Have you ever prayed for a long time for something; not to receive it at the time you thought you should have it? In frustration your patience evaporated; keen disappointment engulfed you; your anger tottered on the brink of exploding and you quit praying concluding God was not going to grant you your request.
Perhaps you surmised God didn’t hear you. Prayer has failed you, or, did you fail in praying?
Napoleon Hill, author of a popular book in the 1980’s, “Think and Grow Rich” made the statement that failure is a trickster; quite often we quit doing something a short while before success is about to happen. Mr. Hill was referring to persistence and perseverance in building a career. But the principle is very applicable to prayer.
Scriptural Reasons Why Prayers Are Unanswered
Do you know there are scriptural reasons why our prayers go unanswered? It seems to me based on God’s Word; conversations with other believers; and my own experiences, that these reason fall into six categories:
- Motive (purpose)
One’s motive for praying could also be termed their purpose. In other words, why do you pray?
When my niece and nephew were young children, they got into an argument with some neighborhood kids about prayer. Frustrated and confused they rushed through the door, upset by the disagreement.
“Aunt Catelin where can you pray?” My six year old niece blurted out shedding her jacket and leaving it draped over the dining room chair.
“Anywhere,” I responded dumping a bag of potato chips into a bowl.
“Dan said only in church!” she gasped out of breath from running home.
“Oh?” I asked looking up at the perplexed little face looking across the counter from me.
“The Bible tells us, Moses prayed on the top of Mount Sinai; Noah prayed in the ark with tons of water all around it; Daniel prayed in a lion’s den; the Apostle Paul prayed in prison; and Jesus prayed in the wilderness, in a garden and from the cross.:
Silence fell over the room. My niece and nephew looked from me to each other then back at me.
“Why do you pray?” My nine year old nephew asked popping a potato chip into his mouth.
Why do I pray? The question resounded in my mind for a few seconds. Quietly I answered, “Because it works”.
The answer to my nephew’s question must have as many answers as there are different kinds of prayer.
Maybe you pray to seek a favor from God or to ask a special blessing – a lot of people do.
Generally the pit fall to this reason for praying is that
- It is done when we get ourselves in a “jam” that requires the strong arm of the Almighty to pull us out.
- Often petition type prayers tend to be “shopping lists” with the bulk of the items being materialistic in nature. God would like for us to ask for spiritual gifts as well. Such as wisdom, guidance, joy, patience, gentleness, etc.
I know people who pray because it is what they were taught to do from childhood. It is what I call habitual prayer…we do it because we were taught to do it in a certain way, and at a specific time. Often these are prayers learned from childhood and repeated over and over again.
One of my Aunt’s has a little box of prayers sitting on her coffee table. It is chocked full of short little prayers for all kinds of occasions. She explained she likes to read one or two every day.
When I was in high school I had a friend who had stored quite an impressive number of published prayers in her memory. And what was even more amazing to me, she could recall any one of them easily for any circumstance.
There is nothing wrong with any of these reasons or methods of praying, if these are used in conjunction with spontaneous prayer. Used alone these are just forms of recital and not a conversation with our living God. God desires fellowship with us; prayer is how we communicate with Him. And how He communicates with us.
David in the Book of Psalm provides good illustrations of spontaneous prayer. He spoke with God, as if God were a close friend. If we desire a close relationship with our God, we should pray to Him as if He is our closest and most trusted friend.
Example: Psalm 109:1-5 (NIV) “O God, whom I praise, do not remain silent, for wicked and deceitful men have opened their mouths against me; they have spoken against me with lying tongues. With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause. In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer. They repay me evil for good, and hatred for my friendship.”
Regrettably, it took years for me to understand that I could talk to God like I would a most trusted friend. When I learned this lesson, God became my most trusted Friend.
A Best Kept Secret: Listening!
Another omission in my spiritual training the first three to four years following the year I accepted Jesus as my Savior, was no one told me I should listen for the answers to my prayers. I wanted to do all the talking! I often wondered why others I knew claimed God had spoken to them. One day following Sunday school, the teacher clued me into hearing God speak. She gently told me to “shut up” and listen so that God could speak to me. That has been one of the most valuable pieces of advice I have ever received.
But while it may seem relatively easy to listen for God to speak, it isn’t. That is because the Devil’s playing field is the mind. And he sure doesn’t want us to hear God’s voice.
The solution is to keep focused on hearing the answer, even if it means shutting doors to find a quiet spot, or getting up before the rest of the family, or staying up after everyone has gone to bed. Each person is different. What works for me is a 4:45 AM date with the Lord each morning for about an hour of prayer and reading His Word. And a shorter time with Him at the close of day, after the house is quiet and the lights are dimmed. But what works for me, may not work for you. It is important to remember that God often speaks to us through His Word.
