In our darkest hours we call out to God in prayer. We pray for help, rescue, healing, and intervention. Sometimes we see a clear answer to our prayers, but other times it may feel like God isn’t listening. How do you measure the effectiveness of prayer? If it’s measured by receiving the outcome we’ve ask for, we may feel discouraged in the waiting. But even “unanswered” prayers may be answers, just not necessarily the one we hoped for. God may be telling us “no” or “not now”. When our prayers seem to go unanswered we need to prayerfully consider why. We should start by examining our own hearts and expectations.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”John 15:1-2
The first question to prayerfully consider is – “Am I producing fruit?” In other words, have I been using my gifts to serve others, glorify God, and spread his kingdom? The sacrifice made by Jesus is what restored our relationship with the Father, so we are unable to lead anyone to God on our own. We can only produce fruit when we remain connected to Jesus and follow his teaching. If our relationship has grown distant our lives reflect it and we are unable to be an effective witness to others.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”John 15:5-6
Remaining connected to Jesus allows continued growth, but it doesn’t protect us from suffering, loss, illness, disappointment, or hardship. Rather, we need these times to refine our character and strengthen our faith. When we face trials we are reminded just how much we need God. Times of adversity often prove to be the greatest opportunities for growth. As God’s children we are subject to his blessings and his discipline. Even though discipline may hurt, it is a sign of love.
And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.Hebrews 12:5-8
The next question to consider is- “What might God be trying to teach me?” Maybe we need to learn patience, deepen our faith, or offer forgiveness. As a gardener prunes a grapevine to encourage additional growth and fruit-bearing, God does the same in our lives. We may feel concerned when God “prunes” something in our lives, especially when we think it’s something we need. But with time we continue to grow back fuller, stronger, and more fruitful.
Like children, we often grow impatient waiting for God to reveal his purpose. We are tempted to force things to be our way, believing we already know what we need. But God’s thought are not our thoughts, and his ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). Because only God can see the bigger picture, prayer can be used to align our hearts with God’s plan. Maybe God seems silent because we are asking for the wrong things.
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!Matthew 7:9-11
So the last question is- “Am I asking for the right things?” God may not give us everything we want, but he always provides what we need. When we become too focused on a specific outcome, we can forget what we need the most. If we ask, God willingly provides us with things like patience, strength, comfort, wisdom, and peace.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.Matthew 7:7-8
It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t boldly ask God for specific things, but when we do we are merely making a request. In this way we should model our prayers after Jesus’s prayers in Gethsemane. Ask for what you desire, but humbly submit to God’s will. Whether we receive the answer we are hoping for or not, we can be confident that he will ultimately work all things for good even when we can’t see it. What we want may be good, but what God has planned is always infinitely better.