"How do you know that is was God that answered your prayer?"
It may be natural to feel challenged when someone asks "how do you know?"
I do the same thing, challenging people all the time because people make statements but do not demonstrate a pattern consistent with the statement, or what they say seems so brash that you want to know why they made it.
I am not asking a question like that because I am lacking a relationship with the Lord, but I certainly do want to know what theirs is.
I recently asked a young man, "how do you know God is real?" I ask myself that question frequently. Why? Because there are times when I get too focused on the world going on around me, and there is very little that the world shows me that gives me hope. In fact, if I focus on the world for very long I do find myself wondering if this life that scripture teaches about is real, and is he coming as He promised.
How do you refocus, especially when the voices of doubt and despair are coming at you from all sides?
David had the same problem. (Read 1Samuel 30) Having been given the town of Ziklag by the Philistines, David and his men settled there with their families.
Who were David's men? The down and out, divorced, wanted, bankrupt, and bar fighters. They went out to battle and returned to find the town in ruins and every trace of their families gone.
What did the men who were with David do, they turned on David, expressing their desire to now kill him.
That was one of those days, the kind in which everything seems to go against you.
In midst of tremendous pressure scripture tells us that David encouraged himself in the Lord. I have no idea how he did that, or what he said, but instead of crawling under a rock he turned to God. His response to the worms that wanted him dead was let's go take care of the ones that did this, and off they went.
My perception of what David did and what I do, is to remind myself of what the known factors are.
I have visual images in my head associated with God in action throughout the bible. No, I do not memorize scriptures, that borders on the impossible for me. As I read things in scripture I can visualize them, and that is what I remember. I know that Christ's coming was prophesied long before he came, and I know that he did come. I have a strong concept of social life during the time of his birth, and that Mary took a tremendous amount heat for continuing to profess that Jesus, this baby within her, was the son of God, not Joseph's or some other man. If you don't believe that, then why, when they came back to their home town, Bethlehem, for the census, did none of their kin folk take them in?
So, in an effort to refocus, I walk the path that God walked through this earth, demonstrating to folks who struggled to believe, that He was God, and that his word was true and believable, by doing exactly what he said he would do.
Consider Jonah the prophet, he had to refocus. He was sent to declare God's vengeance and justice upon a people that Jonah hated. Jonah also feared them and fought God's calling for him to go deliver the message, hence forth the fish swallowed him up. After delivering the message, much to Jonah's dismay, the people repented and God turns his anger away, withholding the destruction that Jonah had promised would come. Jonah thinks this makes him look bad and it appears that God does not do what he said. But there is always more to the story.
Jonah has probably long since died and Nineveh has returned to it's evil ways, and yet history records that God did exactly what he said he would do and wiped that city off the face of the map.
When you use the phrase "be thankful for unanswered prayers". I suspect you just never know how or when the answer came.
As for myself, some of us live in a quiet seclusion, and because of experience, do not perceive the world as a place that encourages us to share all the details of our testimony. And yet, I have seen God's handiwork in ways that were contrary to what man wanted and seemed to be in direct response to my prayers. (Prayers are oft times wrapped up in our anguished cries for help.)
I had a friend who opted for the wild side of life when he was younger, and found himself before a judge, facing a maximum prison sentence. His daddy prayed, and the oddest thing happened, he was sent home a free man. He turned back to the Lord, grateful for what had happened and turned his life around. He does not brag about that to very many people. The action and reaction, answered prayer, was so immediate that it was easy to associate the request with the answer as being from God.
So then, what do we base our perception of whether God is involved in the answer to our prayer upon?
We seem to base everything upon our perceptions and responses, which is the outcome of what our senses tell us. We choose to use our five physical senses to evaluate whether God moved or not; how ridiculous is that. Although God gave man those physical senses, they cannot possibly demonstrate how God can be perceived or who he is, for God tends to work outside of that realm as well work within it. We know from scripture that God is a spirit. That in itself tends to reach beyond our comprehension, but even there we tie our understanding to what we think is the world of ghosts. Have no doubt the spirit world is very real, therefore God is very real, for how could the inventor of something have less of a reality.
If I have faith in Him, is not my faith the result of what my senses have registered?
I hear someone speak of what He has done and I take hope. In doing so I have used my sense of hearing. I read his word, applying it to my own life, and I have employed the sense of sight. Should God's intervention be one that I can feel, (if only we could ask Lot about that) then once again my senses have come into play. We have what we call instincts. Those instincts, interacting with our senses can move us toward someone or quickly away from those we sense danger from. We might call that an inward voice, scripture refers to that as the voice of the spirit speaking to the soul of man.
Scripture tells us that during the days of Samuel the seer, that Israel came under attack by the Philistines. This happened many times, but this time Samuel prayed and God responded, with lightning (look up the destructive power of lightning sometime), and with earthquakes (the ground did not merely just shake, it opened up like a bad movie, and swallowed many). Men were burned, seared, deafened, had their clothing blasted off of them, and killed by the amperage. Israel understood that this was the hand of God, and yet there are always those that would say how do you know that God answered this prayer.
In any situation there would have to be a correlation between the request and the answer. I have prayed a simple prayer of "God reattach this tendon to its proper place", and watched as the balled up tendon moved back down the arm to where it was supposed to be. Did that hurt, I imagine so, but the response to the prayer was immediate. I have also cried out to God for help, and watched in a shattered state of hope, as God worked out my prayer over the course of several months. Sure, I prayed for my marriage to be restored and my family returned to me, but that did not happen. What God is doing in the background I do not know. I would not change what I have now for anything. I do not think that anything happens by chance, but that it is all part of God's intricate plan. A plan that has a future, even if it is with him in paradise.
I suppose that if there is a bottom line in this, it is that our knowing that God was involved in the answer stems from faith. Faith is built upon trust and relationship, and without faith it is impossible to please God, and faith in him pushes us to believe that He was the one who moved in our behalf.