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When Prayers Aren’t Answered

(The following is one of the lessons taught during the 2018 WNOP Prayer Training Seminar. If you are interested in the DVDs and lessons from this seminar, contact Lisa Marshall at, 636-229-7986)

It’s difficult when we pray and don’t see the answer we expect right away. Lack of answers to prayer can cause us to question God and ourselves. The enemy often uses these times as opportunities to turn us from the Lord, and create strongholds in our mind. We need a better understanding of why God seems to not always answer.

God’s Word is full of scriptures that tell us He will hear us and answer when we call on Him. God doesn’t lie so we have to believe He has given an answer. Yet often we don’t understand the answer He gives.

How God answers our prayers

There are many scriptures that mentions God not answering, but these are instances where individuals, groups of people, or even nations stubbornly refuse to obey the Lord. When we live a life that’s submitted to the Lord, we can expect God to answer our prayers. These are the ways that God commonly answers:

No. This is the answer we hate. When God denies our request we can feel rejected, angry, or even condemned. We can feel like God doesn’t care or that we have failed to be good enough for Him to answer the way we want. Regardless of getting denied, we have to believe that God truly is good and will not withhold the best for us. God sees the future and knows the plans He has for us. He will not go against His goodness for the sake of appeasing our human flesh. Ultimately, a denial from God shows our depth of trust and submission in Him.

In addition, God may deny our request because of something that is hindering us spiritually. There are conditions for prayers to be answered. We can pray something that we know is in God’s will but still we can find our prayer not being answered. In these times it’s important for us to spend time in prayer asking God to reveal the hindrances so they can be addressed. (Common hindrances to prayer will be covered below.)

Yes. This is the answer we love. When God grants a request we celebrate and tell everyone how great He is. We feel validated and accepted. Though we are thankful when God gives us what we ask for, we must not see that answer as a sign of His acceptance or an affirmation of our worth. God accepts us because we are His children. He created us with worth that can’t be obtained by human efforts.  God agrees to answer when our request is in His will, the timing is right, and we are in alignment with Him, not because of our achievements.

Wait. This is a difficult answer to receive. It can sometimes be hard to tell when an answer is, no, as opposed to, wait. As we develop a true relationship with God, we will become Spirit-led and know His voice, and it will become easier to know His heart in the matters we pray about. Still, there are times we simply must wait and trust in Him. God’s timing, which is often not our timing, is always perfect. Delays to prayer can produce many good things, as we will see further in this lesson.

Things that can hinder our prayers

As we develop our prayer life, there can be times where we struggle to get answers to prayer. The following are some common hindrances that we should examine our lives for.

Praying with an insincere heart
There are times people pray to be seen and heard rather than praying out of sincere desire.

There are three things that are to be done between us and the Lord. These include praying, fasting, and giving. When we do these things to be noticed, we receive no benefits from the Lord.

In one of Dwight. L. Moody’s meetings, several thousand people had gathered to listen to him teach the scriptures. Before he was to preach, a man who was a pastor from a church in the town, got up to pray. He prayed and he prayed and he prayed and he prayed. Finally, in the middle of his prayer, as it seemed he had no thought to end, D. L. Moody got up, grabbed a hymnal, and said, behind the loudspeaker, “While our brother finishes his praying, let’s begin singing.”

Jesus spoke of the many Pharisees who prayed to be noticed (Matthew 6:1-5; Mark 12:40). They prayed long prayers and used many empty, and repetitive words. Jesus did not commend them, but rather rebuked them for their pride. God is not interested in our display of piety, but in the sincerity and humbleness of our heart.

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. (Matthew 6:5)

They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Mark 12:40

Having an unrepentant heart
It is possible for us to have sins that we are unwilling to repent of. Our stubborn nature doesn’t always like to submit to God’s ways, so we hide sins and refuse to change our ways. This rebellious spirit creates a distance between us and God which cannot be

If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me. (Psalm 66:18)

Having an unforgiving spirit
We cannot expect God to be pleased with us when we expect forgiveness yet withhold from giving it to others. An spirit of unforgiveness is contrary to God’s character, and is a sin.

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.  (Matthew 6:14-15)

Being insensitive toward others (men toward their wives, I Peter 3:7)

Husbands are to show respect and reverence towards their wives, not belittle them or treat them with contempt. God values all lives and treats no one better than another. When we treat someone with disregard we show pride and belittle what God created. Though the scriptures on this specifically reference a man’s relationship with his wife, the concept applies to all of humanity regarding each other.

Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. (I Peter 3:7)

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. (John 15:12)

Praying with wrong motives
Many of our prayers are centered on ourselves. We ask for things with skewed ideas of what is right rather than what the will of God is.

Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. (James 4:3)

Having a lack of faith
Faith is necessary. God responds to faith, not simply requests.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24)

Asking for something out of God’s will
Even if we feel faith we cannot expect God to answer a prayer that is against His will. He simply will not go against what is best for us and His purposes. We must always maintain a spirit of submission and be willing to accept when God has other plans in mind that interfere with what we are asking.

Lack of fellowship with God
We can’t ignore God most of the time and then expect Him to answer as soon as we need Him. Nor can we ignore His Word.

If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. (John 15:7)

When prayers are delayed

As mentioned above, delays to prayer can produce some good things. We have to remember that God works everything to our good. Consider the following in your times of waiting:

Delay is not a denial
Many of the answers to prayer in the Bible did not reflect the amount of time it took for the answer to come. Faith doesn’t always bring immediate results as we often think (Hebrews 6:12)

Delay can strengthen our faith
Waiting on God can cause us to pray with more fervency and persistence. If we are denied physical food, hunger develops. The more you are denied, the hungrier we get. Delays build spiritual hunger and can cause us to search God’s Word for answers and seek a deeper relationship with Him. Delays can develop a deeper trust in God. These cause us to grow in our faith as God brings us revelation and direction.

Delay can bring clarification
As we wait on God and listen, He can show us things we need to adjust in our requests. Many of our prayers are based on life events that cause us emotional pain, misunderstandings, and feelings of being out of control. Fear can make us respond irrational and those responses often affect our prayers.

We also pray for things that we haven’t really considered fully. We have whims and wishes that seem important today and fade away tomorrow. Time has a way of filtering much of these so-called needs from our life. It’s important that we always seek God for His will and purposes for our life and not the fleeting desires that come and go through the years.

Delay can cause spiritual growth
God doesn’t just give you the result of your prayer, He takes you through a process to help you develop yourself toward that result. In the process we develop fruit of the Spirit such as patience, long-suffering, and self-control. We grow muscles by working them and increasing the weight. We don’t just get strong by asking for strength or thinking about it. It’s the same in the Spirit.

Delay can subdue the flesh
Our flesh often doesn’t want to pray so delays can cause us to pray more. Interestingly enough, if God immediately answered our prayers, we’d be spiritual weak.

Delay can expose our sin
As already mentioned, some prayers are not answered because of sin. As we seek the answer as to why the delay is occurring, God can bring us revelation of strongholds we have, reveal spirits of entitlement and complaining, show us our lack of faith, and adjust our wrong attitudes. God corrects those He loves, and develops us. The emptier of self we become, the easier it is for His Spirit to flow through us.

E. M. Bounds said it this way, “Men do not pray well because they do not live well.”

Delay reminds us of God’s sovereignty
God is in control, not us. He has the right to do whatever He wants, whenever He wants, and however He wants. He doesn’t need our opinion or agreement. Our human nature is to be selfish and it’s good for us to be denied or made to wait at times to humble us and put us in our proper place.

The silence of God

The silence of God can make us feel like we are wandering in the wilderness. Roaming. Searching. Disorientated. With no sure end in sight and no map to help us get there. The wilderness can seem a lonely, depraved place. Yet, depravation breeds desire. Hunger. Thirst. And where there is hunger and thirst… there is God to fill it. So is the wilderness a curse or a blessing? Is God’s silence Him turning away from us or an act of Him drawing us towards Him?

It’s been said that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” The more we are apart from someone we love the more we desire to be near them. Time and distance make us forget the little things that annoy us and cherish every moment we have together.

There’s another saying that goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.” It’s easy for us to find fault and take for granted those that we are consistently around. When we don’t fear losing someone we are more comfortable to treat them with less respect.

When we go without food or water, those things suddenly become much more valuable to us than when we sit around the table three times a day. Those that are not hungry can selectively choose what they want to eat or not. Those that are starving will eat anything they can get.

We live in an age and place where we can easily obtain whatever we are looking for. No longer do we wait days and weeks for a letter, or a package. We can pick up a phone and call or text someone on the other side of the earth. If we can’t attend church we can go online and bring up a live or archived feed instantly. There’s little we truly are deprived of. And with that lack of deprivation has come a lack of desire.

What if there was yet another answer God provides that we most often don’t recognize. It’s not no,yes, or wait, but simply a better answer than we asked for. And what if that answer was simply Himself? Not a silent God, but One who answers in the still, small voice we so easily miss. How many more answers to prayer would we have if we only recognized the way He answered them?

We may not always know why God answers the way He does or why He is sometimes silent. How we choose to respond to God in those moments reveals a lot about our relationship with God. When we trust Him, we will accept any answer He gives even if it’s different than we expected. We will accept any delay He deems necessary. We will allow Him to be God, not put our focus on things of this temporary world alone, and see ourselves as God sees us regardless of the answer He gives.

Colleen Clabaugh