There is a high likelihood you have prayed prayers that you feel went unanswered. You prayed for weeks on end, fasted maybe, and yet never received that for which you prayed. The frustration is not a light thing, as many have fallen away from the faith on account of such. Hence, the need to consider possible biblical reasons that could lead to unanswered prayers and what a Christian response should be?
Praying Without Faith
The Bible says that if anyone would approach God, he/she must first believe that he exists and rewards those who diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Doubting God’s ability to answer us is a hindrance to our prayers. The testimony of Scripture is that God is a good Father who loves to give good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:11). He promises to supply every one of our needs (Philippians 4:19). If he gave up his Son for us, surely he will graciously give us all things along with him (Romans 8:32). Not a single one of God’s promises fails (2Cor. 1:20), for he watches over his word to see that it is fulfilled (Jeremiah 1:12). These are promises in scripture that we need to remember, and they will help remind us that God can answer our prayers. Therefore, ask the Lord in faith with these scriptures in mind to help you overcome your doubt that God answers prayer.
A faithless prayer is rooted not only in the questioning of God’s character of faithfulness but also in his ability. We forget sometimes that he is strong and mighty (Psalm 24:8), and that nothing is too hard for him (Luke 1:37). The Almighty (2 Corinthians 6:18, Revelation 1:8) can do immeasurably more than all we ask in prayer or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20). So do you believe that? Are you really asking in faith (Mark 11:24)?
We sometimes pray to satisfy our selfish desires, thereby praying amiss (James 4:2-3). Scripture urges us to ask with faith that we will receive our requests (Matthew 7:7-8) and rebukes us for not asking (James 4:2-3). So don’t hold back your prayers, but check your desires to see if they’re rooted in selfishness. James denounces asking with the wrong motivation, reminding us that a seemingly busy prayer life may not necessarily be a faithful prayer life.
Another thing that can cause our prayers not to be answered is that we’re asking for something that is not good for us. The Bible says that God is a good father who loves to give good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:11). He loves to give his children bread and fish whenever they ask in prayer (Matthew 7:7-10). God doesn’t give his children stones and serpents whenever they ask for bread and fish (Matthew 7:9-10). However, sadly, many of us sometimes pray for stones and serpents, thinking it is bread and fish. Remember that God is not an evil Father, but he is a good Father. He does not want to give you something that will hurt you in the long run. Consider that you might be asking for something against his will and will be harmful to your life, health, and spiritual growth. Unanswered prayer can be a sign of God’s mercy.
Praying Outside of God’s Will
There is not a single time we have prayed according to God’s will that he did not answer us (1 John 5:14-15)! Therefore if a prayer you’ve prayed is not being answered, it could be that it is not according to God’s will, which is always “good, pleasing, and perfect” (Romans 12:2). So what you’re asking for is possibly not good and pleasing. However, I do want to caution that we should not assume that just because prayer isn’t answered immediately, that is not according to God’s will. It also could be that God is teaching us to endure in our faith as we await him to fulfil His will (Hebrews 10:36-39).
Our burden, therefore, is not to master the art of persistence, determining that we will wear God out with our asking till he eventually yields. Rather, we are to grow in discerning God’s will as revealed in the scriptures — chiefly, our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Sin, to begin with, keeps us from praying. When Adam sinned, he hid from God (Genesis 3:8). He did not want to see him or even talk to him. Sin keeps us from the presence of the One to whom we ought to pray to, thereby hindering our prayers (Isaiah 59:1-2, Proverbs 28:9). It might be that your prayers go unanswered because of unconfessed sin. Ask the Lord to search your heart, and in repentance turn to him; he is faithful and just to forgive your sins (1 John 1:9).
Peter best explains how sin stands in the way of prayers. In 1 Peter 3:7, he encourages husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way so that their prayers are not hindered. As for the righteous man who honours God in his dealings with all who surround him, his prayers will be answered (1 Peter 3:12). In other words, if you don’t treat those around you as commanded in scripture (1 Peter 3:8-9), then your prayers will be unanswered.
Persist in Prayer
It is God’s will that we pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Asking (supplicating) is but one part of prayer. We can only pray without ceasing if we think rightly of prayer as being communicating with an amazing God. Otherwise, prayer misses the point, turning God into some vending machine that by constant pestering we can convince him to give us the things we seek.
Pray without “losing heart”, as Jesus tells us in the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8). Remember that God is a God who gives “justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night” (Luke 18:6). Therefore ask God one more time in prayer and trust that he will answer it in good time. He will answer all prayers assuming that it is according to his will (1 John 5:14-15), there is no sin to repent of (1 Peter 3:7-12), it is good (Matthew 7:-11), and that you’re praying in faith (Mark 11:24).
Set before you the glory of God, ever praying, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).