Does God leave prayers unanswered?
|Have you ever wondered why God answers some prayers and not others? I remember watching a movie where the main character gets to be God. He was losing his mind because he could hear many prayer requests at the same time. Having the responsibility of replying to people’s prayer requests overwhelmed him. He did not understand how his response to one prayer would affect many people not just the person asking. In the beginning, the character in the movie because of his inexperience realized that he made mistakes when answering prayer requests. He failed to see how people’s lives are connected directly or indirectly. As he gained more experience, his response to prayer requests was different. For a human, the power to reply to anyone’s petitions is above their ability to handle. God does not have this issue because He is omniscient. In Hebrews 4:13, we are told that nothing is hidden from God. Psalms 33:13-15 states that God looks down and sees humanity. He knows how things are connected and how answering a prayer request could affect not just one person but several persons.
Unlike the guy from the movie, God is not overwhelmed with our prayers. God will answer prayers correctly because He can see the entire picture. By correctly I mean the way He desires to answer. In an article titled Omniscience of God, it states “He encompasses all knowledge of the universe past, present, and future. In the beginning, God created the world and everything in it, including knowledge.” As a result of this knowledge, His answer to any prayer request will be correct. At times, we don’t recognize His answer because we are hoping for a different outcome than what He gives. Can you imagine the number of requests God receives throughout the day? Prayers consisting of different petitions, such as healing for a loved one or someone asking to win the lottery. God hears all the requests made to Him and decides how He will meet them.
I think many questions come to mind concerning prayer. Is prayer communicating our needs to God? What is the purpose of prayer? Is God obligated to answer our prayers? My definition of prayer has changed over time. I think most people have a definition of what prayer is. I grew up believing in the Catholic faith. My understanding of prayer was reciting the Our Father and Hail Mary. I would repeat these prayers without understanding what they were saying. There wasn’t much communication between me and God. I did most of the talking. Prayer is more than just one speaking to God, but a conversation where God wants to be involved. In the book Experiencing God, prayer is defined as, “Prayer is a relationship, not just a religious activity. Prayer is designed more to adjust you to God than to adjust God to you. God doesn’t need your prayers, but He wants you to pray. You need to pray because of what God wants to do in and through your life during your praying. God speaks to His people by the Holy Spirit through prayer.”
Surely, many of us have wondered why some of our prayers have not been answered. Especially, after praying for such a long time without an answer. Why is God not answering could be a question people ask God? How about asking different questions to help understand what God is saying. Am I expecting God to answer a certain way? What are the motives behind my prayer request? Are my prayers aligning with His will? Is there a sin that is stopping God from answering my prayer? It might not be that God is not answering but that we are not accepting His answer. As we look at the examples in the Bible, let us examine our own prayer requests and hope that God will reveal to us His answers.
In the book of James, we see how people acted when attempting to get something they wanted. James asked his audience what the reason for disputes between them was. There was strife among them which is not what God intends to have in His church. Instead, God wants peace, gentleness, obedience, mercy, good deeds, unbiased, and sincerity based on what James 3:17 states. Even though they have longings, those wants do not align with God’s desire. James tells them, “Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.” When seeking to get our way, God is overlooked in the process. Meeting the desire is the goal and we become self-dependent instead of continuing to ask God for His involvement. James also addressed the wrong motives people have when asking God for assistance. There was disagreement among the Christians James was addressing in his letter. They had allowed their ungodly passions to get out of control, leading to disputes among them. What was once a want has morphed into idolatry because he states that they are willing to get their wants at any expense. Wrong in the verse means that you are asking incorrectly focusing on yourself and not God’s will. Matthew Henry states, “Sinful desires and affections generally exclude prayer, and the working of our desires towards God: "You fight and war, yet you have not, because you ask not. You fight, and do not succeed, because you do not pray you do not consult God in your undertakings, whether he will allow of them or not; and you do not commit your way to him, and make known your requests to him, but follow your own corrupt views and inclinations: therefore you meet with continual disappointments;". When people are consumed by their want, they cannot see how God wants them to change. James must address them in a letter to let them know what they are doing wrong before God. God is more concerned with them maturing and showing those around them what it looks like to be a follower of Christ.
Strong’s concordance definition on prayer states “interact with the Lord by switching human wishes (ideas) for His wishes as He imparts faith.” During this interaction, God works within our hearts and changes our desires to align with His will. An example of this is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Matthew 26:39 says, “And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done. Jesus understood the communication between him and God during prayer. Notice the switch in the direction of the prayer. This is an example of an exchange happening in the prayer. Jesus finishes with your will be done. Because of the intimacy of the relationship, Jesus comes to the willingness to seek out God’s plan and not his own. God does not answer Jesus’ request of removing this trial but instead, Jesus submits to God’s plan. Being alone in God’s presence changes our desires to align with His will.
A “no” can be the answer God gives to some of our prayers. This happens to Paul when he asked God to remove a thorn from his flesh. Why? Let us examine God’s reply. Paul asked in 2 Corinthians 12: 8-9, “Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” This thorn was a physical illness that was overtaking Paul’s health. In his time of trouble, God does not choose to remove the thorn but instead helps Paul endure this period. As we walk through our journey on earth, the answer to our prayers might be “My grace is all you need.” The message from God is that He can help us in our weakness. The beauty in this is that God will allow unpleasant circumstances to build us into the image of Christ. Webster defines grace as, “unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification.” I love that God will give us divine assistance. Notice the prayer is not answered as Paul requested, but God did answer his petition. Instead, God wants to show Paul to rely on His grace. God’s precious gift of grace is given to assist us as we walk through the difficult periods to mold us more and more into the image of Christ. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul understands that he cannot continue to find strength in himself, he takes hold of the grace God gives so he can endure this physical hardship. Let us boast of our weakness because with the power of Christ we can continue.
God will not answer prayers when sin is involved. Proverbs 28: 9 states, “God detests the prayers of a person who ignores the law.” His law God guides us because He wants us to be successful, but when we reject his guidance, we are saying our ways are better. Refusing to follow His ways by our continual disobedience, hurts God. Because He knows the outcome of all our choices, He wants to direct us on the best path. But when we cause separation between ourselves and God due to our stubbornness, we shut God’s ears. God will listen if we have a change of heart and seek to follow His way. He will not answer a prayer that does not align with His ways. This was what the Israelites struggled with. They refused to follow God and they paid the consequences.
When you pray, you are entering God’s presence. Something beautiful happens in His presence. I like how the ESV study bible says, “but bringing request before God can have a purifying influence on one’s desires.” We are being purified and our desires are changing. Our prayers are aligning with God’s will more and more. During our prayer time, we are being changed to have a willingness to please Him. When we come into prayer before God may we allow His presence to change us. Let us move into a stronger level of intimacy with God that if the answer is no, we are fine with His decision. If ungodly motives occupy our hearts, let us ask that His will replaces our ungodly reasons. If there is sin involved may we turn away from it, and ask what David did in Psalms 51:10 “Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.” If we are called to endure our present circumstance with His grace, may we delight in His promise that we are strong because He will help us through it.
Blackaby, Henry T., and King, Claude V. Experiencing God How to Live the Full Adventure of Knowing and Doing the Will of God. Broadman &Holman Publishers, 1994.
Henry, Matthew. 2 Corinthians. Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible(Complete), n.p., 1706. Bible Hub, https://biblehub.com/commentaries/mhcw/2_corinthians/12.htm
Holy Bible, Gift and Award Edition copyright©1997 Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.