This post is written with the assumption the reader has experienced receiving answers to prayer, is familiar with the workings of the Spirit, and is currently living in a manner where they can expect to receive divine guidance through prayer.
No message is repeated more in scripture than the simple thought: “Ask, and ye shall receive” (D&C 4:7). Elder Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, Nov. 1979, 19.
I have experienced this dimension of prayer many times. Receiving answers to prayer has been the most sublime experiences of my life—no other life experience even comes close. However, that’s not the end of the story. I can also relate to the following experiences:
When Joseph Smith prayer’s remained unanswered, he pleaded with the Lord, saying, “Oh, God where art thou?” D&C 121:1
When the Savior of the world was on the cross the scripture says, “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46
The Pain from Unanswered Prayers can be Exquisite
For those who are striving to follow Christ one of the unnerving challenges we are required to grapple with in our discipleship is that some of our prayers seem to go unanswered. This can be a source of frustration, as well as a challenge to our faith. When this happens we can feel betrayed, and if we let these kinds of feelings take root we can unintentionally invite the adversary into our lives (2 Nephi 32:8) and he will teach us not to pray, whispering, “God won’t answer your prayers because…” and then proceed to lie to us.
I think one of the unfortunate things we do in the church is to share our experiences with answered prayers and avoid relating our experiences with “unanswered prayers”. Telling only one side of our experience with prayer can create the impression that all our prayers are answered. This can create unrealistic expectations in others, especially the youth.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we make an elaborate effort to relate tales of unanswered prayers, but I do feel we need to “sprinkle” a few examples into our discourses.
Following are a few thoughts from church leaders regarding their ideas on dealing with unanswered prayers:
“Very often over the years I have had peace and patience knowing He was there and would not forsake me even though some prayers were going unanswered.” Marvin J. Ashton, “He Is There,” New Era, Oct 1993, 4
“I recognize that, on occasion, some of our most fervent prayers may seem to go unanswered. We wonder, ‘Why?’ I know that feeling! I know the fears and tears of such moments. But I also know that our prayers are never ignored. Our faith is never unappreciated.” Russell M. Nelson, “Jesus Christ—the Master Healer,” Ensign, Nov 2005, 85
“Instead of worrying or grumbling that our prayers have gone unanswered, we should delight ourselves in the Lord. Be grateful. Be happy. Know that the Lord, in His time, will bring about all your righteous desires—sometimes in ways we predict, sometimes in ways we could not have possibly foreseen.” Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Improving Our Prayers,” Ensign, Mar 2004, 24–31
“Sometimes when a prayer appears to go unanswered, it is because it is being answered in a greater way than we can perceive. When we face these trials, we must double our faith lest we lose it.” Gene R. Cook, “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” New Era, Oct 1982, 4
“Even in decisions we think very important, we sometimes receive no answer to our prayers. This does not mean that our prayers have not been heard. It means only that we have prayed about a decision that, for one reason or another, we should make without guidance by revelation.” Dallin H. Oaks, “Eight Ways God Can Speak to You,” New Era, Sep 2004, 4
Counsel Me Not
The Lord knows all things and always has our eternal well being in mind, even though we may not be able to discern the reasons our prayers appear unanswered (2 Nephi 26:24).
Jacob teaches this saying:
Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works. Jacob 4:10
When my prayers have remained unanswered, or took so long to answer, that I felt ignored. I’ve mustered my spiritual resources by telling myself that God knows all things, and then I do my best to leave it there and busy myself by “waiting on the Lord”.
I recently read something Elder Boyd K. Packer said regarding the difficulty saints have relying on the Lord when He seems absent:
“You cannot make a major mistake without having been warned. I will make a promise to you, and you can test it. I have no hesitancy in making this promise… As you move forward in life, you cannot make a major mistake, any mistake that will have any lasting consequence in your life, without having been warned and told not to do it. It cannot be done in this Church. It doesn’t work that way.” Seeking Revelation and Spiritual, Experiences, Meridian Magazine.
I take comfort in this promise!
Prayer is our spiritual lifeline! We must keep the channels of communication open with our Heavenly Father at all cost, including learning to accept and understand the place “unanswered prayers” have in His plan for us.
I like what Elder Gene R. Cook said above, “When we face these trials, we must double our faith lest we lose it.”
Elder Cook knows what he is talking about. I have great respect for his words and the way he dealt with very difficult circumstances he and his wife were called upon to endure. Click here to see what I mean.
I know the Lord hears and answers prayers. However, when we are in the thick of a struggle to know the Lord’s will and no answer is apparent, I hope we will recall answered prayers and continue on in our struggle faithfully dealing with our “fears and tears”, but allowing the Lord to lead us as He sees fit—after all—he is our Father.