Unanswered prayer and reasons for suffering

One of the things that Christians who have long-term or ongoing illnesses have to wrestle with is the issue of unaswered prayer. I can remember reading through the Gospels about how Christ healed everyone who came to Him and wondering, “What’s wrong with me that He doesn’t heal me?” You go over those prayer promises and pray in faith, yet continue to have problems. Well-meaning friends imply that if you were just praying right or had enough faith, you’d be healed in a jiffy. You read verses on God’s healing that sound like they were written just for you. Yet, though you experience some degree of recovery, you’re not completely healed.

Of course, sin can hinder answers to prayer (Psalm 66:18, Isaiah 59: 1-2), so it is important to examine yourself and confess any sin the Holy Spirit brings to your mind.

But there are other reasons for seemingly unanswered prayer.

We live in a fallen world. When sin entered, so did sorrow, suffering, and death. Those will all be taken away one day in heaven, but we’re not there yet.

It is so important not to get bitter, to realize that God allowed this for a reason. In A Path Through Suffering by Elisabeth Elliot, she has an appendix in the back of several reasons given in Scripture for suffering. It would take too much space to list them all but here are a couple:

1. Once when Jesus was asked whose sins caused a man’s blindness, He answered, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (John 9:3). Sometimes the Lord allows suffering to occur in our lives so that both we and others observing us will see Him in and through it.

2. In John 15, Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” I am not a good gardener, but I do know that with many plants, if you don’t cut them back occasionally, they won’t grow. or at least they won’t grow as well. Sometimes those “pruning” experiences in our lives are a means of growth, growth we wouldn’t otherwise experience.

There is a fuller discussion of this subject with other Scriptural reasons for suffering here.

13 thoughts on “Unanswered prayer and reasons for suffering

  1. Whenever I start wondering why I have to suffer I always hear this little voice inside me saying, “To show people that you can still love and honor God even when you are in pain.” That’s enough for me.

  2. So true, Jenn. Reminds me of 1 Peter 1:7: “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”

  3. I just want to say thank you for verbalizing what I have been struggling with these last few months, and most especially these last few days. Your words are so much more understandable than how i wrote it šŸ™‚ But the truth is, you are so right, the trials that I am going through are for Gods praise, so others might see how I through the love of God will stay the course. I have no doubts he will heal you, me and everyone, in his time. To God all praise for every single moment, I would rather suffer and have his love, than to have never known him.
    thank you for your blog, you have helped me much.
    God Bless you

  4. you are so right .It is christ that has strengthened me through my time of trial.With out christ I would not have made it this far.Iknow and believe that after the storm comes the sunshine.Praise be to God.

  5. An excellent resource I have come back to time and again is “Rose from Brier” by Amy Carmichael. It is just a little compilation of letters and thoughts…but so poignantly written from the hand and heart of one who is ill (rather than from one who is well to the ill). It is a great balm.


  6. That is a favorite of mine, too, Diane, as are A Path Through Suffering by Elisabeth Elliot and When God Weeps by Jonie Eareckson Tada who are also both well acquainted with suffering.

  7. These replies confirm what I thought I heard from God recently. I am a widow with arthritis and on limited income. It would help considerably if I could do more physically. One day I was feeling better than usual and I said to God “I believe you have done something. I feel better today”. I heard ” I will heal you completely, if necessary, to see that you are cared for.” Stunned, I replied, “Thank you, but would you mind explaining your theology?” He replied, “How could I teach my people agape love without widows, orphans, and the poor?” I don’t think I could have imagined that reply in a thousand years. His reply communicated to me that He (1) hears me, (2) knows my condition, (3) loves me, and (4) wants me to depend on him. What more could I ask?

  8. In 1985 I was told I would only live 6 months, well as you can see God had other ideas. It has been over 25 of suffering and learning the grace of God. There are a lot of lessons I know I would have never learned without suffering. And the one post is right, how can God teach others to have compassion if they never had an opportunity to practice Christian love and cherity. In the account of Lazarus and the rich man, Lazarus was not comdemn or called lazy for not having a job, but his faith in trusting God carried him to paradise.

    Christ used this to show that it is not wealth or health that gets one to heaven but the grace of our Lord. When we learn to live one day at a time trusting our Lord for each day there is a strength in faith not found any other way. Also it is always in hind-sight that we see the provedence of our Lord. Often in our weakness we are the strongest in our faith. It is on our knees that we stand tallest. Suffering is not something any of us want to do but in it we learn grace and the sweetness of the promises to come. God bless you all.
    Mrs. J.

  9. I really needed to ready this. And not just the article, but the comments as well. I’m sure I’ll be back again to read it when I need to be reminded that God has a reason for my unanswered prayers.

  10. Your points here are so true. My husband just preached a sermon a few weeks ago talking about this very subject. One of the points he made was, “For every answered prayer and miracle we celebrate, there are 10 which are never answered or realized.” He emphasized how too often we, as Christians, will tend to celebrate the miracles but forget that God is there in the unanswered ones as well, and that we should celebrate the miracles AND the non-miracles. Just because He doesn’t answer, it doesn’t mean His love or His faithfulness has stopped, and it doesn’t mean that person “it doesn’t have enough faith.” Sometimes, He simply says, “No,” and we may not ever understand why until we get on the other side… Praying for you. Thank you for your testimony and for trusting Him regardless of His answer. I believe you will be an encouragement to so many.

  11. Tonight I read your review of “Grace for a Good Girl” which led me to your Transverse Myelitis post and then to this post on suffering šŸ™‚ A young friend in my home group struggles with the issues discussed in the book. She told me tonight she is reading the book and it is helping her. Your review eased my mind in regard to her reading it. She struggles with grace and obedience. I have been concerned that in this struggle she keeps giving herself permission to just do whatever she wants.

    I’m writing here though because of this post on suffering. The Lord has walked me on a path of suffering for over 40 years. I deal with an internal terror that doctors can’t figure out what the cause is. Psychologist ruled out it being psychological. The latest doctor has suggested it may be a mutated gene.

    In the last ten years my husband has become very ill and now is on a slow hideous path to death due to Multiple Systems Atrophy. When things began to become almost impossible to handle I just began writing what was happening on Facebook. At the same time the Lord began teaching me and giving me insight and understanding of the importance of suffering in the life of a Christian. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love the Lord, I am 75 now, but it is in the last several years that it is like He has removed a veil.

    Friends began to suggest I write a book – I decided to write a Blog. I thought it might minister to one of your readers. http://www.myrefinersfire.com/

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