To engage the pain of unanswered prayer and a weakening faith, John Piper recommends Christians re-engage 19th century British evangelist George Müller, who saw God do extraordinary things on his behalf.
In a Tuesday episode of his podcast, a discouraged man asked the Reformed theologian and former pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, about how to pray. He was discouraged because though he is not living in sin and reads Scripture faithfully, his prayer requests are never answered, including prayers for friends to come to faith in Christ.
Beyond the Scripture, no one has taught him more about prayer than Müller, Piper said. The British evangelist was known for founding and operating orphanages in England, doing so by asking God to meet every need, and saw God answer his prayers in remarkable ways. Miraculous provision would show up at just the right time, many times over. Many thought he was in a league of his own with regard to faith, something Müller denied.
Müller received nearly £1,500,000 (nearly $2 million) in answer to prayer without ever asking for funds over the course of his life and ministry.
"Müller had an explanation for why some prayers like this were not answered for twenty years, while thousands were answered. His explanation was that his prayers for the salvation of particular people to be saved did not have explicit biblical promises to rest on," he said.
"And the promise that whatever we ask would be given is always qualified, he would argue, by praying according to God's sovereign will. Read 1 John 5:14–15, and read it carefully because in one half of the verse it sounds totally sweeping — 'whatever you ask' — and the other half of the verse sounds very qualified — 'according to God's sovereign will.'"
Yet when Müller prayed for the needs of the orphans he took care of to be met, his prayers were based on Matthew 6:33: "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you," and explicit promise in Scripture; in other words, he believed God promised to provide what was needed so God's will could be accomplished and that his name would be glorified, "which is what we're commanded to do," Piper said.
And Müller saw people come to know Christ after praying for them for 50 years, the theologian noted, encouraging the discouraged man to continue praying, "since it may be that the very perseverance is a sign that the faith you are exercising in the perseverance is itself a gift."
"[D]on't miss or minimize the answers you are receiving. You say there are none; I doubt that," he added.
"Are you still a Christian? God is hearing your prayer for keeping you. Are you in any measure of health? God is sustaining. Are you in any way at all influential in pointing others to Christ? God is working. Are you inclined to God's word? That's an answer to prayer."