Why We Can Be Thankful Even When God Doesn’t Answer Our Prayers


The Bible tells us to be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). However, if you are anything like me, it’s hard to be thankful when you have been praying for a certain situation and feel that God hasn’t answered. He appears to be ignoring your requests and though you keep crying out to Him, He doesn’t answer in the way you want. In fact, He doesn’t appear to be answering you at all. What then?

In Mark 6:45-52, the disciples must have felt like Jesus was not answering their prayers. He sends them on ahead of him in a boat and they get caught up in a horrible storm. Even though He knows that they are being tossed about by the wind and the waves, He does not go to them right away. When He finally does walk out to them, they are frightened and think He is a ghost. It is only after He speaks to them that they recognize Him and the wind dies down.

A few observations we can make:

1. Jesus sends them into the storm.

Most of us, without really admitting it, most likely believe that the assignments Jesus gives us will probably conclude with a pleasant ending of some kind. However, what can feel really confusing is when Jesus sends us into a place that yields a storm.

We can often mistakenly believe that God doesn’t really love us because He surely wouldn’t send us into a storm, right? The reality we see in the passage is that Jesus knows what will happen to His disciples when He puts them in the boat.

2. Sometimes Jesus won’t feel all that near, even when we are walking in His will.

Interestingly, in the passage, Jesus isn’t with the disciples in the boat when they encounter the storm. He goes to a mountaintop to pray. In another situation in the Bible, Jesus is with the disciples in the boat when they get caught in a storm. He is asleep, but immediately wakes up (at the disciples’ urging) and calms the storm. He acts immediately to their need (Matthew 8:23-25).

But here, the storm drags on without the disciples receiving the relief they so desperately want. They row for hours, “straining at the oars” with the “wind against them” (Mark 6:52). And yet, Jesus does not immediately come to them, though He sees them struggling in the middle of the lake. He is not unaware of what they are going through. He isn’t too busy to come to them. He waits until the right moment, knowing that their faith will increase if He does not go to them right away. As commentator Joseph Benson says, “Thus Christ insures his disciples first to lesser difficulties, and then to greater, and so trains them by degrees to live and walk by faith, and not by sight.”

As we grow in our faith walk, God gives us situations where He feels far off to test and grow our faith. We can be thankful even when it feels like God is far off because He always has His eye on us and has not forsaken us — even when it feels like it. Therefore, even in those situations where we are crying out to Him and don’t understand why He doesn’t immediately intervene, He is aware of everything that is going on with us and will step in when the time is right.

3. If we’re not careful, we can grow hardened in a circumstance.

When Jesus does walks on the water out to them, they don’t recognize Him and they are frightened by Him. What happened?

Mark 6:52 tells us that they had not “understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” Even though they had just seen Jesus perform a miracle in feeding 5,000 people with just a few loaves of bread and fish, they evidently do not believe that Jesus has the power to help them out of this particular circumstance. They can’t see what He is doing nor understand it. Thus, even when He comes to them on the water, they do not recognize Him and are afraid when they see Him. In fact, they believe He is a spirit coming to hurt them.

In a similar way, we can allow ourselves to become hardened in our own circumstance and have a similar reaction to Jesus’ aid. The word “hardened” here not only can refer to someone hardening his heart to protect himself from pain. The word also can mean that a person simply can’t perceive a situation.

As Lysa Terkeurst says, when God’s ways are “sometimes the opposite of what we want and expect,” we can miss “God’s answers when we get attached to the outcomes of our own thinking.” In other words, we can hold so rigidly to our own ideas about how a situation should go that when Jesus doesn’t meet those expectations, this can also make us miss what Jesus may be wanting to do. When our situation goes on for a long time and God allows circumstances to continue on that are causing us great turmoil, we can mistakenly believe that He does not want our good and misunderstand His intentions.

Most likely, the disciples generated their own expectations about how Jesus would rescue them and couldn’t comprehend it was Him when He showed up in a different way than they expected. Maybe they didn’t expect that He would walk on top of the water in the dark. Maybe they thought they would see Him once they reached the other side, or they thought He would calm the storm for them and not make them go through it. Whatever the case, they did not expect Him to come in the way He did and they didn’t recognize it was Him. They allowed their expectations to fix their minds in one direction and then couldn’t comprehend it when He didn’t meet their expectations.

Rather than allow our confusing circumstance to harden us so that we can’t see or understand what God is doing, we can keep watching for His answer and not allow ourselves to become hardened or embittered.

