Coping with Unanswered Prayer through the Local Church

Unanswered prayer can be excruciating. If we’re not careful, it can seem like God has completely abandoned us, left us without any hope. But we know from God’s Word that’s not true. We know God’s character. What we know about God supplants what we may sometimes feel about God. We know he’s good (Psalm 25:8), righteous (Psalm 119:137), and faithful to his promises (Psalm 145:13), even when our feelings say he’s ignoring us.

Our natural instinct is to withdraw, turn away, and shrink back when God tells us no. Our first step is backward, not forward. Instead of digging in, we give up. Rather than pushing forward, we retreat back. We despair, pout, and, depending on the situation, get angry. But we should know by now that God never turns away from the cries, pleas, and supplications of his children. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. He is eager to hear our prayers. The sound of our prayers is a beautiful noise. And it gets even better: he loves listening to our prayers even when he says no them. It’s not as if he throws the unanswered prayers in a divine trash can. No, God wants us to respond to unanswered prayer by pushing further into him, by drawing nearer.

This is a sign of genuine faith. No matter the difficulty— even via unanswered prayer—we push on forward. We lean into him. We keep marching toward him by faith because we know what Scripture says and we know how fickle our emotions can be. We rely on the unbreakable foundation of the Bible rather than the uneasy waves of our feelings.

So, you might ask, if God wants us to come closer to him even after he tells us no, how do we do that? In what can seem to be the most difficult time of our lives—where our whole life is falling apart—how in the world do we draw closer to God?

Four words. The means of grace. What are the means of grace? They’re how we commune with our God and grow as Christians. And one specifically is very important to help us grow: the local church.

Nowadays the necessity of the local church has been thrown out the theological window. When online church is running rampant, it’s all the more important to understand why being in church—in-person with other like-minded believers—is drastically important.

I think all Christians understand the value of living in community with other followers of Christ. To advance in our Christian walk we must be a part of a local church where we are surrounded by people who care for us and want to see us thrive.

When our prayers go unanswered, it ought to be a wake-up call to dive back into the means of grace God has mercifully provided for us. One of those means of grace is the local church. Fellowship with like-minded Christians in the gathering of the local church is crucial to a Christian’s spiritual life.

Are you in a desperate moment in your walk with God? Do you feel like you’re living in a spiritual wasteland? All the morereason to be plugged into a local church. Your need for community is just that—a need. Listen, I don’t need a Redbull, but I want one. I don’t need to eat a whole bag of Doritos, but I sure want to. Fellowship in the local church is not merely a want, but a need. And it certainly needs to be a want first.

Our sanctification will be put to a jarring halt if we neglect fellowship in the local church. And I am not even talking about sitting under preaching or taking part in communion (though those are extremely important). I am refer- ring to the community aspect of the local church. Sanctification—growing more holy everyday—is a community project. We can’t win that “game” on our own. We need the Spirit’s help; but the Spirit has put us in a church surrounded by believers to help us grow.

It’s kind of like this. If you have asthma, then there will be times when you’re in desperate need of your inhaler. If you are struggling to breath but refuse to use your inhaler, that will lead to dire circumstances for your health. The same is true with our need for fellowship in the local church. We won’t survive as Christians without the local church.

You won’t be alone if you take that burden with unanswered prayer to the local church. Unanswered prayer is an experience every Christian deals with. Perhaps at your church’s next prayer meeting—if you have one—bring up your burden and how, at the moment, it seems as though God is telling you no. I promise you will be met with mutual encouragement from other Christians. On the other hand, they may be able to talk you through why, perhaps, God didn’t answer your prayer.

This is why it’s so important to experience this fellowship. Yes, there are people who annoy you, pester you, and simply get under your skin. Honestly, you may be the annoying one. I might be the annoying one. But that’s part of the process. It’s one big family—family that’s far deeper than blood. But just because there are people who talk different, act different, and think different than you doesn’t mean God can’t or won’t use them to speak truth into your life.

When God tells us no, he’s not scolding us or angry with us. He is beckoning us to come to him. He is drawing us closer to himself, pleading with us to trust him even amidst unanswered prayer. We will not grow closer to the Lord by conjuring up some image in our head or having some mystical experience. We get closer to the Lord as his children by plugging ourselves in the local church.

Don’t take God saying no as a bad thing. Take it as a call to lay down your desires at the moment and run to him. Flee from the sin that may be entangling you (Hebrews 12:1) and collapse in the arms of Jesus. Get to know him more. He is waiting.

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