Unanswered Prayer: When God Doesn’t “Come Through” As You Expected, Then What?

Sometimes I wake up in the morning feeling sad and unsettled. I ask myself, “How do I have joy when it seems that so much is unresolved and unrestored in my life, my relationships, my world?” Do you know that feeling?

Have you thought about the disciples and the weight of their unanswered prayers when they watched their hope die on a cross? God didn’t come through for them like they expected.

And many times He hasn’t come through for me as I expected. I cannot list publicly all the relationships in my life that need mending or the problems that feel overwhelming and unresolvable. I can’t put a name to the general anxiety that creeps in regularly from life in this volatile world. Like a cloud that keeps growing until it blocks out the sun, I sometimes feel chilled, and in the shadows, even on a bright sunny day.

On days like this, I know that after fixing my coffee I need to settle on the couch with my Bible. I ask God to lift my eyes to Him. In the words of an old Puritan prayer that says it so well, I pray:

My Father who loves me,

Cause Thy face to shine upon the dark places

through which I may be called to pass this day

and may I be made to feel

that it is better to hold on to Thy hand in the dark

than to walk alone in the light.


In one season of darkness in my life I was participating in a Bible study on the Old Testament book of Daniel. I read Daniel 10:2, which says, “In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks.” This was not a man given to exaggeration, but he made clear the facts that he mourned every day for 21 straight days.

Nor was Daniel an ordinary man, for he was repeatedly called a “man of high esteem” in his frequent interactions with angelic beings. Mistakenly we think a visit by an angel would be thrilling and life-giving, but Daniel found it exhausting and life draining. Why? Because the news from the angel was confusing and disturbing.

What seems to have caused Daniel’s three weeks of mourning was unanswered prayer. Visions of the future and visits from heaven did not erase his discouragement over unanswered prayer. He felt as I did—burdened, perplexed, joyless. At least, I realized, I’m not alone.

When God doesn’t come through, then what? That’s the shadow-casting sadness, the discouragement or perplexity for me at times. And nothing can be done but wait.

The renowned theologian and writer J. Sidlow Baxter once preached a sermon titled, “The Divine Delays of Jesus.” He wrote that nothing is unintentional with God, including the times that He waits to answer our prayers. His delays always have purpose. Often they are intended to reveal to us more who God is. In seeing Him we respond with greater faith. And we have hope again.

The Bible is a living book. When we go to it we are expressing faith in the Author. We are expressing hope in His words. And if we keep going to His living Word He will, in time give us just what we need. And often the verse or phrase we discover is itself an encounter with the Living God.

For us in the days of this pandemic and a world in turmoil these divine encounters with Jesus remind us that, in Baxter’s words, “no situation is ‘too far gone’ for our all-controlling Lord to overrule and transform.” 

It’s not about figuring out what God is doing, but about humbly seeing who God is and waiting with faith and worship no matter the outcome.

Baxter concludes his sermon with these summaries:

  • God can transform the most hopeless circumstances. “Beware of thinking that God is harsh as you drag along amid permitted sorrow or tribulation. He knows better than you.”
  • Our greatest discoveries and blessings often come through our hardest trials. “… it is His permitting or overruling of calamities which leads to our most exalting and refining discoveries!”
  • In divine delays there is always a gracious purpose. “Delay does not mean that God is neglecting you, much less that He has forsaken you. … no sincere prayer in the name of Jesus is ever left unanswered; and delay is always with a view to an answer bigger and better than that for which we asked.”

Living for Jesus is costly business. How easily I forget that following Him is often a life of difficulty as He helps me throw off distractions, mistaken assumptions, and sinful patterns that keep me from seeing Him clearly.

I became all His decades ago, but His refining work never ceases. Rather than getting easier, my faith trials become more difficult with time. Baby steps for babies. Grown-up strides for the mature. And I want to be mature, so I must accept His purifying work that is individualized for me even when I can’t see the next step ahead.

I’ve been in this place before, so I know He will continue His work. And I know the sun will shine again.

If the answers to my prayers don’t come at all, or as I expect, I will choose to believe and follow. Jesus loves me, this I know.

Easter proves it.

May you too wait by faith, hope by faith, trusting Him no matter what He brings in your life.

He is with you and will never leave you.

Remember and cling to this truth every day of your life.

To help you talk to God, we encourage you to print the beautifully designed prayer in this blog post. Click here to download. 

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts on prayer. I have loved reading old prayers since the days of my mothering when I discovered the prayers of saints like Susanna Wesley. Each blog post features an old prayer from someone now in the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). We have much to learn from these saints of old; though some words are not in vogue today they help us see God in ways we don’t in our modern world. I hope you enjoy this series!

If you missed the other posts on prayer, here they are:

“How to Enjoy Constant Access to God in Prayer”

“Praying for Those Who May Be Difficult to Love”

“Rushed Prayers: Treating God Like He’s a Vending Machine”

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7 thoughts on “Unanswered Prayer: When God Doesn’t “Come Through” As You Expected, Then What?”

  1. most of the comments are similar situations as mine, I too thank you for sharing this and those who commented as well, epecially to the one who wrote about their unbelief, it is hard to see how God can change my difficult difficult situation. But i agree that it is right to open up the God’s Word, to know more about his promises.

  2. Barbara,
    Thank you for your honesty. This post spoke to me & my situation, once again, as your posts usually do. It is very encouraging!! I know that it [your post] help readers, such as myself, to not feel alone in this walk with the Lord. Thank you for continuing to point us to Him, our ultimate happiness and true joy on this side of glory. He is worthy of all of our praise!!! Thank You, Lord!!!
    I am praying for you and ALL that you are going through, that which was mentioned and things that we not. God definitely knows. And, He remains on His throne.
    We love You, Lord!!

  3. Great blog Barbara. Especially love your line, “It’s not about figuring out what God is doing but humbly seeing who God is and waiting with faith and worship no matter the outcome!”
    Love you, S yates

  4. I’m so glad God awoke me early to read this! Every word of it spoke to me deeply! I’m nearly 78, have 6 children and grandchildren scattered from coast to coast, husband and I both have increasing health problems, encumbered with too much “stuff” in our house, can hardly keep up
    the place any more. We are looking too much at our problems and not enough to Him! We need to repent of depression, spend our days with Him, ministering to those around us, and trust Him to show us the next step!

  5. Thank you for this. I have a daughter who is graduating from HS this year & my “Fear” is when she goes to college I will not talk to her or see her. She has so much anger, bitterness & hatred toward me & I don’t know why. I have prayed for God to change her heart, for our circumstances to change or that she would open up & talk to someone so that forgiveness & healing can begin. BUT nothing has changed. Years of this & now as we approach graduation my heart mournings even more for the loss that I am feeling already. I KNOW God CAN I just doubt He will. I KNOW He can transform & yet I have about as much faith as a mustard seed right now. My prayer is Lord I believe but help my unbelief.

  6. Thank you for this lovely devotional. I am in my 60s, children through college and 1st grandbaby on the way.
    Now I have health problems. I so much want my days of good health and energy to be restored, but here I
    am with Dr. visits, PT, and unanswered questions of where the pain is coming from. Help me Lord to face the
    days with a smile and an attitude of gratitude for each day in front of me.

  7. Thank you so much for this blog post! How did you know it was exactly what my heart needed. I was awake many times last night so worried about my children and my husband. My “baby” graduates this year and as we prepare for graduation my heart is “mourning” this new season that is racing towards me. Thank you for your encouragement!

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