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Hear the Silent Message in Unanswered Prayer

Hear the Silent Message in Unanswered Prayer

Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Pete Greig's new book, God On Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer, (Regal Books, 2007).


You’ve prayed repeatedly for God to intervene in a situation close to your heart – but all your requests have been met with silence. You’ve prayed with great passion and faith – yet still, God doesn’t answer. Do unanswered prayers mean that God doesn’t care, or worse, that He’s not even there? When you’re heartbroken over His silence, it can seem that way.


But God has a message to send you through the silence. Here’s how you can hear Him, even when He doesn’t answer your prayers:


* Be honest. Admit your disappointment, frustration, confusion, doubt, sorrow, anger, and any other feelings you have about the fact that you haven’t yet received answers to your prayers. Don’t be afraid to express yourself completely to God, without shame or pretense. Pray about every concern you have. Ask God hard questions.


* Trust in God’s love. Know that nothing – not bankruptcy, divorce, illness, death, or anything else – can ever separate you from God’s love. Regularly remind yourself of specific ways God has already shown you that He loves you, such as through answered prayer in the past and His promises in Scripture. Recognize the blessings you currently have that you haven’t noticed before, and thank God for them. Remember that God often expresses His love through the kindness of faithful people. Choose to take God at His word and believe that He cares about you, no matter what.


* Seek God Himself instead of just His miracles. Understand that, although God sometimes does choose to perform miracles for certain purposes, He often decides not to do so. Believe in the truth that a miracle is always possible, but remember that miracles are rare by definition. Check your motives to make sure you’re not just vying for a miracle, but instead are seeking to grow closer to God. Don’t expect God to be like a divine vending machine who dispenses miracles on demand. Love God Himself more than what He can give you.


* Realize that silence doesn’t mean absence. Know that God is still present with you, despite His silence. Remember His promise never to leave or forsake you. Understand that God sometimes decides to withdraw from your conscious experience and deliberately make Himself less obvious and less immediately available in order to reduce your dependence on outward things and help you live by faith instead of sight. Ask God to reassure you of His presence as you struggle with unanswered prayers.


* Be willing to accept “no” as an answer. Consider carefully whether God has truly not answered your prayer, or whether He has answered it, but chosen to deny your request. Ask God to give you the strength to accept His will, even if it’s contrary to your wishes. Realize that your power to choose God’s will over your own preference is a significant opportunity to grow in faith and maturity. Remember that God’s wisdom is often beyond human understanding, but He is always working out the best for you from His eternal perspective. Ask God to help you learn the valuable lessons He wants to teach you through your suffering, so that suffering will ultimately lead you to greater joy.


* Ask yourself if your prayers are trivial. Acknowledge that some prayers are inconsequential or just plain stupid, such as praying for God to miraculously fill your car’s gas tank when it’s nearing empty and you haven’t yet found a gas station. If that’s the case, choose to pray in another way or do something practical yourself.


* Ask yourself if your prayers are conflicting with someone else’s prayers. Remember that God considers prayers from all the more than six billion people on our planet. Realize that He may say “no” to your request so He can say “yes” to someone else. Know that God won’t act if your prayers contradict something He wants to accomplish in another person’s life.


* Ask yourself if your prayers would impact the laws of nature in a destructive way if they were answered. Understand that some prayers aren’t answered because they would be detrimental to the world and other people’s lives in some way. Remember that, although your prayer may seem reasonable to you, God may be protecting people’s lives by refusing to answer it.


* Ask yourself if you’re expecting God to spare you from the normal consequences of living in a fallen world. Acknowledge that, in our fallen world, suffering is common for every human being. Expect to have trouble in this world, as Jesus predicted we all would. Discuss your situation with some faithful friends and honestly consider whether God is asking you to pray against your suffering, or whether He simply wants to give you the grace to endure it with Him alongside you.


