Thank God For Unanswered Prayers

Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself. Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9

We all love a good success story. We hear stories of someone’s rise to the top and marvel at how wonderful it must be to have “made it.” Maybe it’s an athletic accomplishment like winning a gold medal. Maybe it’s someone’s rise out of poverty to become CEO of a major corporation. Perhaps it’s just someone’s good fortune in becoming the next YouTube star or personality on America’s Got Talent. Whatever it is, we take consideration of the end product, the person standing before our eyes with the success they have obtained.

Often times we would love to trade places with those individuals. To be where they are at and enjoy the experiences they are having. What most of wouldn’t want to trade however, is the road it took for them to get there. The hard knocks. The disappointments. The late nights and long days studying, practicing, preparing. All of the “behind the scenes” stuff that nothing can really glamorize.
If I can extrapolate here into a spiritual parallel it would be the journey we have in faith in Christ and knowing that not everyday is a headline or banner day. There are many failures and setbacks along the way. And many times we pray and ask for God to move or do something on our behalf and seemingly, He doesn’t. He either doesn’t respond or we get an answer, and it’s not what we were hoping for. It’s not natural for us to consider those moments as successes. But indeed, I’m learning we have to allow failures (at least perceived failures on our part) as all part of God’s plan. In doing so, I’m seeing how I can be thankful even for unanswered prayers.
The Apostle Paul is seen truly as a hero of the faith. A man of great standing within Scripture and one who certainly rattled the gates of Hell in bringing the Gospel around the (at the time) known world. What is interesting is that Paul in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, admits that even his life has been marked by a prayer gone unanswered. He states that what he asked God to do (to remove a “thorn” in his flesh), was not done. We don’t know if the thorn was a physical ailment, some sort of broken relationship, or even a disappointment over a desire to be married or have a family (we know Paul was not married). Whatever it was, Paul pleaded 3 times to the Lord and was denied. God’s ultimate answer: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”
How can we apply such a passage today as we search for success in Christ? We have to understand success may not look the same as the world’s standard, but we can rejoice and find hope that as we serve the Lord, troubles, difficulties, and yes, even unanswered prayers are opportunities to praise and rejoice.
1. God’s “no” is a chance to reexamine our lives
We don’t want to hear it, but when we pray we often come to God with selfish motives and short-sighted requests. In the midst of our prayer time, however short or long it may be, we spend a lot of time asking and not very much time just listening. Before anyone throws a tomato at me, please realize I’m talking out of my own habits first and foremost. I come to God with my laundry list and just want to dump it all on Him. “Here’s what I need this week God and it’d be great if you had this all fixed by Wednesday.” I realize when I pray this way, I have a very small view of God and a tendency to just see Him as a genie in a bottle, ready to grant my 3 wishes (BTW, if you ever get a genie in bottle, always make your first wish to ask for unlimited wishes….just throwing that out there!).
The problem is, when God says no or when I don’t hear an answer, I start to worry. I start to doubt. And I start to get a little angry or upset. But the one thing I need to do is examine my heart and make sure I am in right standing with God. Could sin be an issue to my unanswered prayer? Definitely. Could it be God just wants relationship more than my laundry list? Yes. So much so. If God is after my heart, I need to be after His as well. That begins with me doing some self-examination and seeing if there is anything I need to repent of. The laundry list will take of itself; I can still give it to Him but I give it with the understanding that He will answer in His way and His timing.
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:3
2. When God says no, often it means He has something better in mind
Here is where, after examining our hearts, we have to know God is up to so much more than we could ever see or hope to understand. You have probably heard the concept of “not settling for good, but striving for great.” I think we often approach God for things thinking they are great but from God’s perspective, they are only good. We have a tendency to play it safe and I honestly think God hears some of our prayers and says, “Really, that’s all you want from me? You do know I’m the Creator and Ruler of the Universe, right? I can do anything.” I think good is comfortable. Good is safe. And good is predictable. God is none of those things and He calls us to live in an existence where we are striving for, longing for, and praying for bigger things.
We also realize God’s no can hurt at times. When we think we are stepping out by taking a huge leap of faith and fall flat on our face, we can wonder why He didn’t answer. But the answer might have been allowing the leap to fail in order to see God move. God in His goodness, might not give us the “good thing” we have asked for by allowing us to experience the “great thing” He knows we need. Learning that greater thing might be failure and to press into Him more tightly might be the very thing He knows will build our character and trust in Him. Wrap your mind around that for a moment. Look back at any failure in your life and ask, "What did I learn through this and how did God use it to bring me closer to Himself?"
3. Praise God even for unanswered prayers
I mentioned at the beginning that in the journey of any success story, there is a behind-the-scenes tale of how someone got there; of how they made it. If the story ended there, with just the ugly stuff and the hard stuff, it wouldn’t be that remarkable. No one would go to see that movie. That book wouldn’t make the best-sellers list. But the story cannot exist without the hard moments. Those moments make the journey what it is. Our stories cannot exist without the trials and tribulations because they are forming us into the image of Christ. For that reason alone, we should be able to praise God and worship. We praise realizing He knows better than we do and we praise knowing that the unanswered prayer is exactly what we needed.
The denial of Paul’s request to remove his thorn was an answer even in itself. It framed the relationship Paul needed to have with His Savior; His dependence upon God, Whose power truly is perfected in our weakness. “For when I am weak, then I am strong” is Paul’s response in verse 10 and similarly, it must be ours as well. Weakness is not seen as anything to desire in this life. But weakness is the perfecting of God’s power in us and in this, God flips the script. He shows Himself as more than able, more than powerful, and big enough to direct our lives…answered prayers or unanswered prayers. In this, we praise.

In closing, I’m led to share one huge example from my own life in which I have learned to deal with an unanswered prayer. My main occupation and my life since 2002 has been marked as a pharmacist. It’s what I went I to school for, straight out of high school and it’s what has been a very stable, steady income for my family and I over these many years. In my first few years of being out of pharmacy school employed as a pharmacist, I felt very clearly the call to go into ministry. I saw this call as a transition; to me leaving pharmacy and being full-time in ministry. That became my prayer to the Lord. I pursued Bible school, made the jump into church vocational ministry and all the while, still worked as a pharmacist. That whole season lasted 7 years and by the end of 2016, I was full-time at my church, working just limited hours in the pharmacy. I felt God was finally answering my prayer and moving me into the place I was meant to be in.

But by the end of 2017 having again received a burden from the Lord, I found myself once more primarily working pharmacy as my family and I left our church and moved to Spring Hill, Tennessee (read my blog A New Season). I realized I was back where I started and back working several shifts a week while trying to build a ministry, a platform, and step into the path I felt called to. I’ve had many times since moving that I’ve asked God “When does this end? When do I step into just doing music, doing worship and otherwise, only ministry? That’s what you called me here for after all.” In that grappling and wrestling with the Lord, I’ve clearly come to understand His picture is so much bigger and His understanding so much wider than what I can see. And in the midst of that, He has caused me to rejoice. He has caused me to find happiness knowing His “no” at this moment is not out of being wrathful or vengeful. It is out of love.
I’ve come to see my shifts in the pharmacy as opportunities to share Christ. To be a light in a dark place. For this season, this is my mission field. And let me tell you, when God allowed me to open up like this, I began having conversations and interactions I never thought I would have. My whole story in moving to Tennessee has become a reason to give God glory and praise and I’m excited every time I get to share it.

I thank you for reading this and allowing me to share something personal today. I would really love to hear your stories as well; of answered and unanswered prayers. I believe there’s an opportunity to give God the glory in all of it. I love you so much and am always praying for and cheering you on!
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