By Lau Jue Hua, Singapore
Most of us have been taught that prayer is the first thing to do when we are in trouble. While it is sound advice, there is a possible pitfall. When we view prayer as a problem-solving technique, we lose sight of God’s intended purpose of it—as an instrument of intimacy between Him and us.
If we see prayer as the panacea for all our troubles, we expect God to solve all of our problems. Broke up with your girlfriend? Pray. Come to blows with your best friend? Pray. Parents don’t understand you? The answer is . . . you guessed it! Pray.
This glib and superficial advice that we Christians often give one another in times of trial and discouragement may tempt some to give up their faith when they have prayed and received no answer from God. They end up discouraged and defeated. Perhaps, God doesn’t exist or He doesn’t care.
So, what can we do if we doubt God in our times of need and when He is not answering our prayers? We look to a biblical example, the story of a man who is driven nearly to despair because God seems to refuse to respond to his prayers.
Read Psalm 77.
In Psalm 77:1-3, we can clearly tell that the psalmist is going through intense affliction and doubt. Many Christians don’t like to admit that such emotions are a normal part of the Christian experience. But this excerpt from the book of Psalms stands as testimony to the contrary.
The psalmist clearly knows how to approach God in times of affliction. He uses the approaches of prayer and meditation. Even so, his pain is unabated and even compounded by God’s apparent failure to answer his prayers.
On the brink of losing his own faith, the psalmist desperately reflects on and remembers past blessings and God’s goodness (Psalm 77:5-6). But in verses 7 to 9, we see that he is still plagued by questions and he falls into the next level of despair in which he doubts God.
Then in Psalm 77:11-12, the psalmist underwent a radical rethinking of his crisis of doubt. This paradigm shift came about as he called to mind one of the most fundamental truths of Scripture. It is the truth that God cannot change. As the apostle James puts it, “Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). God is absolutely reliable and dependable and His love and mercy toward us never change.
The psalmist’s doubts were not yet answered at this point, however he had a mindset shift. As such, he learns to put God at the center of his prayers instead of himself. Similarly, by meditating on Scriptures that speak to us about God, our prayers become God-centered, we open ourselves up to thinking biblically. When we start by praying about God, we start with the fact that God knows no limits, removing all limitations from our thinking and our prayers.
But why was God silent to the psalmist’s cries? Think about this, if God always respond instantly to our cries for help, we would remain spiritually immature and be mastered by our feelings and moods. Our prayers would always be self-centered rather than God-centered. By deliberately allowing the psalmist to go through a time of trial, doubt, and despair, God moves the psalmist to a deeper level of faith, growing him spiritually stronger and wiser.
In his closing verse the psalmist exclaims, “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (Psalm 77:20). This sentence describes the relationship of God to His people like that of a Shepherd with His flock.
A shepherd always has a goal in mind for his flock. If a shepherd leads his sheep to the mountain pastures, it’s because he wants to accomplish something there. If he leads them beside the water, he has a reason for doing so. If he leads the sheep out in the midst of wolves, it’s because he wants them there.
Whenever we are in the midst of suffering and we feel abandoned or neglected by God, we need to remember that He is our Shepherd and we are always in His protective care. Have faith in God for He leads you through times of trial, doubt and despair to ultimately make you stronger. Let God’s unchanging qualities be the bedrock of your prayers.
YMI Note: This reflection is based on the Discovery Series booklet When God Isn’t Answering Your Prayer by Ray Stedman. Read the Discovery Series booklet here.