by Gary Zimak
Have you ever prayed for something for a long time with no apparent results? You pray and pray and hear nothing … not even crickets. During times like this, it’s common to question if God is even listening. You may begin to wonder if prayer makes a difference.
Ultimately, you may just give up and stop praying. I have to admit that I have done exactly that on more than one occasion. And while I’m not proud of that admission, I have learned an important lesson over the years. Giving up praying because you don’t think God hears you is a big mistake. Rather than just leave it there, however, I’d like to offer some assistance.
Let’s look at five ways that will help you to see that God not only hears your prayers but is actually responding to them.
1. Your prayer is answered.
This one sounds obvious, but it can easily be overlooked. I have personally witnessed miraculous answers to prayer that cannot be denied. When my twin daughters were born in 1997 (despite only having a 10 percent chance of being born alive), there was no denying that God heard our prayers and intervened in a miraculous way.
On the other hand, the Lord has often answered my prayers in subtler ways. Maybe you didn’t get the dream job that you prayed about, but you were offered a different job that allowed you to pay your bills. Rather than getting upset, you can choose to thank God for providing for your needs. Without a doubt, the most difficult answer of all is when God says “no.” Nonetheless, it is still an answer.
2. You see positive signs.
Although he sometimes intervenes with instantaneous and powerful miracles, the Lord typically responds to our prayers gradually. Because of this, we often fail to recognize the little ways that indicate he is working.
When we are first introduced to the prophet Elijah in the Bible (see 1 Kings 17), a great drought was taking place. Three years later, the Lord told the prophet that the drought would be coming to an end. Bowing down and putting his face between his knees, Elijah prayed for the Lord’s word to come to fruition. With confident expectation, he then told his servant to “look out to sea” (1 Kings 18:43) for the arrival of the rain.
After the servant reported back that he didn’t see anything, Elijah sent him back seven more times. Finally, the servant observed “a cloud as small as a man’s hand rising from the sea” (1 Kings 18:44). Upon receiving that confirmation, Elijah dispatched his servant to inform King Ahab that the drought was over. Shortly thereafter, the heavy rain arrived.
When it appears that God isn’t answering your prayers, I recommend that you look for the “little clouds” in your life. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you discover the tiny ways which prove that your prayers are being heard. The signs are there. You just have to recognize them.
3. You see negative signs.
Another way to recognize that God is responding to your prayers is to look for negative changes! Yes, you heard me correctly! When you pray for something and things get worse, it can definitely be a sign that the Lord is working in your life. Even though it sounds crazy, it’s the absolute truth.
In Exodus 3:7, we are told that God heard the cry of the Israelites who are enslaved in Egypt.
The Lord goes on to say that he has “come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them up from that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8).
Sounds like a done deal, doesn’t it? The people cry out to the Lord, and he fixes the problem. Well, yes and no.
Even though God did indeed deliver the Israelites from slavery, things got worse before they got better. When Moses and Aaron first obeyed the Lord and went to Pharaoh to request some time off for worship, his initial response was to restrict
the straw that was given to the people for brick building. In addition to being forced to produce the same number of bricks each day, the Israelites now had to gather their own straw! Is this an example of the power of prayer? You bet! Although it took 40 years and lots of suffering, the Lord delivered on his promise and the slaves were set free. Moses stumbled and complained, but he never stopped praying and being obedient.
4. Nothing changes.
Yes, you read that right! Quite often God responds to our prayers by changing nothing — at least on the outside.
One often-overlooked way to determine that the Lord is hearing and responding to your prayers is an unexplained feeling of hope. I think we’ve all experienced this at one time or another. You pray about something and, before anything concrete happens, you feel more hopeful. Far from being accidental, the hope you feel is often the first fruit of prayer.
Psalm 13 provides a nice biblical example of this concept in action. David opens this psalm crying out, “How long, LORD? Will you utterly forget me?” It goes downhill from there, with several more “how longs” addressed to the Lord. David obviously needs help and needs it now!
After bombarding God with all of his problems, David then proceeds to do something bold … and wise. He calls upon the Lord to “answer me.” And, judging by the shift in his tone, that’s exactly what happened.
I trust in your mercy.
Grant my heart joy in your salvation,
I will sing to the LORD,
for he has dealt bountifully with me! (Psalm 13:6)
Instead of just worrying and feeling hopeless by the very real danger surrounding him, David cried out to the Lord and expected his prayer to be answered. As a result, he received a much-needed infusion of hope. Even though the threat
remained, David was able to rejoice because of his renewed confidence in God’s providence.
As you continue to pray for an “unanswered” intention, look for an inner feeling of peace or hope. It can give you the strength to continue moving forward even though your problem remains.
5. Open the Bible!
It is entirely possible that despite your fervent prayers, you may not see any changes or feel more hopeful. Could this be the dreaded exception to the rule?
Fortunately for us, there is no way to prevent God from hearing our prayers. He hears us whenever we pray. There are no exceptions. The Bible supports this theory, as evidenced by the Lord’s words to the prophet Jeremiah: “When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you” (Jeremiah 29:12, emphasis added).
That’s all well and good, but hearing and responding are two different things. Even if God hears our prayers, how do we know he is responding to them? To put it simply, we can be sure that God hears our prayers because Jesus said so!
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8, emphasis added)
While it is true that you may not get what you want when you want it, you will always receive an answer when you pray. Jesus said it, and you can take it to the bank. Therefore, even if it appears that your prayers aren’t being answered, you can fall back on the inspired Word of God for assurance.
God hears you
Don’t be swayed by your feelings or an apparent lack of response to your prayers. When you pray, God hears you and will answer in some way when the time is right. Learning to recognize his presence in your life takes time and practice. Don’t give up. Keep praying with expectant hope. You will not be disappointed!
When God says ‘no’
When my father was diagnosed with lung and bone cancer in 2002, I prayed for his total healing. The cancer was aggressive, but I believed that God could provide a miraculous healing. My father died from a heart attack one month later, and I was stunned.
While I was aware that the cancer could prove fatal, I thought we had more time. As I sat in the emergency room with my mother and sister trying to process what had just happened, I realized that God’s “no” was actually an answered prayer.
My father died quickly and painlessly, sitting in his favorite chair while enjoying a visit from some close friends. His death was peaceful, and the cancer was no longer a threat. He was no longer in pain. God’s ways are not our ways (see Isaiah 55:8), but he really does know what’s best.
I’ve learned to give him the benefit of the doubt.