Why Doesn’t God Answer?
On busy days, I often utter quick prayers for needs of the moment. Because God is our provision and He said that we have not because we ask not, I ask, even for little things. I’ve asked Him for help with an assignment, for assistance with a flat tire, and for patience with a co-worker. God has graciously answered many on-the-run prayers, even for little things like a parking place near the mall.
However, other times it seems God doesn’t hear my petitions. In fact, sometimes it feels like prayers for significant things are blocked from getting through. In one particularly dark time, even my cries to see my own sin echoed without response. Where is God in such times?
Recently, while reading the Gospel of John, I gained insight into some of those seemingly blocked prayers. In John 6, Jesus fed the multitude with five loaves and two fish.
After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (John 6:14-15, NIV)
When the crowd finally recognized Jesus as the One sent from God, and the people were eager to follow Him, why did He leave? Why did He go to the mountain?
Could it be because the crowd had their own agenda? They weren’t ready to follow. They wanted to bring about their own plans to make Jesus king. Even though He is King of kings, an earthly throne was not God’s plan.
Jesus didn’t rebuke the crowd or explain how they were wrong. When He perceived their plans, He simply withdrew. He removed Himself.
I don’t remember all my prayers that seemed to ricochet off the ceiling, but I know some were during a season when I was drowning in self-pity. I wanted Him to take away my pain, and to change the people around me. Jesus had met my needs before, and, like the crowd, I wanted Him to meet my present need. I had my own agenda rather than seeking the will of God. Could that be why my prayers weren’t answered? Does Jesus withdraw when we try to use Him for our purposes?
Is it any wonder my prayers sometimes seem to return empty? I know His Spirit is still with me, that He lives in my heart, and that He will never leave or forsake me. However, I also know that it feels like He withdraws.
We see the rest of the story a few verses later. The disciples had been rowing furiously but were making no headway on the Sea of Galilee. They were stranded in the middle of the stormy sea. Jesus approached, walking on the water and they were afraid until Jesus assured them it was He.
“So they were willing to receive Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” (John 6:21, NASB)
Once they received Jesus into the boat—into their sphere, their area of responsibility and struggle—they were immediately at their destination. They no longer had to fight to reach their goal.
When I’m trying hard to make something happen—even by prayer—it is often like rowing in the middle of a storm-tossed sea. Instead of rowing with all my might, do I need to stop my frantic efforts and look for Jesus? Could it be that the only thing I need to do in order to reach my destination is to receive Him into my boat?
I believe that when I humbly receive Him, I can expect to reach my destination—through His power, without striving, and with Jesus by my side. For those times when I do not immediately reach the goal, Jesus will stay with me, and I can rest in Him and draw from Him for the journey.
Help me, Lord, to wait on You. Teach me to welcome and follow You in all circumstances of my life, instead of expecting You to fulfill my agenda.
When you don’t know how to pray for others, let this prayer guide your requests. Then be patient, knowing God answers prayers in the best way and with the best timing.