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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 received many answers to prayer. These experiences have 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:
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 church members 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 seeming 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 cause 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.
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.
Please answer a 6 Question Survey to let me know what you think.
Thank you so very much for this article. It really gave me a hope and helped me to have more faith and be patient. I’m a return missionary and I do have a testimony that the Lord and Heavenly Father are real and have special experiences that I cannot ignore that their real. However life after my mission was not the way I’ve expected to have. It’s a year now and all my friends, all church friends who are return missionaries like me and relatives who’re in my age are so blessed and living the life according to their dreams and wishes and improving their lives but I’m stuck. I don’t have a plan for my life or I don’t know what I’m gonna do or anything and nothings working. I’m so worried about my future and felt Heavenly Father has totally forgotten me and ignoring my prayers. It’s so painful! I’m grateful for all the blessings He given me but wonder why He’s testing my faith this much or I feel like he completely forgotten me. However Thank you so much for this article. It gave me a new hope. I might sleep well today or do something with a hope. again Thank you so much. Have a nice day.
I was trapped in a terrible ward, in a terrible job with the church, praying to be able to get out. I prayed to know what to do, where to go. No answer. No guidance. No comfort. I eventually got out to a somewhat better place.
It’s really hard when people in the church are awful to you and you pray to God for help…and you don’t get any. I never experienced anything like that before in my life.
What can My god do for Me? Why isn’t he giving me what I want? What buttons do I push to get more blessings for Me? Maybe I need to be more righteous, so he will deem Me worthy. What if it’s not about Me?
What if we are the answers to each others prayers?
You made reference to Christ’s expression on the cross of “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me.” I don’t know if you have ever heard or been taught this, but when Christ said that he was actually bearing testimony of who he was. This is the way that Psalms 22 begins. It was a fulfillment of David’s prophecy of the Lord and all of the things that Christ would experience. There is a possibility that Christ even recited the whole chapter (even sang it as they did back then)…and then he gave up the ghost. Anyone who heard him would have known what he was referring to as they would have been very familiar with the text of Psalms 22. I just thought that was interesting and I wanted to share it with you.
To all of those above who have feelings of abandonment, resentment, anger and discouragement because of unanswered prayer I want you to know that I have been in that place too. I didn’t know how to handle not receiving answers when the answers I sought was for people I loved so much. I became angry, and resentful. That darkness and depression lasted for a few years and yet in my heart I knew that God is a God of love. I just didn’t understand why I couldn’t get answers. I persisted in my church attendance and doing what was asked of me. ….and, I did exactly what Satan wanted me to do and stopped reading my scriptures and believed the lies he whispered in my ears. I still kept the connection with God and talked to him in my heart, but I didn’t kneel and address Him formally.
Gratefully I am not in that place anymore. I can’t even tell you why it changed for me. But I know that it was in God’s own time that it did. Do I still feel that prayers go unanswered? Yes. Often. But I have learned to turn my heart to the Lord in trust and I have given up my need to want to control the circumstances in my life and have tried to give control to Him (I am not perfect at this ). Has the one thing that I needed help with so badly regarding a loved one changed? Nope. But I know that the greatest thing that I can do is to try and sanctify myself through the Atonement so that I can have claim upon all of the promises of the Lord. In due time, they will all be fulfilled.
I believe that it was necessary for me to go through this period of darkness. There is opposition in all things. There are times that you have to travel through the dark abyss, but I promise you that in the Lord’s due time he will reach down and snatch you up and you will see the other side of the darkness, which is joy, clarity, and peace. I am so grateful that I have gone through this experience (I hated it at the time). It has deepened my understanding of life and expanded my compassion and love for my fellow sojourners in life. All I can tell you is that I am a better me having passed through these experiences (which weren’t fun at all). Carry on, carry on….He loves you.
If you can go from the periodic prayer of “O God, do this for me,” to making the continual prayer of your heart “O God, what may I do to serve thee this day?”, you will find life gets very interesting, in a very good way.