Points Covered: Does God always answer prayer? Reason for unanswered prayer. What to do when God is silent? What it means when God says no?
Have you ever felt that your prayers are going unanswered? Maybe you are going through a crisis and despite your prayers, you find no change or answer to your situation. Today I am going to speak on the subject: “When God Does not Answer Prayer!”
Does this sound strange that God does not answer prayers? How can that be? If I try to lead a good life, I come to church, I pay my tithe and offerings, why should God not answer my prayer? If I am placing my life and my trust in God’s hands, is it not His responsibility to provide for my needs and desires. Has not the psalmist said, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart”? Then why has my prayer gone unanswered for so many years? With that question, I am going to dive straight into today’s sermon.
Reason for unanswered prayer.
1. Self-oriented prayers.
The most searching question in prayer is whether our petition is for our own selfish interest, pride, or attainment; or whether it is really to the glory of God. Answers to prayer must always honour God and bring glory to Him.
James 4:3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. Notice the last word of this verse: Pleasures.
That word “pleasures” means, “praying for something just because you want it.” Such prayer has nothing to do with the will of God or the purpose of God; it is just a selfish prayer.
Certainly, you can pray that God will meet your needs, you can pray that God will heal your sick loved one. However what we should remember is that there are much more important things that we are called to pray about and what we pray about us should be for God’s glory and will.
a. Praying at cross purpose with others.
Imagine two Christians on opposing soccer teams, praying for their team to win; or two Christians applying for the same job or to get their child in the same preschool spot. God has to say “no” to one to say “yes” to the other.
b. Praying for pre-determined matters.
Some pray for things that are already determined. Some people fast and pray for a boy child. Some fast and pray for a particular person in marriage. It is mere selfishness to fast and pray like this. Often, we pray for things that are already determined.
2. When we stop praying.
One of the reasons we feel our prayers are not being answered, is because we stop praying.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 Pray continually.
Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Ephesians 6:18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.
Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should pray and not give up.
Scripture prescribes strong doses of endurance capsules and we should take them as soon as we are afflicted with doubt and discouragement: Galatians 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
When there is hidden or unconfessed sin in our life. Psalm 66:18 If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. It is not that God is unable to hear, for He is omniscient, but that He maintains His distance when we allow sin to be a wall between us.
Big disobedience sets us up for long-term unanswered prayer: 1 Samuel 8:18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day.
Proverbs 28:9 If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction, even their prayers are detestable.
There’s no point in justifying or crying foul. It is wiser to confess and repent.
Proverbs 28:13 He who conceals his sin does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
1 John 1:8-9 8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Galatians 5:19-21 19The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Colossians 3:5-6 5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.
1 John 3:21-22 21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.
This verse is in the same general category with regarding iniquity in our hearts. This verse says that if we do keep His commandments and do things that are pleasing in His sight, He gives us whatever we ask, so obviously, if we are deliberately disobeying Scripture and deliberately doing those things that are not pleasing in His sight, He is not going to answer our prayers.
4. Unforgiving spirit.
Mark 11:25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
God will not forgive us of our sins unless we forgive others. An unforgiving spirit can hinder our prayers to God. We are asked to forgive even when someone doesn’t deserve it. Ephesians 4:31-32 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
5. Improper family relationship.
1 Peter 3:7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
Not having the right kind of family relationship can hinder your prayers. If you don’t respect your spouse as the Scripture tells us to, if you don’t nurture and admonish your children, your prayers can be hindered. How do you expect God to hear if you abuse your family?
6. Uncaring heart.
Proverbs 21:13 Whoever shuts their ear to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.
James 1:6-7 6But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
Doubt kills prayers, faith brings life to prayer. Mark 11:23-24 23“Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
What it means when God says no?
Illustration: B.M. Palmer in Theology of Prayer, tells of a woman who had spent the summer away from her children, and was quite anxious to get back to them. When she learned that all the rooms on a certain ship were taken, she wept bitterly. Because she couldn’t get a passage on any other ship, she was detained two weeks in NYC. But the sorrow of being delayed was turned into thanksgiving when, within a few days, she learned that the vessel that denied her passage was buried at the bottom of the Atlantic. She didn’t see the “no” as a wonderful answer to prayer until the whole story unfolded.
So what do I understand of God’s no to my prayer?
1. Not rejection, but redirection.
God’s “no” to one thing is a “yes” to another.
In his second missionary journey, Apostle Paul and his companions with great success came to Bithynia but God would not allow them to enter Bithynia. They prayed and started, they wanted to glory God. Everything they were doing was for God’s glory but they found no as an answer. Acts 16:9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” What God was doing was when he was saying no to one request he was redirecting them and saying yes to another way.
Apostle Paul had a problem described as a thorn in his flesh, but God said, “I say no to removing the pain but that will give you an yes to preach the gospel.”
Growing up young people have the desire to marry the people of their choice. Sometimes God says yes, sometimes no. God’s no is not rejection but a redirection in our life.