We Can Thank God in Our Hard Places

As humans, we don’t like circumstances that are confusing or unpredictable. We try to fix situations that we don’t like and, without meaning to, we create expectations of God and others to make it work out the way we envision.

As Terkeurst emphasizes, we can become disillusioned and discouraged when God doesn’t do what we want or answers our prayers differently than we expected. Proverbs 16:9 says, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” God gave us minds so that we could think and plan — but His plans don’t necessarily follow ours.

When I learned we would be moving to the area we live in now, I resisted it at first. I didn’t believe it was God speaking to us. I loved our house and the area we lived in previously. The school system was fantastic, and I dreamed of raising our kids there. When my husband first mentioned that he was interested in a job that would require a move, I told him he was crazy and it wasn’t happening. Then, as I began praying about it, God confirmed throughout the next few weeks that we were to move.

I had been praying for a change in a particular area, but when God delivered on it, I didn’t recognize His answer to my prayer. I thought that he would change some people in my circumstance. I did not think He would take us out of it. In addition, I didn’t think He would move us to the place He did. His plan for us was so beyond my own ideas of what I thought should happen.

Once we moved, the shock wore off, and I learned to accept the unfamiliar aspects of where we were. Now, over four years later, my kids are thriving in their schools, the new house has been a better fit for us in this stage of life because it has more bedrooms (and we added one more kid to our family after we moved). However, if I had simply gone with my feelings and made a decision based on those, we would have never moved and missed out on what God wanted to do in our family with this change of location.


Making plans is good. Asking God to intervene in a situation is good. However, when we develop expectations of God in a situation, we may not see what He wants to do. We have to keep our minds and hearts open and hold our plans loosely, allowing Him to do as He pleases. (As a side note, we don’t have to fear that we won’t know which way to go or that we won’t hear Him. As long as we stay connected to Him, we will know the way to take.)

Even when the way He leads is dark and unfamiliar, we can thank Him. If we are following after His lead, even if it leads to hardship and dark places, we are never out of His sight or reach. He has us just where He wants us. We can trust He will do what’s best in our situation and lead us where we need to go — even if it is a place we hadn’t necessarily expected or foreseen.

Related Resources:

A Reason to Give Thanks: As we enter into this holiday season, it may be hard to find reasons to be thankful. Storms tear through communities. Civil unrest continues on in many cities. Our nation is divided along political, religious, and racial lines. Covid-19 rages on. How we can we think of giving thanks? The Bible tells us to give thanks in all circumstances — not because we are thankful for the situations, but because we can be thankful in the midst of the circumstances.

Thankfulness is necessary to help us navigate life’s chaos and still maintain the peace of God. Join me for the next few posts where I put the spotlight on gratitude. If you haven’t read been following along on the blog, check out the first post in this series, Cultivating Peace When Life Is Crazy.

Ever worried that you won’t hear the voice of God or know which way to go? Check out the following Christmas-themed posts on seeking God for His direction: What the Wise Men Teach Us About Following God and When You Need to Know Your Next Step of Faith.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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The Best Thing to Do When We Face Trials


“Don’t turn away.”

The pastor spoke these words while I stood at the altar. Though there were a few other people standing there with me, I knew these words were for me.

I had been a Christian for as long as I could remember and had never questioned the existence of God or wanted to follow another religion, but my circumstances had been so harsh and so confusing that I wanted to walk away. I knew that there was no other place for me to go, but I wanted to escape the pain of the situation I was in. And God hadn’t provided an escape for me. I felt abandoned and angry.

Yet, I knew that God was speaking to me through the pastor’s words. I knew that God was urging me to stay. I didn’t understand what God was doing in my situation, and wouldn’t understand until some time further down the road, but I had the assurance and hope on that day when God spoke through my pastor that I needed to persevere in my season and submit to what God had for me.

When I stuck to the place God had me in that difficult time, even though I wanted to run, God revealed to me why He allowed the hardships He did. In addition, He delivered me from the situation after I learned all that I needed to learn. Though I would not want to walk through that season again, I gained valuable lessons that still influence how I walk with God today.

If We Lack Wisdom, We Can Ask God

James 1:5 (AMP) says: “If any of you lacks wisdom [to guide him through a decision or circumstance], he is to ask of [our benevolent] God, who gives to everyone generously and without rebuke or blame, and it will be given to him.” Scholars don’t agree if this verse is separate from James 1:2-4, which precedes it and discusses being joyful in the midst of trials. However, I believe that James 1:5 can both stand alone as a verse urging us to ask God for wisdom in a variety of situations or ask God, more specifically, for guidance in the midst of our trials.

