I listened as two of my friends were talking. One was telling the story of an answer to prayer- not a great miracle, but a difficult situation where she had prayed and things had worked out. My other friend responded, “God is good!” and, to my surprise, I felt uneasy.
At first I was unsure where this feeling was coming from. I had no doubt that God had acted in answer to my friend’s prayers, and of course I agreed that God is good, but there’s just something that concerns me when I hear people talking as if answered prayer is “proof” that God is good.
This is not what my friend was doing in this situation- she was simply celebrating how God’s goodness had been shown- but I have heard other people talk this way, stacking up a list of answers to prayer, almost as if they can convince themselves if they gather enough proof.
It scares me when that seems to be the basis of people’s faith, because where does that leave us when the miracles don’t happen? Does it mean God is not good if our prayers are not answered as we want? If that’s our foundation it won’t take much for the whole thing to come tumbling down because there are many different ways God can answer our prayers.
Sometimes God says yes and he intervenes to answer our prayers in miraculous ways. I have seen this on countless occasions- people being healed, lost objects being found, situations being transformed. It’s amazing, and it does remind us of God’s power and goodness and his care, even for the small details of our lives. It’s definitely something to celebrate.
But other times the answer is no. We pray desperately for something that we deeply desire, that seems good, and the answer is no. The healing doesn’t come, the relationship doesn’t work out, the answer we get is the opposite of the one we want.
Does that mean God is no longer good? Of course it doesn’t. Sometimes he has a better plan which we just don’t understand at the time but is revealed to us later. Other times we have no idea why our prayers were not answered as we hoped. We live in a fallen world and everything that happens is not good, but God does promise to work for our good, even in painful and difficult situations.
Then there are times when the answers just don’t come- when we pray and pray and we know we’re asking for something good, and it’s not that God says no, but he doesn’t say yes either. We swing between faith and doubt, between hope and despair, between contentment to wait for God’s timing and wildly searching for the key that is going to unlock the door to the answer we’re looking for.
It took me ten years of praying about a situation before I got the significant breakthrough I was looking for. There were many ups and downs along the way, and at times I thought it would never happen. I still don’t know why it took so long, but I do know that God used the time of waiting to draw me closer to him, and that, when it happened, it happened quickly and it was absolutely worth the wait.
Sometimes there’s no clear answer from God and we just have to trust. Over the last four years I have been praying for a friend struggling with mental health issues. I have probably prayed more about this than anything else in my life, and there has been no clear answer from God. There have been little answers to prayer along the way, but there have also been times when I think she’s making good progress, only for her to encounter another massive setback.
I don’t know what God is saying and I don’t know how this situation will turn out. All I know is he is good, he loves her, he has a plan and I have to trust him, even when I don’t understand. My faith can’t be in a particular outcome; it has to be in him.
The word God has led me to focus on this year is “Surrender” and I think that’s the key in prayer- we surrender our concerns and our desires to God and we trust him, knowing that however things turn out, one thing is for certain: God is good!
If you are struggling with a situation where a prayer seems to be going unanswered, I would recommend the book “God on Mute” by Pete Greig (UK link, US link) and the song “Blessings” by Laura Story. Laura Story has also written a book “When God Doesn’t Fix It” which I haven’t read but hope to do soon. You can read a review here.