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Unanswered Prayers: Explaining God’s Seeming Silence to Teens

unanswered prayers

Unanswered prayers can lead to questions and doubts. How do you teach teens about God’s answers (or apparent lack of answers) to prayer?

During the holidays, we hear a lot about all the ways the Lord has “blessed” so many around us with answered prayers. Sometimes these are silly: “Wow, I was asking God to find me a good parking place. And here I am up front at the mall.”

Other times, desperate nonprofits trying to meet end-of-the-year budgets say, “Thank you, Lord, for answering our prayers and allowing us to continue our work!” These proclamations run the spectrum and are all over Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds.

Inevitably, some of us haven’t received answers for our holiday prayers. No matter how much we pray.

  • What about my friend who lost her grandmother and father two weeks apart right before the holidays?
  • What about the student whose parents are getting a divorce or not getting back together?
  • And what about people who are sick, hurting, desperate, struggling, losing loved ones, or stuck in a bad situation?

When Teens Ask About Unanswered Prayers

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation with students. “I’ve tried to pray,” they say. “God just doesn’t hear me or answer my prayers. He is silent and forgets me.”

It’s one of the most difficult conversations to have with youth. Sure, at times kids have “selfish” prayers. They ask for an A on a test when they didn’t study, or want a blessing on their life for something that is living outside God’s plan. Admittedly, a laugh gets stuck in my throat in conversations when a youth is blatantly ignoring the Lord and then says, “Why won’t He do what I want Him to do?”

We all know God isn’t Santa, a Genie or a Vending Machine. Yet the heart-wrenching conversations are the ones without an answer. Why would the Lord choose to take care of one family’s finances miraculously while another can’t afford dinner for their table?

At times we don’t know how to answer this question about unanswered prayers. We say things like, “God’s thoughts are bigger than our thoughts” or “His ways are unexplainable.” That’s really our way of saying, “I don’t know.” Honestly, I think it paints God as a tyrant when we allude to the fact it might be God’s will that someone dies of cancer.

This question is a challenge. Sometimes, if we’re really honest, we adults have the same one. We feel ashamed admitting we doubt sometimes too. As an older person, aren’t we supposed to have this figured out?

Here’s where we start with unanswered prayers.

When Prayers Go Unanswered

1. Take It Seriously.

I think what is really important when this question comes along is to treat it with weight. Let’s not throw out “platitudes” and move on.

When I was a teen, someone told me, “If you just had more faith, then this (situation) would change.” I felt so pressured to figure out what “more faith” looked like practically. I also felt like I couldn’t ever get it right and that God just wanted to manipulate me.

Instead, when someone said, “Let’s pray until we know for sure what God is saying,” that changed everything. So don’t sweep this under the rug. It’s one of those thoughts that makes or breaks pursuing God.