The Problem of Unanswered Prayer



The Problem
of Unanswered Prayer

 

Discussing One of the Most Perplexing
and Painful Problems in Our Communication
with God the Father

 

Ask Yourself These Questions 

·        Do you pray to God?

·        Do you know how to pray?

·        Are your prayers always answered?

·        Does God sometimes not grant your requests?

·        Are you satisfied with your practice of prayer?

·        Do you think that something is missing in your prayers?

·        Do you know that God will refuse to hear the prayers of some people?

·        Do you know that God does not hear the prayers of most people?

·        Do you know the requirements of acceptable prayer to God?

·        Do you know how Satan wants to use prayer to achieve his own purposes?

·        Why does God sometimes not answer the prayer of a sincere follower of Jesus?

·        What shall we do if God does not answer our prayer immediately or even after many years?

·        What can we do to make our prayers more acceptable and pleasing to God? 

As you read this little article,

look for the answers to these

important and provocative questions! 

            Most people pray to God at one time or another.  Some pray only when they encounter troubling circumstances in life while others pray multiple times during the day.  According to reliable surveys, both churchgoers and non-churchgoers do pray.  Some 86% of Americans, for example, say that they “believe in a God who answers prayer” (Christianity Today, April 2003, p. 23).  A Newsweek article states that “84% of Americans think that praying for the sick improves their chances of recovery” (Nov. 10, 2003, p. 46).  What about you?  Do you pray to God?  Are your prayers answered?  Or do you often fail to receive the requests you ask? 

            On the one hand, many pray to God and think that He hears and answers them, but actually God does not hear.  They wrongfully assume that when something favorable happens, it is an indication that God is granting their request.  (We’ll discuss this later.)  On the other hand, there are some people whom God does hear but they are disappointed that their prayers remain unanswered.  (In this discussion on the nature of effective prayer, we use the term “answered prayer” to mean that God grants the request we have made of Him.) 

This lack of answers to our prayers brings much perplexity and disappointment as we search for reasons why God doesn’t seem to hear.  Yet this is an experience all of us have.  This is true in my own life.  I’ve made requests of God for one year, ten years, twenty years, and even longer—yet the prayers have not been answered, at least in the way I prayed for them.  And so some may ask, “Is there really a God who hears?”  “Is God not powerful enough to grant our requests?”  “Has God abandoned me and thus refuses to hear?”  “Does God not love me?”  “Does God not know how to answer my prayers?”  “Are God’s promises not true?”  These questions, either verbalized or not, may arise in one’s heart as he wrestles with the problem of unanswered prayer.   

When we look at Scripture, God seems to promise that He will give us what we request.  Jesus said, “Everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matt. 7:8).  He said, “All things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (21:22).  Again, he stated, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14).  John assures us, “Whatever we ask we receive from Him” (1 John 3:22).  These appear to be broad and decisive promises.  If they are, why are so many of our prayers unanswered? 

            What is your own experience of prayer?  If God does not answer our prayers, can we know the reason why?  What are some of the conditions for answered prayer?  Just as a child does not receive all that he requests of his father, so we do not receive all that we request of God our Heavenly Father.  What are some of these requirements of acceptable prayer—prayer that is answered by God?  What are some reasons why God may choose not to give us what we ask? The Bible will help us to answer these important questions.  

The Conditions for Answered Prayer 

First, we must be a Christian.  When Jesus gave the model prayer, He said, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven. . .’” (Matt. 6:9).  The Lord went on to say, “. . . how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (7:11).  God answers the prayers of His children; He does not say that He will answer the prayers of those who are not related to Him spiritually.  Paul spoke of prayer when he wrote, “I bow my knees before the Father. . .” (Eph. 3:14).  We must be a true child of God, a follower of Jesus Christ, if we expect God the Father to hear us.  The only exception to this may be that God does hear one who is not yet a Christian but who prays to God for saving truth that he might be saved (e.g., Cornelius, Acts 10:2, 4; 11:14; Paul, Acts 9:11; Lydia, Acts 16:13-15).  (We shall discuss this a little later.) 

Second, we must pray in faith.  Jesus said, “All things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matt. 21:22; cf. Mark 11:24).  James adds, “He must ask in faith without any doubting” (James 1:6).  We must trust that God has the power, wisdom, and love to answer our prayers.  We must also believe that God will give us our request if it is His will to do so.  Two blind men came to Jesus for healing and He asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Matt. 9:28).  Many times in life we do not know if it is God’s will to answer a specific prayer, but we must believe that He is able to grant our requests—if He so desires.  “With God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26; Psa. 115:3).  “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37; Jer. 32:27).  Job said, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (42:2). 

