The Hidden Life
J. R. Miller, 1895
Our Unanswered Prayers
There are times when God seems to be silent to us. To our
earnest supplications, he answers not a word. We are told to ask and
we shall receive—to seek, and we shall find—to knock, and it
shall be opened unto us. Yet there come times when we ask
imploringly, and seem not to receive; when, though we seek with
intense eagerness, we seem not to find; when we knock until our hands
are bruised and bleeding, and there seems to be no opening of the door.
Sometimes the heavens appear to be brass above us, as we ask, "Is there
anywhere an ear to hear our pleadings? Is there anywhere a heart to feel
sympathy with us in our need?"
Nothing is so awful as this silence of God—to feel that
communication with him is cut off. It is a pathetic prayer in which a psalm
writer pleads: "Be not silent to me, lest I become like those who go down
into the pit." Anything from God is better than that he be silent to us. It
would be a sad, dreary, lonely world if the atheist's creed were true—that
there is no God; that there is no ear to hear our prayer; that no voice of
answering help or love or comfort, ever comes out of heaven for us.
Are prayers ever unanswered? There are many prayers which
are answered, although we do not know it, and still think them unanswered.
The answer is not recognized when it comes. This is true of our
common mercies and favors. We pray every morning, "Give us this day our
daily bread," and then we never think of our three meals each day as
being answers to prayer. We ask God for health, for clothing, for the things
we need, for prosperity in business, for friends; all these things come to
us in continuity, without break. But do we remember that we prayed for them,
and that they come from God as answers to our requests?
The same is true of many of the spiritual
blessings which we seek. We ask for holiness. It does not seem to us that we
are advancing in holiness; but all the while our life is imperceptibly and
unconsciously receiving more of the mind and spirit of Christ, and we are
being changed into his image. We expect the answer in a marked way, while it
comes silently, as the dew comes upon the drooping flowers and withering
leaves. But, like the flowers and the leaves, our soul is refreshed and our
life is renewed.
We put our cares into God's hands in prayer, and
they do not seem to become less. We think there has been no answer to our
supplications. But all the while an unseen hand has been quietly
shaping, adjusting, and disentangling for us the complex affairs of our life
which made us anxious. We are not conscious of it—but our prayers have been
receiving continual answer in peace and blessing.
We find ourselves in the midst of circumstances which
appear adverse to our happiness and good. We seem about to be crushed by
sorrows, by disappointments, by trials, or by antagonisms. We pray to be
saved from these distressful conditions. No answer seems to come. The shadow
deepens; the blows fall. We sit in the darkness, and say that God did not
answer our prayers. We are unaware of the blessing that really came to us in
the time of our pain. The cup of suffering was not taken away; but we were
secretly strengthened, so that we were able to drink it.
We are very ignorant. We know not how to pray as we
ought. The thing we ask for is not just what we need, although we think it
is. The thing we really need comes—in place of what we thought we needed.
The prayer seems to be unanswered, while in fact it is answered in a far
better way than if what we sought had come instead. We think it is more of
God's gifts we need; these do not come—but God himself comes
into our life in new fullness, imparting to us more of his love and grace.
We have an answer better than we sought. The Giver is better than his
Thus, there is a large field of praying in which answers
come—but come unrecognized. We have been blessed, although we knew it not.
We did not perceive the blessing when it was given to us. We did not
understand that the good things we were receiving so plentifully, were
answers to our prayers. We thought God was not heeding our requests, when
really he was giving us abundant answer every day!
But there are other prayers that really are not answered.
God is silent to us when we ask. Yet there is a reason for his silence. It
is better we should not have the things we want and plead for. For
example, we ask God to lift away our burdens. But to do this would rob us of
blessings which can come to us only through the bearing of the burden; and
our Father loves us too well to give us present ease—at the cost of
future and eternal good. There are mistaken notions current about the way
God promises to help us. People think that whenever they have a little
trouble to endure, a bit of hard path to go over, a load to carry, a sorrow
to meet, or a trail of any kind—all they have to do is to call upon God, and
he will at once deliver them, take away the burden or the sorrow which
threatens, free them from trial. They think that is what God promises to do.
