Question: Why doesn’t God answer the prayers of parents for their children to find faith?
Answer: First of all, the assumption that one’s prayer is not answered is not always justified. Basically it is never justified, even if everything is in order on the part of the one praying. For the fact that an answer is not immediately seen is not yet proof that God has not answered. Thus, many a mother prays that her son may go to church more regularly, take more part in devotions at home, and show an interest in Christian concerns. But she should not think that her longing will be granted at the very next opportunity. It can take a long time for her prayers to bear fruit. Yet the Lord is already working in secret toward it. Further, prayers for the salvation of one’s children cannot find an immediate answer as easily as prayers for delivery from danger or from an illness. In the latter case the Lord can act independently of the person concerned, for it depends on him alone. But for a person to turn and to actively seek his salvation, God’s will alone does not suffice. Something on the part of that person is also needed.
The individual is not a machine which can be maneuvered this way and that at will; he has a free will and can say, “I do not want to.” God does not wish to use force. The less inclined a person is, the more is needed on God’s part to prepare that free will to become one with God’s. Often a person is strongly bound by powerful inclinations and passions, as well as by dark influences. These bonds must be broken one by one before God’s influences can take effect. This takes time. Such a person has picked up anti-Christian impulses bit by bit, and so become entangled in unbelief; to shed these impulses, to free one’s spirit from everything that makes it unbelieving and profane, can require much time.
More is accomplished through prayer by carrying the matter quietly than by using many words.
God has much work to do before the fruit of his work can be seen. But every mother who prays can believe confidently that the Lord becomes active as soon as the request comes to him in the right way. She must have patience until the fruits are shown. Years can go by before the groundwork is laid. Meantime, any afflictions her son may experience can only help the matter on. Even if the results are not fully shown in his lifetime, he can yet be put right on the deathbed. We must not regard anyone as lost so long as someone is praying for him in clear and constant concern.
However, it can also be that not everything is in order with the one praying. This may be the reason that the prayer bears so little fruit. Some people are satisfied so long as their loved ones conduct themselves decently to all appearances and do not neglect Christian conventions. If this is not the case, then they pray for them. But they do not have the highest in mind, often because they themselves are not spiritual enough, are not really in fellowship with the Lord. Then things may work out in a curious way: Here they are, praying for the spiritual well-being of their children, while they themselves do not stand rightly before God. However, even the prayers of such persons are not entirely in vain in God’s eyes: he is glad whenever he is approached in prayer. Even unsuitable prayers and intercessions often make a great difference, so that redemption for eternal life takes place which perhaps would not have happened if nobody had prayed. But time must elapse and circumstances change before the full answer can be given.
Finally, I would like to say that one’s prayers accomplish more if one carries a situation quietly on one’s heart rather than using many words every day. In the latter case, it often looks as if one were trying to force something from God, wishing to hasten the matter on, contrary to the orderly course it may otherwise take. Then nothing can come of one’s strenuous efforts.
Here, then, is the most effective way to pray for one’s loved ones: Be mindful at all times that you yourself walk constantly with the Lord, and be attentive to those for whom you pray. Guard against thoughtlessness, against stupidity, harshness, and strictness, against an overbearing manner that is unfriendly and inconsiderate. Otherwise you will hinder more than you help. All these things must be kept in mind when one prays for one’s relatives, and it must all take place before God. Then it may well be that the time will soon come for God’s spirit to effect his cause more speedily and fully than has been apparent until now. For the Lord will one day take up his cause again in person. Until then, may he comfort all souls that are troubled about their loved ones, and fill them with patience and faith! In the end, the Lord will indeed lead everything in glory to the salvation of all souls that are commended to him.
Source: Johann Christoph Blumhardt, Besprechung wichtiger Glaubensfragen aus der Seelsorge hervorgegangen (Karlsruhe: Evangelischer Schriftenverein für Baden, 1888). Translated by Alan Stevenson.