Lessons from Unanswered Prayers

I have said it before on this blog, and the Lord keeps bringing me back to it. The psalms are filled with tremendous encouragement and hope for the weary Christian. In them we find honest human emotion: joy, pain, sorrow, happiness, and the like. There is something for everyone in the psalms. In the last few years I have repeatedly gone back to this precious book. I have found encouragement, hope, comfort, and peace from God through these inspired writers.

Psalm 13 is such a psalm. Essentially, it is the cry of one who faces unanswered prayers. This psalm is so short, yet so powerful. It begins with an honest question:

“How long, O Lord?”

It's almost like he couldn't even complete the request. All he could get out was this pleading phrase, "How long?" David is begging God for relief from suffering, from isolation, and from his enemies. This is a very real circumstance. It’s not hypothetical. David feels forgotten, abandoned, and alone. So he cries out to God for deliverance.

David faces two forms of attack: mental and physical. In the mental attack he is barraged with feelings of abandonment from God. In the physical attack his enemies threaten to rejoice over his perceived defeat. David faces suffering on all fronts and so he cries out to God for relief.

Have you ever done that? Have you ever, in the quiet corners of your house, screamed this very question “How long, O Lord?” You can almost hear David’s pain in the words. And yet, his words imply something deep and profound about God. God is the one who has given him this trial. God is the one who has caused his sorrow. God is the one who has hidden his face, even if only for a moment. And by his very plea, David is showing that he believes that this God has the power to change it all.

Sometimes that is where it is hardest to trust. We believe that God is sovereign. We believe that God can change our circumstance. But by his silence he is showing us that relief is not his plan for us. We can learn a lot from David here. After recounting his trials the psalm takes a dramatic turn towards hope.

And then the most important words appear. Such simple words leads to such an important claim.

“But I have trusted in your steadfast love.”

What is David’s hope in his despair and longing? It is remembering and trusting in the God who loves him and is always for his good. Notice that David’s circumstances have not necessarily changed. God may or may not given him the exact answer he was looking for. Regardless, David responds proactively to his pain and despair. This is the same hope for us.

What do you do when the answer does not come like you hope or relief is a distant dream? Here are two implications from verses 5-6.

  1. Trust in God and his character. Sometimes we cannot see that he is good and does good for us. Life is hard and painful. It does not always feel good. This is where trust comes in. This is where remembering that God is a good, compassionate, loving, and merciful God is a bedrock of hope for us. We must cling to this when we cannot see the good with our eyes.
  2. Worship him for all he has done. Even when the answer does not come, or is less than what you hoped for, there are a thousand good blessings he has already bestowed on you in this season. Some you can see. Some you cannot. But they are there and he is worthy of our worship for them.

There are a million reasons why I am thankful for the Bible. One of them is that through it I can see that my experience is not an isolated one. There are saints who have gone before me. God has shown himself faithful time and time again. And he is worthy of my trust. While I may cry out "how long, O Lord?" I can trust that regardless of the outcome I have an answer to this burning question. His steadfast love never ceases and he is always for my good.