“If God cares about us, why doesn’t he answer our prayers, especially those that are cries for help?”
Let’s continue answering this question by examining the wise and refined words of the Apostle Paul. In II Corinthians 12:7-11 we read why God did not answer the Apostle Paul’s prayer to be healed of his “thorn in the flesh.” In verse 7 Paul explains why: “… Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me.”
Paul knew that the worst enemy of our relationship with God or anyone else was to be puffed up with pride or self-exaltation. After experiencing “visions and revelations” and being “caught up into the third heaven/paradise,” he knew how tempting it was for him to boast about such things – to feel special or superior, to feel “exalted.”
Fame and fortune, power and pleasure are our greatest pride-inducing enemies. I have come to say quite often that humility is the doorway to God while vanity/pride is the trapdoor away from God and each other!
Although Paul eventually came to understand “why” he received this thorn in the flesh, why God allowed him to be tested and tormented, he at first prayed for its removal! In vs. 8 we read: “Concerning this (thorn in the flesh), I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me.”
There was nothing wrong with such praying! God wants us to ask for His help. The Lord’s Prayer emphasizes this fact.
How many times did Jesus pray in the Garden of Gethsemane? Three times (Matthew 26:36-46). God wants us to pray. However, God knows that granting some prayer requests can be fraught with unforeseen and catastrophic consequences.
Let us refer to George Orwell, who was disillusioned when his prayer for healing was not answered. Sometime later he and another student had a fling with the occult when they made a model of a fellow student who was bullying them. They tore the leg off the model/replica. Not long afterwards, the student had an accident in which he broke a leg, and then he was diagnosed with leukemia and died.
Those coincidental events spooked Orwell, who forever steered clear of the occult. But his friend became enamored with it and its supposed power for the rest of his life. There is a great danger if people believe that prayer can give them the power to manipulate things, people, or even God.
Even when our prayer is sincere and heartfelt, and the need is painfully real, God sometimes says no – as He did to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and to Paul as he was suffering greatly from his thorn in the flesh.
God answers the Apostle Paul’s threefold plea in verse 9 with a “no” and an explanation – perhaps spoken by that still, small voice within the depths of his heart, soul, and mind.
First, he said “no,” which turned out to be not a bad thing. C.S. Lewis once wrote ever-so-honestly and humbly: “I must often be glad that certain past prayers of my own were not granted.”
Years ago a friend of mine introduced me to Garth Brook’s song about how he had prayed asking God to melt the heart of a high school girl – that would not have been a good choice for him. And so he later sang: “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” One of the most famous stories was how a woman named Monica prayed fervently for the conversion of her son Augustine. She prayed all night right before he left for Rome, thinking it would be the worst possible place for him. But, he went and that is where he was converted.
Let’s read God’s explanation in Vs. 9: “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’” God promised to strengthen and support Paul and reveal Himself most clearly within Paul’s weakness, a weakness that compelled him to rely on God and God alone.
Paul’s experience with God’s helpfulness, in his own helplessness, was an indescribable comfort and joy – what Jesus called a blessedness. I think of a Chinese Pastor name Yuan who has inspired millions and millions of Christians in the rapidly-growing but often-persecuted Church in China. He spent 23 years in prison.
With great excitement he told of a miracle he experienced in his prison near Mongolia where he had nothing but a light jacket to wear while working/slaving outside during brutal winters. He felt God’s presence and believed that God kept him from getting a cold, the flu, or pneumonia – and he never mentioned, never seemed to give a thought to all the “unanswered” prayers Chinese Christians were praying for his release during those for 23 years!
Feeling God’s ever-so-close presence enabled Paul to write these words in vs. 10: “Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Amen.