Prayer candles (tealights) against a black background. Text: The fear that God won't answer my prayers. (Faith in Grey Places)

The fear that God won’t answer my prayers

My creative vibes have been low over the last few months, so last week I asked God for a very clear steer on what to write about next. 

I then began to offload about how I seem to be afraid of everything all the time — and the Holy Spirit said, “Write about that.” So over the next few weeks I’m going to reflect on some of my recurring fears and how I experience them. It’s not what I expected to write about in resurrection season, but… here we are! And the words are there. 

My first fear is that God will not answer my prayers.

O God, do not remain silent; do not turn a deaf ear, do not stand aloof, O God.
Psalm 83:1 (NIVUK)

This week I shared a cup of tea with an acquaintance who was not quite a friend, but might become one in time. As we spoke, he told me how a close relative was in hospital with a kidney transplant, but the kidney wasn’t active yet and it had already been two  weeks. He was putting on a brave face but flashes of vulnerability pierced through his optimistic outlook. I thought about saying that I would pray afterwards. Then about offering to pray for him and his relative right then and there.

But I debated with myself: what if you pray and the kidney still doesn’t work?

In the end, I did offer. He was surprised but not offended, and said it was up to me. So I did. Not for long, but enough to make the point. Please can the kidney wake up. And whatever happens, please provide my friend and his relative with the support and companionship they need as they face the future.

It’s a kind of hedge-your-bets prayer. 

I often feel like I have to hedge my prayers with God. Because no, I don’t always believe he’ll answer them. And I certainly don’t expect him to explain himself.

In some respects, God not answering prayers is a good thing. We all have prayers that, with hindsight, we’re glad God didn’t fulfil. But that’s no comfort in uncertainty. When I think about it, the fear I experience is not that God won’t provide what I asked for, it’s that God won’t answer.

I hate the silence of God.

I’m not afraid that God won’t hear me. I’m not afraid that God cannot answer my prayers. Any I utterly reject any notion that God will allow some trivial technicality to block a sincere prayer. He’s just bigger than that.

My fear is that the entropy of life and the indifference of the human heart will rattle on, leaving sorrow in their wake.

After the conversation with my friend/acquaintance, I realised that this fear often means that I simply do not pray. On the one hand, there’s a level of honesty here: why make a façade of praying for something that I do not have faith for? On the other hand, if I never pray, I’m limiting the opportunities for God to surprise me. 

This morning I received a text. My friend/acquaintance said that our prayers had “worked” and that his relative was home. I didn’t expect it. But I wouldn’t say that I felt joy, relief or surprise. Yes, I was glad. But it was like the feeling you get when you return a faulty item and the refund goes through OK. Or when you lose an argument that you never really wanted to win. I thanked God and I meant it, but I didn’t shout, “Hallelujah!”

That said, I have no doubt that my friend/acquaintance is over the moon. And maybe his faith in God has been strengthened. And maybe we will move from being acquaintances to more like friends. I don’t know. Give me one day at a time.

I hedge my bets in what I pray for because I know that God has his own agency too, and I respect that. It’s probably also unfair to say that God doesn’t answer me, because his track record shows that he does answer my questions. Much like he did on my prayer walk.

It would seem then that my fear is more about God doing something. He listens, but will he act? And when he acts, will he follow through? I dare say a good many of the Bible’s psalmists and prophets asked the same questions. 

I don’t have a definitive answer and I didn’t write this expecting to finish with something neat and tidy. I do believe that God is good. I do believe that he will triumph over evil, and that his ultimate victory has already been secured in the death and resurrection of Jesus. But we don’t have the luxury of certainty for everything that will happen between now and then.

It’s said that courage isn’t about not feeling fear, but about feeling fear and doing something anyway. Maybe faith isn’t about not feeling fear, but about feeling it and praying anyway. Ultimately, it’s on God whether or not God answers, not us. That’s not an excuse for us to be glib about faith or prayer, or about how we share our prayers with other people, or about the actions we take when we pray. But it’s true – it’s on him, not us. And if God is good, as I believe he is, then there is some comfort in that.

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Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash

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