Coleta United Methodist Church

Why Do My Prayers Go Unanswered?


By Rev. Sophia Hyon
Most Frequently Asked Questions Series

Romans 8:26-30

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Matthew 6:5-14

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

9 “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. _

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13 And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;

Today we are going to share the last topic of the January sermon series, “Why do My prayers go unanswered?” I hope this journey with this sermon series has been meaningful to your lives. Let us pray.

Dear God, many Christians have many questions and struggle with these questions. As we share the frequently asked questions together, please guide us in the light of wisdom and in the presence of God. Amen.

My friend Jane told a story about her 5 year old son Jimmy. Jimmy stood in an empty box near the Christmas tree on Christmas morning and screamed, “No-!” and he cried. Jane asked Jimmy, “What? What’s wrong?”

Jimmy said, “Santa didn’t bring it-!” He said this with tears running down his cheeks. “What didn’t Santa bring you?” asked Jane. My friend was panicked because she thought she got the right gift for him.

Jimmy said, “Santa didn’t bring Superman’s cape- I wanted to fly with the cape!”

Jane told him, “Honey, I think Santa didn’t have the cape.”

Jimmy said, “but he could make the cape in his workshop!”

“ You have faith, and you will receive whatever you pray for.” Probably many Christians love this bible verse, because this scripture promises us that God will give us anything we want.

How comforting and promising bible scripture this is! Just like the simple faith that Jimmy has toward Santa that Santa could make anything in his workshop.

Also the Bible tells us that if you have faith as small as the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, move from here to there, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.

We can find tons of Bible verses like these. And we also can find the discrepancy between these bible verses and our real lives, that makes us squirm.

We pray for a cancer to go away, but it comes back. We pray for a job, but remain unemployed. We pray for children, but another miscarriage. And we pray for peace, and the world rages on.

Sometimes well-meaning persons tell us that the problem is our prayer. You are not seeking to please the Lord, You are not confessing your sins, You didn’t pray with proper motives, your lack of faith, etc.

Certainly they want to give us tidy reasons for why our prayers go unanswered by protecting God from all the accusable discrepancies between the promising bible verses and our realities.

But let’s think about Jesus. As he always healed the sick, he tells them that you are saved by your faith. But he has never asked people about a certain type of prayer, a certain type of confession of their sins, or a proof of their faith before he heals them.

Adam Hamilton, pastor at the United Methodist Church of Resurrection in Kansas City, says Jesus heals because he is holy, not because those who got healed are holy.

When we overhear those well-meaning folks tell that our faith is wrong or our prayers are wrong, we should remember Paul. Paul prayed for his disease, though he didn’t name the disease, but something ongoing that brought a lot of discomfort and pain. The Bible says he pleaded to God to cure him three times and the number three means many times in the Bible. Paul prayed for cure of his disease so many times, and we all know that God didn’t. And Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus prayed to God to take away the cup of suffering, but one day later, he died on the cross.

Like Paul and Jesus, we can find many examples of unanswered prayers in the Bible. So if the unanswered prayers are not our fault, how can we think of it?

The most frequently heard answer to that question would be that God doesn’t intervene in the law of the creation and works with the ordinary means in human lives. At times we hear there are miracles but God doesn’t seem to make that happen in everyone’s life.

So, if God limits Godself and doesn’t seem to always intervene in the law of the nature, why pray? If we cannot change anything by praying to God, why do we bother? We are like Jimmy who just found out that there is no Santa Claus or magic workshop. What difference could prayer possibly make it?

Prayers are never wasted.

A Theologian Marjorie Suhocki says that prayers are never wasted. When we think of God as a vending machine that can give us anything we want with just push a button with a coin named prayer, we must end up thinking that our prayers go unanswered. But when we think of God as part of our lives, the immanent love within our lives, our prayers also become part of our lives and part of the presence of God in our lives. Suhocki goes on to say that if we find prayers not as a coin for an almighty vending machine, but as a part of the presence of God, we are able to find peace, justice and love within our prayers. And I am sure that is why we come to church. In church by worshiping God, praying together, and sharing meals and love, we find peace and justice in God.

Therefore, in that sense, we cooperate to let God’s work in the world by praying to God. By our prayers God can bring peace, justice, and love into the world. Prayers prompt God’s work in this world. God can work in the world with our cooperation through prayers. We participate in God’s work by praying to bring peace, justice and love into the world.

Last year when I had to go back to Korea for my father, and my visa, I wasn’t really sure if I could come back or not. I really wanted to come back because I was just starting ministry here in Coleta and being a pastor was what I had really longed for so long. I just had become a pastor that I had craved for so long and just two months later, I had to go to Korea without guarantee of coming back.

That situation led me fervently praying morning and night. But soon after I started praying, I realized that my prayer was wrong. I was praying to God that I really wanted to come back. But I soon found out that my prayer was wrong. I shouldn’t pray for what I wanted, but rather pray to God for what God wants to do in the world and in my life. Anyway, whether I could come back or not, I know that God loves me so much. So if I trust that God always loves me and cares for me, I should let God work in my life without pushing God to give me what I want to get. So I changed my prayer to what God wants to do for me and soon I found peace in me.

It was the prayer that Jesus prayed in his prayer in Matthew 6, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Martin Luther King, the Reformer always preached people to pray, “Your will, God’s will be done, not my will be done.” ( I like the Wesley prayer in the hymnal pg 607 )

Thanking God, everything went so well, and I could come back. I could even have surgery, which was not in my plan, under my family’s care and love there. God works in profound ways. God always uses our prayers in profound ways.

Therefore, for us, whether our prayers are answered or not is no longer a matter. Our prayers are never wasted. By praying, we see God work in our world and in our lives. By our cooperation, the presence of God can be immanent within our being and in the world.

Thanks be to God! Amen.