Why Isn’t God Answering My Prayers?

"Prayer is not our chance to change God’s mind about something. Instead, it’s one of God’s channels to change us." by Bryn Jones

God always answers prayer. Of course, the answers come in three varieties: “yes,” “no” and “wait.” As a child, my requests were pretty simple. I’d ask for good weather for a trip to the beach, or quick recovery from a cold. For many, these types of requests remain the standard. After all, we tend to be focused on the difficulties we face in life, and our desire for comfort. But, if we’re honest, those are not exactly needs, but wants. 

Life’s brutal truth is that our “needs” are more complex—increasingly so—as we take on adult responsibilities. Company mergers, economic downturns and conflicting parenting methods among friends create a vast pool of potential prayer requests. 

We hear pastors preach about how all of life’s struggles have been conquered at the cross. We have peace and joy with Christ, if only we would ask Him to heal our broken relationships, bank accounts and job prospects. Often, if not always, our prayers for these things seem to rise into an empty sky or bounce off a steel ceiling, unheard by God. 

But, we read Mark 11:24: “Therefore, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (ESV). 

We’ve asked, we’ve believed, we’ve waited, and nothing happens. Our experience seems to be a constant “wait,” or “no” from God. 

Then we turn to Matthew 18:19 which says, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” 

Does this mean that all we need is strong faith, and agreement from one, maybe more, and presto, our prayers will be granted? We’ve tried that, too. We’ve met with friends and agreed … but jobs are lost, health fails, children rebel and the answer is still “no,” or “wait.”

So, is Mark 11:24 wrong? Is Matthew 18:19 mistaken? Is it just that people don’t have enough faith? Is God not able to perform miracles at our bidding because we don’t really, really believe it will happen? 

The problem, however, might be in how we’re viewing prayer, and the purpose it serves. Maybe we’re looking at it like a child might view his mom and dad—as a source of money for things he wants. The problem with that is it makes God into more of a genie than our Almighty God and King. It reduces salvation from our sinful rebellion to a side benefit, where this world’s high life takes center stage, with God bankrolling our dreams. It changes the focus of redemption from God’s glory to our own happiness. 

Some will argue that Christians should be the healthiest, the most joyful and those with the most abundant life here and now. This will attract everyone else to Christ. But the light we shine is not made of the things of this world. Namely, we’re not going to attract people to Christ because we drive Bentleys and never catch the flu. 

Along the same lines, we shouldn’t attract people to Christ with some promise that He will fund our dreams and ambitions. Jesus didn’t die on the cross to bring us fame and fortune. He died on the cross to defeat the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), to redeem a people for Himself (Titus 2:14) and to bring glory to God the Father (Phil 2:11). 

Jesus canceled our debt with the Father (our sinfulness), and that act should be enough to satisfy our desire for anything else. 

Looking at it another way, if we owed an unpayable debt and faced dire consequences in this life, then someone came along and paid it all for us, would we then ask that person to give us more goodies? Probably not. 

But, aren’t we promised wealth, health and abundant prosperity? Aren’t these things Biblical guarantees to which we can lay claim? Aren’t our prayers for such things simply counting on the promises of God? Some will find passages in the Old Testament and apply them to each believer, asserting that they are still true today. Such passages are taken vastly out of context. Without getting too deep into the matter, the financial well-being of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament was a physical promise to a physical people, foreshadowing the spiritual promises to a spiritual people (see the book of Hebrews). Many will point out the wealth that Solomon had as proof that God wishes to lavish us with wealth. But they fail to note that Solomon had a lot of things that were not good for him, and they led him far from God (he had many wives, was enamored with wealth and was miserable as recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes). They also fail to notice that most people in Israel didn’t have a fraction of Solomon’s wealth. Should we assume they were not pleasing to God?

If we look at the New Testament, the promises point to our hearts. If we interpret the Old Testament through Jesus, we see that God was always talking about wealth of trust in Him, not wealth in the things of this world. We’re called out of this world and the desires that make it such a sinful place. Why would God grant our prayers that seek things that lead us away from Him? 