I know of a young Korean man who use to come into the church sanctuary every evening between eight thirty and nine o’clock, to read his Bible and to pray. As a small group of us met on Tuesday of each week for Bible study, we wondered about the commitment of this man. After several weeks of doing this, the Pastor of the Korean congregation told us, he came after work each night, because there were too many interruptions in his small apartment with a new baby on board. He just wanted a quiet place, where he could talk to God without any interruptions.
It doesn’t matter what time or where, just so you find a place with no interruptions and pray expecting to hear from God. The secret to hearing God speak to you is to quit talking; quite yourself from the inside out. Sometimes, I have found when I am really tired and feel stressed, that listening to a quiet, peaceful worship CD helps to sooth and quiet my spirit. Then wait for God to direct and guide you as He speaks to your mind and heart. Remember His Word is often where He will give you the answer you are seeking.
The answer will come! It may be soon or it may take a long time. The answer may be a “yes”; a “no” or even a “wait”. But God will give you an answer if you listen for it.
The Book of Isaiah mentions that the answer to our prayers may all ready be given to us before we ask God for it. (Isaiah 65:24). I have often been surprised to receive something I desired secretly in my heart, but didn’t actually pray about it. For example; I longed to part with my “68 Chevy Impala and get a newer car. I got this notion last fall but as we did not have the finances to purchase a newer used car, I dismissed the desire as “inappropriate” and kept thanking the Lord for keeping the Impala running. Then as we were preparing to move out of State, it seemed like everything went wrong with the car! The transmission leaked, I kept a weekly ritual of pouring transmission fluid into it. Then the starter went out and the new starter didn’t function really well. I was cautioned by my mechanic that the fly wheel could go out. That is exactly what happened, I went to start the car; it turned over then silence – my old Impala died. Wondering what to do, as the finances were still strained, I asked God, “What do You want to me to do, with this situation?” Quicker than I could turn around, the finances were available for a used car that had low mileage on it. Truly God had the answer to this desire long before I actually had the need. But besides material blessings like a car, God loves to shower us with spiritual blessings (salvation, joy, rest, assurance, love – the list is endless).
Praying for the Long Haul
What do you desire? Is it something you want so bad that you would pray for years waiting for God to answer? If you are groaning audibly (or quietly within your spirit), I totally understand how laborious it can be to pray for even a few months for a situation to change or a circumstance to improve.
A short time after I accepted Jesus as my Savior, it was laid upon my mind and heart that my Dad did not know Jesus as Savior. He went to church and said he was a Christian, but had no clear recollection of ever having asked Jesus into his heart and life. Thus I began to pray for my dad’s salvation.
In the years between 1962 and 2004, Dad went through a lot of close calls; near fatal auto and work accidents. And he went through a massive heart attack in the mid 1970’s. Dad is quick to admit, he has been on borrowed time. I prayed for forty-two years for the salvation of my dad. He accepted Jesus the day before his eighty-fourth birthday. Some would say this definitely proves the power of prayer. But I have heard it worded a little differently: It proves the power of our awesome God! God has a plan for each of us and will answer in His timing. It also proves age makes no difference in accepting Jesus as Savior – you can never be too old, but you can be too late. God has not promised any of us, a set number of years to live.
If you have been praying for a situation to change or some blessing or favor, I encourage you to keep on praying, but to be sure to listen for the answer. God will not speak to us if we don’t listen! How do I know this? The only reliable reference provides the insight – The Bible. In Zechariah, Chapter 7 verse 13 (NIV)
“When I called, they did not listen, so when they called I would not listen, says the Lord Almighty.”
Attitude walks hand-in-hand with motives when it comes to prayer. Jesus addressed the attitude of some of the religious leaders of his day in the Sermon on the Mount ( Matthew. Chapter 6 verses 5-6 NIV)
“And when you pray do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues, and on the street corners to be seen by men, I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
Jesus further admonished us to keep it simple; not to make lengthy prayers full of superficial words. Pretty, eloquent prayers are not needed; just simple heart-felt prayers. Why? Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:8 that our Heavenly Father knows what we need before we ask Him.
The Format of the Lord’s Prayer
Nearly everyone embracing Christianity is familiar with The Lord’s Prayer. Interestingly there is a definite format to this prayer, which can help us learn how to format our prayers.
Praise, adoration to God: “Our Father in heaven, hallow (holy) is your name.”
God’s will to be done: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Ask God to provide for daily needs: “Give us this day our daily bread”
Ask forgiveness/Give forgiveness: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
Protection from temptation and the evil one: “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.”
