Does God Hear our Prayers? Then Why Doesn’t He Do Something, for Crying Out Loud?

A few years back, the husband of a good friend of ours from church  was stricken with cancer of the kidney. He was only in his mid forties and the prognosis was not good.  Our church set up prayer vigils and many of us  spent much time and energy imploring God to intervene and save him from an early death.  The man was not a believer, but he allowed us to do this for him,  perhaps out of respect for his wife, perhaps out of a sense of;  “Why not – What’s to lose?”.

There were some surgeries and some chemo and radiation and, against all odds, he survived.  We proclaimed this an example of God’s healing power, as well as one of the power of prayer.  It was truly a miracle.

The man was grateful and acknowledged that perhaps there was more to this than just medical science at work. However, he did not convert to the faith, as we had hoped.

Within six months he was diagnosed with cancer in another part of his body and he died very quickly after that, in spite of more prayers.  Among some of us there was a sense of confusion. What’s up? Why did God hear our prayers the first time only to allow him to die within a few months of something else? No one truly believed that God was not listening to us the second time around. Was there some purpose to God’s plan that required this seeming inconsistency?  If this was the case it almost looked…cruel.

My questions are these; Does God answer our prayers? And if so, in what way? Does he perform ‘miracles’?

Is it necessary to believe in divine miraculous intervention for us to have faith in God?  Is prayer necessary for faith?

I ask this because I know that many people struggle with questions like these and it may even cause them to doubt their faith in God.

  1. #1 by bencrayton on August 19, 2009 - 5:09 pm

    Death is a part of living, I suppose. At least living in a corrupted state.

    God does not reward our actions but rather our faith. This is why James says that we should ask without doubt. “For he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

    To answer your questions specifically: God does answer our prayers. He may bless us because of our faith or he may not. God does perform miracles. Although a miracle, by definition, cannot be rationally proven, God does play an active role in the world.

    The salvation of a soul is by definition a “divine, miraculous intervention.” Beyond that miracle, any other is subject to our own interpretation. As our faith grows our acceptance of God as an active part of our lives grows.

    Prayer is an expression of Faith. We are talking to the air if we don’t believe God is there. A belief is nothing more than an abstract idea unless we put trust and faith into it.

    Yes, many people do experience a degree of doubt when their prayers are not answered. Myself included. We doubt who God is or, more accurately, who we believe God to be. Accompanied with Truth, an unanswered prayer (a wish denied reality) will provide us with a deeper knowledge of who God is.

    • #2 by Christian Beyer on August 20, 2009 - 5:35 am

      Hi, Ben. Welcome.

      James’ advice is good, but it is still advice. It is not so simple for one to force themselves to cease doubting. There is a tendency to bury our doubt beneath a false persona – put on a good “Christian face”. I remember asking questions of those who had authority (or at leas I thought they did) and the response would often be just to pray for more faith. This was never a satisfactory answer and only stilled dialog that I wish I could have had earlier.

      But what is the ‘salvation of the soul’? Isn’t that ‘miracle’ itself subject to our interpretation as well? It seems as if this important idea has numerous interpretations within the church.

      I agree with what you say about faith being reduced to an abstract idea, but is prayer alone enough to lend the abstract substance? I wouldn’t think so, and would agree with James’ other, more (in)famous advice about the vitality of faith.

      What is this ”Truth’ that, if understood, can help us to understand a God who feel has not answered our prayers? Because it seems to me, that we need to go deeper here, and not assume that this truth is revealed (or that our conception of this truth is relevant) to everyone of ‘believes’.

      Thanks for your thoughts. I hope you can expand upon them for us.

      • #3 by bencrayton on August 30, 2009 - 6:07 pm

        Thanks for responding Christian. I believe your first and final paragraphs go well together. You are right that doubt can often be shunned, socially, within a church. Because of this we may cover it up with our “Christian face,” like you said.

        This is an unfortunate social consequence but I believe that our doubt is, or at least should be, a learning opportunity. At whatever level, doubt is the revelation that our beliefs do not match up one-to-one with reality. This does not mean that all doubts are correct (some certainly can be) only that our beliefs are incorrect.

        If we doubt, for example, that God hears our prayers because they were not answered, then perhaps our belief that ‘God will give us what we want so long as we pray’ is flawed.

        For me, my source of truth is the Bible. Agreeing on this point is not contingent for my argument; but, I would recommend seeking truth (God’s word) when we have doubt.

        About miracles, I meant to say that it is not a requirement to believe all the miracles that anyone ever claims to do in the name of God. Whether you choose to believe that something is a miracle is, to some degree, subjective. I myself am a more skeptical individual.

        The salvation of the soul would qualify as a miracle because it cannot be empirically observed. Technically you are right that believing a particular soul to be saved is subjective. Is my brother saved? I think so, but I cannot say for certain. My point in including this was that by believing your own soul to be saved you are inherently believing in a miracle.