To understand why God doesn’t always grant our prayers, we can turn to the book of James, chapter 4. In verse three, he points out that the people were not getting what they asked for because they “asked wrongly” to use it for their “passions.” He goes on to say how they were attempting to be friends with the world, but were making themselves enemies of God. How terrifying to think you’re a Christian and yet align yourself with those who oppose His Lordship. Would you ever answer “yes” to someone who only wanted your money so they could use it against you?  

If we’re asking wrongly, in a spirit that keeps an eye on the comfort and prosperity of this earth, we’ll always get a “no” from God. But, God will say, “yes” when we ask according to what He wants to give us (John 14:14). What God wants to give us is a heart that is in tune with Him and follows Him in unquestioning obedience. How well we obey determines the third possible answer from God. 

There are times that we delay God’s “yes” due to our own disobedience. 1 Peter 3:7 suggests that if husbands are not obedient to the Lord in how they treat their wives, their prayers will be hindered. 1 Peter 4:7 states that being self-controlled and sober-minded is necessary for our prayers. Back in Isaiah 1:15 the Lord says that He won’t even listen to the prayers of the people because their hands are “full of blood.” Obedience matters for God to even listen to us. 

Consider Abraham, for example. He was promised to be shown a country if he left his family in Ur and followed the Lord. It would take 25 long years and several big missteps by the patriarch before that promise was fulfilled. He had to learn reliance on God in the face of famine, trust in the Lord among godless people, surrender of his only remaining family connection and rest in the promise of God against all physical evidence to the contrary. Every step he took after his call from Ur built his faith by teaching patient obedience. 

The lesson, however, is that all of us learn to practice our faith as we suffer trials that test our obedience and our patience. Throughout scripture we learn these tests are long-form, not pop-quizzes. These trials of life arise when all is well. 

All discipline seems difficult at the time (Hebrews 12:11), but the result is worth it. Only then do we receive the highest promises that God has for us. 

Without a doubt, some reach that prize at the edge of a sword, or being burned at the stake. But, as Paul said, to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). The ultimate prize for us is to be united with the Lord. That is the promised land to which we aspire. Our Lord God is our shield and our exceeding great reward (Gen. 15:1 RV, KJV).  If we fail to realize this fact through faith, we respond like Abraham did and say, “but what will you give me?” (Genesis 15:2). 

Abraham was asking for a promise that God had provided him. God had promised him a son, and that his descendants would possess the land of Canaan. So, in a sense, Abraham wasn’t out of line asking about the promise. But, this was before he would go down the path of marrying Sara’s servant, Hagar and fathering Ishmael. In other words, despite God’s promise and covenant in chapter 15, Abraham and Sara attempt to help God fulfill His promise without further delay. 

Time and again, we try to force God’s hand, resulting in a long period of unanswered prayers. We ask from the desires of our flesh, looking for God to pave the road to our dreams. And our prayers go unanswered. Sickness still plagues us. We continue to live with financial pressures. Fights with family and friends still throw our lives into chaos. 

What would happen if we prayed for the fruit of the Spirit? You know, love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)?  Those things are promised to us with the Spirit. They are direct opposites to the traits that naturally inhabit our lives. They are the antidote to the attitudes that are tearing this world apart. 

What if we prayed for humility and meekness? Look up Acts 20:19, where Paul was serving the Lord with all humility during tears and trials. Or, Ephesians 4:2 where Paul encourages them to bear with one another in all humility and gentleness. Flip over to 1 Peter 5:5 where the aging apostle urges his readers to clothe themselves with humility for God opposes the proud. 

Of course, the fear is that if we ask God for humility, patience or any of these other noble traits, we’ll be thrown into situations that will test them! In other words, we fear the giver and don’t really want the gift. 

In the worst case, God will give us the answer to the prayers of our flesh. That’s a horrible day. That’s when we have gone so far that God finally gives us exactly what we desire. Read the first chapter of Romans for a view of what this looks like. It’s not pretty. We should never want to have anything that God would not want to readily give us. And if His promises are on hold, we should look to our own obedience and faith to determine why these things seem to be unredeemed or still on the freighter en route. 

When we pray, it is never God who is failing to deliver. Rather, it is that we’ve asked for the wrong things or have not obeyed what He’s told us to do. After all, prayer is not our chance to change God’s mind about something. Instead, it’s one of God’s channels to change us.