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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Frustration of Unanswered Prayer

This morning we were in John 11.  You know the story, Lazarus and his sisters.  Working through John 11:1 – 44 there were a lot of great observations.  Something that struck me, this seems to be a model of our ongoing struggle with prayer.
The Frustration of Unanswered Prayer
Graphic by David Hayward -
Lazarus is sick.  Like we do, Mary and Martha have a relationship with Christ.  They ask Him to come and deal with their brother.  It is a request.  Much like when we pray and ask the Lord to intervene in a situation we face.  Note also that in the context John emphasizes that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters.

Notice how Christ responds:
John 11:4 - This situation is for the glory of God and Christ
John 11:6 - Christ delays in going to Bethany
John 11:17 – 27 - Martha’s reaction
John 11:29 – 37 - Mary’s reaction
John 11:38 – 44 - Lazarus healed

There was purpose in Lazarus' sickness.  There is purpose in all that happens in our lives.  That purpose is generally the glory of God, but specifically to form us, make us into the instruments that we are to be in order to do the work for which He designed us.

The delay in answering Martha and Mary’s summons resulting in the death of their brother, was an act of love.  Delay, delay that resulted in a seemingly hopeless situation, was love and for the glory of God.

From Mary and Martha’s perspective, Christ did not respond to their request.  It was an unanswered summons, prayer request.  But that was not the case.  First there are no unanswered prayers.  “No,” is an answer, as is, “Wait.”  What can we learn from this?

If it is the case that all that happens in our life is for the glory of God, our prayer should reflect that reality.  1 John 5:14 – 15 tells us that if we ask anything according to God’s will He hears us and we will have the request.  It would seem to follow that if we are praying in each situation for God to be glorified, two things; our hearts would be more aligned with His and our prayer would be more effective.


  1. Great insights, Michael! Thank you for this post

  2. I need to be reminded every day; thanks Mike.

    I'm a Northeastener, but five decades in the South taught me to start appreciating the rich heritage of Southern Gospel music. The Gaither Vocal Band features a song around this incident entitled, "When He's Four Days Late He's Still on Time." Not many dry eyes in the audience on the YouTube video.

    I know that one of the most futile questions I can ever ask is, "Why...?" Yet how often my heart goes there, even if the words are unformed. And I tend to think, "When I get to heaven I'll understand...."

    There may be some truth to that, but the reality is, as you point out, we already do know, by faith. We've been told over and over again in multiple different ways that He is conforming us into the image of His blessed Son - to His glory.

    At a recent Missions' Convention I attended one of the large banner hanging in the facility concourse read, "Remember, the Lord has only one purpose ultimately for each one of us, to make us more like Jesus" by Helen Roseveare

    If you know who Helen Roseveare is you know she is well aware of what she said. She was raped and humiliated in the Congo during the revolution there - and that's just the start. Her story can be found at

    I personally find it's a very long way between my head and my heart on this issue....

    Keep it up, Mike

    1. I am just doing what you encouraged me to do many years ago.