James 1:2-4 says this: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” As I shared in the first two articles of this series, this verse urges us to be joyful in the midst of our trials not because our trials are good, but because of what our trials are producing in us. They produce in us perseverance and this perseverance is working in us to bring us to spiritual maturity.

With that in mind, if we look at James 1:5 as connected with the previous section on trials, we can see that the verse urges us to seek God in our trials and ask for wisdom about how to approach our circumstance. When we find ourselves in a situation that God allowed or even orchestrated, it makes sense to call on Him as He is the only One who can tell us what we need to know about the place we’re in. And yet, instead of pressing God about why we are in the circumstance we are in, we often simply try to get out of the trial without discovering why we’re going through it or what God wants us to learn from it. However, if we want perseverance to “finish its work,” it is in asking Him that we will be given the wisdom to get through — and even learn from — our trial.

In addition, as the passage tells us, we can ask confidently for wisdom, knowing that God will give us what we ask. We don’t have to fear that our failings or past mistakes will prevent us from hearing from God. As believers, we are justified because of Jesus’s work on the cross — and James tells us that God gives “generously” and “without rebuke or blame” to those who ask. If we look at the passage, as it emphasizes in The Biblical Illustrator commentary, it is “the lacking man” that is encouraged to ask! Not only does God promise wisdom for those who lack — this wisdom is for “any one” who seeks Him.

What we can conclude, then, is that God knows that we are lacking and won’t withhold from those who seek Him or be disappointed or angry with us if we don’t know what to do in our circumstance. He invites people who are desperate and in great need to call on Him! However, to receive an answer from Him, we have to want to know and be willing to ask Him for the answer (Matthew 7:7; Jeremiah 29:13).

God Gives Wisdom Because of His Grace

A pastor of mine used to say, “You don’t have to clean yourselves up to come to God.” So often, we think that we need to figure out a solution or get our situation in better order or even somehow make up for a mistake we have made or a failing we have in our spiritual life before coming to God. However, we can come to God in whatever state we are in, and He is the One who will help us to sort out the tangled pieces of our situation and make sense of the confusing events we find ourselves in.

In addition, if we have made a mistake or keep failing in an area when we are attempting to follow God, we don’t have to hide or stand back from God out of fear that He won’t answer us when we pray to Him. The verse assures us that we can approach God and ask God — and He will answer and not chide us for asking.

In the circumstance I described with the pastor where I was encouraged not to turn away, I was attempting to follow God in that situation. Part of my confusion with my circumstances is that I had obeyed Him and followed God’s direction, but it was leading to hardship and difficulty. “Why is this happening, God?” I wanted to know.

As it turns out, though I was following God, I had skipped some important steps He had directed me towards, and I was reaping in that season from the bad choices I had sown in another season. And yet, God graciously led me to understand what He was doing in me during that time and also what I needed to be doing to get out of that hard situation. I started making some phone calls and getting right some areas where I had failed.

All of these actions that God directed led me to understand some important truths about myself. I don’t really know why God had me go through such a painful route to learn these truths, but the season ended up being a gift. In fact, I even had a dream during that time where my sister was a postmaster and delivered a package to a cantankerous lady who refused to receive the gift delivered because it wasn’t delivered to her in the way she wanted it to be delivered.

God told me that I was the lady in the dream. I wanted His gifts, but I didn’t like the package it arrived in. Yet, that was the way God chose to teach me — and I would not have received the lessons I learned from that time if I had resisted God’s methods.

Perhaps you, at this time, find yourself in a baffling and difficult situation. You might feel that God is punishing you or perhaps you’ve been too angry to approach God about what is going on. However, while God will discipline us out of His love for us to bring us to wholeness and usefulness in His kingdom, He does not punish us for our wrongdoing. Our punishment has been taken away by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Certainly, if we know of a sin area in our life that we haven’t confessed, we can do that, knowing God is faithful to forgive us (John 1:9).

However, a lot of times, we aren’t even aware of our sin and need God to help to see our situation clearly, or may be in a situation that is not even caused by our own choices. In any case, God is waiting to answer when we call. I love the story of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, told in Mark 10:46-52. When he heard Jesus was passing by, he called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47). Others rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but Jesus, upon hearing him, stopped and called the man to Him and restored his sight.

