Have you ever needed something? Not a want, but a true need. Like a “if-this-doesn’t-happen-I-don’t-know-what-I’ll-do” need. These are the kind of situations that drive us to our prayer closet like never before, we might even enlist others to pray for us. Maybe you put out a call on facebook or come to the front of church when an altar call is given; you do everything you can to call on the Lord. Then … nothing happens.
What do you do when the very situation or hardship you feared most is visited upon you, and all your prayers seemed in vain? Worship.
Job, when visited by calamity went to worship and mourning as his first recourse. These two things seem opposed, but in reality make excellent companions to one another. Mourning honors the very real pain you are experiencing while worship takes your eyes off of yourself and onto the one that is always good.
Oftentimes when I’ve been in times of trouble, I’ve had similar encouragement to “praise your way through it”. Somehow this never really brought any comfort. I don’t want to split hairs between praise and worship; but the exhortation to “praise your way through” something, insinuates that it will cheer you up. Worship isn’t about cheering yourself up, it’s about focusing your vision away from yourself. Worshiping in grief doesn’t look like faking happiness, it looks like an honest relationship with God, and trusting Him more than what you can see.
When I was younger, my favorite singer was Garth Brooks. One of his biggest hits was a song named “Unanswered Prayers”. Like most of his catalogue, I had every word memorized (you’re impressed I’m sure). The song is about a man who runs into his high school sweetheart and remembers how he’d pray they would end up together. He realizes now that his true love is the woman he married, and that everything ended up for the best. “So wise, so poignant” my teenage brain thought, then I experienced real life. You see, in real life, things happen that make no sense. Things happen that don’t turn out to be a plus later. Sure, maybe your high school sweetheart may have turned out to be a real dud, but there’s no upside to a loved one dying in a horrible car wreck, or children dying in a car because a parent forgot they didn’t drop them off at daycare.
The truth about unanswered prayer isn’t that God is setting you up for a surprise you’re going to think was so great later, it’s that He is arranging eternity on a scale you are incapable of imagining, much less comprehending. God is not planning a surprise birthday party for you, but rather, you get to be a part of His plan for all the universe for all time. Being a part of that means you will experience things you’ll never understand, and not be spared from somethings you’d never choose. God is still good. God invented good.
Unanswered prayers aren’t meant for you to benefit from later, but an opportunity for you to benefit now. Worshiping amidst the heartbreak of an unanswered prayer grows your faith and expands your vision.