We all have times when answers come easily. We have times when answers come clearly and distinctly. And we all have times when we really pray about something and seemingly receive no answer. On some such occasions, we may feel that we've conscientiously followed the instructions in Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9. We have studied the issue out in our minds, prayed about it (perhaps we even fasted), and asked the Lord if our decision or understanding is right. But after all that, we still do not feel we have received a burning in the bosom—or a stupor of thought—and thus it appears we are left to our own resources to try to solve the problem. Or we may be certain we have received an answer—but then things don't work out the way we thought they would.
When these kinds of situations arise, it presents an even greater spiritual opportunity to exercise our faith and to persist—and thus, in the process, to truly increase our faith, perhaps more than when answers come easily, directly, clearly, or distinctly.
Some Saints, when they have faced situations like this, lose faith in prayer, or determine the Lord doesn't always answer prayer, or decide it is not a surefire means of receiving help. What can we do to persist and not lose faith when answers don't come quickly?
First of all, I earnestly believe in the Lord's great love for his children. As I mention elsewhere in this book, I believe there never was a sincere prayer offered since the days of Adam, by anyone, member or nonmember alike, that was not answered by the Lord. When one truly knows the great love the Lord has for his children, he will know with a certainty that the Lord does answer all sincere prayers.
The key, then, is for us to discern how those answers come. We must not judge the Lord, nor should we harden our hearts when seemingly an answer has not come. Instead, we need to trust the Lord and know he is answering our prayers in his own way and by his own means. As Isaiah taught us:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9.)
I bear my testimony that this is true. Therefore, we cannot judge the Lord—but we can trust him.
Let's look at some of the circumstances where prayers may seem to be unanswered—and how we might understand them.
1. Know That Answers May Come in Unexpected Ways
One kind of seemingly unanswered prayer comes when the Lord does not answer our prayers in the way we expect. If we are more open to the different ways that answers come, we will recognize the Lord's hand in our lives more—and that, in turn, will build our faith so we can receive more answers . . .
2. Be Prepared for Increased Opposition from Satan
If you're praying for something that really matters, you can count on the fact that the devil will get involved. He's eager to do what he can to thwart you. He will do his best to dissuade you from going forward. He'll give you such thoughts as "You can't do it. You're not worthy enough. Your family's got too many problems. You can't do what the Lord requires." He'll engineer whatever he can to try to make you doubt. So you may as well know up front that he is going to tempt you.
When you attract the devil's attention and he starts to give you more opposition than you normally have, that's a great sign that you're on a course that pleases God and displeases Satan.
I've found that when you begin to pray for something that really matters, many times things get worse, not better. Often the cause is Satan and his helpers, who are doing their best to make sure you don't succeed. That ought to be a signal to a man or woman of faith: "I'm on the right track. I'm doing something that's making a difference and I will now double my faith." If you can increase your faith in that moment, you will have won most of the battle.
3. Be Prepared for the Lord to Test Your Faith
When we're seeking answers to prayers, the Lord will surely test us. He wants us to see if we will serve and love him at any cost. He wants us to see if we will continue in faith even if we don't receive the answer we had hoped for.
The blessing often comes after a trial of our faith (see Ether 12:6), and we have to persevere even through difficult times if we want to come to the answer we seek . . .