God is looking for a heart filled with faith!  If we lack faith, let us ask God to increase it.  One man said to Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).  It is true that faith is not the only condition; one may have faith, but it may not be God’s will to grant our request.  A leper came to Jesus and said, “Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean.”  Jesus replied, “I am willing; be cleansed” (8:2-3).  We may not always know if it is God’s will to answer a specific request, but He wants us to have the implicit faith and trust that He is able to answer us and will answer us according to His wise purposes.  When I was a young boy, I heard that God would grant our requests if we believed.  One time I prayed that God would place a new bicycle in my backyard that night.  The next morning, I eagerly ran to the back window to see what God had provided.  Much to my dismay, no bicycle had appeared!  Our faith must be coupled with other conditions! 

Third, we must live an obedient life.  If your child is disobedient to you, would you want to “reward” his rebellion by giving what he asks?  God has promised only to answer the prayers of those who live in sincere obedience to His will.  John assures us, “Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22).  If we refuse to obey the Father’s commands, we should not be surprised if He does not answer our prayers.  Are we submissive to God’s will?  Do we consistently obey His Word in all things?  Are we failing to obey some command of the Lord? 

Fourth, we must live a righteous life.  Do we walk in righteousness or do we live in unrighteousness?  Do we do what is right in God’s sight, or do that which is wrong?  Peter says, “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:12).  “He hears the prayer of the righteous” (Prov. 15:29).  “The prayer of the upright is His delight” (Prov. 15:8).    Many professing Christians are living in unrighteousness, yet still expect God to answer their prayers.  James says, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (5:16). 

Fifth, we must not allow sin in our life.  By this we mean that there must not be any known, deliberate, and unrepentant sin in our life.  The psalmist wrote, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (Psalm 66:18; Isa. 59:1-2).  Even the healed blind man knew this principle: “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him” (John 9:31).  We must rid ourselves of all sin by confessing it to God and seeking His forgiveness (1 John 1:9). 

            Sixth, we must pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Jesus gave this promise: “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14; cf. 15:16).  He went on to add: “If you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you” (16:23).  To pray “in the name of” Christ does not mean that a verbal formula will assure us of answered prayer.  It denotes our fellowship with Him, that we live under His authority, and that we ask the Father to hear us for Jesus’ sake.  It means that we are living according to the “name” or character and will of Jesus. 

            Seventh, we must approach God through Christ the Mediator.  We do not go to God directly, but only through the mediation and intercession of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5).  Jesus is not only Mediator and Advocate (1 John 2:1-2), He is also called the High Priest through whom we may come near to God in prayer.  The Hebrew writer explains this aspect: “Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:14-16).  We find this grace to help in the time of our need because we pray to God through Jesus the Son of God who is our great high priest.  Through Christ our Mediator we have “access” to God (Eph. 2:18). 

            Eighth, we must pray in the Holy Spirit.  Jude tells us that we should be “praying in the Holy Spirit” (20), and Paul encourages us: “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18; cf. 2:18; Rom. 8:26-27; Phil. 3:3; John 4:23-24).  Prayers to the Father must be uttered only by those who are “in the Spirit” and who have the Spirit dwelling in them (cf. Rom. 8:9).  This is the general Scriptural teaching: We pray to God the Father, in the name of Christ Jesus, and in the Holy Spirit. 

           Ninth, we must pray according to God’s will.  It is not God’s will to answer all of our prayers. John tells us, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (1 John 5:14-15).  Paul prayed that he might travel to Rome, but he submitted his request to God’s will: “Always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you” (Rom. 1:10; cf. 15:32; Acts 18:21; 1 Cor. 4:19; 16:7; James 4:15).  Sometimes we just do not know what would please God or what would be for our good (cf. Rom. 8:26-27).  If your child asked for a gun, would you give it to him?  If he asked for a box of matches to play with, surely you would not comply.  God knows that not all of our requests would be good for us.  Many times I’ve prayed for something, only to discover later that if that request had been granted, it would have greatly harmed my life.  I’m thankful that God chose not to answer some prayers that I thought would be a blessing at the time!  God is so wise and so good! 

