“But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.”
(Micah 7:7 ESV)
Prayer has transformed my life.
I’ve witnessed countless answered prayers. I’ve seen the Lord answer the prayers of friends and family. I’ve seen Him answer my own prayers. I’ve seen Him transform situations and people. I’ve experienced His provision. I’ve seen God move overnight, or within minutes, because of prayer.
But there’s also unanswered prayer.
I’ve encountered this many times, and chances are, you have as well. You may have experienced the pain, confusion, or heartache of a particular circumstance in your life that, for some reason, seems to be immovable or unchanging even after years.
There comes a point where you may think, God, I’ve done everything I could. What am I supposed to do now?
At the start of 2023, I don’t know where you are today or what unanswered prayers come to mind, but I can tell you this: In moments like these, you have the opportunity to encounter the richest, deepest lessons and transformation. There is more for you, even now — and you can be comforted and amazed at how much God can move in these seasons.
Recently, the book of Daniel has reminded me of the tremendous power of prayer and worship. You’re probably familiar with the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego facing the fiery furnace, but there’s also so much wisdom and encouragement from the events that take place beforehand. In the first three chapters of Daniel, here’s what we can learn about how to show up faithfully and recognize God’s hand, even in the midst of prayers that seem to go unanswered:
Being Tested Before “The Test”
Before King Nebuchadnezzar commanded all men to worship his golden image (Daniel 3), Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced other trials where they received pressure to compromise their faith or lose their lives.
The first test began in Daniel 1 when Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, besieged Jerusalem and had the best and brightest young Jewish men selected to prepare to serve him (v. 3-4). Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were some of the Jewish men who were chosen for this preparation and training, but it would involve eating the king’s meat and drinking his wine (v. 5) — which Daniel and his friends considered “defiled,” or unclean/impure (v. 8). (The king’s food and drink may have been defiled because it was likely sacrificed to false gods, considered unclean according to Old Testament laws, and/or could have publicly represented their dependency on the king as opposed to God.)
The second test appeared in Daniel 2 when King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that he wanted to be interpreted (v. 1-6), yet none of his wise men were able to. Since no one could confirm what happened in the dream and give an interpretation, the king decreed that all the wise men — including Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — would be put to death (v. 12-13).
From the king’s meat to the king’s dream, the stakes kept rising in each test. Then, of course, there was the third test in Daniel 3 when these friends faced the king’s golden image and the fiery furnace. But before we get there, let’s take a look at how these men responded to these challenges.
Positioning Your Heart To Honor God
The king’s meat: Daniel 1:1-21
In the first chapter, Daniel could have easily agreed to eat the king’s food and wine as part of his preparation, but instead, he chose to honor God. Verse 8 reads that “Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank.” And so, Daniel asked if he and his friends could eat vegetables and drink water instead for 10 days — and then, they could be observed after that time. The chief of the eunuchs knew how serious the consequences could be, as he says his own head would be “endangered with the king” if their plan didn’t work; but God’s mercy was present, as he still granted them their request (v. 8-14).
After the 10 days, Daniel and his friends not only survived on this special diet but thrived more than the other young men who ate the king’s food. Verse 14 says, “it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food.” Plus, the Lord gave them favor before the king. Verse 17 says that “God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” And verse 19 says, “none was found” like them. They decided to honor God no matter what the results could be, and because of their obedience, God’s blessing was on them; they were recognized for their wisdom and understanding without having to compromise their faith in Him.
The king’s dream: Daniel 2:1-49
In chapter 2, Daniel put his trust in the Lord once again — in an even harder, more urgent test: to retell the king’s dream and interpret it, which was nearly impossible. Even the Chaldeans told the king, “There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand” (v. 10). But even when Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were sought after to be killed, he requested for them to have time to give an interpretation. They knew God was the only one who could provide a miracle and reveal this dream to save their lives, as Daniel tells his friends to “seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery” (v. 18). So they didn’t turn to their own wisdom, or man’s wisdom, but to God’s wisdom — and they sought Him.