They imagine that when anything goes a little wrong with them, all they have
to do is to pray, and God will set it right. But this is not the manner of
God's love. His purpose concerning us is not to make things easy for
us—but to make something of us.
So when we pray to God to save us from all care, to take
the struggles out of our life, to make the paths mossy, to lift away all
loads—he simply will not do it. It would be most unloving in him to do so.
Prayers of this kind, therefore, go unanswered. We must carry the burden
ourselves. God wants us to learn life's lessons, and to do this, we must be
left to work out the problems for ourselves. There are rich blessings that
can be gotten only in sorrow. It would be a short-sighted love,
indeed, that would heed our cries and spare us from the sorrow because we
cried for this, thus depriving us of the wonderful blessings which can be
gotten only in the sorrow.
A child may indolently shrink from the study, the regular
hours, the routine, the drudgery, and the discipline of the school—begging
the parent to let him stay at home from school and have an easy time; but
what would you think of the father who would weakly and softly grant the
child's request, releasing him from the tasks which irk him so? Nothing more
unkind could be done. The result would be the dwarfing of the child's
life for all the future. Is God less wisely kind than our human fathers? He
will not answer prayers which ask that we may be freed from duty or from
work, since it is by these very things we grow. The only true answer in such
prayers is the non-granting of what we ask.
Then, there are also selfish prayers that are
unanswered. Human lives are tied up together. It is not enough that any one
of us shall think only of himself and his own things. Thoughts of others
must modify all our life. It is possible to overlook this in our prayers,
and to press our own interest and desires—to the harming of others. God's
eye takes in all his children, and he plans for the truest and best good of
each one of them. Our selfish prayers, which would work to the injury of
others—he will not answer. This limitation applies especially to prayers for
worldly things. We must not pray selfishly even for prosperity in
business. We must not ask for our own comfort and ease, without
qualification. Love must come into our praying—as well as our
living. Or if we forget love's law, and think only of ourselves in
asking, God will not grant us our desires. He thinks of all his children,
and will not do injury or harm to one to gratify another. These are examples
of prayers which are not answered. They are not according to God's will.
They are for things that would not prove blessings to us, if we were to
There is yet another class of prayers which appear to be
unanswered—but whose answer is only delayed for wise reasons.
Ofttimes we are not able at the moment to receive the things we ask for. A
child in one of the lower grades in a school may go to a teacher of higher
studies, and ask to be taught this or that branch. The teacher may be
willing to impart to the pupil the knowledge of the higher study—but the
pupil cannot receive the knowledge until he has gone through certain other
studies to prepare him for it. There are spiritual qualities for which we
may pray earnestly—but which can be received only after certain discipline.
A ripened character cannot be gotten by a young Christian, merely in answer
to prayer; it can be gotten only through long experience.
Or it may be that the things we pray for cannot be given
to us until they have been prepared for us. Suppose you were to plant a
young fruit-tree, and were to begin to pray for fruit from its branches;
could your prayer be answered at once? It is thus with many things we ask
for in our pleading—they must be grown before they can be given to
us. God delays to answer, that he may give us in the end, better things than
could have been given at the beginning. He seems silent to us when we plead;
but it is not the silence of indifference, nor the silence of
refusal—but the silence of love, which really assents to our
request, and sets about preparing for us the blessings we crave. We need
only patience, to wait our Father's time.
Here it is that ofttimes we fail. We cannot wait for God.
We think he is indifferent to us, because he does not instantly give us what
we crave. We fret and vex ourselves over the unanswering of the very prayers
which God is really answering, as speedily as the blessings can be made
ready for us, or as we can be made ready to receive them. We should teach
ourselves to trust our Father in all that concerns our prayers—what he will
give, what he shall withhold, and the time and the
manner of his giving.
These are suggestions concerning what seem to be
unanswered prayers. The prayers may have been answered in ways in which we
did not recognize our requests. They may be, indeed, unanswered, because to
answer them would have been unkindness to us, or would have wrought
hurt to others. Or the answers may have been delayed until we
are made ready to receive them, or while God is preparing them for