You might ask why I’m dealing with unanswered prayer in relation to receiving, but there’s a connection, and I believe it’s a strong one. One of the main reasons we pray is to receive something. We ask for something we need/want, knock on a door we’d like to see open, seek something we just like and currently do not have. It’s a place of humility to admit we cannot get something on our own, and so we go to Him for whom nothing is impossible. But the human experience is one of not always getting what we ask for. There are times when God doesn’t seem to be listening, or perhaps says “no” again and again to your request. This all too common and can drive us away from God, who indeed can do the impossible and answer our prayer. I believe this situation is one of those when our enemy can drive a wedge between us and God. The purpose of the devil is to mar the very nature of God so that we turn away instead of running even closer to Him. When our prayers aren’t answered, the enemy plunks into our thoughts that God isn’t listening, that He doesn’t hear, and if He did hear, He’s obviously ignoring you and rejecting you as a person, so therefore God can’t really be interested in you and on and on it goes. Then slowly, without our awareness at times, we start believing the lie and turn away from Him who paid such a price for us to enjoy all the benefits He died to give us.
The other lie we fall back into, is that unless we “do” something, God won’t answer my prayer. We wrongly believe that our works can influence God to act on our behalf. God never needs our actions in order to accomplish something. Remember from the Romans 5 passage, that it was while we were yet sinners He came and died for our sins. Sure, we’d like to “do” something to assist God in answering our prayer, especially if you’ve been praying a long for a thing, but that is just pride talking. When a certain amount of time goes by and your prayers have not been answered or it looks like nothing is being done about it, that is the worst place to be, isn’t it? For me that is right where I either run from God or to Him. But I want to show you, that that place is right where He comes to us and desires to give something so real and tangible – He wants to give us Himself. Let me explain…
The Scripture references above are passages describing to us in detail, the night before Jesus went to His death for us, in the Garden of Gethsemane. This was a night like no other for Jesus. First of all, it’s the first time we read of Jesus asking prayer for Himself. He needed the disciples and wanted them to stay with Him, to hold Him up in His hour of great anguish. There’s no account before this time of Jesus asking the disciples to help Him. That alone is an open window into the heart of Jesus. He’s even humble to the point of knowing the human side of His life on earth and He knows the reality of the spiritual battle about to unfold as He goes to the cross. Remember, it was “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” Even in this dark hour, the love of the Father is present.
I’m sure you are familiar with the scene in the garden, if not, just read the passages above. In Mark, Jesus “said to his disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed.” And He took with Him Peter and James and John and began to be very distressed and troubled.” Our English words don’t do justice to the deep and sorrowful feeling Jesus was experiencing at the time. Matthew records, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” The word sorrowful or grieved is one of intensity that I can’t even find a word that matches it. During this time in the garden, the intensity comes out in sweat that is full of blood from the brow of Jesus. That indicates how intense it was. I’m sure you’ve had times in your life when you were so grieved you had no words to put to it. God wants you to know that He knows exactly how you feel! He’s walked in the shoes of deep grief before.
So during this dark night of the soul for Jesus, those He asked to stay with Him, went to sleep. Jesus even goes back a couple times to see if they are awake and is disappointed that their eyelids were heavy with sleep. What a human thing to have happen to Jesus. He asked for help and did not get it. He can understand when people fail you, or what seems worse yet, when God Himself doesn’t come through for you like “you had planned/prayed it to be.” You might be asking, “So what? What does that have to do with my unanswered prayer?” I’m getting to that. First I want you to know that there is nothing you can ever go through that Jesus didn’t already experience in His walk on earth. It begins there. It’s out of the fullness of His life that we have a well to draw from.
