Some prayers go unanswered. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Every prayer is answered, just not the way we’d like. As we look at Scripture, we discover several causes of “unanswered” prayer. Here are seven reasons:
1. WE DON’T ASK
I know this sounds rather obvious, but it’s the place we must begin. James 4:2 says, “…you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.” Instead, we have a tendency to worry, whine, and work. We worry about what might happen, whine about what we don’t have, and work ourselves to death trying to fix our problems. We have to remember that 100% of the prayers not prayed will go unanswered. When we don’t ask, our hearts are filled with dependence on self.
2. WE ASK WITH WRONG MOTIVES
James, the brother of Jesus, continues with these words: “And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure” (James 4:3). How many times do we ask for things with a hidden agenda. How easy it is to forget that God weighs the motives of the heart, and our motives are never hidden from His sight. When we ask with wrong motives, our hearts are filled with deceit.
3. WE ASK WITH UNCONFESSED SIN IN OUR LIFE
When we rationalize our sin, we simultaneously rob our prayers of their power. The question is not, “have I sinned?” but rather, “Am I knowingly living with unconfessed sin in my life?” 1 John 1:9 says, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” God’s willingness to forgive is always hinged to our willingness to confess. If we don’t acknowledge the sin in our lives and seek God’s cleansing, we simultaneously block our prayers. 1 Peter 3:12 says, “The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil. We must admit to the truth with specific confessions. Vague confessions only create repeat offenders. When we ask with unconfessed sin, our hearts are filled with defiance.
4. WE ASK OUTSIDE OF GOD’S WILL
1 John 5:14-15 says, “And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.” Perhaps the reason we pray outside of God’s will is because we’re really not interested in God’s will. We simply pray whatever we wish and want on a whim. When God’s will becomes your sanctified wish you reveal how you are connected to Him as the source. Answer this question honestly to not have your prayer blocked. Whose will am I most interested in? When we ask outside of God’s will, our hearts are filled with selfish desires.
5. WE ASK IN DOUBT
James 1:5-8 says, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”
What causes a person’s loyalties to be split between God and the world? It’s their doubt of God. Loyalties are split when we say, “I’m not sure God’s going to do this, so I’m going to look elsewhere for help.” When you doubt God’s ability to answer, your loyalty can be slowly lured into a state of compromise. When that happens doubt interferes with our prayers being answered. When we ask in doubt, our hearts are filled with duplicity.
6. WE ASK IN PRIDE
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells a story about two men who went to the Temple to pray. One of them was a religious Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. This is how the Pharisee prayed: “I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.” (Luke 18:11b-12) This is how the tax collector prayed instead: But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.” (Luke 18:13) So what does Jesus think about the tax collector? “I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)
The difference between answered prayer and unanswered prayer was humility. The despised tax collector received forgiveness because his heart was humble before God. While pride focuses on what I have done, humility focuses on what God can do. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” When we ask in pride, our hearts are filled with destruction.
7. WE ASK WITHOUT RELATIONSHIP
In the Gospel of John, Jesus describes Himself as “the Vine” and his followers as “the branches.” When we remain in Christ (the Vine), and He remains in us (the branches), we will produce a fruitful life. Jesus goes on to say that apart from Him we can’t do anything. Then he says these words: “But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. (John 15:7-8) What was Jesus’ point? Relationship comes before requests. Prayer is first and foremost about a relationship, not about our list. When we ask without relationship, our hearts are filled with distractions.
The real purpose of prayer isn’t to get something from God, but rather to get to know Him.
I believe God loves to answer prayer. I also believe God loves for us to know Him. Carefully guarding your heart from these seven distractors will deepen your relationship with the Lord and provide a proper perspective toward answered prayer.