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Explaining Unanswered Prayers

This time of year we hear a lot about all the ways the Lord has “blessed” so many around us with answered prayers. Sometimes they are silly: “Wow, I was asking God to find me a good parking place, and here I am up front at the mall.” Other times desperate nonprofits trying to meet end of the year budgets say, “Thank you Lord for answering our prayers and allowing us to continue on in our work!” They run the spectrum and are all over Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds. Inevitably, there are some among us whose prayers aren’t answered for Christmas or the New Year.

  • What about my friend who lost her grandmother and father two weeks apart right before this joyous season?
  • What about the student whose parents are either getting a divorce or not getting back together?
  • What about those who are sick, hurting, desperate, struggling, losing loved ones or stuck in a bad situation?


I can’t tell you how many times I have had this conversations with students: “I have tried to pray. God just doesn’t hear me or answer my prayers. He is silent and forgets me.”

It is one of the most difficult conversations to have with youth. Sure there are times when they have “selfish” prayers. These are the ones where they ask for an “A” on a test when they didn’t study, or want a blessing on their life for something that is living outside God’s plan. A laugh gets stuck in my throat admittedly in conversations when a youth is blatantly ignoring the Lord and then says, “Why won’t He do what I want Him to do?” We all know He isn’t Santa, a Genie or a Vending Machine. Yet, the heart-wrenching conversations are the ones without an answer. Why would the Lord choose to take care of one family’s finances miraculously while another can’t get dinner for their table?

There are times when we don’t know how to answer this question. We say things like, “God’s thoughts are bigger than our thoughts.” or “His ways are unexplainable.” That is really our way of saying, “I don’t know.” Honestly, I think it paints God as a tyrant when we allude to the fact that it might be God’s will that someone die of cancer.

This question is a challenge because sometimes if we are really honest we adults have the same one. We feel ashamed admitting we doubt sometimes too. As an older person aren’t we supposed to have this figured out?

Here is where we start:

Take It Seriously

I think what is REALLY important when this question comes along is to treat it with weight. What I mean is let’s not throw out “platitudes” and move on. When I was a teen someone told me, “If you just had more faith then this (situation) would change.” I felt so much pressure to figure out what “more faith” looked like practically. I also felt like I couldn’t ever get it right and that God just wanted to manipulate me. Instead, when someone said, “Let’s pray until we know for sure what God is saying,” that changed everything. Don’t sweep it under the rug, this is one of those thoughts that makes or breaks pursuing God.

Be Honest:

Never be afraid to say, “I don’t claim to understand.” I always tell students I will never comprehend how sin fully effects our day to day lives. Yes, there is sinning against each other, but what about disease and natural disasters? Remind them that while we are each individually “saved,” we still are living in a fallen world with fallen people. It doesn’t make sense to us. What does make sense is that God wants more for us than this. We don’t always have to have the perfect thing to say.

Focus On God’s Character:

Another person said to me once, “Everything that happens comes through God’s filter.” Again, this is a concept I don’t understand. I would think, “I hear all of these stories of disabled people being healed, why doesn’t He heal my sister who has so many disorders?” It made me feel like my prayers were never good enough for God to hear them. Other people must “pray better,” and that’s why theirs were answered. Then I started to seek the Lord with my whole heart. I sought Him and learned a lot about Him. His nature is one that genuinely will do whatever it takes to show us how much He loves us. Trusting this is true is up to us and it takes us getting to know Him.

Prayer is hard. There are times when it does indeed feel like God is silent. Maybe He is, maybe we aren’t listening. Isaiah announced the coming of the Messiah almost 700 years before His arrival here on earth. Then He didn’t come as the hoped for king on a physical throne, but as a baby. He was more concerned for our souls and lives than for our power position. Simeon and Anna had been promised to see this Savior with their eyes before they passed. They waited their WHOLE lives and then saw Him not as the Resurrected one, but as a regular infant. It wasn’t until the end they saw Him. I think you are seeing my point. We are not the only ones who have prayed for something and it didn’t happen the way we would like. The point of prayer is connection and hope. This is why we pray. It isn’t about what we “get” at all but who we are spending time with.

Tell them that as this new year begins, just to keep praying and see just how God shows up. He isn’t a lunatic or liar and when you seek Him with your whole heart…. well you get to know Him better and you trust He is Lord.

How do you talk with students about prayers?

– Leneita / @leneitafix

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Explaining Unanswered Prayers

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