Jesus healed the man — and I marvel at that miracle in the story, but I also marvel that Jesus stopped for this man and paused on His way simply because the man called for Him. It is the same with us. As James 1:6 concludes, we will receive the answer we seek as long as we believe and do not doubt that God will indeed answer — because He promises to give wisdom to those who ask. Not because we somehow deserve it, but because He is gracious and longs to show us mercy.

Related Resources:

Have you ever felt irritated by the idea of being joyful in the midst of trials? How can certain Scripture passages advocate that we actually be happy in our most difficult circumstances? This is the second episode in a brand new series on trials and the reason we can rejoice in the midst of hard circumstances. Check out Part 1: “A Reason to Rejoice in Our Trials” and Part 2: “Serving God in the Midst of Our Trials.”

Next week, we’ll conclude Season 2 of the podcast and we’ll take a break from new episodes over the summer. However, you can continue to look up past episodes and get caught up on those by stopping by the podcast archive.

For more on trials, check out the following resources: “When God Uses Our Trials to Teach Us: Part 1″ and “When God Uses Our Trials to Teach Us: Part 2.”


Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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My Problem in Hearing From God

hearing God speak

I am shopping in Ross. I have come for spoons, new journals, and decorative wall plates.

I am not here because I desperately need any of these items. I am here because I don’t want to face the God nudge pulling on me. He has me working on a project that I don’t want to be working on. A project of calling some people, and I am trying to escape Him — even for a few moments. So, I browse the different options of silverware, the journals stashed on the shelf, and the household accessories.

And for a moment I am on hold. He won’t push me or force me to do anything, but the invitation always awaits.

The truth is that listening to God is scary. He asks me to do things that completely stretch me out of my comfort zone. Sometimes I feel impressed to go up to a stranger in a store. Sometimes a name of a former student pops in my head for me to call. And sometimes — I choose not to listen. I hedge and I doubt. I get afraid and talk myself out of what God has told me.

And while His assignments stretch me and pull me where I don’t always want to go, I know they are always for the best even if I don’t immediately see results. So, how do I hear from Him? I think it’s worth taking a look at some of the ways I’ve tried to block out His voice to better discover what not to do when attempting to better tune in to what He’s saying.

3 Things That Make It Hard to Listen to God

1. Read the Bible Without Paying Attention.

Quite honestly, I went through a season where I was a little afraid of what God would tell me. As I started to see that my situation wasn’t going in the direction I wanted it to, as foolish and ridiculous as this sounds, I decided to put a “check in the box” when it came to having a quiet time with God every day. However, I wasn’t really paying attention. I read the Bible with my children running around, the TV in the background.

I was carving out time, but the time didn’t allow for me to really hear from God. I was skimming words without meditating on them or letting them sink in. And, when I was alone with Him and prayed, I listed all my requests and then got up from my prayer time and went about my day without getting quiet enough to hear if He wanted to respond to me right then. In a sense, I was allowing only a little bit of Him in — the little bit I could “handle.”

But what I was doing was trying to control God. And because of that refusal to open up all of the places of my life to Him, I made some poor choices in that season — all because I didn’t trust Him enough to open up myself to His instruction.

2. Allow Distractions to Drown Out the Voice of God.

Another way I have chosen to minimize God in my life is by busying myself with my to-do list: shopping, housework, activities with my children, church work that might even look spiritual — tasks that keep me so busy that I shut out any time to hear what He may be saying to me. Lisa Whittle, author of I Want God: Forever Changed by the Revival of Your Soul, describes times she has attempted to evade God, like me in Ross, by filling up her schedule with excessive shopping:

Sometimes I don’t want to hear from God, and shopping helps with that. I think, and I know, that this moment is not about the shopping (because it rarely is). I recognize it as the human impulse of storing up, controlling my world before He starts requiring something of me. When you know God in that intimate way, there is an understanding that when He calls, it will be loud. And it will be specific. And it may require other things to go away. And it’s terrifying. So I shop.

In the biblical story of Martha and Mary, Jesus rebuked Martha when she complained that Mary was not helping her with meal preparations (Luke 10:38-42). Jesus was hard on Martha, I believe, not because she wanted to serve Him and others in making a nice dinner — but because her busyness distracted her to the point that she wasn’t listening to Jesus.

And when Martha wasn’t listening, she got off track. She got impatient with Mary, demanding of Jesus and fretful about her situation. The same is true of me and you. When we stop listening to Him, we lose our peace, our sense of direction — and we get impatient and critical of others.