Tenth, we must pray according to God’s Word.  We know many specific teachings of Scripture as well as principles, and this should help us to pray “according to God’s will” (1 John 5:14-15).  We must make our requests in harmony with the Word of God (Matt. 4:4).   For example, a woman should not pray to become a preacher or spiritual shepherd since God forbids a woman to speak in the assembly, teach over men, or lead men (1 Tim. 2:9, 11-12; 3:1-2; 1 Cor. 14:33-37).  A man should not pray for a second wife if this would be an adulterous relationship (Matt. 19:6-9).  A woman should not pray for marriage to an unbeliever for God has already communicated His will that we marry only a believer (1 Cor. 7:39).  A person should not pray to be led to an unscriptural denomination with unscriptural organization, doctrines, leadership, and practices—for God says this is not His will (Matt. 16:18; cf. 15:13-15).  

Is God obligated to answer the prayer of a girl who asks to win a beauty contest (1 Tim. 2:9-10)?  Will God answer a boy’s request to win a baseball or football game (Gal. 5:26)?  Will God heed the request of someone who seeks employment in a business that violates the will of God (1 Cor. 10:31)?  You see, there may be a myriad of reasons why God refuses to answer specific prayers even if the person “believes” God for these presumed “blessings.”  We must pray according to God’s will—and not presume to ask Him to do something that He has already revealed is against His will! 

            Eleventh, we must be receptive to truth.  Jesus tells us that the truth will set us free (John 8:31-32) and Paul states that we must “receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10).  When we turn our heart away from the truth of God, found in Scripture (John 17:17), God will turn away from us.  “He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Prov. 28:9).  God will not listen to our prayers if we have refused to obey the light of truth He has given to us.  “The LORD is with you when you are with Him.  And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you” (2 Chron. 15:2).  God will not answer those who have refused to obey His truth (Prov. 1:23-33), but He will respond to those who seek His ways (2:1-11). 

            Twelfth, we must abide in Christ.  The Lord Jesus said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).  We must abide, remain, or continue in a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus, if we want our prayers to be answered.  We must also allow His words to abide in us and in our heart.  A few years ago there was national discussion on the question, “Does God hear the prayers of Jews?”  Those who denied this were castigated as bigots.  But Jesus, the Son of God, clearly says that we must have a living relationship with Him to have our prayers answered!  Anyone who denies Jesus Christ and disbelieves in Him (whether unbelieving Jews or anyone else), cannot expect to be answered by God. 

            Thirteenth, we must pray with persistence. For example, the Lord gave a parable to His disciples that shows the importance of persistence in our praying.  He gave this “to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1ff; cf. 11:5-10).  Sometimes God does not answer with a Yes in granting our request.  But perhaps He does not answer with a categorical No in absolutely denying our request.  He may simply say Wait and want us to continue to ask for certain requests.  For instance, a sister may repeatedly pray for the salvation of her husband, but he may not turn to Christ for ten years.  A brother may pray for the restoration of a wayward son, the return of a rebellious wife, or a great work of God in his family—but this may not immediately be answered.  A disciple may pray for a husband or wife, a child, a job (or better job), needed income, a house, a car, physical healing, or many other requests, but God may not directly, instantaneously answer.  If we are convinced that a request is Scriptural, let’s continue to ask God for it even if it is not granted at once. 

Additional Conditions of Prayer 

Besides the requirements listed above, Scripture mentions other aspects of prayer that pleases God.  These are elements that you may wish to study more carefully on your own.  First, our requests should be coupled with genuine thanksgiving for God’s blessings.  “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6; cf. 1 Thess. 5:17-18; Col. 4:2).  I’ve sometimes been so concerned about asking God to solve serious needs in my life, that I’ve failed to thank Him for present blessings and answers to prayers!  Second, Peter tells us that when there is strife, selfishness and insensitivity in marriage, prayers to God will be “hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).  Make sure that your relationship with your marriage partner is harmonious and without conflict (vv. 8-9).  Third, Jesus says that we are not prepared to approach God in worship or prayer unless we seek forgiveness from others whom we have offended (Matt. 5:23-24).  Conversely, we are not prepared to pray unless we are willing to forgive those who have sinned against us (Mark 11:24-25; cf. Matt. 6:12-15). 