After that, God revealed the “mystery” of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream to Daniel in a vision at night (v. 19). And what’s beautiful is that in the midst of this miracle, Daniel took the time to praise God. He recognized God for being the one who “gives wisdom” and “knowledge,” the only one who could “reveal deep and hidden things,” and he gave Him thanks and praise (20-23). In verses 31-45, Daniel then accurately retold the dream to King Nebuchadnezzar and gave the interpretation, and the king had an outstanding reaction. He fell on his face and acknowledged the God that Daniel served: “The king answered and said to Daniel, ‘Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery’” (v. 47). Ultimately, Daniel was promoted to rule over Babylon and became chief prefect over all the wise men, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon (v. 48-49).
Once again, we see these results of unwavering obedience in the midst of impossible situations. Daniel and his friends put their faith in God to the test, and God provided solutions only He could give. What a reminder that God is powerful, and He can move in unbelievable ways when we fully commit ourselves to honoring Him.
But what happens when we don’t see God moving? When a prayer for rescue or escape seems to go ignored? Here’s the “final” test in chapter 3.
Being In The Fire
The king’s idol: Daniel 3:1-30
Finally, Daniel’s friends would face the fiery furnace, an even more intense and deadly test. King Nebuchadnezzar set up an image of gold in Babylon, and he commanded that all people must fall down and worship the idol (v. 1-6); whoever did not would “immediately be cast into a fiery furnace” (v. 6). But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not worship the image, and this was reported to the king, who then became furious and asked them whether it was true (v. 8-14). He gave them another chance to worship the image, and he reminded them of their demise if they refused: “‘Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?’” (v. 15).
Now, Daniel’s friends had an easy out; they had gained favor in the king’s sight previously and could worship this image and stay out of trouble. But instead of forsaking God, they decided to remain faithful: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up’” (v. 16-18).
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s response to the king is monumental. They stood firm and declared that they would not serve false gods or worship a golden image. Also, they acknowledged that God IS able to deliver them from the furnace and believed that He would do it. But what sticks out to me even more, is this:
“But if not…”
God is able to deliver us…but if not…we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. Daniel’s friends had hearts and minds set on obedience. They knew what God was capable of doing — they even experienced it — but ultimately, they would surrender to His plan even if it cost them. They literally put their lives in God’s hands and let Him do what only He could do. They knew He could do the impossible, but even if He did not deliver them in this circumstance, there was a reason; but they were not going to turn away from Him. They did not hold onto what was dear to them, but would rather give their lives to the Lord completely and publicly, not holding anything back. What massive faith.
So, what were the results of this costly decision? The king was filled with more fury, had the furnace heated seven times more than it was before, and had these three Hebrew men bound up and tossed inside. The intensity of this situation was clear, and the fire even killed the “mighty men” of the king’s army who tossed them in; verse 22 states, “Because the king’s order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.”
And then, there was a miracle: King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished as he pointed out, there was a fourth man in the fire. “…He declared to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?’ They answered and said to the king, ‘True, O king.’ He answered and said, ‘But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods’” (v. 26). These three men were cast bound in the fire, and now they were no longer bound, walking freely in the midst of the fire, unharmed, and accompanied by the Son of God — the Lord was with them in the fire.
God allowed them to go through the fire, but that did not mean that they were abandoned. They were set free in the fire, they were protected in the fire, and they were not alone.
As Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego believed, God could have rescued them before the fire and prevented them from going in altogether, but instead, He gave them an even greater testimony. These young men were willing to make a public statement and sacrifice their lives for God, and it had a ripple effect on those around them. In verse 26, the king had these men come out, and they had no sign of even going through the fire; verse 27 states “that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men.” Other people gathered around and witnessed this miracle: Their hair wasn’t singed, neither were their clothes harmed, and there wasn’t even a scent of fire on them. This was the impossible made possible, and it had to be a move of God; this moved the heart of the king, who acknowledged God as “the Most High God”:
“Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God’” (v. 28).
