by David Kyle Foster —
It is a great frustration to ask God for something and not get an answer. We pray for a friend to be healed, yet watch in horror as they die from a disease. We ask for a relative to get saved only to see them dive even deeper into sin. We pray for the future of a child only to see them perish from some tragic accident or self-inflicted wound. We plead for God to liberate us from a harmful situation, yet see no rescue. Or we press God for deliverance from a demonic stronghold or intransigent habit, yet see no change.
What makes it worse is that we read of people in the Bible who received swift answers to prayer. Others received answers, but had to persist in asking for months, years or even a lifetime. Still others died without seeing answer.
Know this: life is a battle where even the holiest and most faithful of believers are forced to struggle with the trial of unanswered prayer.
A Biblical Perspective
There is no “one-size-fits-all” reason for unanswered prayer. Every situation is different, as is the spiritual life of every petitioner. There are clear principles, however, that should give us some understanding.
It’s important to realize that the answer to some of our prayers may only come after we’ve gone to heaven. Why? One reason is that answered prayer needs to operate within the constrictions of the free will choices of everyone involved. For example, the answer to prayer for the salvation of a loved one can never be the product of divine coercion. Nor can it be manipulated by the emotion-driven timetable of the petitioner. God has ways of arranging circumstances that make a positive decision compellingly attractive, however.
When we pray for something that is consistent with His revealed will, such as the salvation of a loved one (1 Timothy 2:4; Acts 16:31), God begins to work immediately even though we may see no evidence of it. Why the delay? Because there is more to realizing the answer than meets the eye.
Ultimately, the silence of God when we pray forces us to decide once and for all whether or not He is good. As Oswald Chambers wrote: “The core of all sin is the doubt that God is good”.
Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking that we want deliverance from a sin when we really don’t. For example – I prayed for years to be freed from the power of a besetting sin and got no relief. One night, the Spirit of God fell on me and I instantly knew that He had finally answered my prayer. My first thought was “Finally God, thank you!” but my second thought was “Oh no!”
You see, in that moment, I came face to face with the fact that I enjoyed the sin more than I loved God. I loved the pleasure and the temporary comfort that it brought. I was still dependent on it rather than God to weather the deep brokenness in me that remained unhealed. In essence, I had been pleading with God with tears, for years, for something I didn’t really want.
After we have finally matured enough to mean business, God will then deliver us from the snare of the fowler (Psalm 91:3). In the meantime, we should pray for God to work in us a genuine desire to be free (Philippians 2:12-23).
On occasion, God doesn’t give us what we want when we want it because He sees in our heart that we are not yet ready to value and/or shepherd the answer – that once things get too hard, we will forsake what has been done for us. Jesus spoke of this in His parable of the seeds sown on rocky, thorny and good soil (Matthew 13:18-23). From God’s perspective, the blood of His Son makes everything that His death and resurrection achieved very precious indeed.
In so many cases, God is trying to protect us from ourselves. We learn a very important principle in 2 Peter 2:20-22 – that for those who have tasted of the holy gift of divine forgiveness and who return to a life of sin, it is better for them not to have known the way of righteousness. A similar sentiment can be found in Hebrews 6:4-8; 10:37-39, Galatians 4:8-9 and Luke 9:62. In His mercy, God withholds the answer so as not to put us in that position.
Biblical Reasons for Unanswered Prayer
The Bible has much to say about prayer. Let’s examine some of the things that could delay or prevent an answer.
You are not yet a true believer and thus have no “standing” before God (Acts 2:38; 4:12; John 3:16-18; 14:6).
Guarding Your Heart and Mind
You may not have properly engaged in the battle through guarding your heart and mind and are therefore not ready to participate in the answer (Philippians 4:7; 3:19; 2 Corinthians 10:5).
Renewing Your Mind
You may still need to obey God’s directive to pursue the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2; Colossians 3:2-3; Matthew 22:37-38).
Your understanding of what brings about answered prayer may be incomplete (Acts 17:11).
Quenching or Grieving the Holy Spirit
You may still be living in ongoing, unrepentant sin, or are in other ways quenching or grieving the Holy Spirit by your thoughts, words, beliefs or actions (Ephesians 4:28-32; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22; Psalm 66:18).
Your earthly marriage may be characterized by anger and unforgiveness (1 Peter 3:7; Ephesians 4:26-27).
Love of the World
You may be, in a sense, withholding your love for God by holding on to a love of the world (1 John 2:15; Romans 12:2; James 4:4; John 3:19).