            Fourth, the Lord Jesus said that when people hold to the doctrines of men and refuse to obey the word of God, their worship (and prayer) is in vain (Matt. 15:8-9).  By implication, those who follow human traditions and do not submit to God’s Word, will not have their prayers answered (Mark 7:6-13).  Fifth, we are to pray with awareness, watchfulness, and alertness (Mark 14:28; Col. 4:2).  Sixth, we must not pray with hypocrisy or use meaningless repetitions, but must pray with sincerity and simplicity (Matt. 6:5-8).  Seventh, God wants us to pray with fervency and earnestness (James 5:17; Col. 4:12).  Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7; cf. vv. 8-11).  The verbs are Greek present imperatives, meaning a constant asking, seeking, and knocking (cf. NASB Study Bible).  

Eighth, we must have proper, unselfish motives in our prayers: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3).  Ninth, sometimes God wants us to pray with other believers—brothers and sisters joining with each other to make their requests known to God (cf. Matt. 18:18-20; Acts 2:42; 4:24, 31: 12:12; Heb. 10:24-25).  Finally, we are to pray with insight into God and His will.  “Be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” (1 Pet. 4:7).

Further Reasons for Unanswered Prayer 

            The previous discussion mainly relates to the conditions on the part of the one who prays.  Let us examine a few more reasons why God, on His part, may not wish to answer certain requests.  God may not answer a specific request because of the nature of reality.  One believer may pray for rain on a given day, while another believer in the same vicinity may pray for sunshine.  God cannot give a rainy, sunshiny day at the same time at the same place since it is in the realm of impossibility.  Some of our prayers may be denied because they are impossible for God to grant. 

            Perhaps God does not answer a prayer because it would require an actual miracle.  The Father generally answers us through His providential working in natural events and circumstances.  God generally does not act in a special way to suspend or transcend natural law.  By the way, evidently miracles were rather rare even in Biblical times.  Normally God works in the general and normal affairs of everyday life, and not in the realm of the spectacular or miraculous.  Generally, God does not move mountains, make dry land out of a sea, feed 5,000 people from a few loaves and fish.  But He does work through providence. 

            Sometimes God does not answer our prayers since He has some greater purpose in our situation.  No doubt Job repeatedly prayed for healing from his dreadful illness, but day after day, week after week, this righteous man continued to endure great pain.  Unknown to him, God was involved in a great secret work, described in Job 1-2.  This higher purpose could only be fulfilled if God temporarily refused to give Job the healing he greatly wanted.  Paul the apostle prayed that the Lord might remove a painful “thorn in the flesh” (perhaps a terrible physical condition), but the Lord answered, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).  God had a greater purpose in the illness that Paul had not been aware of.  We too must realize that God may have something greater and higher than the direct answer to a given prayer. 

            God the Father may withhold certain requests temporarily (or permanently) since He wants us to depend on Him more, or He wants to teach us the virtue of patience, or He wants us to grow in some spiritual fruit.  Sometimes He may want to accomplish some other purpose at this time and only later answer your prayer.  Paul prayed that he might visit the saints in Rome but this prayer was not answered for some years (cf. Rom. 1:10-12; 15:22-25).  He wanted to visit the Thessalonians, but this desire was postponed for a long while (cf. 1 Thess. 2:18). 

            In some cases, God may actually grant our request, but we do not recognize the answer!  Because of preconceived ideas, we may expect God to answer in one way, but He chooses to answer our request in another way—even a better way.  Granted, this is a very difficult consideration to resolve, but God probably has granted our prayers in alternative ways without our recognition. 

            God may temporarily withhold answers for our spiritual or physical good.  For decades I’ve prayed for certain blessings in my life, but God chose not to grant some of those requests.  Perhaps God knew that my spiritual life would not be benefited if He answered those prayers.  A loving and responsible parent would not give everything that his child asks of him if this would not be for his welfare.  Likewise, the Father only will “give what is good to those who ask Him” (Matt. 7:11; cf. James 1:17).  For example, God may not give us a dear spouse for a time because He wants us to find intimacy in Him.  Or He may not give us spiritual fellowship for a while for He wants us to grow spiritually in aloneness.  God may not give us employment, a house, needed income, education, or success in some way, so that His higher plans for our lives may be fulfilled and so that we may grow in Christlikeness.  In my own life, God withheld so much of this—for He may have wanted me to grow spiritually and depend on Him alone even when suffering painful deprivation of various kinds. 

