When it seems like God is ignoring your prayers

If you’ve been praying for long, you’ve probably been troubled by what seemed like a lack of response from God.

Why aren’t you hearing me, God?

Maybe you gave up. Maybe you stopped asking.

He’s not listening, you thought, so I’ll drop it.

Don’t do that . . . not until you receive a clear answer from him one way or the other.

Jesus once told a story that addresses this struggle.

Read it carefully.

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ ” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8).

This man was a bad judge.

He didn’t care about right and wrong, he didn’t care about justice, and he apparently didn’t care about people.

In fact, he ignored this poor widow, hoping she’d just go away and save him the trouble of dealing with her problem.

But he finally gave in, not because he wanted to help her, but so she’d get off his back.

In other words, he was completely unlike God.

And that’s the Lord’s point. If even someone like this unsympathetic judge will eventually respond to a persistent widow, how much more will a loving, compassionate God answer his children’s cries?

The implied answer is obvious: he will hear, and he will answer.

If you’re concerned that it seems like there’s no sense of justice—like the wicked are getting away with their sinfulness—Jesus wants you to know that God will make sure justice prevails.

When you feel like giving up, when you feel like God is ignoring you, Jesus wants you to “pray and not lose heart.”

I suspect that sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers initially so that he can teach us patience and steadfastness.

What is there in your prayer life that you’ve abandoned because it seemed like God was silent?

Don’t lose faith . . . he hears, and he’ll answer, but he’ll act according to the time schedule that he knows to be best.

Do you worry?

If you’re one of those people who obey this passage with something close to consistency, I applaud you.

In fact, I envy you.

Here’s what Paul writes:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6).

Just to make sure we understand exactly what he’s commanding, here are a couple of alternate translations:

“Do not worry about anything . . .” (NRSV, NCV).

“Don’t fret or worry. . . .” (The Message).

Raise your hand if you haven’t disobeyed Paul in the last 24 hours.

Do you have kids?

Bills?

Health issues?

Job uncertainties?

Anxiety about our country?

So here’s Paul again: Don’t worry about anything.

What I’m tempted to do is to qualify Paul’s “anything.” I want to think, “Well, I know we shouldn’t worry about most things, but what I’m worrying about is really significant. After all, it’s my kids, or my bills, or my ___.” (Put your joy-killer in the blank)

But I don’t think we can qualify the “anything” here . . . he didn’t put an asterisk beside it.

It seems like he really means what he says—don’t worry about anything.

I don’t always do that very well, do you?

The key is in what follows, of course: “but in everything with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Worried about your kids? Thank God for them, then pour out your heart to God about them.

Health problems? Thank God for how he’s blessed you, then talk to him about whatever’s on your heart.

The same applies to our jobs, our bills, our country, our everything.

I know it’s easy for me to write and considerably harder for us to practice, but the Bible says too much about it for us to ignore it.

As Christians, we ought to turn our fears and anxieties over to the Lord, throwing our worries at his feet and walking away with a confident smile on our faces.

Don’t worry about anything, God tells us. He’s got it all under control.

Let’s focus on that as we spend time with him today.

The Lord is here

I’ve got quite a few things within reach as I type these words: my computer, of course, and my desk, a bunch of books, pictures of my wife and kids, and dozens of other things.

They’re “at hand,” so to speak, because I can reach them from where I sit.

Wherever you are, look around. What’s within your reach?

What’s “at hand”?

The way Paul uses that expression in Philippians 4:5 both comforts and warns us.

The Lord is at hand.

Or according to several translations, “The Lord is near” (NASB, NRSV, NIV).

Amazing, isn’t it? He’s here with you right now.

He was with you through the night, and he’ll be beside you as you work through your to-do list today.

It’s a comforting thought, but I think there’s also a bit of a warning here.

Paul seems to be using the idea to remind the Philippians that Jesus really does care about what they do and how they think. The apostle has just urged them to rejoice and be gentle. He’s about to tell them not to worry, but rather to pray, give thanks, and be at peace.

And in the middle of all that, he tells them the Lord is “at hand.”

“At hand” means the Lord is nearby, but it’s more than that.

It means he’s interested in what we’re doing.

He hears our words, observes our actions, knows our thoughts.

Not in the sense of someone who’s hoping we’ll make a mistake so he can condemn us.

But rather he’s with us to encourage us and help us.

We’ll struggle with sin some, and one reason is we forget that the one who died because of our sin is right here with us.

When I think about that, truly appreciate it, it helps me to take sin more seriously.

It helps me want to avoid disappointing Jesus.

The Lord is at hand.

In your devotional time today, ask him to help you to be more conscious of his presence. It’ll almost certainly lead you to live more consistently with his will.