According to popular teachings that are promulgated from charismatic television networks and radio stations, if you have a robust faith and confidence in God—he will definitely hear your prayer and answer it as you’ve directed him. Benny Hinn once stated, “The day is coming when there will not be one sick saint in the body of Christ.” Benny Hinn wasn’t referencing Revelation 21 in his statement.
As we consider these teachings, we must look to the unanswered prayers of the apostle Paul as a fitting test. In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, the apostle Paul talks about his “messenger of Satan” that was sent to harass him. Was Paul being punished for his lack of faith in God? Was Paul’s life full of sin that was causing him to receive a blow from Satan? What exactly can we learn from Paul’s unanswered prayers?
God’s Plan May Not Align With Our Requests
One of the things we learn in our time of prayer is that a foundational goal of prayer is to align our will with God’s will. This is not always easy. Sometimes this means that we submit to different plans, different goals, different agendas that might involve discomfort, distance from friends and family, and pain.
When Jesus taught us to pray in the model prayer (Matt. 6:5-13), we see Jesus saying, “Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words, life is not about us nearly as much as it’s about God. The plans we have for ourselves must be yielded to the plans that God has for us. When they’re different, we must go with God and die to self.
Suffering is not Proof of Sin
In our day, one of the most pernicious teachings comes from the Charismatic Movement—more specifically the “Word of Faith” movement. Within this movement, a popular teaching has been popularized stating that it is the absolute will of God for all of God’s children to be healthy and wealthy. As we test the foundation of that teaching, we find that it does not hold up to the scrutiny of God’s Word.
Was Paul living in sin that caused him to learn to live with the “thorn” in his flesh? No. As we read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, we see that Paul was given the thorn by God, not because of his sin, but in order to prevent him from sin. There is a clear difference in the two. In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul writes, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.”
When the disciples inquired about the man born blind in John 9, they asked a vitally important question. They said, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind” (John 9:2)? Jesus’ response is key to unlocking this puzzling story and it shines light of truth on our day as well. Jesus said, “Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). The same thing was true in Paul’s life. It could be the same situation you face in your life too.
Suffering is not a Sign of a Deficient Faith
As we read and study the life and ministry of the apostle Paul, it is clear that he stands out among the apostles. He is believed to be the greatest Christian to live in the history of humanity—outside of Jesus himself in the flesh. There is no question about Paul’s faith—and it was made more apparent as he suffered death in Rome by beheadding.
Yet, we see that Paul’s prayer for healing was not answered. According to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, he asked God on three different times to remove his “thorn” in the flesh, but God refused.
As we read and consider these facts about the unanswered prayers of Paul, what exactly can we learn? Consider the following lessons we can learn.
- It is God’s will for his children to suffer in specific ways that were charted out before the foundation of the world.
- God has chosen specific people to suffer in lesser or greater ways for his glory.
- Suffering is not a sign of sin or weak faith. Paul didn’t suffer from any of those problems—yet he suffered immensely.
- God uses suffering to prevent people from sinning as they otherwise would (as Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 12).
- God uses suffering to spread the gospel far and wide.
Before you buy into the lies of the Charismatic Movement, take time to consider the fact that perhaps the greatest Christian to ever live endured through a life of constant suffering, imprisonment, and it all ended with him being beheaded. Are we to believe the likes of Benny Hinn and Joel Osteen or Jesus and the apostle Paul? Consider the words of John Newton, “Can we wish, if it were possible, to walk in a path strewed with flowers when His was strewed with thorns?” 
- John Newton, The Works of John Newton, v. 1, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1985), 230.