Praise Again: “For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen”
Importance of Forgiving
It seems like a lot of people hang onto hurts and offenses until these fester or grow into grudges, anger, hatred and revenge. The verse immediately following The Lord’s Prayer,
Matthew 6:14-15, provides clear instructions by Jesus on why it is crucial for us to forgive those individuals who have hurt, offended, or wronged us. Jesus tells us:
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sin.”
The Role of Humility
Humility and praying seem inseparable, right? I believe this is true. But also know it isn’t always the case. I have heard a number of pompous prayers given with a strong stentorian voice.
A good lesson in humbleness in praying is found in Genesis 32:9. NIV
In this passage Jacob is overwhelmed by God’s graciousness and blessings. Verse ten, gives Jacob’s prayer, “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant.”
Simple wisdom tells us, “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” ( Ecclesiastes 5:2 NIV).
Wrong Motives + Bad Attitude = Unanswered Prayer
It is possible to pray with the wrong motives. And quite often where there are the wrong motives, a bad attitude is close at hand.
No one can explain this situation which will short circuit your answer from the Almighty any better than the disciple James. ( James 4:2-3 NIrV)
“You want something, but you can’t have it. You kill and want what others have. But you can’t have what you want. You argue and fight. You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God. When you do ask for something you don’t receive it. Why?
Because you ask for the wrong reason. You want to spend your money on your sinful pleasures.”
James also instructs us that a reason prayer often goes unanswered is due to doubt or unbelief. For some, believing God will answer is one tough assignment. (If you are struggling with this one, ask God to help your unbelief and to remove your doubt.)
James 1:6-8 NIV “When he asks he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave on the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”
Timing always plays a major role in our prayers being answered. Too often impatience causes us to stop praying; stop listening for the answer; and stop waiting on God to answer according to His will (not ours) in His perfect timing (not our inappropriate timing).
What’s the Solution?
We should be persistent to the point of being relentless with our prayer requests. This means praying until the answer comes. How important is what you are requesting to you? Generally speaking if it isn’t too important to you, it’s likely it won’t be too important t to the Lord. (This goes back to attitude and motive).
A good example from the Bible of relentless praying is the watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem. Isaiah gives this account: ( Isaiah 62:6-7 NIV)
“I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem, they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.”
Do you stress-out desiring the answer to your prayer in your time frame? The Apostle Paul wrote these words to the Philippians. ( Philippians 4:4-6 NKJV)
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Sometimes the Bible uses unfamiliar words to many of us. The word, supplication, simply means entreaty or petition. It differs from prayer in that prayer has the Biblical connotation of “being in communion with our Creator” (Reference: page 336 The New Bible Dictionary and Concordance).
Prayer can be just a conversation with God. It can be Adoration or praise, Confession, Thanksgiving, or Supplication. This incidentally spells ACTS. This is another format for praying which has helped many in their prayer life.
A Time for All Things
Trust God for His timing in answering your prayer requests. The third chapter of Ecclesiastes begins with these words, “there is a time for everything…” God, who is in control of all things, will answer your prayer according to his timing.
Sadly I do know individuals who have voiced the opinion that God’s timing wasn’t right for their needs. Such persons seem to have tuned-out God, and tuned-in to Satan.
Obedience tends to create a tendency for resistance. We are a people who simple hate to be told what to do! Yet, obedience plays a very big role in prayer…and getting answers to our prayers.
Obedience is more than the knowledge of knowing God wants us to pray to Him; and our compliance to do so, as an act of obedience.
Jesus taught a great deal about prayer. The Gospel of John is packed with these teachings. It is well worth whatever time it takes you to study this book, to learn exactly what Jesus taught about prayer, and also how obedience plays a major role in getting answers to our prayers.
To briefly summarize some of the key points Jesus made about prayer in this book:
- We are to have faith in Jesus, then whatever we ask in His name He will do. (Chapter 14 verses 12-14)
- We are to remain in Him, and God’s Word is to remain in us. (Chapter 15, verse 7)
- We are to bear fruit (to be productive for the Lord) and the Father will give us our requests if these are made in Jesus’ name. (Chapter 15 verse 16)
- Again, we are to ask in Jesus Name, and God, the Father will give it, so our joy
may be complete. (Chapter 16 verses 23-24)
There are other commandments given by Jesus regarding prayer:
- Seek privacy when praying (Matthew 6:5-13 and Luke 5:6)
- Have faith in what you ask, knowing God is able (Matthew 8:2-4)
- Be persistent in what you ask (Luke 18:1-8)
- Be humble in asking (Luke 18:9-14)
Commitment – Follower or Disciple?
