Does God always answer our prayers?

IMGP6073_flood-search-and-rescue by RaeA [Flickr]

There is a story about a man trapped at home during a terrible storm. He soon realizes the house will be flooded, and he climbs to the roof. As the waters rise, he prays to God for salvation. Just then, a neighbor appears in a rowboat. But the man refuses to get in. “I’m waiting for God to rescue me,” he says.

A little while later, a sheriff’s deputy arrives in a motorboat. Still the man refuses to get in. “I’m waiting for God to rescue me,” he says again.

Then, with the water lapping at his feet, a helicopter descends from the clouds and drops a line to the stranded man. But he still won’t leave the rooftop. “I’m waiting for God to rescue me,” he shouts.

Inevitably, the man drowns in the flood waters. When he arrives in heaven, the man asks, “God, why didn’t you answer my prayer?”

“Are you crazy?” replied the Lord. “I sent you a rowboat, a motorboat, and a helicopter! Why didn’t you get in?”

God answers in unexpected ways

You’ve probably heard that story. It’s an old joke. But it meant a lot to me when I first heard it. I’m just the kind of guy who would look at the rowboat and not recognize God’s hand in the rescue offered to me. It is also a clever way of making the point that God always answers our prayers, but not always in the way we expect.

I believe that it is true that God always answers our prayers. But it isn’t always easy for me to believe it. There are a lot of tragic things that happen in the world that many good people pray about. And yet the tragedies still happen. There are difficult times in my own life, and I always pray about them. Sometimes the difficulties are resolved—usually in ways I don’t at first recognize. And sometimes it seems like there is no resolution. It seems like God isn’t listening or perhaps I’m not praying hard enough.

Three things to know about God

There are three things that help me believe that God does always answer my prayers.

First, my life is so filled with blessings that it almost seems ungrateful to point out the blessings I think I deserved but didn’t get. If God is so outrageously generous in 99 percent of my life, why would God deny me the measly one percent I might think that I’m lacking? Perhaps God did answer me—and the answer was “no.” The situation is akin to a parent who would gladly give her child anything—unless it wasn’t right for the child at that time.

Accepting God's will in prayer
Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask him; for he desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to him in prayer.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2737

That leads to my second understanding. I try to remember that God’s timeline is way bigger than my timeline. Perhaps what I’m asking for might not be right for me at this moment. Or, perhaps it is not right for someone else. The most difficult example of this, for me, is when someone I love gets sick and dies. No matter how many prayers are sent heavenward, the sick person doesn’t always recover. I don’t have a clear understanding of why this is. All I know is that sickness and death are part of the human condition. If God were to remove that condition, we’d be somehow less human. Understanding that doesn’t make it any easier for me to lose a loved one. But the loss doesn’t mean that God is not listening. I think God grieves as much or more than I do. I live in hope that there is some good that will eventually come from my loss that I cannot recognize right now.

Finally, I remember the lesson in the story above. God may be sending me all kinds of answers that I’m not recognizing. To remedy that, I pray that I try to open myself to God’s will, and I try not to dictate the terms.

Publisher Marc Allen has a simple phrase he uses to begin his prayer, and I’ve adopted it. Every day, I start my prayer by saying: “In an easy and relaxed manner, in a healthy and positive way, in its own perfect time, for the highest good of all I pray”¦.” That usually helps me keep from worrying too much that God isn’t answering my prayers.

Has God answered your prayers?

Now I’m wondering about your thoughts on prayer. Do you believe God answers your prayers? Have you ever had your prayers answered in ways you did not expect? Are there times when you felt like your prayers were not answered? Please reply in the comments box. And if you know someone who is struggling with prayer, please forward this post to them.

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