How should we pray to God about unfulfilled desires? Not sinful desires about which we know He disapproves, but those which are for His good gifts and for things about which He Himself encourages us to pray and desire? It can be very difficult, painful, and confusing when you feel like God is telling you from one side (through His word) to pray for and desire something and from the other (His ordering of your circumstances) that He will not give it to you. What should you do at such times?

First, let us acknowledge that God is always good, wise, and in control. We cannot guarantee the removal of pain from our hearts or of difficulty from our lives, but we must continue to believe that God “exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). If we allow doubts as to His goodness to prevail in our hearts, we have lost something greater than any gift we could ask for and have fallen prey to the same temptation that sunk our first parents into sin (see Genesis 3).

Second, pour out your pain and confusion and desire to God in prayer. Unfulfilled desire can be a heavier burden than we can bear, but God calls us to cast our burdens on Him and promises to sustain us as we do (Psalm 55:22). His fellowship in such times of deep sorrow and agony is of more value and indescribable worth than anything else we could find in the world to ease our pain.

Third, ask God to search your heart and direct your desires. Ask God if your desire is truly and purely for His glory or if there are other motives mixed with it. If He exposes your heart and you see that there is anything else competing with a desire for His exaltation, ask Him to purify your motives. We can pray thus, “Lord, You know my heart. You know that there is mixed within me a sincere desire for Your glory and many other motives that have little or nothing to do with Your honor. Please cleanse me and unite my heart to hunger for You. What is pure and right and for Your glory in this desire, please intensify and grant. Whatever is not, please cleanse me of and forgive me.” This is not a light or easy process. It can be very searching and painful. We may not even know what is best. But, we can seek God, who does know best, and trust that His searching and timing are better than our purest desires.

Fourth, where His word continues to urge us to pray, we can pray His own word back to Him and plead with Him on the basis of His own promises. This is the pattern we find in Scripture from the holy men of God (see Exodus 32:11-14; 33:12-23; Daniel 9:1-19; Ezra 9:6-15 ; 2 Samuel 7:18-29). While we cannot dictate to God the exact way and timing in which He answers, we can plead with Him on the basis of His own word to fulfill His revealed will. We can plead for Him to save our loved ones on the basis of His own testimony that He does not wish that “any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9) or for Him to satisfy His people completely in Him on the basis of His command to delight in Him (Psalm 37:4) and His promise that all who come to Him “shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

Unfulfilled desires in the heart can be more painful than any disease in the body. There is no 4 step or 5 principle plan that can change that reality. There is, however, the assurance we have in Christ that God does indeed cause all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). While any God-honoring desire remains yet unfulfilled for us now in Christ, there remains the invitation to seek our whole satisfaction in Him (John 6:27; Psalm 37:4) and the promise that forever we shall be satisfied in Him (John 6:35; Psalm 16:11; 23:6).