Garth Brooks once wrote the following lines in his canny love ballad Unanswered Prayers,
"Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn't answer doesn't mean he don't care
Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers"
This song deals with a guy who prayed consistently for God to "give" him the girl he liked. Turns out, God didn't answer his prayer. Now, obviously Garth wasn't trying to spark some deep theological discussion when penning these words; he's just a good ole fashion country boy who was wondering why God didn't grant him the sincere desire of his heart.
With that being said, does GB have a valid point? Are some of God's greatest gifts unanswered prayers?
Undoubtedly, the New Testament--as well as the Old--is full of powerful verses like
"And I will do whatever you ask in my name" (John 14:13);
"For everyone who asks receives..." (Mt 7:8);
"My father will give you whatever you ask for in my name." (Jn 16:23)
However, if the Christian is truly honest with himself he must admit that God does not always give us what we ask for, no matter how consistent we are. One example from a daily life experience might suffice: If I am praying for my team to win the soccer game, and somebody else from the opposing side prays for his team to win the game, this automatically puts God in a bind. Obviously, He cannot answer both prayers, for this would be logically impossible; the two teams can't both win. One of those prayers (or both), if thought about correctly, does not get answered.
Sometimes Christians put God into presupposed categories prior to bringing their requests unto Him; that is, if we pray about a situation in our daily lives, God is required to either give us a "yes" or "no" answer.
Is God obligated to answer our prayers? How, then, is the Christian to interpret the verses cited above? Are there obstacles to answered prayer?