* Ask yourself if your understanding and expectations of God are wrong. Seriously consider whether you’re asking the wrong thing of God based on an unbiblical set of expectations. Make sure your prayer life reflects God’s character and His promises in the Bible. Talk with someone you trust about whether or not he or she thinks your request is sensible.


* Ask yourself if you’re praying for the second best when God wants to give you something better. As you keep praying for the good outcome you hope for, remain open the possibility that, at the right time, God will give you something even better, something beyond what you hope for now.

Recall the ways God has given you the best in the past and know that He may be delaying His answer to your current prayer until it’s time to give you the best again.


* Ask yourself if your motives are selfish. Don’t covet anything, seek something that’s inherently sinful, or insist on something and try to manipulate God to get it. Feel free to express your desires openly to God, but always with the overriding desire to fulfill His purposes for your life. Ask God to help you approach Him with pure motives, genuinely wanting what He wants for you.


* Ask yourself if your unanswered prayers are leading you into a deeper relationship with God. Understand that God will sometimes not answer your prayers because He is the ultimate Answer and He wants to draw you closer to Himself. Decide to pursue God Himself rather than what He can give you. Know that when you make your relationship with God your top priority, everything else will fall into place.


* Ask yourself if you’re asking God to override someone’s free will and force your desires on that person. Rather than expecting God to mechanically control someone (which isn’t a loving thing to do), expect Him to just influence that person while still respecting his or her free will. Pray into the situation creatively and one step at a time.


* Ask yourself if Satan is opposing your prayers. Know that Satan will sometimes try to block your prayers from being answered by contesting them. Ask God to help you persevere in prayer and stand in courage against evil so you can break through spiritual opposition. Learn about spiritual warfare and use Scripture as your weapon in the battle. Ask God to reveal how you should best pray into the situation. Try fasting. Spend more time worshipping Jesus than thinking about Satan.


* Ask yourself if you have the faith to believe God will answer your prayers. Realize that some prayers aren’t answered simply because you just don’t believe that they will be. Ask God for the faith to believe. Seek to grow in faith by worshipping, fasting, and memorizing God’s promises from the Bible.


* Ask yourself if you want an answer enough to keep praying. Don’t give up. Pray about the situation regularly and ask God to help you persevere until He is ready to give you His answer about it.


* Ask yourself if there is a secret sin you need to confess. Understand that disobedience may block your prayers from being answered. Find a Christian friend you trust and confess any sin you haven’t yet confessed. Repent of that sin by turning away from it and turning toward God. Pursue healing for wounds that keep you tied to sinful thought or behavior patterns. Ask God to give you the strength to forgive or apologize to people to whom you need to do so.


* Ask yourself if you’re actively pursuing justice. Know that some prayers aren’t answered because of disregard for oppressed people – in your own community, and around the world. Make sure you’re seeking to express God’s love for people who are marginalized in society, such as the poor and the disabled. Practice hospitality. Volunteer for service projects. Act politically to support causes that God leads you to support.


* Ask yourself if you’re trying to find answers in situations where you need to simply trust instead. Realize that if you’re doing everything right, but your situation still doesn’t make sense, you can still hold onto God like a hurting kid embracing his or her father. Stay connected to God and keep trusting Him while you go through your current challenges. Know that your challenges are not in vain because God will use them to make you a better person.

Adapted from God On Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer, copyright 2007 by Pete Greig.  Published by Regal Books, a division of Gospel Light, Ventura, Ca., www.regalbooks.com

Pete Greig is an author, church planter, and one of the founding leaders of 24-7 Prayer, a British charity that has grown in six years from a single night-and-day prayer room into an international, interdenominational Christian movement committed to prayer, mission, and justice. A popular speaker, he has spoken to hundreds of thousands of people on five continents. His books, which have been translated into a number of languages, include: Awakening Cry, The 24-7 Prayer Manual, Red Moon Rising: The Adventure of Faith and the Power of Prayer, The Vision and the Vow: Rules of Life and Rhythms of Grace, and Practitioners: Voices Within the Emerging Culture.