        You originally asked if prayer was necessary for faith. I responded that prayer was an expression of faith. You went deeper and asked if prayer the only way an abstract idea can be given substance (expression).

        There are many other ways you can put your beliefs in action. You can reform how you socialize with friends to reflect what you believe to be true. You can “clean up” your habits as your concept of integrity changes. I would also (with mild reservation) put religious sacraments in here as a reflection of your new life in Christ.

        Again, none of these are “required” or “necessary” but as James also says, “Faith without works is dead.” If your beliefs are never expressed then they are never given life. My follow up is usually that if your beliefs aren’t affecting how you live your life then you probably don’t really believe them to begin with.

  2. #4 by notesalongthepath on August 19, 2009 - 5:40 pm

    Hello Christian,
    Every person on Earth has probably asked that same question and it is one of the most difficult to answer. I have included here a link to a post I wrote about this. You may or may not agree with my thoughts, or my beliefs, or anything at all in this post, but I thought I’d send it.
    Some of these questions take a lifetime to answer. Just know you aren’t alone with your questions, and that God always sees the bigger picture. Take care.
    Pam B

    • #5 by Christian Beyer on August 20, 2009 - 5:41 am

      Welcome, Notes. You have a nice blog and I liked your article – felt that it was relevant. One thing that I liked is that you share with us how prayer works for you but don’t necessarily prescribe this as a solution for everyone.

      I just want to clarify something; I personally do not struggle with the questions I asked. I know many that do and some are close to me. I also think these questions are valid and that they deserve serious reflection and not cliched responses. I appreciate the feedback that I am getting from you and the others here.

  3. #6 by ambrosia on August 19, 2009 - 6:40 pm

    I think that no human understands the nature and reciprocity of prayer.

    At times, we seem to have clear answers; at other times, we are away from “prayer” and have these same clear answers.

    On the other hand, sometimes people pray with stubborn consistency, yet the prayers are not answered how we think they ought to be answered.

    Just to put things down to “a fallen world” or “God’s teaching you some greater lesson” or “sometimes God simply says no” do not give a sufficient solution.

    On the other hand, a man prayed for years to win the lottery–he kept complaining to God about this run of bad luck. Finally God answered in an audible manner, and said, “So go buy a ticket, already!”

    • #7 by Christian Beyer on August 19, 2009 - 6:56 pm

      Ah. My pastor, Heather told that same joke in her sermon a few weeks back. I think it is right on the money; there must be some reciprocity going on here – God seems to require some sort of active participation other than just beseeching him. There is some line from on of MLK jr’s prayers where he says something about asking God to help us act as if our prayers would NOT be answered.

  4. #8 by ambrosia on August 19, 2009 - 8:25 pm

    I dunno–on the one hand, Jesus says to be persistent in prayer, like the Syro-Phoenician woman; on the other hand, His garden prayer is relatively short, as is “The Lord’s Prayer.”

    Look up “Evangelical Materialist” by Bob Ayala, in which he lambasts the name it claim it crowd.

  5. #9 by Sandy on August 19, 2009 - 8:43 pm

    Dear Christian,

    Does God answer our prayers? God always hears and answers prayers, the thing is, they are not always answered as we feel they should be. God sometimes says “No” also. As Christians we have to accept the will of God over our will, as His is perfected will.

    Does God perform miracles? You had one with the first healing. As you stated the man did not accept the faith, and this miracle could have been that God was giving to him every last chance to accept and believe in Him. God deals in souls, and He never wants a soul to perish. God in His wonderful love for us will give to us every chance He can to turn from the world to Him. Sometimes we tend to think death in itself is cruel, but if we believe in God and accept what was done for us on the Cross, death is the pathway to eternal life. No more suffering and no more pain.

    On your question on faith. “Faith is the things hoped for but not seen.” Faith is a gift from God and it is our faith which God honors.
    Do we need prayer to have faith? Since faith is a gift from God probably not, however, prayer increases our faith, when we do see the miracles God does perform from our prayers. We should always pray for an increase in our faith. Prayers also keep us in communication with God, and without that we will never be able to hear God as we are not speaking to Him oursleves. You have to remember even when God says, “No” that is a miracle in itself. God always has His children’s very best interst at heart, and when a prayer does not go our way, it does not mean He does not love us, it means He is doing what is best for us.

    Is it necessary to believe in divine miraculous intervention for us to have faith in God? It is necessary not for us to seek miralces all the time, but to know however our prayers are answered, we are still going to trust in God that whatever the outcome it was the best.

    Miracles increase our faith no doubt. We are so happy when things go our way with them. God also tells us, “To be still and know that He is God.” He tells us this because at that moment we have to have more faith than we ever will have in our lives. When we see nothing and sometimes hear nothing, but we are still and trust Him no matter what. It took me years to get to that point, but I did arrive. When you do get there you will have nothing but peace, knowing He has it all under control. That is the faith He wants in us.

    God Bless, Sandy

    • #10 by Christian Beyer on August 21, 2009 - 12:37 pm

      Welcome, Sandy. Sorry I almost missed your comment. Not used to getting three new visitors in one day.