You may be withholding forgiveness from one or more people (Ephesians 4:31-32; Matthew 5:24b; 18:35).
Lack of Reconciliation
You may have neglected or refused to seek reconciliation with someone you have sinned against or who has sinned against you (Matthew 5:23-24; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
Lack of Reverence
Your prayers may be casual, high-handed, cavalier, impolite or in some other way not in accordance with the majesty of God (Hebrews 5:7).
You may not be asking in faith (James 1:6-8; 5:15; Hebrews 11:1, 6; Mark 11:24; Romans 10:17).
A Lack of Persistence
You may not have gone to the length of being importunate or tenacious in your asking (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Luke 18:1-8).
A Worldly Request
You may have been asking for something that is not good or wise in the eyes of God (Matthew 7:7a, 8a, 11c).
It may be that you have been praying with wrong motives, such as praying to be seen by men (James 4:2d-3b; Matthew 6:1-6; Hebrews 4:12-13).
You may have been asking for your greeds rather than your needs (Philippians 4:19).
Lack of Divine Intimacy
You may not be living out of an intimately loving relationship with God (Matthew 22:27; John 14:20; 15:7-8).
You may not have sought, received, examined and appropriately responded to God’s revelation of idolatry in your life – intellectual or otherwise (Ephesians 5:3-5; Colossians 3:5; Romans 1:24-25; Exodus 20:3).
You may lack a genuine love for God, the brethren and/or those who do not know God (Luke 6:38; Ephesians 3:17b-19; John 14:15; Proverbs 21:13).
Not God’s Will
You may have been asking for things that are not according to His will (1 John 5:14; Romans 12:2).
You may not have been seeking God, His kingdom and His will with all your heart (Philippians 2:12-13).
Your request may be the kind that requires not only prayer, but fasting (Mark 9:17-29, KJV).
The Name of Jesus
You may not have been asking in Jesus’ name (John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23b-24).
You may be unaware of the greater or related issues that surround a perfect answer to your prayer (Habakkuk 2:3; Ecclesiastes 8:6).
Your request may not be in accord with God’s ultimate plans and purposes (Daniel 2:21; Ephesians 1:7-10; 18-23; 3:10-11).
In brief, answers to prayer come most often when you are…….
- in a saving relationship with God
- fully engaged in guarding your heart and mind
- fully engaged in the renewing of your mind
- sufficiently grounded in God’s Word that you have a good understanding of its principles
- no longer grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit through sinful behavior
- living in harmony with your spouse
- no longer in love with the world and the things of the world
- no longer living with unforgiveness toward anyone
- reconciled with everyone, to the degree that they have made it possible
- so much in love with Jesus that you approach Him with the respect and reverence that He deserves
- asking in faith, without doubting
- persisting in prayer
- asking for “good gifts” (by God’s definition)
- asking with godly motives
- asking for something that you need (as opposed to something you merely fancy)
- in an abiding (lasting and intimate) relationship with God
- seeking first His kingdom and righteousness
- asking from a place of love for God and all men
- asking in accordance with His will
- asking while seeking God with all your heart in every way
- fasting as necessary for the more difficult situations
- asking in His name (by His power, authority and according to His character)
- trusting God for His perfect timing in bringing the answer
- yielding to the possibility that the greater purposes of God in salvation history must take precedence above all things
Once you have met these and possibly other criteria, God will answer your prayer, supply all your needs, and provide you with “good gifts” from above (James 1:17).
If you are a new believer, God will probably not require adherence to all of the criteria listed above. He will respond according to the light that you have. However, He will call you to grow in faith, which will lead you into all truth, with its accompanying responsibilities (John 16:13-14; John 8:31-32).
Prayer forces us to decide whether God is good or not. When the fat lady finally sings, we will completely understand the reasons for the parameters that He has established and praise Him for them. Then begins the wonderful life.
Ultimately, the chief end of prayer is that the Father be glorified (John 14:13). It is in knowing Him that we can be set free from the things of this world and the entanglements of the kingdom of darkness.
Remember – God may have an overriding purpose in answering your prayer in spite of these basic principles, but all things being equal, these are issues that may need to be addressed when encountering unanswered prayer.
Excerpted by the book of the same name. To read the entire book for free, go to:
About the Author
Dr. David Kyle Foster is the author of The Sexual Healing Reference Edition, Transformed Into His Image, and Love Hunger. He is the founder/director of Mastering Life Ministries. Listen to his twice-weekly podcast at: https://www.charismapodcastnetwork.com/show/purepassion.
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