Why Doesn’t God Answer Prayer The Way I Want?

Kids have a way of making us consider life and God in a way we’ve often forgotten. It’s so easy to “out grow” the simple but profound questions of childhood. Not long ago I was putting my daughters to bed and we had just such a conversation. (Of course it was at bedtime; they always happen at bedtime.) She’d been working hard at learning math without the ease she wanted, and it caused a theological dilemma.

“Dad, what’s it called when God just does something, like make someone better when they’re sick?”

“A miracle.”

“Yeah! Why isn’t it always like that? Why can’t I pray and then just know math? Sometimes I pray and nothing happens.”

Well then. My eight-year-old put her little finger on a question that will likely stick with her for all of life. It’s the kind of question that can’t be ignored and about which we can’t be apathetic. It’s a question I ask all the time, and it drives people to God or away from Him. Why isn’t God answering my prayer the way I want?

I used to work in retail, and just about every day I would see parents with out of control kids. The child would be running around, yelling, generally acting the fool, and what would the parents do?

“If you don’t stop that we’re not getting this toy!”

“If you keep that up there will be no French fries for lunch!”

What would happen next? The child would, of course, not stop. The parent would, inevitably, buy the toy or the French fries anyhow. They simply couldn’t say “no” to their kids.

In fact, that’s why their kids were out of control. They got whatever they wanted. They could manipulate, strong arm, and dominate their parents. One strategic temper tantrum and that Barbie doll was theirs. The kids were in charge.

And that’s what we would be like if God gave us everything we wanted. We would be the spoiled brats kicking and screaming and demanding that God make our lives easy. (A lot of times we act like this even though He doesn’t give us all we want.) And like the spoiled kids we would be worse off for it. We’d be unhealthy. We’d be ungrateful. Just as children don’t know what’s best for them and need parents to provide, so we don’t know what’s best for us and need God. We only know what feels good right now, not what is healthiest, happiest, and most beneficial for all of life.

If we got what we wanted when we wanted it every time we would never learn faith. We would never learn patience. We would never learn diligence and hard work. We would never learn obedience of any kind. It’s easy to think life would be better if we got all we wanted. What that perspective fails to recognize is that it makes us God. To make a demand of God and have it fulfilled is to be in charge of Him. Do we really want a God we can be Lord over? I don’t. I’d screw that up so badly. And so would you.

I live in the Nashville area and spend my days helping churches with leadership development. My nights are spent writing and rooting for Minnesota sports teams. I also podcast a bit. I'm the author of The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity, Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is Not the Enemy of Faith, and The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life