Over the years I’ve heard people say, “God doesn’t answer my prayers. The heavens are silent and He doesn’t respond or grant my requests.” What does the Bible say about prayer?
There are quite a few factors and conditions to answered prayer and the Bible provides us with quite a few reasons why you may not be receiving what you are seeking. Let’s look together at some of them.
As far as I can tell from the Scriptures, the only prayer God promises to hear from an unbeliever is the prayer of repentance. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 12:27). If you are not hearing from God, perhaps you are not a sheep.
As simple as it may seem, perhaps you have never actually made your request known to God. He knows what you need before you even ask or think, but He desires for you to come to Him in prayer.
“Ask (and keep on asking) and it shall be given to you; seek (and keep on seeking), and you shall find; knock (and keep on knocking), and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened” (Matt. 7:7-8).
“ If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
“ Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
“You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2b).
You Need to Ask the Father in Jesus’ Name
“Whatever you ask in my name, that will I do that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14).
“You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you” (John 15:16).
“Truly, truly, I say to you, if you shall ask the Father for anything, He will give it to you in My name. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23-24).
You May Have Asked with Selfish Motives
“You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3).
“Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!’” (Acts 8:18-20).
You Are Not Obedient, or May Have Unrepentant Sin
“Behold, the LORD’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; neither is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear” (Is. 59:1-2).
“Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22).
You May Have Unresolved Relational Conflicts
“If therefore you are presenting your offerings at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering at the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matt. 5:23-24).
“And Jesus answered saying to them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be taken up and cast into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.’” (Mark 11:22-26)
God doesn’t want you to be doing “religious” activities when you are the hold up in a relational conflict. Get things right and then bring your prayers to the throne. This verse in Matthew, of course, implies that the man at the altar has not tried to reconcile previously or is at fault in some way. We can only be responsible for our part, not the other person (see Heb. 12:14, Rom. 12:18, 14:19, Ps. 34:14).
You May Have Broken Trust with Your Spouse
“You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).
“You cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the LORD has been a witness against and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt trecherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant” (Mal. 2:14-15).
You May Not Be Abiding Daily in Christ
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7).
You May Have Asked Outside of God’s Will
“And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (1 John 5:14-15).
Jesus taught his disciples to pray that the Father’s will would be accomplished (Matt. 7:7), and he prayed Himself in Gethsemane, “Not my will, but Thine be done” (Matt. 26:39).
You cannot simply go on your own trail and expect God to follow you, blessing your efforts as you go. You must find out what He is doing, and join Him in His work.
You May Have Ignored God’s Commands
In Proverbs 1, “Wisdom” is an anthropomorphism (or is that “Theopomorphism?”) for God.
“Because I called, and you refused; I stretched out my hand and no one paid attention; and you neglected all my counsel, and did not want my reproof; I will even laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes, when your dread comes like a storm, and your calamity comes on like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come on you. Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD. They would not accept my counsel, they spurned all my reproof. So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way, and be satiated with their own devices. For the waywardness of the naive shall kill them, and the complacency of the fools shall destroy them. But he who listens to me shall live securely, and shall be at ease from the dread of evil” (Prov. 1:25-33).
You May Be Doubting God
“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6-7).
“And Jesus answered saying to them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be taken up and cast into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it shall be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you’” (Mark 11:22-24).
“And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and be planted in the sea”: and it would obey you’” (Luke 17:6)
“Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, ‘There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God, and did not respect man. And there was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, “Give me legal protection from my opponent.” And for a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, lest by continually coming she wear me out.” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now shall not God bring about justice for His elect, who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8).
You May Need to Enlist Others To Pray
“I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 18:19).
“So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God” (Acts 12:5).
You May Be Facing Satanic Opposition
The Prophet Daniel once fasted and prayed for three weeks with no reply! Talk about discouraging! Finally, an angel met him and said,
“Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia (probably a powerful demon) was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes (an angel of God), came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia” (Daniel 10:12-13).
“Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast (the demon) out?’ And He said to them, ‘Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible to you. But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting’” (Matt. 17:19-21, see also: Mark 9:29).
“For we wanted to come to you– I, Paul, more than once– and yet Satan thwarted us” (1 Thess. 2:18).
It May Not Be the Right Time
“For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles” (Romans 12:9-13).
“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1)
He May Have Already Answered (and said “No”)
“Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness’” (2 Cor. 12:7-9).
God is sovereign. We are not. We do not see, nor do we understand everything. We may not always know specifically why our prayers are not immediately answers. Perhaps what we are asking for isn’t good for us, and God knows it. Perhaps we need to learn endurance in prayer.
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
This essay is not intended to be a comprehensive treatise on the doctrine of prayer, but it is intended to reveal how nuanced this issue of prayer actually is. We cannot simply ask any thing, for any reason, and expect that God will grant us our request. We need a more fully-formed understanding of what the Bible actually teaches on the issue of answered prayers.
All verses are from the New American Standard Bible.