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Why Isn't God Answering My Prayers

Does it sometimes feel like God isn't listening?

To understand why God doesn’t always grant our prayers, we can turn to the book of James, chapter 4. In verse three, he points out that the people were not getting what they asked for because they “asked wrongly” to use it for their “passions.” He goes on to say how they were attempting to be friends with the world, but were making themselves enemies of God. How terrifying to think you’re a Christian and yet align yourself with those who oppose His Lordship. Would you ever answer “yes” to someone who only wanted your money so they could use it against you?  

If we’re asking wrongly, in a spirit that keeps an eye on the comfort and prosperity of this earth, we’ll always get a “no” from God. But, God will say “yes” when we ask according to what He wants to give us (John 14:14). What God wants to give us is a heart that is in tune with Him and follows Him in unquestioning obedience. How well we obey determines the third possible answer from God.

There are times that we delay God’s “yes” due to our own disobedience. 1 Peter 3:7 suggests that if husbands are not obedient to the Lord in how they treat their wives, their prayers will be hindered. In 1 Peter 4:7 it states that being self-controlled and sober-minded is necessary for our prayers. Back in Isaiah 1:15 the Lord says that He won’t even listen to the prayers of the people because their hands are “full of blood.” Obedience matters for God to even listen to us.

Consider Abraham, for example. He was promised to be shown a country if he left his family in Ur and followed the Lord. It would take 25 long years and several big mis-steps by the patriarch before that promise was fulfilled. He had to learn reliance on God in the face of famine, trust in the Lord among godless people, surrender of his only remaining family connection and rest in the promise of God against all physical evidence to the contrary. Every step he took after his call from Ur built his faith by teaching patient obedience.

The lesson, however, is that all of us learn to practice our faith as we suffer trials that test our obedience and our patience. Throughout scripture we learn these tests are long-form, not pop-quizzes. These trials of life arise when all is well.

All discipline seems difficult at the time (Hebrews 12:11), but the result is worth it. Only then do we receive the highest promises that God has for us.

Without a doubt, some reach that prize at the edge of a sword, or being burned at the stake. But, as Paul said, to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). The ultimate prize for us is to be united with the Lord. That is the promised land to which we aspire. Our Lord God is our shield and our exceeding great reward (Gen. 15:1 RV, KJV).  If we fail to realize this fact through faith, we respond like Abraham did and say, “but what will you give me?” (Genesis 15:2).

Abraham was asking for a promise that God had clearly provided him. God had promised him a son, and that his descendants would possess the land of Canaan. So, in a sense, Abraham wasn’t out of line asking about the promise. But, this was before he would go down the path of marrying Sara’s servant, Hagar and fathering Ishmael. In other words, despite God’s promise and covenant in chapter 15, Abraham and Sara attempt to help God fulfill His promise without further delay.

Time and again, we try to force God’s hand, resulting in a long period of unanswered prayers. We ask from the desires of our flesh, looking for God to pave the road to our dreams. And our prayers go unanswered. Sickness still plagues us. We continue to live with financial pressures. Fights with family and friends still throw our lives into chaos.

What would happen if we prayed for the fruit of the Spirit? You know, love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)?  Those things are promised to us with the Spirit. They are direct opposites to the traits that naturally inhabit our lives. They are the antidote to the attitudes that are tearing this world apart.

What if we prayed for humility and meekness? Look up Acts 20:19, where Paul was serving the Lord with all humility during tears and trials. Or, Ephesians 4:2 where Paul encourages them to bear with one another in all humility and gentleness. Flip over to 1 Peter 5:5 where the aging apostle urges his readers to clothe themselves with humility for God opposes the proud.

Of course, the fear is that if we ask God for humility, patience or any of these other noble traits, we’ll be thrown into situations that will test them! In other words, we fear the giver and don’t really want the gift.

In the worst case, God will give us the answer to the prayers of our flesh. That’s a horrible day. That’s when we have gone so far that God finally gives us exactly what we desire. Read the first chapter of Romans for a view of what this looks like. It’s not pretty. We should never want to have anything that God would not want to readily give us. And if His promises are on hold, we should look to our own obedience and faith to determine why these things seem to be unredeemed or still on the freighter en route.

When we pray, it is never God who is failing to deliver. Rather, it is that we’ve asked for the wrong things or have not obeyed what He’s told us to do. After all, prayer is not our chance to change God’s mind about something. Instead, it’s one of God’s channels to change us.

Bryn Jones resides in Burnsville, MN

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