“Unanswered” prayer always stings, but when we consider what God might be up to in his supposed silence, it can lessen some of that sting. Corrie ten Boom, who survived a Nazi concentration camp, said that any suffering becomes bearable when you know its purpose!
God may not be answering you right now in the way you want because something in you needs to change. The Scriptures are clear that sometimes God does not answer because we do not approach him with the right posture, perspective, or purposes.
James, the author of the New Testament letter that bears his name (and who happened to be Jesus’ half-brother) is really clear about this. He tells a group of believers, who are wondering why their lives are not filled with more blessing, that first “you do not have, because you do not ask” (4:2).
But sometimes you ask, he continues, and still do not receive… “… because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (v 3)
“Passions” in the original Greek language is a word with connotations of adultery. James is saying, “Sometimes God doesn’t answer your prayers because you pray like an adulterer.” That is a stark image. How might we pray like an adulterer?
Imagine a man approaches his wife and says, “When we married, you pledged to fulfill my romantic needs.” She cautiously nods her head as he continues: “What I have determined I need romantically is your friend Katy. Can you arrange a date with her for me?”
This man is not going to receive a positive answer to his request. When they were married, his wife did not pledge to be his liaison for romantic encounters; she pledged to be those things in herself.
We pray like adulterers when we ask God for something to fulfill a need in us that we should be finding in God. When I need the job, the health, the marriage partner, the restored relationship so that I can have joy, God says, Why are you not finding your joy in me?
While God loves to fill our lives with tangible expressions of his goodness, he wants us to find those things primarily in him. The highest good that God is working for in your life is to make you like Jesus. Our ultimate happiness is based on our conformity to Christ. God may withhold an answer today because he knows it will lead you to be less Christ-like tomorrow.
If answering our prayers in a decade means we will grow more Christ-like each day till then—as we see ways in which our passions and priorities are more like this world’s than Christ’s—then we shouldn’t be surprised when God delays his response. And when we look at it this way, we can praise him for those delays, even as we persist in our requests.
J.D. Greear is pastor of The Summit Church (Raleigh-Durham, NC). He is the host of the Ask Me Anything podcast and “Summit Life,” a daily Bible-teaching broadcast. He is the author of several books including Just Ask: The Joy of Confident, Bold, Patient, Relentless, Shameless, Dependent, Grateful, Powerful, Expectant Prayer. www.JDGreear.com
Excerpted from Just Ask: The Joy of Confident, Bold, Patient, Relentless, Shameless, Dependent, Grateful, Powerful, Expectant Prayer by J.D. Greear, copyright © 2021. Used by permission of The Good Book Company.