Why Doesn’t God Answer my Prayer?

“Three times I begged the Lord to make this suffering go away. But he replied, “My kindness is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.” So if Christ keeps giving me his power, I will gladly brag about how weak I am. Yes, I am glad to be weak or insulted or mistreated or to have troubles and sufferings, if it is for Christ. Because when I am weak, I am strong.” (Paul in 2 Cor 12:8-10, CEV)

Have you ever earnestly prayed for something, only to have your prayer seemingly go unnoticed? We can understand why God won’t answer prayers for things that are selfish or immoral. But it’s often hard to understand why it seems like our heartfelt, well-intentioned, biblical prayer has gone unanswered.

The first step is to make sure our prayers are not selfish: “Even when you do ask, you don’t get it because your whole motive is wrong – you want only what will give you pleasure.” (James 4:3). Nor can our prayers be immoral (contrary to God’s Word), since “if we ask anything according to His will He hears us.” (1 John 5:14). We must also be sure there is no unconfessed sin in our hearts: “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.” (1 Peter 3:12), and “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results.” (James 5:16)

But what if none of these caveats apply to our own specific prayer? What about when we can’t see any “wonderful results”? In our “I want it and I want it now” culture, this can be very frustrating. While we may not know why a prayer is not granted in the manner that we have requested, but we may be assured that God is still in control, even though His timetable is not the same as ours. God’s answers to our prayer do not include just “yes” and “no”; they may also include “not yet” and “yes, but not in quite the way you were expecting”. We know that “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12) When we remember that God is infinitely wiser than we are, we can demonstrate real faith, which is trust in God even when due to our limited understanding we can’t comprehend why certain prayers seemingly go unanswered.

We can also take comfort in the fact in not just Paul’s experience, but Jesus Himself in the Mount of Olives: “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”” (Luke 22:39-42) Of course, the cup was not taken from Jesus. The very next day, He was crucified. The disciples no doubt thought that their prayers had gone unanswered. The disciples could see no possible good coming from the crucifixion, yet this event ended up being God’s great triumph.

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1. Describe some obstacles to answered prayer, some things that may be keeping your prayer from being answered. More thoughts...
If there is unconfessed sin in your life, it may be time to bring it to God.
2. Reread 1 Cor 13:12: "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.". What does this verse mean to you? More thoughts...
Take some time to remember times where God was working in your life, even if you didn't realize it at the time.
3. Can you think of a time God said "yes" to a prayer, but not in the way you initially expected? More thoughts...
Is God's timetable always the same as ours?
4. How can we pray when we don't know what to pray for? More thoughts...
See the article "8 Things to Pray For" at the top of this page for some suggestions.
5. Consider Jesus' parable about faithful, constant prayer in Luke 18:1-8. What does this tell us about how we should pray? More thoughts...
Paul advises us to "pray continually" (1 Thes 5:17, NIV) and "always be prayerful" (Romans 12:12). Think of some ways you can attempt to "pray continually" in your everyday life.
6. Is there ever a time we should stop praying about something? Why or why not? More thoughts...
Is there someone you were praying for, but stopped? Could it be time to start praying for them again?
7. What sources of comfort can we take while we wait for an answer to our prayers? More thoughts...
Consider how God's Body, His church, could support and strengthen you. What books of the Bible could be a source of comfort during desperate times?
8. Consider Hebrews 11:1 and what this definition of faith means to your prayer life: "What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see." More thoughts...
Remember God's word in Revelation 21:3-4 regarding our eventual life with Him: "Look, the home of God is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever."
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