We had a woman at work give notice, and we didn’t want her to go. So, I prayed about it. But she still quit. Who let me down? She or God? Also, I have been praying for years about a family member’s illness and still, I have not seen healing? Why aren’t my prayers answered?
The experience of unanswered prayer is one of the haunting questions of life. I suspect many Christians have felt let down by God, or, at the very least, confused and disappointed. Part of our reaction comes from incorrect teaching about the nature of prayer. We have been taught that if we pray the right way we will get the answer we desire. But prayer is not about getting what we want. Prayer is, as one writer put it, “surrender to the reality that there is a wisdom greater than ours.” Prayer brings us into relationship with God, the greatest guide and loving presence we can ever have. Prayer confronts us with our finiteness and God’s infiniteness. In your first example, it’s important to remember that each individual has a human will he or she can use for right or wrong. God will not manipulate anyone; He gives us choices. We must always realize this when we pray for others.
In your second question, you wonder why God answers some prayers and not others. The disciples prayed for Peter’s release from prison, and God released him (Acts 12:3–17). But God allowed Stephen to be stoned to death (Acts 7:54–60) and later both Paul and Peter were put to death for the sake of Jesus. In the book of Psalms, we find questions such as “Why have you forgotten me?” (Ps. 42:9) or “Why have you rejected me?” (Ps. 43:2). Questions like these are common to all of us, representing our worry and doubts.
It is natural to have questions about prayer. God understands that. The book of Psalms encourages us to express those questions honestly to God. But it also pushes us to remember God is a God of mercy who loves His children. It may not be until eternity that we will have all the answers, but I love the words of Psalm 42: 11, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”