Does God always answer prayer?

I believe that God always answers our prayers—the Bible is full of examples, plus we have verses such as Matthew 21:22: “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Yet, for many of us, our life experience tells us otherwise. Does that mean God lied? Is the Bible untrustworthy? Or, perhaps, is it our lack of understanding that’s causing the problem?

Many years ago, Pete and I dreamed of moving to someplace less urban than the middle of Silicon Valley. We were tired of the traffic, fed up with the smog, and yearning for a simpler lifestyle. We prayed, and it seemed as if God was saying yes, get ready, you’re going to move. Great! We’ve always enjoyed the northwest, so Pete spent several months investigating jobs in the Seattle area. Things looked positive, but then the doors started slamming shut. We were so confused. Hadn’t God given us the go-ahead? Had He changed His mind?

Putting our dream of Oregon or Washington on hold, we started looking closer to home. But even there, nothing worked out. We gave up. God had said, “Pull up roots. Don’t make new commitments. Get the house ready to sell.” We did those things that we knew to do, but when we asked for direction, He was silent.

Six months later, we received a call asking us to move to Colorado Springs. Colorado? We’d never given it a moment’s thought. But when I asked for three confirming signs, and received six in the next few days, we knew that this was the answer to our confusion and prayers. A year later we found ourselves ensconced on five acres just outside the city limits—no traffic, no smog, and a gorgeous view of Pikes Peak—at half the price of our old house. We love living here.

Or, what if God doesn’t answer a prayer for healing? My friend’s husband was dying. He’d been diagnosed with terminal MS, and the doctors were out of options; it was now only a matter of time. As I attempted to be the supportive help they needed in this most difficult situation, I was surprised by the number of well-meaning people who assured them both that God would heal him. They were so confident!

Now, I absolutely believe that God heals people. After all, He healed my husband from being dead! But I also know that God doesn’t always heal everyone. In that case, no one would ever die—or we’d all transition from perfectly healthy to eternal life, much like Elijah did in the whirlwind, or perhaps Enoch.

In this case, my friend was very much a woman of prayer, and I’m sure she prayed for her husband’s healing. Yet, her husband died. Did God answer her prayers?

Or, how about my parents? I was not raised in the church, but became a Christian my first year in college. (You can read all about it here.) Of course, having discovered how incredible God is, I started praying for my parents to discover Him too. For 25 years, I asked God to soften my mother’s hard heart. After her death in 1998, I continued praying for my dad until he passed away in 2013—forty years in all. Yet, as far as I know, neither of my parents ever believed in God. The Bible clearly states that God desires everyone to know Him. Why didn’t He answer my prayers?

God didn’t move us to Washington. He didn’t give my friend more years with her husband. And I fellowshipped with my parents. Yet, I firmly believe that, in every one of these examples, God answered our prayers. He just didn’t answer in the way we expected Him to.

God knew that we belonged in Colorado. Twenty-five years later, our targeted rural community in Washington is now a city. You guessed it—traffic and smog, along with lots of cement. Meanwhile, the synergy resulting from working with the other ministries based in Colorado Springs has born much fruit.

My friend’s husband was indeed healed—just not during his life on earth. God takes an eternal perspective, and we should too.

And finally, God gave both my parents many, many chances to hear the Gospel and choose to believe. They saw the miracle of Pete’s healing. God even healed my dad of terminal cancer! That neither of them chose to follow Jesus was entirely their decision. God won’t force us to belief.

Prayer isn’t telling God what to do and expecting Him to do it our way. Prayer is more a matter of sharing our needs and desires, and letting God answer in the way He knows is best. It’s learning to see things God’s way. It’s developing patience. It’s trusting His loving kindness. Remember, we’re to pray “…Your will be done… .” His love will never fail us.

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