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A Child's Question: How Does Prayer Work?

His daughter's struggle with unanswered prayer helps him find the words to overcome a test of faith.

By Pablo Diaz, Carmel, New York

As appeared in

Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my cry for mercy. In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me. Psalm 86:6–7 (NIV)

"Dad, how does prayer work?”

I had just finished my breakfast and was on my way up the stairs for a shower when my daughter Christine came out of her bedroom and asked me this question. The look on her face told me it was serious and more than a theological question.

At first I wasn't sure how to respond. I stumbled along and then slowly began to say, “Sometimes we pray... and God gives us what we ask for. Other times the response takes longer or never seems to come. I'm not sure why... ” While I was trying to say something that made sense, I could see that Christine was very upset.

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She followed me into my room and said, “Dad, I keep praying for something, but nothing happens.” Tears were streaming down her cheeks.

Once again I tried to find the right thing to say so that my daughter wouldn't lose her faith in prayer and, more importantly, in God. What I wanted to say but didn't was something I heard once from a Guideposts prayer volunteer: “I don't know how God is going to answer these prayers. But I do know that God answers them.”

In spite of Christine's seemingly unanswered prayer, she hasn't stopped praying or believing–and neither have I.

Lord, may Your love sustain me when my faith is weak.