Most of us, at one time or another, struggle with the reality and prospect of unanswered prayers. We read about promises that if we have enough faith we will be heard or we read that if we ask we will get or if we ask in God’s will we will get what we want — and we ask, and we work on our own faith, and we evaluate whether we are asking according to God’s will … AND we ask and we don’t get.
And then we hear many Christians — far too many in my opinion — who lay claim to God hearing their little prayer for a parking spot at the mall but not hearing the cries of infants and parents in Darfur nor hearing the cries of God’s people throughout the world. Not a few are scandalized by this disparity — uttering a contemptuous, “The gall of those who are praying for a parking spot.”
I confess that I’ve never prayed for a parking spot, though I’ve at times given thanks on a rainy day for a close spot. I confess also that I don’t pray as I ought for those in Darfur or for AIDS-stricken countries. But this is not a post about the disparity of Christian prayers. Instead, we are concerned about praying for positively powerful and good and just things and those prayers not being heard. Why are they not?
Pete Greig, a world class prayer expert, has a new book called God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer. The book is at times rugged, always honest, and always bathed in the deep experience of a life of prayer. I think every church needs this book, and I think pastors need to read this book and teach its contents in a way adapted to a local setting. I’ve never seen a book more complete on this topic.
Greig himself weaves in out of this book a story about his wife, Samie, who discovered she had a tumor in her brain the size of an orange, about the surgery and about the aftermath of that surgery in their lives. Their story is not everyone’s — but it gets close because we all struggle with prayers that are not answered as we’d like. But, the book is much, much more than a memoir. Jam-packed with good quotations and good stories and solid perceptions of what the Bible says about prayer, the book is a must-read.
In this post and a 2-3 more, I’ll post the 16 reasons why he suggests God doesn’t answer prayers.
1. Common sense: Am I asking God to do something stupid, meaningless, or illogical?
2. Contradiction: Are my prayers likely to be conflicting with those of someone else?
3. Laws of nature: Are my prayers potentially detrimental to the natural order or to the lives of others?
4. Life is tough: Am I expecting God to spare me from stuff that’s just common human experience because of the Fall?
Aesthetic observation: this book has the feel and appearance of an emerging book; it really isn’t. This book deserved a different aesthetic as well as a more delicate font and appearance. Don’t be fooled. If this book had the appearance of a Richard Foster book it would be taken more seriously.