is silent I am still reaping benefits.

It is not possible to prove Christianity based on answers to prayer, because skeptics can always explain them away as coincidence. But as former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple said, “When I pray, coincidences happen; when I don’t, they don’t.”  The cumulative effect of answered prayer is to reinforce our faith in God.

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But what about unanswered prayer?  Most of us have heard that God answers every prayer: no, yes, not yet.  I used to be satisfied with that insight.  Now I am not.  My husband will tell you that is cold comfort for the sufferer and those watching a loved one suffer.  Yet, David and I persist in prayer, even when God seems silent.

The apostle Paul tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV)

Nicky Gumble, Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton Church, London, comments, “It is interesting that Paul does not say that when you bring your concerns to God, God will give you peace by explaining or resolving every situation you bring to Him. Instead, he suggests that the peace of God in your heart and mind is somehow more likely to satisfy you and ease your fears than if He fixed or explained everything immediately.”

What is the use of praying if the desired health results are not forthcoming? 

Four cancer and prayer stories:

Story 1: Praying with and on behalf of a friend

Three of us went with our friend who was stricken with ovarian cancer to an unusual healing prayer service in the hopes of a miracle. She later died. We would do it again for it is the right and loving thing to do – to offer our time, our awkwardness, our companionship, and our prayers in her time of need.

Story 2: A prayer of healing not answered but changed the course of three generations

A friend of mine is named after an uncle he never met. The uncle died of cancer as a boy but not before being prayed over by a nurse who told him about Jesus.  The boy’s encounter with Christ compelled him to tell his family about Jesus and to pray for them. His father would become a Christian and study to be a pastor along with the support of his family.  Generations were changed by the prayers of the young boy and his nurse.

Story 3: Sincere prayers that warmed the heart of a sincere skeptic

A friend and neighbor had a child with leukemia. The father of this child was an adamant atheist but upon witnessing the praying community of his wife’s church he was led to place his trust in Christ well before it became apparent that his daughter would survive the cancer.

Story 4: When a fallen world works against our most fervent prayers and noblest of intentions

For the followers of my blog you may recall the story of Audra and Jeremy who were in process of adopting an Indian orphan with Downs Syndrome. The long and costly adoption process was nearly complete.  Jeremy and Audra were awaiting the green light to travel to India when little Hank developed leukemia. Bureaucracy and structural indifference, international adoption difficulties, and a pandemic delayed and delayed again Hank from coming home to Buffalo.  Audra and Jeremy were undaunted. They wanted him with them more than ever. Doctors were contacted in Buffalo and were ready to treat him as soon as he arrived. A specialist even contacted an Indian provider to advise on how to treat Hank for leukemia in the interim. A missionary couple residing nearby in India were ready to travel and care for Hank during the transport to NY. And, of course, many, many Buffalo prayers were offered up for Hank and his adoptive parents.  Yet, on July 16, 2020, Hank passed away, never having been held by his adoptive family.

I do not know why Hank died and left two heartbroken parents.  Who can explain why two faithful Christians were happily willing to spend the rest of their lives caring for a child with Downs Syndrome. If ever there was a contest for whose prayers are worthy to be answered no doubt Audra and Jeremy would be top contenders. 

This story raises some troubling questions:

Why would God call a family to open their hearts and home to a forgotten child to only be heartbroken months later?  

Why were prayers not answered on Hanks behalf?  

What was the point of all the money spent, all the anxious waiting, all the praying?   

Four ways unanswered prayer works

I have suggested some hints in the stories above.  Let me be more explicit. 

  1. Connection to God:  Prayer connects us to God. Communion with God through prayer offers peace and strength. Praying releases emotions and thoughts to the authority of God who is the “Father of all mercies and the source of all comfort.” Being assured of His reality, presence and love can happen in prayer especially if we are asking for spiritual resources in the midst of suffering and disappointments. There is joy and comfort that comes from such awareness and a “peace that transcends all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7).  This peace happens even if our prayers for healing are delayed or denied.
  2. Connection to others who are praying for our difficulties breaks the stranglehold of cancer loneliness and gives way to comfort and much needed companionship. 
  3. Witness to the world:  The local church in prayerful response to the suffering of its members and those outside its doors strips it of a superfluous club mentality and creates a genuine place of acceptance and emotional safety for sufferers.  We all know crazy faith-healer stories and the ridicule their often misplaced, insensitive prayers have generated.  But I have been a Christian a long time and I can attest that when the skeptical world sees the genuine prayers and love offered up by a church on behalf of a stricken person they are impressed; even without a miracle of healing.  The two childhood-leukemia stories I described above – one with a good outcome and one not – are cases in point.
  4. Courage:  Praying reminds us of the sufferings of Christ and the suffering of the faithful, past and present. It emboldens us to face our challenges and mortality with grace and faith regardless of the desired temporal healing being asked. 

So, these are the reasons I pray and find comfort when others pray for me against this yoke of metastatic breast cancer. If I am blessed with complete healing I will love Him for all his benefits.  If I am not healed and succumb to this disease at a time way before my choosing I will love him and give thanks for all His benefits for all of eternity. 

Post script: after telling others of Hank’s death with tears and frustration Audra concluded with this: “thank you for all the prayers on Hank’s behalf ” ( no bitterness and no retreat from the dependence on prayer ).

10 thoughts on “The Blessings of Unanswered Prayer

  1. Joyce N September 10, 2020 / 4:41 pm

    Powerful and moving, Dona. Thank you. Your light shines brightly. You and David are in my prayers.

  2. STEPHEN HAYES September 10, 2020 / 8:14 pm

    I can think of no other word than “AMEN”

  3. Patricia Clark September 10, 2020 / 8:54 pm

    Prayers are precious– and though I don’t fully understand the ramifications of prayer on myself, others, and the world, I know that God keeps our prayers in golden bowls in heaven. Talk less, pray more….

  4. Anonymous September 10, 2020 / 9:28 pm

    Beautifully explored and personally tested. Prayer: an enigma and a blessing. Great thoughts and reminders in some heavy times.
    XO
    Michele

  5. Anonymous September 10, 2020 / 11:38 pm

    Thank you. You are in my prayers.

  6. nyamazela September 11, 2020 / 2:24 am

    Thank you for your ever thoughtful and faith-filled blogs. I was moved to tears not just from the stories but from your own faith which is evident throughout this account. God bless you.

  7. debijames@gci.net September 11, 2020 / 10:41 am

    Thank you for your always eloquent words. I have several prayers that were gratefully unanswered. And then there’s the ones that leave me wondering. It’s such a process. But I’m grateful for every day, and for you. You are always in my prayers!! Hugs, Debi

  8. Polly McCauley September 12, 2020 / 4:02 am

    I love this! This is a keeper for me—one to which I will refer often. Dona, you are brilliant. Thank you for sharing your gift of writing and Godly, spiritual insight. Love you—so thankful for God’s gift to me of YOU

  9. Janet September 16, 2020 / 11:14 am

    Thank you for the strong and gracious reminder about sincere prayer. Bless you, Dona.

  10. Nikki Sullivan November 20, 2020 / 1:43 pm

    Still praying for & thinking of you daily!

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