6 Things You Need to Know about Unanswered Prayer

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If you’re like most people, you have wondered why God seems silent at times when you have prayed to him about something. Here are six things every person needs to know about unanswered prayer.

1. When a wicked person prays, sometimes God turns a deaf ear.

People who have turned their backs on God and scoffed at him should not expect God to hear their prayers, let alone answer them.

[Re: David’s enemies:] They cried for help, but there was none to save; they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them. (Ps. 18:41)

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him. (Prov. 15:8)

The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous. (Prov. 15:29)

If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. (Prov. 28:9)

There are instances when God does hear the cries of unbelievers, such as was the case with the king and citizens of Nineveh in the book of Jonah. The Ninevites had no reason to think God would answer their prayers. Yet, God heard their prayer of repentance and appeal toward him, and he showed mercy on them:

“By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. (Jon. 3:7-10)

2. There is no such thing as unanswered prayer for Christians.

God hears the prayers of believers, and he will answer all of them.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Pet. 5:6–7)

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:7–11)

3. Sometimes God answers “no” to a believer’s specific prayer.

Sometimes God’s children pray for things that would not be good for them or are against God’s will (Matt. 6:10; John 15:7; 1 John 5:14-15). In his love, God keeps us from dire consequences by not granting those petitions. We see a clear example of this in Jonah’s prayer that God take his life because he felt humiliated that God relented and nothing came to pass from his warnings to the people of Nineveh (Jon. 4:1-3). Yet, God patiently reasoned with Jonah:

And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jon. 4:11)

Sometimes God has something much better for us, as was the case for Elijah, who asked God to take his life while fleeing from the wrath of Jezebel in 1 Kings 19:4. Yet, God protected Elijah and later took him up to heaven without Elijah ever seeing death:

And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more. (2 Kings 2:11-12)

While we don’t know exactly what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was, he tell us that God had a purpose in not removing it, even though Paul pleaded with the Lord three times to do so (2 Cor. 12:8). God used this affliction to help Paul remember that his strength came from the Lord:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. (2 Cor. 12:7)

4. Sometimes God answers “not yet” to a believer’s specific prayer.

Zechariah likely prayed for many years along with his wife, Elizabeth, for a child. Yet, God had a marvelous role for their child, John the Baptist, to play in redemptive history, of which Zechariah and Elizabeth were completely unaware. God waited until they were old in years to grant their petitions:

Now while he [Zechariah] was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” (Luke 1:8–13)

5. While one prayer is enough sometimes, it is also the case that God wants us to be persistent in our appeals and wait on him.

Believers pray in faith, knowing their God hears them. Elijah just had to pray once for God to send down fire from heaven (1 Kings 18:36-37). Yet, Jesus also reminds us that we should not lose heart when our prayers aren’t answered right away:

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” (Luke 18:1-8)

Persistent prayer reminds us that our hope comes from God alone in the anxieties and trials of this world:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)

6. We are to be thankful to God that he always hears his children’s prayers, even when he doesn’t answer in the way or timing we would like.

While God does sometimes answer our prayers right away without delay, we should always be thankful regardless of the way or timing in which God responds to each of our petitions—whether big or small. Believers approach God’s throne with confidence because they pray to God in the name of Jesus:

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. (Heb. 4:16)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:31-32)

We pray with thankfulness for all the petitions he has granted:

I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation. (Ps. 118:21)

We know our adoption and inheritance are secure:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Pet. 1:3-5)

We know that God will never leave us or forsake us:

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:37-39)

May believers around the world pray more with thankful hearts, knowing our heavenly Father will answer our prayers.

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