How should Christians deal with unanswered prayer?

It is said that God always answers prayers. He responds with "yes," "no," or "wait," but that simplistic theology only begins to comfort us when we are told God's apparent silence should be translated as "wait."

Still, we should not become discouraged. The prevailing belief is, and should be, that God is sovereign, that He knows best, and that He acts (or does not act) in our absolute best interest.

We must remember that true prayer is communicating with the Creator, being in touch with the one who occupies the heavenly throne room. Prayer ushers us before the one true God! We are granted this privilege only by the sacrifice of life by Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:15–16; 10:19–23). Do not expect answered prayers if you are not first a child of God through Jesus (John 1:12; 3:16–18) and approaching God based on Jesus' work. Also, do not expect answered prayers if they are not directed to the triune God of the Bible. He alone has power to answer prayer, and He invites us to pray directly to Him.

When it appears God is not answering our prayer, we must remember that our view is limited by time, space, and knowledge. God is not limited in any way. What seems "unanswered" to us may very well be "answered" by Him, just in a timing or way we don't necessarily fully recognize.

We can trust in His knowledge and also in His care. Hebrews 4:15–16 tells us, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

As we reflect on God's power and goodness, we must also reflect on our lack of righteousness that may hamper our prayers. God knows our sin. Do we?

David wrote, "O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether" (Psalm 139:1–4). In the same Psalm, he wrote, "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" If our prayers seem to go unanswered, we can ask God to reveal any sinful ways that are hidden in our hearts. First John 1:9 tells us that "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Though all of our sin—past, present, and future—is atoned for in Jesus, we still sin and it still damages the closeness of our fellowship with God. When we recognize our sin, the solution is to confess it and receive God's cleansing. This will help keep the lines of communication with God through prayer clear.

Asking for things with wrong motives (2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalm 66:18; James 4:3), lack of faith (Proverbs 15:8), and hypocrisy (Mark 12:40) can also stunt our prayers. We should examine our hearts and our prayers to see if we are trusting in God and truly seeking things for His glory.

It could be that God is leaving our prayers seemingly unanswered because He is growing us in faith. God may be asking us to persist in our prayers, to press in closer to Him. We may fall into an attitude of God being some sort of cosmic Santa Claus—sending Him our lists of things we want and expecting Him to deliver. We may also find ourselves treating God as a sort of divine slot machine—depositing our prayers in hopes that we eventually hit a jackpot. God is not a fairy godmother, granting our wishes, nor a gambling apparatus who sometimes doles out answers to prayers. We could even have a completely right view of God and the purpose of prayer, and yet He still asks us to persist and to wait. As we continue to present our requests before Him, He is faithful to mold and shape us, and to deepen our trust.

God is holy and just and loving. He invites us to approach Him and tells us that we need just a small amount of faith (Matthew 17:20). He tells us to be persistent (Matthew 15:21–28; Luke 18:1–8), to be humble (James 4:6; Proverbs 3:34), and to express gratitude always (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).

Our attitude must be one of pleasing God, not ourselves. It is our faith that pleases God (Hebrews 11:6) and that faith must trust in God's rightness in answering our prayers with silence at times.


Related Truth:

How do I know if I'm praying in line with the will of God?

Persistent prayer - Is it biblical? Is it acceptable to repeatedly pray for the same thing, or should we ask only once?

What makes for effective prayer?

Is there evidence for answered prayer? Does God answer prayer?

What is the importance of daily prayer in the life of a Christian?


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