Struggling with unanswered prayer can paralyse us. But Jesus is with us in the pain, says Josh Green, and he’ll never leave our side


Source: Reuters

“Many times, the Bible is more honest than the Church is.” So writes Pete Greig, founder of 24-7 Prayer in his book, God on Mute (Kingsway).

In the case of unanswered prayer, that honesty has recently come from the controversial rapper, Kanye West, now known as Ye. In a YouTube interview with American radio host, Big Boy, Kanye opened up about the pain that many people find hard to express, saying he prayed for a lot of things but didn’t see “Jesus show up”.

The truth is, pain can paralyse us to the point of prayerless-ness. I’ve been there, time and time again. Sometimes I’ve prayed for things and the exact opposite has happened. What on earth do you do then?

A hard reality

Let’s be honest, many of us have been where Kanye’s been, and said what he’s said: “Them prayers ain’t working.” Many of us have wrestled with God and left walking with a limp, facing the agony of divine silence and unanswered prayer.

As someone who works for a prayer movement, it’s hard to admit that the very thing I so passionately advocate for sometimes doesn’t work the way I want it to. Like the day I watched hundreds of young people say: “Yes!” to following Jesus, while simultaneously receiving the news that my mum had suffered a life-threatening brain haemorrhage.

Though God can, and often does, give us what we ask for, his foremost desire is to be with us

Or when we embarked on a national tour calling young people to contend for revival and my father-in-law passed away - on the same day as my grandad’s funeral. This can be the hard reality of life here on earth.

But there amid the pain stands Jesus. There suffers Jesus. There weeps Jesus. Right in the agony with us, Jesus walks. “Je-sus-walks-with-me!” Kanye sang on his debut album in 2004. He was boldly proclaiming the truth that Jesus walks with us in the wilderness. But it’s easier to sing it, or even preach it, than it is to live it sometimes.

The greatest gift

When prayer doesn’t ‘work’, we must re-acquaint ourselves with its primary purpose; being with God. We must ask, like the disciples in Luke 11:1: “Lord, teach us how to pray.” One of Jesus’ responses to this question reads: “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 the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’” (Luke 11:13, emphasis mine).

Did you notice the exchange? Jesus switches “good gifts” for the “Holy Spirit.” Humans give gifts; our Father in heaven gives something that is so much more. God’s primary concern is to give us his presence, not presents. Though God can, and often does, give us what we ask for, his foremost desire is to be with us.

Why? Because in life’s darkest moments, none of us long for a scientific explanation for how the problem occurred; we want an arm round the shoulder. We need an “ever-present help in time of need” (Psalm 46:1). We need a “wonderful counsellor” (Isaiah 9:6) who sits and listens to us; someone to “lead us beside still waters” (Psalm 23:2) and restore our souls.

This is the God I cling to as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And, as I walk, I notice that a man is walking beside me, dripping with blood and tears, carrying a cross. As I wipe my tears, I take a closer look at this man and see Jesus. There he is, carrying my sin and my pain; suffering to suffer with me, crying to make a day possible where there will be no more tears, and dying to put an end to death.

Many of us have wrestled with God and left walking with a limp, facing the agony of divine silence and unanswered prayer

This is the God I pray to. Not a God who is far off, disinterested or unable to relate to the hardships of life, but one who is right in the mess with me, who took on human flesh in order to fully heal it. In his pain, I find comfort in mine. I’m not alone. In his outstretched arms on the cross, he embraces me. I find life in his death and purpose in his pain.

His suffering meant salvation for the world, laying hold of one of life’s most audacious claims, that there is purpose in the pain, triumph in the trial, testimonies in the tests, and a message in the mess. Jesus walks with me, as Kanye says.

If you struggle with this difficult area of prayer, take a look at 24-7’s The Unanswered Prayer Course