I’ve been at this intercession thing long enough to notice that there are a few blanks in the “answer” column of my prayer journal. A couple of people for whom I was interceding for physical healing weren’t healed – in fact, they died. Someone I’ve been praying for daily to break free from an addiction regularly raises the hopes of family and friends that she is on the right path, only to dash them again by making foolish, heart wrenching choices. Several marriages at the top of my prayer list for breakthrough still seem to be sinking. Sometimes I just have to ask, God, are you really hearing me?
I know I’m not alone in feeling this kind of disappointment and uncertainty. I can think of people in Scripture who didn’t get the answers they asked for. I think of Mary and Martha, who I imagine prayed for their brother’s healing only to have him die just days before Jesus arrived (John 11:1-44). Or how about Joseph, whose prayers for deliverance probably seemed to bounce off the walls of the pit his brothers had dropped him into (Gen. 37:23-28)?
In both cases, God had a greater plan. Eventually, He answered. Ultimately, He intervened. He did love them. He did have their best interests at heart. Their prayers were heard and answered – just in ways they never could have imagined!
Because the bigger picture is often veiled from our natural eyes, it is important to have a sound theology for disappointment. Then, when these kinds of situations arise, as they inevitably will, instead of thinking our prayers aren’t being heard, we will be able to continue praying with open-ended trust that doesn’t need immediate resolution in order to experience God’s peace.
We have to have solid confidence in aspects of God’s character that we can absolutely rely on when it comes to prayer: God if faithful. He is for us. He is a loving father, the psalmist assures us: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him” (Psalm 103:11, 13).
Because God will always be faithful to His character and to us, He always operates in love toward us (even if it doesn’t feel like it!). He will give us only good things that align with His plan for our lives and the lives of people for whom we are interceding.He is keenly aware of everything that relates to our lives and knows our concerns, needs, and fears. In fact, God knows what we need before we even ask Him (Matt. 6:8), and what we’re going to say before we say it (Psalm 139:4)!
The bottom line of a theology for disappointment? God will not withhold from us. He promises to respond to our prayers. When we ask for bread, He won’t give us a stone (Matt. 7:7-11). He “withholds no good thing from those who do what is right,” (Psalm 84:11, NLT). He may not answer in our desired timing – after all, He allowed Joseph to remain in prison for a few years (Psalm 105:17-19) – but He never holds back His answers indefinitely or capriciously.
God has a bigger plan and sees the bigger picture. I know I may not be ready for all of His answers, even if He were to give them to me. After all, His thoughts and ways are higher than mine (Isa. 55:8-9). The people for whom I’m praying may not be ready. Or, the circumstances maybe working together for good in a way that I can’t see (Ro. 8:28). Knowing this possibility makes me more willing to trust God for the answers I cannot see yet.
Because this is my theology for disappointment, those blank spots in my prayer journal don’t throw me. It’s not that I don’t ever feel frustrated or even grief-stricken when my prayers aren’t answered the way I’d hoped, but I don’t give up watching and praying for God’s creative plan. I don’t stop interceding and I certainly don’t lose hope. I know God is in control – He loves us, He is working, and His help is on the way.
What are you praying for that hasn’t materialized yet–or that may even be going in the opposite direction from what you’d hoped? Don’t give up. Ask God for His perspective. Ask and keep on asking, knock and keep on knocking. As you do, here are some follow-on suggestions you might consider asking yourself:
- Am I praying the right kind of prayer? (e.g., Is there spiritual warfare involved? A deception that needs to be exposed? Is any repentance or forgiveness necessary for this prayer to be answered?)
- Am I willing to let God answer His way and trust Him with the outcome?
- Is my timeline too short? (i.e., Do I want an answer right away when God may be taking a longer-term view?)
- Is there a need for an impartation of the Holy Spirit, that comes through the laying on of hands (and not just praying from a distance)?
- Do I need to be sharing this need with others to pray with me? (Remember, there is power in agreement and in praying in community!)