My husband and I recently spoke about prayer and our prayer ministry, Pray More Novenas, at a local Theology on Tap event.
After our talk, there was a short break, and then we did a question & answer session. One of the questions has stuck with me since that night, and I wanted to share it with you all here…
It’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about in the past year or so.
The question was, “If our prayers aren’t answered after a novena, should we keep praying?”
Essentially, I think that person was wondering whether having a prayer go (seemingly) unanswered means that we should stop praying for that intention altogether.
And my initial answer was — no, don’t stop praying. Don’t ever stop praying.
But there’s more to that…
When our prayers continue to go unanswered, I think it’s a good time to then consider whether God may be willing something else in our life.
I don’t mean to say that in a way that would suggest that your intention isn’t good. But sometimes, even when our intentions are good, God knows what’s better than good — what’s best.
It’s not easy to pray — let alone to commit to a novena, and then to feel like you didn’t get what you were asking for.
I know this from experience. I bet you do too.
But like all fathers, God wants exactly what is best for us. And really, He alone knows what that is. So we may think our intention is true and good, but God knows exactly what we need in our lives — and when.
We have got to trust that.
So when, personally, my prayers go (seemingly) unanswered, I ask myself whether maybe that’s a sign that God is willing something else in my life right now. I often come to the conclusion that — at least — maybe there’s a chance I’m praying for the wrong thing.
I then start to change my prayer, and to ask God for what He is willing — and especially for clarity, and confidence in what that may be.
And when I change my prayer, my prayer eventually changes me.
I’ve learned in the past year that praying isn’t so that we can get what we’re asking for… Praying is meant to transform us, to bring us closer to God. Praying doesn’t exist so that we can control Him, but so that we can open our hearts to be led by Him.
John of Damascus said, “Prayer is the raising of the mind and the heart to God.” It’s seeking communion with God.
And even when our prayers go unanswered, when we don’t get what we’re asking for, we can still receive peace if we pray in the right frame of mind (and heart). And I think that begins with an ending; ending our prayers with the words Jesus himself spoke the night before he died:
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.”
Jesus’ attitude in Gethsemane is the attitude we should try to emulate every time we go to pray.
I know (I know!) how discouraging it can be to not have your prayers answered, and to especially see no progress with your intention. But each time you remember to pray and say, “Not my will, but yours,” is a time that you grow closer in communion with Him and with His path for you
And that is why prayer exists.
Photography: Kelli Ann Cresswell