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Unanswered Prayer: When God Doesn’t “Come Through," Then What?

By Barbara Rainey

First posted on

Sometimes I wake up in the morning feeling sad and unsettled. I ask myself, “How do I have joy when it seems that so much is unresolved and unrestored in my life, my relationships, my world?”

Do you know that feeling?

Have you thought about the disciples and the weight of their unanswered prayers when they watched their hope die on a cross? God didn’t come through for them like they expected.

And many times He hasn’t come through for me as I expected. I cannot list publicly all the relationships in my life that need mending or the problems that feel overwhelming and unresolvable. I can’t put a name to the general anxiety that creeps in regularly from life in this volatile world. Like a cloud that keeps growing until it blocks out the sun, I sometimes feel chilled, and in the shadows, even on a bright sunny day.

On days like this, I know that after fixing my coffee I need to settle on the couch with my Bible. I ask God to lift my eyes to Him. In the words of an old Puritan prayer that says it so well, I pray:

My Father who loves me,

Cause Thy face to shine upon the dark places

through which I may be called to pass this day

and may I be made to feel

that it is better to hold on to Thy hand in the dark

than to walk alone in the light.


In one season of darkness in my life I was participating in a Bible study on the Old Testament book of Daniel. I read Daniel 10:2, which says, “In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks.” This was not a man given to exaggeration, but he made clear the facts that he mourned every day for 21 straight days.

Nor was Daniel an ordinary man, for he was repeatedly called a “man of high esteem” in his frequent interactions with angelic beings. Mistakenly we think a visit by an angel would be thrilling and life-giving, but Daniel found it exhausting and life draining. Why? Because the news from the angel was confusing and disturbing.

What seems to have caused Daniel’s three weeks of mourning was unanswered prayer. Visions of the future and visits from heaven did not erase his discouragement over unanswered prayer. He felt as I did—burdened, perplexed, joyless. At least, I realized, I’m not alone.

When God doesn’t come through, then what? That’s the shadow-casting sadness, the discouragement or perplexity for me at times. And nothing can be done but wait.

The renowned theologian and writer J. Sidlow Baxter once preached a sermon titled, “The Divine Delays of Jesus.” He wrote that nothing is unintentional with God, including the times that He waits to answer our prayers. His delays always have purpose. Often they are intended to reveal to us more who God is. In seeing Him we respond with greater faith. And we have hope again.

The Bible is a living book. When we go to it we are expressing faith in the Author. We are expressing hope in His words. And if we keep going to His living Word He will, in time give us just what we need. And often the verse or phrase we discover is itself an encounter with the Living God.

For us in the days of this pandemic and a world in turmoil these divine encounters with Jesus remind us that, in Baxter’s words, “no situation is ‘too far gone’ for our all-controlling Lord to overrule and transform.”

It’s not about figuring out what God is doing, but about humbly seeing who God is and waiting with faith and worship no matter the outcome.

Baxter concludes his sermon with these summaries:

  • God can transform the most hopeless circumstances. “Beware of thinking that God is harsh as you drag along amid permitted sorrow or tribulation. He knows better than you.”

  • Our greatest discoveries and blessings often come through our hardest trials. “… it is His permitting or overruling of calamities which leads to our most exalting and refining discoveries!”

  • In divine delays there is always a gracious purpose. “Delay does not mean that God is neglecting you, much less that He has forsaken you. … no sincere prayer in the name of Jesus is ever left unanswered; and delay is always with a view to an answer bigger and better than that for which we asked.”

Living for Jesus is costly business. How easily I forget that following Him is often a life of difficulty as He helps me throw off distractions, mistaken assumptions, and sinful patterns that keep me from seeing Him clearly.

I became all His decades ago, but His refining work never ceases. Rather than getting easier, my faith trials become more difficult with time. Baby steps for babies. Grown-up strides for the mature. And I want to be mature, so I must accept His purifying work that is individualized for me even when I can’t see the next step ahead.

I’ve been in this place before, so I know He will continue His work. And I know the sun will shine again.

If the answers to my prayers don’t come at all, or as I expect, I will choose to believe and follow. Jesus loves me, this I know.

Easter proves it.

May you too wait by faith, hope by faith, trusting Him no matter what He brings in your life.

He is with you and will never leave you.

Remember and cling to this truth every day of your life.

To help you talk to God, we encourage you to print the beautifully designed prayer in this blog post. Click here to download.

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts on prayer. I have loved reading old prayers since the days of my mothering when I discovered the prayers of saints like Susanna Wesley. Each blog post features an old prayer from someone now in the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). We have much to learn from these saints of old; though some words are not in vogue today they help us see God in ways we don't in our modern world. I hope you enjoy this series!

If you missed the other posts on prayer, here they are:


My Heart, Ever His: Prayers for Women (NEW from Barbara Rainey)

As we search for meaning in our world of shallow online relationships and glamorized selfies, many are returning to traditional and liturgical churches. The repeated words, benedictions, and historic hymns connect us to saints who have gone before, giving us a sense of belonging, richness, and transcendence. Written prayers, once cast off as archaic, are now welcomed as guides to tune our hearts to the heart of God.

In My Heart, Ever His Barbara Rainey shares 40 prayers for women. Readers can read and meditate on one prayer throughout the week or read a prayer a day for 40 days as a way to express the longing of our hearts to our Father who loves us even as he sees who we truly are. Like the psalms of David, these prayers are honest, sometimes raw. Barbara uses these transparent expressions of common female experiences to encourage us to surrender to Christ and help us see God as he is, not as we assume him to be. My Heart, Ever His provides a stepping-stone to help you become more transparent with God and discover his welcoming embrace.


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