Q: #378. Why doesn't God answer my prayers?
By: Steve Shirley
A: First, I need to start by saying that if you are a non-Christian who is reading this, the first step to getting your prayers answered is to surrender your life to Jesus Christ, and accept Him as your Lord and Savior. (You can click on the link to the right to do this.) Jesus told us to pray to the Father (Mt 6:6)(Jn 15:16)(the Lord's Prayer: Mt 6:9-13, Lk 11:2-4), that no one can go to the Father except through Him (Jn 14:6)(Mt 11:27), and to pray in His name (Jn 14:13-14)(Jn 15:16)(Jn 16:23-26). Jesus is the mediator between God (the Father) and man (1 Tim 2:5)(Heb 9:15). When we accept Jesus' payment for our sins, His blood covers our sins, and opens the door that allows us into the Father's presence. We become a child of God (the Father) by faith in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:26)(Jn 1:12). So... taking all of this into account, doesn't it seem pretty clear that you need Jesus to get to the Father in prayer? I speak about this issue in much greater detail here. However, even if you disagree with me on this, I think you have to agree that not having Jesus as Savior can be a hindrance to your prayer life.
I also think it is important to show that the Bible says in MANY places that God does not hear ALL prayers (1 Pet 3:12)(Jn 9:31)(Isa 59:2)(Prov 15:29)(Isa 1:15)(Ps 66:18)(Lam 3:8,44)(Jer 7:16)(Mic 3:4)(Prov 21:13)(Prov 15:8)(Prov 28:9)(Ps 4:3)(Zech 7:11-13)(Ezek 14:3)(Ezek 8:18)(Jer 11:11-14), and more. The Hebrew word used for "hear" in many of the Old Testament verses is "shama." Strong's gives this as one definition for shama, "to hear intelligently (often with impl. of attention, obedience)." Since God is omniscient and omnipresent, it seems reasonable that He would have to "hear" all prayers since He is aware of EVERYTHING that is going on in the world. However, just because He hears them, this does not mean that He has to "listen" to those prayers (or give them "attention" as Strong's says). In fact, "shama" is also used for the word "hearken" 119 times in the OT. For example, I could be working in my study room, while my wife is in the kitchen talking on the phone. I am aware she is talking, and I can hear her. If I wished, I could focus on her conversation, and listen to what she is saying, but instead, I choose not to. Therefore, in essence, her conversation is just kind of like noise to me. I believe this applies to God as well.
The fact that the Bible shows over and over that God does not hear some prayers is HUGE. If God does not "hear" some prayers (or "listen" to them), then obviously those prayers won't be answered. Again, as we look at some of these verses, a number of them seem to point to the importance of having Christ in your life. Let me share a few examples:
(1 Pet 3:12) For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
(Prov 15:29) The Lord is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous.
(Jn 9:31) Now we know that God heareth not sinners; but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.
(Isa 59:2) But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
(Ps 66:18) If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.
If we look at the first two verses, they say that God hears the prayers of the "righteous." Who are the "righteous?" They are those who belong to Christ (Rom 3:21-22)(Rom 5:19,21)(Phil 3:9). His "righteousness" is imputed to all believers (2 Cor 5:19,21)(Rom 4:7-8,24-25). The last two verses say that a person's "iniquities" cause God not to hear their prayers. "Iniquities" are sins, and through the blood of Jesus, our sins (or iniquities) are covered and forgiven (Col 1:14)(Eph 1:7)(Heb 10:16-19).
However, there are also a number of verses which tell us that even for those in Christ, there are things that can cause their prayers to not be answered. Let's look at these:
#1. Prayers not in accordance with God's will: (1 Jn 5:14) ... if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us
(Example: Paul asked God for his "thorn in the flesh" to be removed (2 Cor 12:7-9). God told Paul this was not His will.)
#2. Asking with wrong motives: (James 4:3)(NASB) You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong
motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
(Example: Praying to win the lottery.)
#3. Doubting or lack of faith: (James 1:5-8)(NASB) But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives
to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (6) But he
must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of
the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. (7) For that man ought not to expect that
he will receive anything from the Lord, (8) being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
(Also see: Mt 21:22, Mt 17:20, Mk 11:22-24)
(Example: The disciples could not cast out a demon for lack of faith: Mt 17:17-21, and Peter could not walk on water Mt 14:28-31.)