The same king who wanted all people to worship a false god that he built was now acknowledging the one true God. He then forbade anyone from speaking against the God of the Jews, and he promoted these three men (v. 29-30). What an ending. And this story could have ended differently. Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel all had chances to compromise, turn away from God, or doubt that He was able to rescue them. But instead, they had courage, obeyed the Lord, surrendered the outcome to Him, and proved to be faithful in the midst of intense pressure and trial. As a result, they saw God work in a mighty way — and move in the hearts of those who were watching them.
A Response To Unanswered Prayer: “But If Not…”
Perhaps that unchanging circumstance in your life right now is your “fiery trial.” The enemy often tries to discourage us here, tempting us to believe that we have been forgotten, that God is ignoring us, or that perhaps, He is not good after all. But please know that is an awful lie. Just as God didn’t abandon Daniel in his tests or Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego in the furnace, He hears the prayers of His people, and He hasn’t abandoned you.
In the midst of what appears to be unanswered prayer, there is room for a new perspective: “But if not.”
If God didn’t move in the way you wanted, would you continue to trust Him?
My friend, don’t cling on so tightly to your desired outcome that it weakens your faith in the Lord. There will be times of testing, chances to force your own way, opportunities to compromise, or temptations to doubt God’s character or turn your back on Him.
Walking in that fire might seem terrifying. It could mean saying no, it could mean going without, it could mean a door being closed, it could mean standing alone, it could be losing something or someone dear to you, it could mean keeping your hope in Jesus when you don’t understand your situation or cannot see a solution. But within that trial, or that test, remember that you’re not in the fire alone.
The Lord is right there with you, standing in the fire, and He will sustain you.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew God could rescue them at any time. But they set their minds and hearts to follow Him even if He did not. God allowed them to go through the fire (and I’m sure that wasn’t their first choice or desire). But that same fire became a place of transformation. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego entered the furnace bound, expected to die, but it was during their time in the fire that they were set free and accompanied by the Son of God. Likewise, in your fire, you might have walked in bound — hopeless, discouraged, stuck, confused, frustrated, or weak — but the Lord is able to set you free and will accompany you through the process. These three Hebrew men knew they had to rely on God and trust His solution over their own.
So, let God answer in His way, even if it doesn’t look like your answer. His transformation is on the other side of your obedience.
There are countless testimonies that may come from you putting your life in His hands. King Nebuchadnezzar — and the whole province of Babylon who decided to worship an idol instead of the one true God — witnessed Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego’s unwavering obedience. Likewise, others are pointed to the God you serve when you boldly choose to trust Him. So, let that be your heart’s greatest desire — that no matter what, God will be glorified through your response.
We can learn to thank God for the “unanswered” prayers. Oftentimes, when God doesn’t let us get our way, it’s because He is protecting us from what we cannot see. There’s beauty in humility, in recognizing your limitations and knowing that even your best plan isn’t better than His plan. Disappointments can also expose the parts of our hearts where we were creating idols or ways we were putting more hope in our desired outcomes than in our Savior.
Let go of your limited understanding and seek to understand His perspective. Continue praying and sharing your cares and needs before your Heavenly Father. Live boldly for Him and in expectation for what He can do because He is faithful; He answers prayers in the best way and in the best timing. You can come boldly before the throne without gripping tightly to your plans.
Wherever you are today, you have a grand opportunity in front of you. I can’t imagine the testimony God is writing now. Remember the God you serve. Put the focus back on Him. Ask the Lord for a soft heart that can be used by Him, even if things don’t go according to your plan, eyes to see His guidance, and strength to use your current circumstance as the perfect opportunity for Him to get the glory.
God can do it. But if He does not, He is still good. He has a greater plan, a better timeline, and there’s more to come. The story isn’t finished yet. Surrender is just part of the process.
“If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
(Daniel 3:17-18 ESV)
To receive inspiring content on faith and lifestyle, follow LM on social media!