            Sometimes we simply don’t know why God chooses to answer some prayers and not answer others.  The disciples prayed for Peter’s release from prison—and God did release him (cf. Acts 12:3-17).  But God chose to allow Stephen to be stoned to death (Acts 7), James to be killed with a sword (Acts 12:2), Antipas to be martyred (Rev. 2:13), and later both Paul and Peter were slain for the sake of Jesus (2 Tim. 4:6-8; John 21:18-19; cf. 2 Pet. 1:13-14).  We must simply allow God to be God! 

The Problem of Perplexity in Prayer 

            When God does not choose to answer a prayer, what is your response?  Responses vary, according to the person, time and circumstances.  Some try to pray more fervently: “Dear God, please, please, please answer me!”  Others try to bargain with God: “God, if you answer my prayer, I will do this or that!”  Still others become cynical and depart from God: “God, if you treat me like this, I’ll just give up on you!”  And then there are those who become angry with God!  This is a common experience.  When God does not answer one’s prayers, even after many months or years, even after many pleadings, some people become angry and resentful against God.  They assume that God is withholding something positive from their life!  They accuse God of being unloving, unmerciful, unfair, or unjust!  

This is particularly seen in the matter of sickness.  Some plead with God for physical healing then when the sickness continues or gets worse, the person reacts against God in anger.  Or if one prays for God to heal a loved one and the person dies, the one who has prayed may become bitter against God. 

            Consider how irrational and unspiritual—as well as unscriptural—this response is.  God is absolutely perfect (Matt. 5:48).  “His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He” (Deut. 32:4).  He will always do what is right (Gen. 18:25).  “The LORD is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds” (Psa. 145:17).  He will cause all things to work together for our good—if we truly love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).  He will work “all things after the counsel of His will” and for His glory (Eph. 1:3-12).  It simply makes no sense to become angry with God when He has our best spiritual and eternal interests at heart.  God is absolutely perfect!  Isaiah writes, “Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker—an earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth!  Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’” (45:9). 

            There is an attitude of heart that seems to come naturally when our prayers are denied, and that is some degree of perplexity.  This was a common response in Scripture, particularly reflected in the book of Psalms.  In Psalms 42 and 43, we see this perplexity reflected so often.  The psalmist even cries to God, “Why have You forgotten me?  Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? . . . You are the God of my strength; why have You rejected Me? . . . Why are you in despair, O my soul?  And why are you disturbed within me?  Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God” (Psalm 42:9; 43:2, 5b).            

            When we pray and God does not answer, it is natural to wonder why.  Is God angry with us?  Has He deserted us?  Has He rejected us?  Is He chastising or disciplining us?  Does He not care?  Have I done something wrong?  The questions flood our minds and occupy our hearts.  We may search our life, examining all of the reasons for unanswered prayer (as we did at the beginning), and find that none applies to us—at least nothing obvious.  We examine our requests and they seem to be honorable, for the blessing of people, and for the glory of God—but still many of our prayers are not answered after days, months, or even years of pleading.  We then cry out to God, “Why, dear Father, do you not answer the prayers of my heart?”  We read the promise of God, “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11), and that for which we request does seem like a “good thing” and we earnestly seek to “walk uprightly.”  Why, then, does God not answer our requests? 

            Although we may not have the answers to all of our prayers and although God may not tell us why He withholds those answers, we can be assured that God is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3).  Even now, as I write these words, there are numerous prayers that I’ve prayed for months and years and I continue to pray, but God has chosen not to grant the answers.  I’ve agonized long and hard, sometimes with fasting, earnestly pleading with God for the salvation of certain people, for the restoration of ones who have turned away, and for the growth of others.  I’ve prayed for God to grant physical, material, and spiritual blessings to enable me to better serve Him.  However, many of these prayers have been denied thus far. 

I admit that there is great perplexity in this, for it would appear that the answers would be for the blessing of the children of God as well as great numbers of other people.  But God has not acted, at least in any discernable manner.  So there is perplexity, but there is no anger at all—for I am convinced that God is a God of mercy, wisdom, and power!  Let’s let God be God!  “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3; cf. 135:6).  To repeat, it makes no spiritual sense to become angry with a perfect God whose ways are always perfect! 