To remain in Jesus is to have a personal relationship with him. This is impossible to do, unless the first step, his first commandment is met; that of being born again or born of the spirit (John 3:3).
Once this commandment is met, then the decision is will you be a follower or a disciple? What’s the difference? A disciple is a follower but a follower is not necessarily a disciple.
There have been since the time Jesus walked the shores of Galilee many followers. In fact huge numbers followed him, according to the Gospels. For in many places it is recorded, “and the multitude followed him”. But there were only a few disciples by comparison.
Generally a follower will follow along for a while until he/she gets bored; thinks of something else to do; or becomes distracted.
Where was the multitude that followed Jesus following His trial? Many were in the crowd which shouted, “Crucify him!” Followers tend to be less committed and serious in their loyalty.
A disciple is a student, and apprentice who follow to learn. He/she is committed to leaning all Jesus taught, and beyond this, to have a personal relationship with Him like a best friend. In fact Jesus tells His disciples they are not His servants but His friends.
( John 15:13-15)
But this was in Jesus day, this was for those who knew Him in the flesh, this was of a by-gone time. Yes. But Jesus is the same yesterday, today, forever. If we desire to be His disciples, we indeed can be his disciples; in fact he commands it. ( John. Chapters 14-17)
And this is a very good way to have your prayers answered.
There are a number of situations which can keep a person’s prayer from being answered.
Some are hindrances rather than interferences. These are as follows:
- Willful or intentional disobedience to God (I Samuel 28:17 & Proverbs 1:23-28)
- Stubbornness in confessing sin (Psalm 66:18-19)
- Willfully testing God (Psalm 78:18-22 & 106:14-15)
- Disobedience to the law (Proverbs 28:9)
- Insincere prayers by someone with sin they won’t confess (Isaiah 1:11-19)
- Preferring anything else before God (Idols) (Jeremiah 7:16, Ezekiel 14:4)
- Disrespect of a husband toward his wife (1 Peter 3:7)
Some of you will protest claiming that you aren’t guilty of any of the above, yet your prayers seemed to be blocked as if something or someone is interfering with them.
The Devil Did It
According to a thought presented by Dr. Charles Stanley in his book, “When the Enemy Strikes”, you may be experiencing interference to your prayers by Satan, or to put it bluntly, the devil did it!
It is through prayer we develop a relationship with God. The devil will do everything in his power to stop this relationship from happening. If you feel like Satan is jumping all over you when you try to pray, just remember, you must be doing something very right to be getting this much resistance from him!
The devil is cunning and will send all types of little thoughts into our minds while we are praying. He may make you feel that adding a couple items to your shopping list is of the utmost importance. He can cause you to feel anxiety over someone or something. He may cause someone or something to interrupt you while you are praying (like your children, the family pets, the phone ringing, someone knocking at the door, the possibilities are endless. Satan knows our weaknesses as well as God.
This is why it is crucial, if you want to have your prayers answered and if you want to build a relationship with the Almighty to find someplace where you won’t be disturbed or interrupted by family or friends. Incidentally, this is the reason I struggle out of bed at 4:45 AM to meet with the Lord. (And, some mornings it is definitely a struggle). It is also why I make sure that my father has gone to bed and the dogs are shut in for the night; before I sit down to have my evening prayer time with the Lord.
According to Dr. Stanley, Satan has a list of things he tells us in an attempt to keep us from praying (pg. 177 When the Enemy Attacks)
- “You don’t need to pray about this.”
- “Don’t bother God with such a minor request.”
- “Surely you don’t expect God to answer that request!”
- “There isn’t time to pray.” Or, “Do it later, you’re too busy now.”
- “The Bible doesn’t really mean to pray, “all the time”.”
- “You aren’t very good at praying, why bother?”
- “Prayer is just talking to ourselves.”
There is a wise saying, by an unknown author, which reads: “Any trouble that is too small to take to God in prayer, is too small to worry about.” And yet, God asks us to give Him all our burdens, that nothing is too small or too big.
We must remember that when it comes to Satan:
- We are most vulnerable to the devil’s attacks when we don’t pray.
- Prayer is potent, and directly relates to the devil’s destruction.
Truly the solution is to pray as it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray continually”.
The key to answered prayer
The key to having your prayers answered is to establish positive motives, to learn to talk to God like He is your closest Friend. To develop a good attitude, waiting for God’s timing, being obedient to His Word, committing yourself to Him, and to be humble when you pray.
Remember sin that is not confessed, will hinder prayers. Be aware that Satan will try to interfere with your prayers.
Above everything that has been said you must have faith that God will answer your prayers, expect the answer and learn to listen for it.