      I think that you are mostly right, here. But I also think that our words about something that is personal and yet some how beyond our ken can fall flat on the ears of those who are struggling.

      I’m reminded of what Garrison Keillor says of Aunt Marie in his Lake Wobegon stories; “She knew that death was only a door to the kingdom where Jesus would welcome her, there would be no crying there, no suffering, but meanwhile she was fat, her heart hurt, and she lived alone with her ill-tempered little dogs, tottering around her dark little house full of Chinese figurines and old Sunday Tribunes.”

  6. #11 by Alex on August 21, 2009 - 9:21 am

    The aim and focus of prayer should be God Himself. Prayer is faith – not only that but prayer is the aim of faith, of fidelity (faithfulness). Prayer is an encounter with God Himself. True faith is to ‘pray without ceasing’. There are some who pray throughout the day, even in their sleep. How did they get to this point of faith? Through prayer.

    It is a mistake to view miracles as sort of an overthrowing of the natural order. However, if you do not believe that God is real and present, and active in the salvation of the world, then I’m not sure what ‘faith’ would consist of. Faith is union, a real togetherness. I have heard many stories from close friends of mine that to many would sound amazing and miraculous, but if the Lord is who He claims to be, and keeps His promises, then yes, the stories are wonderous, but at the same time, it’s not surprising, because God is with us.

    A real miracle would be for us to love our enemies. Can you? I don’t even always love those close to me. Yet I have witnessed this love in the Saints, both ancient and contemporary, and this shows me that it is indeed possible, through the grace of God.

    • #12 by Christian Beyer on August 21, 2009 - 10:21 am

      Good points Alex. Very good points. Miracles surround us everywhere, we just tend to focus on what we believe to be unexplainable taking for granted those ‘miracles’ that are more happenstance. Yet are they happenstance? Your example of loving our enemies? How often do we see that? How often is that ridiculed as a sign of ‘weakness’?

      And of course, those who disdain the spiritual will always rationalize away the miraculous. I do feel that miracles, like beauty, are in the eyes of the beholder. If you don’t want to see them then you won’t. At the same time so many people of faith insist upon seeing miracles or attributing everything to an act of God that I think they trivialize his actions in our world. They also run the risk of losing faith when they can no longer ‘see’ these miracles in their lives.

      I see far fewer spectacular or dramatically ‘obvious’ miracles the deeper my faith becomes and the more my trust in God grows. I don’t pray as fervently as I used to but I feel that I am more in communion with God than I ever have been. If God’s presence can be felt in the mundane and not just the religious or the ‘miraculous’ then his presence becomes all the more pervasive.

      • #13 by bencrayton on August 30, 2009 - 6:15 pm

        Haha, I’ll just agree to what was said about miracles in these two posts and dismiss my own ramblings.

  7. #14 by Alex on August 21, 2009 - 12:26 pm

    I’m reminded of a story I heard recently. One of the famous Soviet Cosmonauts went into space. When he came back, he said, to paraphrase, I’ve been to heaven, and I didn’t see God there.

    A Romanian priest, upon hearing this, answered: If you don’t see God on earth, you will never see Him in heaven.

  8. #15 by Alex on August 21, 2009 - 12:28 pm

    Ambrosia –

    I’m convinced that there wasn’t a single moment in Jesus’ life during which He was not praying.

    “Be still and know I am God”

  9. #16 by Sandy on August 21, 2009 - 1:48 pm

    That is okay Christian I am not here to be noticed.

    You are correct sometimes our words fall on flat ears, but in my own sufferings at times, I can remember God’s Word falling on flat ears myself. May God forgive me, but it is true.

    Suffering is something which for most humans is very hard. When we suffer at times there is anger and bitterness inside of us. Sometimes there is bewilderment as we cannot understand why God allowed it in the first place, and I speak as a Christian in saying this.

    If you will remember in the sufferings of Christ He cried out to God on the Cross as He felt God had left Him. I am sure He felt like this for many reasons one being His terrible torment, but God was also very silent on that day. That is how we feel when we suffer and God seems to be silent to us. So if it happened to Christ we can expect it to happen to us at times.

    None of us like to suffer and I have met Christians who feel we do not have to suffer anymore because of the sufferings of Christ. No where in the Bible does it state this. In our sufferings all we can do is trust in God, trust that the mistakes we make and the feelings we have during them, that God understands. When it comes to the suffering of others and they just do not want to hear anything, then it is time for us to stay quiet also, and just love them through it.

    Take care and God Bless, Sandy

    • #17 by Christian Beyer on August 21, 2009 - 2:18 pm

      True. I think what you are saying points out the difference between those who pray that God may take away their trials and those who pray for God to help them through their trials. Good stuff, Sandy.

  10. #18 by Sandy on August 21, 2009 - 2:34 pm

    Thanks I think you are pretty neat too. Have a great weekend. God Bless, Sandy

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