When Prayer Doesn’t Seem to Work

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Paul told us to pray constantly (1 Thes 5:17).  This sounds good for people of faith, when it appears to be working.  I don’t mean by this that God becomes for us a magic genie and that we get exactly what we ask for (which would be nice but most people of faith realize that that is not what faith is all about).  But what gets frustrating and disheartening is when we pray for something and it seems like we get no response.  Not, “Yes.”  Not “No.”  Not, “Try this instead.”  But rather we don’t seem to sense an answer at all.  Then what are we to do?

One of the simple games I used to like to play as a kid were the puzzles where you had to draw a line through a maze.  You kind of intuitively had to guess which the right way to go was because if you guessed wrong, you could travel a long way with your pencil to reach a dead end.  In real life, people develop mazes, sometimes with hedges, and sometimes in corn fields, and people spend hours trying to find the solution.  As children and adults we like all this because it often parallels with experiences we have in real life. Life can feel just like that, particularly when we hit a dead end.  We get to an end which wasn’t meant to be where we were supposed to go.  But we don’t want to backtrack, it seems like such wasted energy.  But maybe sometimes that is precisely what God wants and intends for us to do (and learn from it).

Another parallel I see today is in hearing.  I distinctly remember as a child hearing things my parents and grandparents could not. Oftentimes they wouldn’t believe me! I try to use this to my advantage today.  When my own children hear something I do not, instead of dismissing it, I try to pay attention to it.  I ask them lots of questions about the noise they are hearing.  I might not be able to hear it, but that doesn’t mean there is no noise. In like manner, I think sometimes when we get stuck, God is going to give us a solution that we have been praying for through another person.  Again, like backtracking, we might not like this.  We often like to solve our problems by ourselves.  But maybe asking someone else for help is just what God wants us to do.

Whatever the challenge, remember, God isn’t going to leave you at a dead end, even if you feel like that is just where you are. God will lead you over, under, around that barrier – or maybe down another path which isn’t blocked at all.  I think when we feel blocked, even after prayer, we need to talk it out, listen, and be patient.

Of course this applies to prayers about others and about groups (like congregations and families) as well as individual prayers.

I still believe Paul was right.  Pray constantly.  But we also need to be open to discerning God’s answer and flexible on what we are called to do next.

What do you think?

Until next time,

Tom

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