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Blog - 3 Reasons God Doesn’t Answer Our Prayers (And How to Pray Persistently Anyway)

3 Reasons God Doesn’t Answer Our Prayers (And How to Pray Persistently Anyway)

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This past Sunday we started a brand new sermon series called “Approach.” The series is going to help us learn how to Approach prayer and ultimately how to approach God in prayer in a way that honors Him, grows our faith, and helps us know Him more deeply.

All of that sounds great, because if I am honest, one of the questions I find myself often asking about prayer is simply, “Am I doing this right?”. Sometimes, my prayer life feels so rich, and I feel especially connected to God. Other times, I fall asleep in the middle and don’t even finish or find myself moving from heartfelt prayer to daydreaming about Doritos or vacation or something. I believe that my prayer life goes well when I feel like God is answering my prayers in tangible ways, but falls apart when I go through periods where I feel like He has gone silent. Can you relate?
So what do we do about those times when it seems like our prayers are falling on deaf ears? What Do we Do When it Feels Like God Just Isn’t Answering?

I recently began reading the book “Too Busy NOT to Pray” by Bill Hybels. I thought it would be a helpful resource. The heading for chapter 8 immediately caught my eye, “The Hurts of Unanswered Prayers”. This post is based on content from that section. I found it helpful, and I hope you will too.

Here are 3 Reasons that God Doesn’t Answer, and What We Should Do About It:

Reason #1) Inappropriate Requests.

Sometimes, we just simply ask for the wrong thing, ask the wrong way, or for the wrong reasons. Right off the bat, Hybels is reminding me of a lesson I continue to have to learn. As long as I participate in prayer to God, I am the problem when it doesn’t go well! I am praying to a perfect, sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing God who loves me more than I can imagine. When he isn’t answering, or I feel like it isn’t going well, the issue is always ME! This means I have a lot in common with Jesus’ closest disciples, Peter, James, and John. All three made a habit of asking things of Jesus that were just plain inappropriate.

When the glory of God descended upon Jesus, Moses and Elijah appeared on the mountain top (Matt 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36) Peter asked Jesus to build shelters on the summit of the mountain so that they could just stay there and “bask in the glory of God”. Jesus denied his request because it was not part of God’s will for Jesus, nor for Peter, James, and John.

In Matthew 20:20-23 and Mark 10:35-40, we see James and John come to Jesus with their mother in tow. (side note: You don’t need your mom to plead your case to Jesus on your behalf, you can ask him yourself) They asked that they are granted the two most prominent seats, on either side of Jesus in heaven. They wanted to be Jesus’ guests of honor when he reestablished His kingdom. Jesus denied their request! It wasn’t appropriate. Later James and John asked Jesus to destroy an entire village, by calling down fire on the people there, because they felt they had been mistreated (Luke 9:51-56). Again, Jesus didn’t honor their request.

We need to realize that when imperfect people come to a perfect God to voice our requests, there will be times when he doesn’t honor our requests. Instead of becoming angry, or giving up on prayer, we need to persist in prayer and submit our will to HIS. We need to realize that sometimes God says no. When He does, we need to ask ourselves then these questions:

  • Is my request inappropriate? What are my motives in asking for this? If this request is fulfilled will it honor God? Or is it self-serving?
  • Have I considered that he is the perfect loving Father and sometimes He loves me too much to say Yes?
  • Do I trust God enough to trust that maybe in his sovereign wisdom he has decided that the timing isn’t right?
  • Is it possible that the request is fine, but my heart is not? Could it be that He is waiting for me to fix my motives?

Reason #2) Sometimes God doesn’t say “NO” but says “Not yet” to grow my faith in HIM.

Hybels is right when he says “If the timing is wrong. God says ‘Slow.' Which, for most of us, feels equally as bad as getting a ‘no.'” We live in an instant society, where we can pick up our groceries without shopping for them, binge-watch our favorite tv shows, and call the internet “too slow” when it takes 5 seconds for something to load. We just are not good at waiting. One of the things that I see in scripture over and over is the phrase “wait upon the Lord.” Maybe God wants to build our trust in Him and grow us in the waiting time.

David was known as a man after God’s own heart. Over and over in the Psalms, we see the phrase, “I will wait upon the Lord,” uttered by David. What if we reframed our frustration at a “not yet” answer, in a way that could grow our hearts to be more like God’s? What if instead of allowing frustration with God to thwart our prayer life, we instead went to God with questions that can grow our faith and make us more like Him? What if the waiting became the time that we looked at what needs to change in US? Instead of growing frustrated that God isn’t changing HIS mind? Here are some questions that can help when you feel like God is saying “SLOW, NOT YET”:

  • Is there an area of my life, or a part of this request where I am trusting me more than I am trusting God? If so, persist in praying for God’s help in this area and asking for forgiveness for the pride that would bring frustration with Him. Ask Him to change you first and help you trust Him in the area of your request.
  • Do I have a big enough view of God to be ok with the fact that He knows what I don’t? That His ways are not my ways? Pray persistently, and start your prayers by proclaiming the attributes of God, and praising Him for who He is. Don’t start your prayers with your requests, but instead remember who you are talking to and submit your will to His!
  • Do I need to modify my request? Ask God to point out to you the parts of your request that are self-serving, or rooted in bad motives. Ask Him to show you the parts that you haven’t thoroughly thought through. Be intentional to recognize that your perspective is limited, yet his is perfect. Confess the wrong motives that you discover and repent of not trusting His perfect plan. Lastly, ask Him to help you live “open-handed” and to desire His will for you more than your best plans and dreams.

Reason #3) I’m My Own Worst Problem!

Too often, we look at ourselves last, but the third reason God sometimes says “NO” or “NOT YET” is because we have set up a barrier between ourselves and God. I see this in all my relationships, not just my relationship with God. Even with the people I love, my actions and attitudes can create barriers that limit my ability to communicate and relate to others.

Often, for a relationship to continue, I have to reconcile and seek forgiveness for my actions. If I am dismissive of my wife, and prioritize work and my hobbies over time with her, then it should be no surprise when she is short with me or turns away when I lean into kiss her. At that moment, I can be mad at her (self-serving alert!!!), or I can seek to understand what I have to create a barrier between the two of us.

The same goes with God. Except with God, it is a lot simpler. When it’s my wife or a friend, there is a high potential that both of us have issues to work through that are causing a barrier. When I am relating to the perfect Father, however, the spotlight is always on ME! When there is a barrier in place between the Lord and Me, it is ALWAYS my doing. When God is saying “no” or “slow” to me, my response should be to persist in prayer, seeking to answer these questions:

  • What sin in my own life do I need to confess? How am I living out of motives that are self-serving and not God-honoring? (confess, repent, submit)
  • What relationships in my life are filled with unresolved conflict? Put your original request on hold and seek God in regards to this relationship. Confess your part, to God and the person, asking forgiveness from both.
  • Are there areas of my heart that are bitter? Am I withholding forgiveness? Invite God into these places. Trust him enough to let Him in. Ask for strength to extend forgiveness to yourself or others if you have been withholding.

Pray Psalm 139:23-24
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my concerns.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me;
lead me in the everlasting way.

When God isn’t answering the way that we think he should, the problem is ALWAYS us! Praying persistently, with a heart that trusts Him more than ourselves can be the key to unlock growth and a new faith in us. Pray persistently! But be open to the fact that He may want to do some work on us before he gets to work on our requests!

Want to know what the Approach Series is all about? 

Watch a Sermon



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