Do unanswered prayers mean lack of faith?

“Is it a lack of faith, when you feel like a prayer has been unanswered, such as a prayer for physical healing for someone? “Everything you ask and pray for, believe that you have it already and it will be yours” Mark 11:24.” -Anonymous

Great question! This has to do with the sovereignty of God, faith, and the nature of prayer. This is a topic that many people struggle with, especially when fervent prayers have seemingly not been answered.

The context of the Scripture that is cited must be evaluated as to understand its intended meaning. Also, other biblical passages must be taken into account as to understand the nature of prayer and how it relates to this passage.

First, the wording around the passage seems to be hyperbolic, meaning, Jesus is using a hyperbole to teach a point, as He does often. Commentators believe the mountain being thrown into the sea passage (Mark 11:23) is as much a hyperbole as the camel through the eye of a needle passage that is just a chapter earlier (Mark 10:25). Many read this hyperbole literally and take it to mean that if we have enough faith, anything we ask will come to be, even to the extent of throwing the Mount of Olives into the Dead Sea. One commentator says though, “The faith Mark seems to have had in mind is not that which is needed to work spectacular miracles but to accomplish the Christian mission. A mountain is sometimes a symbol of difficulty.” The disciples faced much difficulty and adversity in the spreading of the gospel of Jesus. If this verse were meant to be understood literally, as many often interpret it, if they had enough faith, which they did have enough faith to heal people, etc., they could have not gone through those adversities. They maybe wouldn’t have had to suffer. They maybe wouldn’t have had to die. But, each one of them did just that. They suffered, and they died, for the sake of the spread of the good news of Jesus. Faith through difficulty is the most likely meaning of these words from Jesus.

The other biblical passage that must be taken into account are the very words of Jesus in the most faith-filled, heart-wrenching, passionate plea to God that has ever been uttered. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus was not only about to endure agonizing torture and be brutally killed, but He was about to take on the full wrath of God from all the sins of mankind. This wasn’t going to be easy. This mountain of difficulty was laid before Him. He asked God to move it, but then you see the faith that he had talked about come into true effect. He says the words, “if it be possible,” and “not as I will, but as you will.” His faith was is in God’s plan, not His own ease.

History has proven that God uses darkness to help people see the light. After Job’s affliction, he was able to say, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5). The early church father Tertullian is quoted as saying, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” God used the persecution of the early Christians to scatter the seed of the gospel to the known world. I recently witnessed to a man who almost died in a car accident, who is now in a wheelchair, and who just gave his life to Christ. He said to a friend, about his sudden interest in God, that he had heard of God but now he has seen Him. This man didn’t know he was practically quoting Job’s response to his suffering. This is just how God works much of the time. As Joseph said to his brothers after God’s provisions through Joseph’s sufferings, if we have faith as Jesus taught and demonstrated we can say the same, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).

It isn’t easy, but in light of eternity, we can have joy amidst the sadness, and we can have faith when the answer is “no.” “For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Thanks for asking!