3. Let my “Rational” Side Override God’s Voice.

Just like Martha couldn’t understand why Jesus would allow Mary to sit at His feet rather than help her pull together an important dinner for Him, I have fallen into the trap of allowing my own “rational thinking” to drown out God’s voice. I have looked at situations through practical eyes — wisdom that I have acquired from the culture, my parents, and my friends — even wisdom from well-intentioned Christians.

However, by smothering that still small voice inside of me with others’ advice, I can drown out and explain away the voice of God. Because the truth is that His instructions and ways just do not appeal to my logic at times. They usually go against what I feel must be right. Then when I check with other people to see if He could indeed be speaking to me, and they agree that the action must not be God — I can make the mistake of not taking the step He wants me to because I am relying on my own or others’ wisdom.

Take, for instance, when I decided to quit my teaching job. I felt God say to me very distinctly during a sermon that I was to quit my job. However, when I brought this up with my spouse and we looked at the numbers — how we were going to afford to live on one salary — my husband pointed out how illogical it would be for me to stop working. We had a brand new car payment, a hefty mortgage with a decreased value in a sunken market, bills of all kinds. The situation truly looked impossible from a human vantage point.

The more that I looked at the practical side of things, the more I talked myself out of what I thought had been His voice. Here were some of my questions based on human logic: Why wasn’t my husband excited about me quitting if God was indeed telling me to go in that direction? Why didn’t my husband make more money if we were supposed to exist on one income? Why didn’t God have a position lined up for me to transition into if He was indeed asking me to take a leap of faith and go in another direction?

All of my arguments were faulty when I read yet another story in the Bible — that of Mary and Joseph — and realized that God told Mary first about the fact that she, a virgin, would bear a child. He then orchestrated some of the other things in her life to make it possible for her to do His will. Joseph wasn’t on board with the plan until an angel appeared to Him later (Matthew 1:18-25). And my husband wasn’t either until we had several intense conversations. He then relented with the stipulation that I work for one more year before quitting.

At one point during the process, I gave up on the idea and told God it just wasn’t going to work. Despite my unbelief, God was persistent and gave me more chances than one to act on His call. However, He didn’t start working on the logistics in the way I thought He should. I didn’t see Him work on my behalf until what felt like the last minute many times as I actively committed myself to following Him in a direction away from my career in education.

Heeding God’s Voice Through Prayer and Swift Obedience

In my experience, the voice of Jesus is that still small voice — and one that can easily be drowned out by the voice of fear and doubt. Fear prevents us from stepping out and doing what we should because we dread the consequences. Doubt prevents us from stepping out by overwhelming our resolve with rationalizations that contradict what we believe so we get confused and we start thinking that we never heard from God at all.

The way to combat the voice of fear and doubt is by comparing what we heard against God’s Word, by prayer (the listening kind) and swift obedience. Prayer times that regularly give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to infiltrate our minds and thoughts help us to constantly know what God thinks about our situation and expects of us. He has promised us counsel on the inside. However, we have to make ourselves available to hear Him. When we do feel He is asking us to take a step, we must act in obedience.

When we let doubts creep in, the longer we neglect to do the thing He has asked us to do, the less likely it is that we will do it. Sometimes the opportunity is only there for a narrow moment and then disappears. We may not have the same opportunity open up in the same way again.

This area of trust and submission is quite possibly my biggest struggle. I don’t like to do what God tells me sometimes. But I can say that when I do obey, I am always glad I did. I feel a radiance enter me. When I don’t, I always regret it. As Whittle concludes after her shopping trip in I Want God, we have a choice to make on whether we will open ourselves to God, however scary it can be:

But even as I sit in the parking lot of this antique mall with all of my precious finds perched around me, I know it is a myth, the storing up. For a brief moment, the shopper subsides and writer awakens. What I am really wanting is not to tear my house apart and put it back together more beautifully, but what I want God to do to me: deconstruct me, clean me up, make me better, streamlined, more beautiful. And at the same time I’m scared He will. This is the rub of my life. The words are now done and the writer goes back to sleep. I have dialogued with no one in particular, but I have somehow worked it all out.

1) God is what I want most

2) Other things scream for my attention.

3) I will choose between them.

It is the same for you.

What prevents me from hearing God isn’t that He doesn’t speak to me. When I make time for Him and quiet myself enough to hear His voice, He generally does speak to me. It’s not always the answer I want or expect, and it doesn’t always come on my timeline. My problem is that I don’t always want to listen.

What about you? What is your biggest struggle when it comes to hearing from God? I would love for you to leave a comment below.




Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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