2. Not denial, but glory.
God’s no is not a denial, but his will upon you will bring greater glory of his name. As a pastor we usually pray for people at different stages of their life. Most of the time God heals a sick believer but sometimes it results in death. God knows what is best and we pray but whatever the result, it brings glory to his name.
Mary and Martha wanted Jesus to heal Lazarus. They prayed, he died and was buried. Jesus came after 4 days and rose Lazarus from the grave, a greater glory resulted.
In 1 Kings 19 we find the opposite. Elijah prayed that he might die. 1 Kings 19:4 While he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” God said “no” because He had a greater glory, he went to heaven without facing death.
God has his own reasons why he does things; however, it will surely end for his glory. Hold on!
3. Not punishment, but preparation.
Romans 5:3-5 3Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
God has called us for eternity in heaven. That is our ultimate purpose. When we suffer with delayed answers God develops perseverance, character, and hope as we trust Him in prayer. Our suffering and delay prepares us for eternity. It is easy to see how timing plays an important part in learning to trust God. If He did everything we asked for immediately, we would never grow and develop.
What to do when God is silent?
1. Wait Patiently.
We all want change in our circumstances but most of the time we don’t want to go through the waiting process. We pray and get impatient. Remember change is a process and God wants us to wait for his timing. Psalm 40:1 I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.
2. Accept God’s Timing.
Habakkuk 2:3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. Your revelation awaits an appointed time, wait for it. God is working on your behalf even when you cannot see him working for you.
The book of Genesis tells the story of Joseph, who waited many years for the fulfillment of the dream God had given him. He was sold by brothers, falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, and imprisoned before the time came for him to do what God had shown him he was to do.
In Exodus God tells us that he led the Israelites the longer, harder way on their journey to the Promised Land. There had to be time for their training, and they had to go through some very trying situations. They wasted a lot of time wondering about God’s timing, but God never failed to take care of them and show them what He wanted them to do. God has a time.
The same is true in our lives. It was many years after I received my call from God before finally began to see major fulfillment of what God had called me to do. We got to accept God’s timing without questioning or trying to figure everything out.
3. Trust God.
Isaiah 41:9-10 9I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. 10So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Trust God even though it may seem like your prayers are not answered. Trust God even though it may seem like at the moment He is not near and has abandoned you.
Remember that pattern of our prayer. Luke 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Trust God in his will and timing.
Proverbs 3:5-6 5Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
Instead of trying to figure everything, we must learn to trust our lives to His care. When we do, we can say with the psalmist in Psalm 31:14-15 14But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” 15My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.
4. See the big picture.
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
When our prayers are not answered the problem is we see only our part of the picture, but God sees the big picture and has to work it out in a way that by the end of the situation there is justice for all. If God were to say yes, the situation might bring upon us a harm we cannot foresee. Problem is, if we were to wear God down with our prayers which make Him ultimately grant what we prayed for … and then the situation turned rancid or fatal, we would then blame God – you knew this was going to happen, then why did thou not stop it? You do not know what God is doing in the background.
Illustration: A carpenter was building some crates for the clothes his church was sending to an orphanage in China. On his way home, he reached into his shirt pocket to find his glasses, but they were gone. He remembered putting them there that morning, so he drove back to the church. His search proved fruitless. When he mentally replayed his earlier actions, he realized what happened. The glasses had slipped out of his pocket unnoticed and fallen into one of the crates, which he had nailed shut. His brand new glasses were heading for China!
The Great Depression was at its height, and the man had six children. He had spent twenty dollars for those glasses that very morning. “It’s not fair,” he told God as he drove home in frustration. “I’ve been very faithful in giving of my time and money to your work, and now this.”
Several months later, the director of the orphanage was on furlough in the United States. He wanted to visit all the churches that supported him in China, so he came to speak one Sunday night at this small church in Chicago. The carpenter and his family sat in their customary seats among the sparse congregation.
The missionary began by thanking the people for their faithfulness in supporting the orphanage.
“But most of all,” he said, “I must thank you for the glasses you sent last year. You see, the Communists had just swept through the orphanage, destroying everything, including my glasses. I was desperate.
“Even if I had the money, there was simply no way of replacing those glasses. Along with not being able to see well, I experienced headaches every day, so my coworkers and I were much in prayer about this. Then your crates arrived. When my staff removed the covers, they found a pair of glasses lying on top.”
The missionary paused long enough to let his words sink in. Then, still gripped with the wonder of it all, he continued: “Folks, when I tried on the glasses, it was as though they had been custom-made just for me! I want to thank you for being a part of that.”
The people listened, happy for the miraculous glasses. But the missionary surely must have confused their church with another, they thought. There were no glasses on their list of items to be sent overseas. But sitting quietly in the back, with tears streaming down his face, an ordinary carpenter realized the Master Carpenter had used him in an extraordinary way.
So do we have a God who does not answer prayers? No. God is always answering by yes, no, trials and delays but we do not see it or understand it and get impatient. Ecclesiastes 3:11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. So we just got to learn to trust and obey God. He will make everything beautiful in our life.