Noah must have prayed for the salvation of a lost world, but not one person repented (2 Peter 2:5).  The Israelites must have earnestly prayed to God for deliverance from Egyptian slavery, but at least eighty years passed by before God brought that deliverance (Exod. 1:8ff; 3:7-10).  Simeon must have prayed continually for God to bring His salvation through the Messiah, but he didn’t see Jesus as a child until he was near death (Luke 2:25-32).  After mentioning many men and women of faith, the Hebrew writer said, “All these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised” (11:39).  Many faithful saints of God must have prayed again and again, without seeing the fulfillment of their prayers—but they continued to trust in a God of goodness. 

Let us trust our God at all times even if He chooses not to answer all of our prayers.  “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5).  “O LORD of hosts, how blessed is the man who trusts in You!” (Psalm 84:12).  Let us trust His love and wisdom even when we don’t understand.  (See our article, “Living with Unfulfilled Desires,” in the Sorrow and Sickness category in General Topics.

A Serious Warning 

            We must add a short but significant warning at this point.  We know that Satan is our great enemy and wishes that all might remain in their sins and suffer eternal torment (cf. Matt. 25:41, 46; Rev. 20:10-15).  The devil uses deception to lead us astray.  Scripture says that he “deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:9), and “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).  I am convinced that one way Satan deceives people is to convince them that God is answering their prayers when God is not answering them!  If this spiritual enemy can convince people into thinking that they have a relationship with God and that He is granting their requests, they will be content in their lost spiritual state and not seek the salvation that God provides through Christ!  We can see why Scripture so often issues this warning, “Do not be deceived” (1 Cor. 6:9; cf. 15:33; Gal. 6:7; James 1:16; 1 John 3:7).  (See our article, “Do Not Be Deceived!” under Biblical Subjects.

            There are literally hundreds of millions of people in this world who claim to be Christians and assume that they are Christians—but they have never been truly born of God.  They are on the broad way that leads to destruction rather than the narrow way that leads to life (Matt. 7:13-14).  Although they may be “religious” and go to “church” and participate in certain rituals, they have never submitted their will to God in repentance, have never trusted in the crucified and risen Savior, and have never been baptized into Christ Jesus—nor are they walking in holiness and truth (Matt. 15:13-14; Rom. 5:6-11; 6:3-11; Heb. 12:14).  Surely most of these people assume that God is listening to their prayers and giving them at least some of their requests.  Could it be that Satan is actually giving some of these requests—to deceive them into thinking that they have a relationship with God?  Could it be that they merely imagine that God is answering their prayers?  The answer must be a definite Yes!  Satan wants religious, professing Christians to be content with their spiritual condition and thus not seek true salvation.  For this reason, look at your own heart, life, and experience and compare this with the Word of God—to determine if you are truly saved.  “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Cor. 13:5). 

            Satan not only deceives most professing Christians into thinking that some of their prayers are answered, but he also leads others astray.  Think of the New Age proponents, the Muslims, the Hindus, the animists, the cultists, and people of other religions who think that their “god” or “gods” are answering their prayers.  But the true and living God has nothing to do with answering them! 

            We might add one additional point here.  It is true that God does bless even the unsaved in a general way.  “He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).  He daily blesses both true Christians as well as those who are unsaved, including those who assume they are Christians  (Matt. 5:45; cf. Luke 6:35b).  God does, in a general way, “hear” the prayers of those whose hearts are inclined toward Him (cf. Acts 10:1-4).  However, some may wrongly conclude that this general benevolence of God is a sign of salvation and acceptance by God.  However, it simply shows that God is incredibly kind and gracious, seeking to draw people to Him for salvation (cf. Rom. 2:4).  This shows the vital need to test and examine your faith and experience to determine whether you, in fact, do belong to God and are His genuine child through Christ Jesus (cf. 2 Cor. 13:5). 

 

Pray in Harmony with God’s Will           

We have discussed many reasons why God may not answer your prayers.  Be willing to search the Word of God for additional reasons and greater insight why He may not chose to grant your requests.  Consider all that we have examined.  Are you praying with faith, with an obedient heart, and without known sin in your life?  Are you praying according to the will of God and in a submission to His Word?  Could it be that God wants to work some higher good in your life for His own glory?  If you do see failing in your life, be willing to confess it to God and ask for His forgiveness (1 John 1:5-9).  Begin to apply what we have learned about prayer to your own life. 

            Let us trust God completely and give our lives over to Him in complete submission.  Let us pray as He wants us to pray.  Do not be discouraged, downhearted, or bitter against Him.  Rather, trust in the mercy, power, and wisdom of God to grant your requests according to His will in Christ Jesus. 

Richard Hollerman

 

 

 

 

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