In a resource called “When Paul Prayed,” Bible Teacher J. Vernon McGee shared the following helpful words on why none of us should complain that we have unanswered prayer:
I believe one of the worst misnomers Christians use today is “I have unanswered prayer.”
Have you ever stopped to think what an insult that is to God? What you are really saying is this: “I took a request to God, and He didn’t hear me,” “He wouldn’t listen to me,” or “He refused to answer it.” May I say to you, if you are a child of God and you brought a request to Him, He has heard and answered your prayer. But somebody says, “Wait a minute! I know that, practically speaking, I have unanswered prayers!” My friend, again may I resist you and say, you do not have unanswered prayers! You did get the answer. You simply didn’t like it, so you call it an unanswered prayer. May I say to you, God said, “No,” and no is a good answer. Why don’t you accept from God His no? Why don’t you put the blame where it belongs and say, “I do not have unanswered prayers, but I just don’t seem to be praying in the will of God”?
You don’t have unanswered prayer if you are God’s child; He is simply not answering them your way.
Paul experienced this. Let me paraphrase 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 where Paul said, in effect, “I had a thorn in the flesh, and I went to the Lord about it. I rationalized, saying to Him, ‘Lord, I’d be a better missionary if You’d take this thorn out.’ Since nothing happened in response to my request, I went back a second time and said, ‘No, look, Lord — maybe You didn’t quite understand what I was after the first time. What I really want is the thorn removed, and then I’ll be a better missionary.’” But Paul still didn’t get the answer he wanted, so he went back a third time, and the Lord said to him, “Paul, I heard you the first time. I have answered you. I am not going to take it away, but I am giving you grace to bear it.”
God says no many times and, frankly, I’m of the opinion that it is His best answer. When I was growing up, I never took a request to my dad that he did not answer. He always answered. But the best answer that he ever gave was no. I remember one time I asked my dad for a bicycle, and he said yes. But when I asked for a shotgun, he said no. That was the best answer. Likewise, God always answers with the best possible answer, and we are to make our requests with thanksgiving.
Oh, my friend, Paul always had a note of thanksgiving in his prayers. Part of that thanksgiving came out of his knowledge that God would always hear and answer. When he came to God he would say, “Here is the request,” and he would lay it out before Him. Then he’d say, “Lord, thank You for hearing and answering my prayer.” He always got an answer. And you, if you are God’s child, will get an answer.
I (Kevin) will add an additional thought: God sometimes answers “wait”—and that can be the hardest answer to deal with! Submitting to His sovereign control and tender love for us in disappointment is a difficult process, but it gets easier and more worshipful as we mature.
We will have to wait until eternity to see our prayers fully answered, but oh, what a day that will be!