When Desperate Prayers Seem Unanswered
By Mark Davis Pickup
“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” It was in His terrible agony of being crucified, Jesus cried those words of abandonment.1 Christ was abandoned by His friends—except John, and, of course, His mother. He was abandoned by the fickle crowds that—one week earlier—heralded His entrance into Jerusalem with jubilant shouts of “Hosanna in the highest!” Then the one who lived in perfect fellowship with God felt alienated from God.
Christ cried those heartbreaking words because He felt abandoned by God at the very moment He needed His Father most! Why? Because Christ took on the weight of the world’s sins.2 In God’s perfect holiness, He had to turn away from the great body of human sin, even when borne by His only begotten son.
Do you feel abandoned by God in your pain? Does it seem that God does not answer your desperate prayers? Christ understands. He has been there. God does not turn away from us, although it certainly may seem that way at a critical moment of crisis.
I think we can begin to understand why the door to God’s comfort and consolation seems to have slammed shut when our need for Him is most desperate. The key lies in the word “desperate.”
C.S. Lewis wrote about this aspect of grieving. He explained that in most things, we can’t get what we want if we want it too desperately, or at least not get the best of it. Lewis used the analogies of not being able to see clearly when our eyes are filled with tears; that really delicious drinks are wasted on a ravenous thirst. I think he was right. It is the drowning man, flailing frantically in wild panic, who cannot be rescued, lest he drags down the rescuer and himself.
We’ve all heard accounts of firefighters finding bodies of victims piled at the exit of a burned-out building. The chaos of panic prevented orderly evacuation. Everyone perished beneath the exit sign.
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I know the stark terror of sleepless nights. I remember (more than 35 years ago now) the feeling of being abandoned in my anguish, staring out the kitchen window at 3:00am, while everyone else in the house slept peacefully. The fresh shock of being told I had an incurable, degenerative disease filled me with a strange mixture of numbness and panic. The only sound was the steady ticking of the mantle clock in the living room. As I looked into the backyard bathed in silver-blue moonlight, I was struck by the contradiction of the tranquility around me and the terror within. I wanted to run away. But run where? The terror was in my own body!
My future had stretched out ahead of me, full of promise. Suddenly, it was all in ruins, or so I thought. My desperate prayers were unanswered, or so I thought. I felt deserted and alone. I remember looking up at the ceiling and saying to God, “If this is the way You treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them.”
Do you see the problem? This was no way to approach the sovereign God of the universe! I was angry that my agenda had been derailed. I demanded to be delivered back to my former self (disguised as a prayerful petition). God was only welcome on my terms. (I suppose Christ could have rightfully responded, “If this is how you treat your friends . . . .”)
Pray another prayer
I needed to place my sorrow before God, and honestly, humbly pray another prayer, with a different heart. In the hours leading to His crucifixion, Christ prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”3 Christ asked three times that His cup of suffering be removed, and yet each time qualified His request with a willingness to submit to His heavenly Father’s will, whatever that might be. Christ’s request was not granted, but an angel was sent to strengthen Him in his suffering.
If God had granted Christ’s earnest prayer request, the stain of humanity’s sin would have remained. Even now, centuries later, it is only through faith that Christ’s bloodshed at Calvary has paid the penalty for our sins and we are reconciled in repentance to God.
Jesus spoke of people opening the door of their hearts at the sound of His voice.4 But how can a man hear Christ’s voice if he is screaming in terror, confusion, desperation, or anger? The man is pounding on the inside of a door only he can open.
Sometimes the most effective prayers are not what we say but how we listen. Sometimes God wants us to be still so He can calm our hearts. Only then can He speak to us at our deepest level. God wants us to utterly surrender every corner of our being to Him. He wants us to trust Him regardless of our circumstances.
There are times when suffering has a far greater benefit than deliverance from it. We must quiet our hearts, humbly seek God, and submit to His will, whatever that might be. Perhaps it is at the apex of suffering, and the door to God seems to have shut, that the seed of real faith can germinate. It is when all evidence of God’s presence seems to have vanished that we have a unique opportunity to cry out with the great family of sufferers throughout the ages: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me”—yet still choose to believe and obey.
Matthew 27:46; Cf. Psalm 22:1
See Isaiah 53:5; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24, 3:18; 1 John 3:5
 Revelation 3:20
 Matthew 26:39
Mark Davis Pickup has lived with aggressive multiple sclerosis for over 35 years. Although electric wheelchair dependent, Mark has spoken across the United States and Canada promoting the sanctity, dignity, and equality of all human life. He has addressed politicians and legislative committees (both Canadian and American), university forums, hospital medical staffs, religious and denominational leaders, community groups, and organizations about the critical importance of protecting all human life from conception to natural death. To have Mark speak in your area, contact him at [email protected].
This article has been reprinted with permission and can be found at humanlifematters.org/2018/07/when-desperate-prayers-seem-unanswered.html.