March 28, 2012 - Over the years I have prayed a lot of prayers for others, for myself and for situations in the world.
Sometimes these prayers clearly seem to have been heard and answered. Sometimes the situation I was praying about was resolved or the person got better. And there have been times I've experienced answers to prayers that can only be explained by a miracle.
I believe in the power of prayer and I have many experiences that lead me to believe even more deeply that God has heard and answered my prayers.
However, I have also had occasions when I have prayed and prayed, and yet nothing seemed to happen. I have prayed for situations that didn't change and for people who didn't get better.
I know some of these unanswered prayers were probably self-serving or short-sighted on my part.
But others at least seemed to be about good things that God teaches us to care about.
I think that most people at some point along the journey of faith will wonder if God has heard them. Most of us will wrestle with the question that if God can do anything, then why doesn't he?
Perhaps you've asked questions like these or are even asking them now.
Maybe you have been praying for a job, for your marriage, for your kids, for the health of a loved one, or for peace in our world.
Maybe you've wondered if you are praying the right way or with the right motivation.
Maybe you've wondered if you have enough faith or perhaps even that because of something in your past that God is somehow withholding an answer.
So how do we deal with all of this?
If we believe that God always hears our prayers (and I certainly do), then the real issue is that God doesn't always answer our prayers the way we think he should or on our timetable.
In Mark 9 Jesus is speaking with the father of very sick boy who comes to him and says "'… if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.' And ? Jesus said to him, 'If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.'? Immediately the father of the child cried out, 'I believe; help my unbelief!'"
This really seems to suggest to me that we all struggle with believing sometimes and that Jesus is able and willing to help us even when we have just a little faith. Yet the kind of help we receive, and that is promised, is not always what we expect.
In my life unanswered prayer reminds me that God is God and I'm not, and that we have different perspectives.
In fact, while I may not always like it, some unanswered prayers have really shaped me into the person I am today. It seems to me that the question is really, what is prayer all about?
As I once read, it is "not a vending machine in the sky where we put in a prayer and get out of God what we want or think we need."
I have come to realize that prayer is first of all not so much something to be answered but rather a conversation with God about what matters.
Prayer is about deepening our relationship with God in all the seasons of life. Prayer is really spending time with God. Prayer is less about informing God or instructing him about how run the universe as it is building a relationship.
Prayer changes me and grows me as a child of God. Prayer opens me to being the "answer" to someone else's prayer.
And ultimately my experience has been that when I am open to God in prayer, while I may not get what I want, I do get what I really need.
And what I need is to know that "come what may," I am safe with God and that he will walk with me even "through the valley of the shadow of death." (Psalm 23)
The Rev. Jonathan Heierman is pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church.