‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 42. Q.4. Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?
Jas 4:2,3 You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives
1 Pet 3:7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect ….. so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
Jn 14:13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
The Question: “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?” is a fairly common question among believers and non-believers alike (yes non-believers often pray according to surveys.) There are, when you start thinking about it, some fairly obvious common sense answers as well as some less obvious spiritual answers.
COMMON SENSE PRAYING: The first answer has got to be very simply, because we don’t pray, as James said in our verse above. But perhaps there is more behind that. Prayer is talking to God. Now that may sound fairly obvious but are all words uttered ‘prayer’? If you don’t believe He is there or that He’s not listening, is that really prayer or a mere superstitious act? Do you genuinely pause up and focus on God, the Almighty, Holy, Creator God of the Universe, and address this One, or just utter words?
The second answer has got to be simply we are asking silly, unrealistic things. For example, “Lord please give me a parking space,” or “Lord, please provide a petrol station, I’m running out of petrol.” Such prayers seem to require God to create something. A better prayer might be, “Lord, please make me alert and help me spot a parking place.” A prayer for God to speak to you and guide you as one of His children is legitimate.
A third answer has to be that you are praying contradictory prayers – your prayer may be contradicting one another may be praying, e.g. “Lord please don’t let it rain today,” while down the road a farmer is praying, “Lord we desperately need rain for the crops. Please send some rain.”
SPIRITUAL FOCUS PRAYERS: Some praying is simply limited by our own spiritual limitations. So, for example, first of all there are selfish prayers. James added, “you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives.” (Jas 4:3)
Now that should perhaps be linked, second, to praying God’s will. One of our verses above speaks about ‘asking in Jesus’ name’. That simply means praying what you believe Jesus’ will is that will extend the kingdom and glorify the Father. Praying, “Lord, please give me a big yacht,” is probably a selfish, self-aggrandising prayer but many years ago when computers were first coming on line, I felt it right to pray, “Lord, please will you give me a PCW, a word processor,” because I sensed He wanted to open up writing for me. Where the money came from I don’t know but within a couple of months I had it.
We need an aside here: sometimes when praying, especially for healing of a person at death’s door, it is natural and right to pray out of love for them, sometimes even sure that you want them to live – but even that motivation and sureness isn’t enough. It may just be that God knows that this is their time to go home – and we have to accept that! It may be hard but there we have to humbly bow before the throne and accept their death. Jesus healed and raised the dead, so let us pray for it. The Father is not going to be stressed by our love for our loved ones – and He may intervene!
That in turns leads on to, third, prayers that are half-hearted from lack of assurance. Sometimes, to be sure we are praying in the will of God we just need to start praying and catch a sense, while we are in prayer, whether this is in fact God’s will. If it is, the Holy Spirit will witness to that fact and we can thus be encouraged to press on in prayer. Yes, this does mean we need to learn to be sensitive to the still small voice of God (1 Kings 19:12), but when we do we can listen for that encouragement. Sometimes, associated with this I believe, fourth, prayers are delayed because God is training us, training us to listen, training us to learn to wait upon Him, training us to persevere, and that only comes when we are confident about the things we are asking. Is that why Jesus taught, “Ask (and keep on asking) and it will be given to you; seek (and keep on seeking) and you will find; knock (and keep on knocking) and the door will be opened to you,” (Mt 7:7 with the verb tenses added) and also, “told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” (Lk 18:1)
This takes us on to realize that in His training of us, fifth, we need to learn God’s limitations. Yes, there are some things God will not do. Yes, He will perform miracles that go against nature if it conforms to His overall plans. Jesus regularly healed people, sometimes raised people from the dead, and sometimes performed other miracles, but Jesus never forced people to believe. He would teach them, challenge them, and even rebuke them, but he never exercises sovereign power to make us change our minds. Thus, when praying for our loved ones who don’t know Him, “Lord, please make X believe,” is unacceptable, whereas, “Lord please speak again and again to X and help them see their need,” is I suggest legitimate.
We should also note, sixth, that we may be acting unrighteously and that will hinder our channel to God. In one of our verses above, Peter warns husbands to treat their wives properly otherwise that will hinder their spiritual activities, i.e. prayer!
SPIRITUAL WARFARE PRAYING: In addition to the above things, the mature believer realizes that we operate spiritually in a spiritual dimension and within that dimension there is warfare. May we not be casual about the apostle Paul’s teaching: “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12) There are instances in the Old Testament – “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days,” (Dan 10:12,13) and the New Testament – “For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way,” (1 Thess 2:19) that suggest to us the way is not always open and easy and when the enemy shouts, “Resistance is futile,” we need to laugh and press on!
RIGHT PERSPECTIVE: Our tendency as little children is to want Abba, daddy, to do it all for us but from the beginning we find, “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it,” (Gen 1:28) or as the Message delightfully and succinctly puts it, “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!” There are times when God delights in stepping in to the affairs of the earth, for example when Jesus came, when Revivals occur, when Renewals of the Spirit occur, when He inspires healing crusades etc. but much of the time I believe the Lord wants us to grow up and “take charge” of our lives.
What does that mean? I believe it means using them wisely, checking that regularly by keeping in close contact with Him, seeking Him for wisdom (see Jas 1:5) while all the while realizing that living in a Fallen World means that trials come so, “the testing of your faith produces patient endurance. And let patient endurance finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:3,4) Note the order: trials create patience and endurance that produce maturity in us. Yes, God will sometimes move in sovereign power in our circumstances and sometimes wants us to pray for that, but the majority of the time He wants to speak to us, lead us, guide us, grant us wisdom, and where we get stressed, grace, and where we mess up, the reminder that the path is repentance, reconciliation, restoration, forgiveness, and the grace to press on.
To conclude: If we take a couple of biblical characters, look first at Abraham – the Lord spoke to Him a number of times but only stepped in with the supernatural power once, to enable Sarah to conceive. Look at how the Lord worked with Joseph – spoke prophecies to him, watched over him through the time of rejection by his brothers and being sold into slavery, spoke to his masters in prison to give him favor in their eyes, gave him prophetic understanding and dreams that resulted in him becoming the savior of the Middle East. Throughout Judges the Spirit empowered leaders with boldness, a right attitude. Moses was a different ball game because that involved national judgment and deliverance. David grew to be the warrior he was because of his relationship with God and everything else flowed from that. Do we get the message? Relationship! Listening, obeying, doing, ruling, triumphing! Hallelujah! Let’s pray, let’s keep on praying, sometimes getting it right, sometimes not, but all the while being children with a loving Heavenly Father, children who are gradually growing up and maturing, in knowledge, in understanding and in experience. May it be so.