Sometimes our prayers go unanswered.  Why is that?  I’ve prayed for answers for days, weeks, months and even years.  Some things I've given up praying for and other things are continually on my heart.  There are many reasons our prayers don’t get answered immediately.  I can only guess because I’m not God, but here are a few of the lessons I've learned along the way. 

1.   We don't ask

We're often afraid to ask God for what we want.  It's common to consider asking for extravagant things as selfish.  Understand, however, that God can say no.  When our children ask us for things, we want to give them what they want, . . . if it's the right thing for them.  God's the same way.  But if we don’t ask, we won’t get it.  

2.   We’re not cooperating with the answer

Please God, help me lose 10 pounds!   This is a legitimate prayer and one I’m sure has been spoken countless times.  It won’t happen, however, if we continue to eat the same way and exercise (or not) the same way.  We need to participate in the process.  God is certainly capable of having that 10 pounds melt away overnight but He has bigger plans for us. 

If your child wants to do well on a test, you encourage them to get enough sleep the night before.  If they don’t take your suggestion, I suppose you could lock them in their room after pulling the shades and eliminating any exposure to technology.   But that would't be the best way to teach them how to live their life.  It’s best if your child learns to get enough sleep and it’s best if we learn to treat ourselves right to lose that 10 pounds.

3.   The prayer has been answered but we don’t recognize it

Dear God, please give me the best husband possible!’  'OK', He says.  Does that mean your husband will be ‘just like you’ so there will never be any conflict?  Not a chance!  God’s best mate for you will be one that forces you to grow in ways you never thought possible, maybe even some you didn't want.  He'll teach you about forgiveness and surrender.  He will teach you about hope and patience.  He will teach you about whatever trait you need to learn most.  That’s the best husband possible.  Do you recognize the answer?

4.   God wants us to practice hope

It will always be a mystery to us why answered prayer comes at the time it does.  In the meantime, we need to practice ‘hope’ for the future.  When things are going well, we don’t need the muscle of hope.  But when things get ugly, hope may be all we have.  If that muscle isn’t strong, it won’t be there to carry us through the difficult times.  Practice hope.  Trust God for your future.  

5.  God wants us to deal with our impatience

'Oh Lord, could you get this traffic to move along?  I have an important meeting to get to!'  In our fast-paced culture, we become impatient more and more easily.  We’re used to picking up meals in a flash, expect mastery over a new skill in short-order, and expect our friends to text us back within minutes.  Being able to wait is a virtue.  Things happen in the minutes, hours, days, and years that we wait for our prayers to be answered.  I believe God wants us to notice what's happening during that time.  It’s a great skill to stay in the moment and enjoy what it has to offer instead of rushing to the next moment.

6.   God wants to teach us to rely on Him

Sometimes our prayers aren't answered.  Her battle with cancer ends in death, we don’t get the promotion we're sure we deserved or our child does something we specifically taught them not to do.  Disappointment and sadness come upon us.  'Why God?'  It's such a natural question.  'Why God?'  These are the times I believe He wants us to turn to Him and wait for His answers.  Wait for his mercy.  Wait for his love to show up.  Wait for personal revelation.  Rely on Him in the midst of the difficulty.

7.   God wants us to gain strength in the middle of the storm

We can’t run a marathon without training, can’t ace a test without studying, and can’t play an instrument beautifully without practicing.  Each of these require some sacrifice, difficulty, time, and struggle.  It's during the training that our muscles get stronger, during the studying that we learn and retain information, and during the practice that we understand our abilities and desire to play even better.  I believe God allows His answers to come slowly to us when He sees us getting stronger in the midst of the storm.  

8.   God wants us to take our eyes off ourselves

When we pray ‘Oh Lord, make my husband be more kind’ we’re really praying for ourselves.  It’s annoying to be married to a rude man.  How about ‘Lord, let me know ways I can show love for my husband so he feels secure’.  Sometimes, our prayers aren’t being answered because we’re focused on blaming the other person for our problems rather than acknowledging that it's us that needs to grow.  Be sure that your prayers aren’t masked in passive aggressive ways.  God knows the difference.

9.   wait on the spiritual realm  

We all know about Daniel in the lion’s den, but did you know he had other struggles too?  He was given a vision so terrible (Daniel 10) that no strength remained in him.  He then had to wait three weeks to get an answer about what the vision meant.  He was told from the first day that you set your heart to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard.  We're told it took the angel so long to get to Daniel because the angel was battling with the prince of the Kingdom of Persia.

It's possible that we need to wait our turn when it comes to getting heavenly beings to come to our beckon call.  There's more going on in the spiritual realm than we can even imagine.

10.   The answer is not what we want

Please, God, take my depression away!  That was my prayer.  God was silent and that was His answer.  He did that on purpose.  His grand design for me was that I'd learn all kinds of ways to battle depression and become healthier than I had ever been in my life.  It included improving my poor diet and lack of emotional intelligence.  He was patient when I battled Him spiritually.  Had God answered my first prayer by making the depression magically disappear, I would't have all the knowledge and strength that I have today.  Thank you, God!

11.   God’s plans take time

When our prayers go on for years, it doesn’t mean they haven’t been listed to.  It’s possible that God’s putting together the right set of circumstances to bring about the biggest and best answer.  It’s not that it’s too complicated or difficult for God but He does want our participation to accomplish His good works   He wants cooperation from other people in our lives too.  There's an infinite combination of decisions and people that God continually strives to coordinate using our free will to bring about the perfect blessings for us.

12.   We don’t really want an answer. 

I have the worse boss possible!  Please, God, fix him!  It may seem odd but sometimes we're getting something out of our pain or dysfunction.  No one's making you stay at your current employer.  Is it that you love to complain, get sympathy from your friends, or are unwilling to take a pay-cut?  It takes self-reflection to get ‘real’ about why we’re not moving on from difficulty.  Ask yourself honest questions to understand if your own actions may be part of the answer.

If your prayers aren't being answered, take a harder look.  What lessons are there for you to learn, patience to practice, or hope to cling to?  In any case, thank God for the privilege of reaching out to Him.  

Start and finish your prayers with gratitude to a God who does nothing more than love each and every one of us perfectly.