Lately, I’ve been thinking about a couple phrases: “God answered my prayer” or “God didn’t answer my prayer.” It’s common to hear both of these. I’ve said them and heard others say them countless times.
Let me preface the rest of this post: I’m not given to semantic arguments. Communication is an (often clumsy) art. When people don’t use the “right” words, I try to hear the heart of what they’re saying. In talking about spiritual things, it’s easy to fall into verbal legalism. We judge people by the letter of what they’re saying instead of the spirit.
That said, when it comes to saying God answered or didn’t answer a prayer, I’ve felt a growing dis-ease. Here’s how these phrases break down in my mind: If things turn out the way we expect when we pray, we say God answered our prayer. If things don’t turn out like we expect, we say God didn’t answer our prayer. The truth is that God always answers. Sometimes the answer is “No” or “Wait” but those are still answers.
To be sure, when we determine God answered or didn’t answer a prayer based on our interpretation of circumstances we are judging by appearances, something Jesus said to avoid (John 7:24). If we were honest, we would have to admit that this practice says more about us than about God.
Moving on: What do these phrases imply? If God does what we want, He “answers.” If what we want doesn’t happen then God didn’t answer? He simply ignored us? As we (in some cases) asked repeatedly for something, God just didn’t care? What kind of parent would I be if I didn’t respond to my child when he or she asked for something they cared about? A good parent may say, “Yes,” “No,” or “Not now” but to not answer at all is neglect. Is this what we mean to say about our Father? Worse yet, is this what we believe about our Father?
I think the answer to this question is often “Yes.” That’s why the phrases, “God answered my prayer” and “God didn’t answer my prayer” have been bugging me. It is more than semantics. Our choice of words here reflects how we view our Father. From the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).
As a result of these reflections, I’ve decided to avoid saying God answered or didn’t answer a prayer. If others choose to use these phrases, I’ll assume (and pray) they don’t intend to present God as a neglectful Father. And if that is going on in someone’s heart, our very not-neglectful Father will take care of it ;). He knows what we need before we ask!