The other thing that happened to Jesus in the garden, is that He asked His Father directly, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Mt 26:39). In verse 42 He prayed a second time, saying. “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done.” Mark 14:36 even states, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for Thee; remove this cup from Me…” I love that Jesus always says “My Father, and even Abba Father”! This is really personal, intimate prayer. And He asked it three times. We’ve all prayed things over and over again, haven’t we? Here Jesus was experiencing what we all do – praying and not getting any real answer from heaven. (I mean the answer we want right now). Jesus is God Himself, and yet when He left heaven He humbled Himself to partake of all that we do as people. There’s no record of the Father speaking with Jesus either. There were other times the Father spoke out loud to Jesus and others heard it. But here, in His darkest hour, there’s nothing; not even a whisper for Jesus. Oh, no wonder He longed for the companionship of His disciples! This is a vulnerable moment and the Holy Spirit writes it down for us because God wants us to know that even Jesus had unanswered prayer. Jesus wasn’t wanting to get out of the task of saving us. I believe He went through this dark night for the very reason of showing us what real prayer is all about. It’s honest, it’s vulnerable, full of tears sometimes and without many words. Jesus wanted to show us that He indeed did decide to go to the cross for our salvation. He decided to go through with it despite the horror He knew He’d experience a few hours from this garden scene.
So, how does this help when our prayers go unanswered? I believe that Jesus’ decision to go through with being the ultimate sacrifice for sin, is right where we do get the answer to our prayer – He gave us Himself fully and without resentment or regret. Jesus asked for the cup to be removed, but it was not. Think of it – if it had been removed there would have been no salvation for us, no forgiveness of sins, no way for us to have eternal life! I shudder to think of it. But in the struggle Jesus had that night, each time He asked His Father for some other way, He also mentions for our eyes to see, “yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt.” This surrender to His Father’s will could only come about because He knew how very much He was loved by His Abba Father. Even though He didn’t get a word from the Father at this moment, He had full trust that Abba would work it all out because of His great love for Him and for us. It all began in love and here, I see the love of the Father in not answering Jesus. Jesus knew the work He came to do, go to the cross and pay the price for our crimes and make salvation available to all. God’s love for us was so strong, that He wouldn’t answer Jesus’ prayer to either remove the cup, or, find some other way to bring salvation. Jesus wasn’t waffling in His decision to go to the cross – but He was showing us He was also human and struggled with the trauma unfolding before Him. He was paying for our sin and that is something none of us will ever experience. I believe Jesus’ prayer had surrender in it from the get go, but only because He knew He was deeply loved by His Father.
So, when our prayers go unanswered, God knows the reason for it, and it’s always because He loves us. Sometimes we aren’t quite ready for the blessing He has in store and He is getting us ready for it. Sometimes, what we want would be bad for us in the long run and He knows it and therefore withholds what we ask for. Whatever the reason, keep on asking Him! Jesus asked three times and that is significant. Paul asked three times that his thorn in the flesh be removed. So keep on asking. Often as we ask, we get further revelation, like Paul did – about our weakness being full of grace and God’s strength. Our prayers lead us to Him who knows all and has only good in store for us. When your prayers aren’t answered, keep asking with the trust of a child that knows they are loved by their Father. Don’t allow the unanswered-ness of the prayer keep you from Him who will answer according to His love. And, if it’s the same prayer again and again like with Jesus and Paul, keep it coming! There’s no shame in asking the same thing over and over again. Jesus paid the full price for our sin so that we could receive all of His righteousness and all that comes with being co-heirs of His kingdom. So, the answer to your prayer is real and it was paid for at the cross. Keep on seeking Jesus and all that He is as you wait for the answer. Jesus also said in Jn 14:6, just a little while before the garden, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” He is the answer to your prayer. He is the way through whatever is concerning you. He wants to give you Himself which is where all your desires for love and significance in life reside. Just receive Him and all else will follow. Receive all the empathy He has to give you, all the sympathy He has, all the fullness of life because it all rests in Him and if you receive Him, all the answers will follow.
Jesus is the key between receiving and unanswered prayer. If we receive all the finished work that He accomplished on the cross, all the rest will follow. Truly, like Matthew 6:33 states, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” This is not about acting right, but about receiving the gift of righteousness that only Jesus has to offer. So when you receive what He did for you, the rest – the answers to your prayers – will be added to you!