#4. Our request is not in God's timing: (Eccl 3:1)
(Example: EVERYTHING is done in God's perfect timing, not our own (Jn 7:6)(1 Pet 5:6-7)(Hab 2:2-3)(Ps 37:7). Many people in the Bible had to wait on God's timing. God first told Abraham he would have descendants when he was 75 years old (Gen 12:4-7), but did not fulfill His promise until Abraham was 100 years old (Gen 21:5). God chose young David to be king (1 Sam 16:11-13), but he had to wait app. 13 years to become the king of Judah (2 Sam ch.2), and another 5 years or so to become the king of Israel (2 Sam 5:3-4) when he was 30 years old. God told Noah to build a ark because He would destroy all of the Earth in a flood (Gen ch.6), but Noah had to wait app. 120 years for it to happen.)
Not being persistent in prayer: (Lk 18:1-8)(Lk 11:5-13)
(Example: Praying for a person's salvation once, or maybe even a few times, then giving up before it happens.)
#6. Praying in "vain repetitions:" (Mt 6:7)
(Example: As a youth, the Lord's Prayer was recited each week in my church, and I used to just go through the motions of repeating it every week without even thinking about what I was saying.)
#7. Failure to treat other people as God commands: (1 Pet 3:7 - husbands are to give honor and understanding to their wives) (Prov 21:13 - helping the poor) (Mk 11:25-26 - failure to forgive [Also see: Mt 5:23-24])
I strongly believe that the MOST important thing about prayer is seeking to conform our will to God's will. Jesus gave us the best example of this in (Lk 22:42) when He said: "Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done." (Also see: Mt 26:39, Mk 14:36) As we said in #1 above, the Bible tells us that our prayers won't be answered if they are not in accordance with God's will (1 Jn 5:14). God's ways are higher than our ways (Isa 55:8-9)(Job 37:5)(Job 36:26)(Rom 11:33-34). He sees a bigger picture that we don't see. We must always keep this in mind. God had a higher purpose (the greatest purpose in history) when Jesus asked for the "cup to be removed." Paul asked for his "thorn" to be removed, but God had a higher purpose. In the Old Testament, Moses (Num 11:11-15), Job (Job 3:11)(Job 6:8-9), Elijah (1 Kin 19:3-4), and Jonah (Jonah 4:3-9) all asked God to take their lives. Obviously, this wasn't in God's will. He had a higher purpose for each of them.
So, having said this, how can we increase the likelihood of answered prayer? Praying things that we KNOW are in God's will! Here are five things for you to consider:
#1. Ask for things that will give God the glory (Jn 14:13)(Jn 12:27-28)(Ps 79:9)(2 Th 1:12)(Mt 5:16)(1 Cor 6:20). The Bible commands us to do all things to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31)(Col 3:17,23). How can we go wrong if the things we are seeking are for God's ultimate glory? Moses gives us an example of this in (Num 14:11-20)(Ex 32:11-14)(Deut 9:25-29) when he twice interceded on behalf of the Israelites, and told God he was concerned about His honor and glory if He destroyed the Israelites. God honored Moses' requests, and did not destroy them. (Also see: Josh 7:7-9, Dan 9:16-19)
#2. Pray for anything that will help you become more like Jesus, which is our ultimate goal (2 Cor 3:17-18)(Rom 8:29)(Eph 4:13). This will certainly please God.
#3. Pray Scripture. Pray the promises that God has made in the Bible (there are books and Bibles that highlight them). Pray some of the amazing prayers found in His Word. Here are a few to consider. Pray Scripture that addresses your issues.
#4. Pray for forgiveness of sins, and repent. The Bible is FILLED with verses about God's forgiveness. God will forgive us if we ask (1 Jn 1:9)(Ps 32:5)(Prov 28:13). God has to be pleased that we want no sin to come between us and Him.
#5. Give thanks in all things: (1 Th 5:18) clearly says this: "In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
Finally, here are a few more things for you to consider. This is FASCINATING to me, but did you know that in (Dan 10:12-13) it says there can be warfare in Heaven for an answer to prayer to reach a person? Perhaps the answer to your prayer has already been sent, but not yet reached you! Did you know that sometimes God expects us to take steps in conjunction with our prayers to have them answered (Josh 7:10-13)(Ex 14:15-16)? Did you know that God might not answer prayer in the way we want because He tests us (Deut 8:2-3,16)(Deut 13:3)(Ps 66:10)(Jn 6:5-6)(1 Th 2:4)(Heb 11:17-19)? In addition, did you ever consider that God's answer to your prayer might simply be "no?" Just as a parent doesn't always give their children all that they want or ask for because they know what is best for them, so our Heavenly Father does the same for His children.
Friend, let me close by saying that I have NOT listed all of these things to in any way be a discouragement. I am also not saying that we have to be perfect in all of these areas in order for our prayers to be heard or answered by God. God is full of grace and mercy, and we should be thankful for that! The question for this study states, "Why doesn't God answer my prayers,?" and I am simply trying to give those who are reading this some things to consider if they feel as though their prayers (or a specific prayer) are not being answered in the way they wish.