Unanswered Prayers?

I’ve recently spent some time reflecting on my life, specifically things that have already taken place.

It seems that at points in our life, triggers happen that make us recall a memory or a need. It might be a song, a place, a person, a smell, a season or a date, but whatever it is, it triggers something inside of us. Sometimes that trigger causes us many emotions, some of those are good, and some may be bad. Recently, I had one of those trigger moments.

For some reason, Garth Brooks’ song “Unanswered Prayers” popped into my head. At first, I thought “Yes, thank you God for not allowing my prayer to be answered.” However, as I read the lyrics to the song and as I read Garth Brooks’ true-life description of how this song came about, I started asking myself if there really is such a thing as an “unanswered prayer.” Maybe this dates me, but I remember very vividly singing this mega-hit by Garth Brooks, usually while sobbing. The chorus of the song says,

Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn't answer doesn't mean he don't care
Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers

The premise of the song is that this guy runs into an old high-school flame at a post-high school football game. He had prayed every night that God would make that girl his. Ultimately, he ended up with someone else who at first, he didn’t realize was the person for him. This encounter helped him realize that he needed to be thankful for and content with what he did have. 
So my question is this, were his prayers truly unanswered or was the answer just one that he did not particularly like at the time? Does God really let our prayers go unanswered?

I like to think the answer is no, He does not ever not answer or hear our prayers. I think the bigger question is, are we spiritually mature enough to either discern His answer and/or accept what He offers as the correct answer.

I searched for the term “unanswered prayer” in the NLT Bible. Those words together in that version appear only once. In Psalm 35, David is crying out to God to ask Him why He isn’t doing anything about the people who are being malicious towards him. He says in verse 13, “Yet when they were ill, I grieved for them. I denied myself by fasting for them, but my prayers returned unanswered.” He goes on further in verse 17 and says, “How long, O Lord, will you look on and do nothing? Rescue me from their fierce attacks. Protect my life from these lions.” In the midst of hard times, horrible situations and despair, don’t we often think that God is not answering us? We are so blinded by our own situation that we are blind to the greater works of the Father. Did God really not answer David’s prayers or was it just not the right time because God still had more work to do in David? Of course, later on we learn his prayers were answered. In the end, David’s prayers weren’t unanswered at all.

The same can be said about Mr. Brooks and the women in his song. God did answer his prayers. He told him, not audibly per se, that No, he was not going to get that girl and that He had someone else lined up for him. How much heartache could we save ourselves if we just surrendered to the fact that (1) God can’t always say, “Yes,” (2) God often times says, “No,” and (3) God doesn’t always answer our prayers in our timing?

I know as I reflect back on my life and this one particular instance that recently came to mind, I can see how God really did answer those prayers. The answer at the time was a resounding “NO!” I didn’t like that answer at the time and still wondered sometimes about the “what ifs.” However, God in His sovereignty allowed me to see this circumstance from a totally different perspective. Had He answered that prayer with a “Yes!” there are so many blessings I would have missed out on between here and there. Even scarier, I may have completely missed Jesus.

What I love even more still is that instead of just saying, “Oh well, that’s just the way it is and I have to go along with it,” I am so thankful to God for all the prayers he has answered along the way, even the ones I didn’t agree with. Not only that, He removed the burden of carrying the “what ifs.” This revelation cleared the way for me to stop living in the past and only look to the future. 

Today, I can praise Him and worship Him in the midst of this revelation. Me, a mere sinner who was blind, but can now see. That truly is amazing grace.

Erin Olson

Founder and CEO of Sandalfeet Ministries

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