“I know what I need. My motives are pure. Certainly this prayer request is something God would want to answer.” How often do these thoughts run through our minds? And when He doesn’t give us what we asked for, we’re perplexed and even a bit agitated. How do we deal with unanswered prayer?
Jesus addresses this quite vividly in Matthew 7. Jesus invites us to come to Him with our requests, but then says this:
"Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:9-11).
Unanswered prayer is the result of us asking for stones and serpents and God giving us bread and fish instead. Which is why getting upset over unanswered prayer makes no sense whatsoever. So often we’re asking God for something that will devastate us when He wants to give us something that will nourish us. In our prayer lives, God refuses to let us settle. We need to have the humility to remember God chooses better for us than we could ever choose for ourselves.
"Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matt. 7:22-23).
We often make the grave mistake of evaluating our spiritual health based on our external practices or accomplishments. We think to ourselves, “I attend church almost every week. I’m in a Bible study. I even shared the gospel with someone last week! My inner life is good.” Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 are a warning against this kind of thinking. He’s saying it’s possible for your outer life to look really good while you’re inner life is a mess. It’s possible for you to be doing great things for Jesus on the outside, but still be distant from him… even lost.
So how do I know the real condition of my inner life? The Puritan John Owen captures one tell tale sign of a healthy inner life:
“A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more."
The true test of our spiritual integrity is our private prayer life. What we do in private when there’s no possibility to receive anyone’s praise for what we’re doing in private, is a true indicator of the health of our relationship with Jesus Christ. So what’s your private life look like? Are you praying? Are you meditating on Scripture for your own sake? The private life reveals the true condition of the inner life.