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Unanswered Prayers
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Last Sunday, you likely received an email from Gill with the sad news about Barbara Ng’s passing. Obviously, we first think about Eric and his kids, Brighton and Joelle, now without their wife and mother present in their lives. We join them in mourning this great loss. We are committed to walking with them, crying with them, supporting them any way we can. We believe we will hear their stories in the years to come about the questions they’ve wrestled with and the struggles they’ve encountered, as well as the ways God has revealed Himself to them and how God has used a tragedy to work for redemption in unexpected ways. 
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We also join them in the confidence that this is not the end of Barb’s story. We believe, with them, that she is now in the Lord’s presence, free of the pain that characterized her life over the last year, and awaiting her resurrection body. The early Christians described death as “sleep” for this reason. They were convinced that death was temporary for the believer, and that the believer will one day soon come alive in a way they never have before.
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However, for some of us, the news has also raised a question: why didn’t God hear our prayers for healing? We have interceded for this family over the last year, specifically with a desire to see God preserve Barb’s earthly life. We have fasted and prayed together. And yet, it seems that God has chosen not to answer those particular prayers. This is especially difficult when we consider Jesus’ promise in the Gospel: “if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:22) What do we do with that, in light of unanswered prayers for healing?
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I just finished a book that was recently lent to me called “God On Mute: Engaging the silence of unanswered prayer” by Pete Greig. Years ago, Pete’s wife began having violent epileptic seizures, and it was discovered that the cause was a brain tumour. The tumour was surgically removed (somewhat miraculously, it seems), but his wife has continued to experience these violent seizures, significantly altering their lives. While her life was preserved, physical healing has not come. This, despite of the fact that Pete is one of the founders of 24/7 Prayer, a global prayer movement, and had thousands of people praying for healing for his wife. 
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There’s no way I can condense the deep insights from those 300 pages into this post. I would wholeheartedly recommend that you read the book yourself if this is a question you struggle with. But I will say that the book is an authentic examination, providing all kinds of perspectives on what God might be up to when He seems silent. It avoids shallow platitudes, and maintains faithfulness to the biblical witness.
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Here’s one really significant takeaway that I want to share here, though, and it’s pretty simple: it is ok to wrestle with this question. We Christians, especially of the evangelical variety, have a tendency to emphasize the victorious and triumphant aspects of faith and try to cover up any kind of lament, any valley experiences (at least, that is, until we’re through it to the other side, in which case we feel safe to speak about our valleys from the perspective of the mountaintop). But if Jesus could cry out on the cross, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”, and if David could say, “look on me and answer, Lord my God, give light to my eyes or I will sleep in death”, then it must be appropriate for us to voice our anguish over unanswered prayer to God.
The real test of our faith is whether or not, when we’re wrestling with that anguish, we are able to continue seeking the Lord and trusting Him. Even when we don’t feel like it. Even when we wonder what the point is. In one section, Greig quotes C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, where a demon confesses the worst case scenario for the demonic realm:
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“Sooner or later (God) withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience…He leaves the (human) to stand up on its own legs- to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish…our cause is never in more danger than when a human- no longer desiring but still intending to do (God’s) will- looks around upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
As we mourn with the Ngs, as we proclaim with them the hope we have in Jesus, and even as we wrestle with our lack of understanding as to God’s ways, we press on in this kind of faith.