We pray because we believe that prayer works, that God hears our prayers and will help us. Yet, what are we to believe when we pray for something and there is no change in the difficulty, or the person we were praying for passes away? What happens to those seemingly unanswered prayers?
1. God’s love is stronger than our prayers. Some Divine decrees can be rescinded through prayer, others cannot. This is not a sign of the weakness of prayer; it is a sign of the strength of God’s love for us. Certain hardships need to happen for our eternal benefit, for reasons we do not understand. Those difficulties will occur, even if we pray.
As an analogy, if a child needs to undergo a painful medical procedure, no amount of pleading will change the parent’s minds; not because they do not care, precisely because they do care. Although they will insist the child undergo the procedure, they will do whatever they can to support and comfort the child.
So too with God, our Father in Heaven, if something is for our highest good, it will happen, even if it is painful for us and even if we plead with Him. He will though, use our prayers to ensure that we receive the support, strength and comfort we need to get through the challenge.
When you pray to God and ask for His help, know that whatever happens will be God’s will and for your highest good. Know that good will come from your prayer; it may be in a manner you did not expect, at a later date, in another area of your life or benefit a loved one.
2. We will eventually receive what is truly good for us. When we pray for something which does not occur, either the right time has not yet arrived or God has decided that it is not for our highest good. Many of us can think of prayers we said which were eventually answered, at a time and manner God deemed optimal. We might also be able to recall prayers we are glad God did not fulfill, as we see in hindsight how it would not have been beneficial to us.
At times, God decides that it is best if we do not receive a certain blessing and that we endure a particular hardship. Even for those areas – the ones we cry over – when the Messiah comes, God will heal them. The prophet Isaiah tells us that during the Messianic era (Isaiah 25:8), “…The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces…”
In the meantime, while we continue to pray to God for what is lacking in our lives, we must be patient and accept His will. We must make the most of what we have and realize that right now – without any change in our life circumstance – we can still live a meaningful life.
3. The purpose of prayer is not to change God, it is to change us. The Sages teach that God is always sending us blessing. If we or the world in general are not fit to receive this blessing, we experience it as a difficulty. When we pray, we change ourselves, making ourselves better able to receive the blessing God sends us. (Because of this, as long as the possibility exists for a particular prayer to be answered, we should continue to pray and enhance our ability to receive that blessing.)
There are times when we have to experience hardship (see, “5 Reasons for Suffering”). In those cases, our prayers will not transform the difficulty; instead, they will transform us. Fervent prayer transforms us by strengthening our faith that everything comes from God and that He can do anything. Intense prayer lowers our attachment to materialism and raises our spiritualty. It uplifts our souls, bringing us closer to God. Through prayer, we can come so close to God that during challenging times, we feel enveloped in the safety of His embrace.
4. We build a crown for God. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov writes that each of us is a crown for God (Likutey Moharan 6:15). We are His crown in the sense that as His children, when we lead exemplary lives, we bring Him glory. In light of this teaching, when we pray for others, we are adding precious gems to their personal crown for God. If they pass away, after countless prayers have been said on their behalf, they carry with them this shining crown to Heaven. There, they present this crown, bedecked with countless gems, to their Father in Heaven; it is a crown He wears with special pride.
The same goes for ourselves; when we pray for ourselves, we enhance our own crown for God and reveal an even more intense level of His glory to the world.
Address your challenges from three different angles: (1) Pray, (2) Make reasonable efforts to overcome the difficulty and (3) Look for ways to grow and make the most of the situation. This way, whatever happens is win-win: Even if you do not see tangible results from your prayers and material efforts, you still use the challenge as a catalyst for growth. You still draw strength from the knowledge that in the end, you will receive what is truly good for you. With this perspective, you can be accepting of your challenges, even as you work to improve your difficulties.
Bottom line: Do not pray solely to receive a specific outcome; only God knows what is best. Pray because you’re hurting; pray because your Father in Heaven wants to soothe your pain; pray because through prayer you can feel His embrace.
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