The Problem of Unanswered Prayer

Jerry A. Collins



James 4:1-4

® If God is in control how can my praying make any difference?

Why doesnít God answer all of my prayers?

What are some reasons God will not answer my prayers?

Someone might be saying, I have been praying that God would change him and I am still not being treated any better. I have been praying for a different job but living in this town only means I must be stuck where I am. I have been praying that my friend would become receptive spiritually but conversations about God have gone nowhere. I have been praying for a better income but still at the level of just making ends meet. Unanswered prayer can be a negative motivator to pray and nothing like a string of unanswered prayers to question the value of praying. It is possible to remember Jesus words Ask, Seek, Knock and the door will be opened and after a while conclude either Jesus is lying or we want to know what is wrong with God. James 4 and some other passages can help us understand what is going on when our prayers are not answered. Lets make some observations.


Sinful people can approach God because He made it possible to do so and invites us to fellowship with Him. We can do so on basis of his sons merit not our own. Amazingly he allows us to influence him thru what we communicate to him. Incredibly he even said he will do things in response to our prayers that he would not do if we failed to pray. So failing to pray can leave prayer unanswered. In Lk 11 Jesus teaches that your view of God can hinder your praying. We have the privilege of boldly coming to our loving heavenly Father who is never too busy, too preoccupied, too disinterested, too reluctant to listen to our praying. Jesus says donít let guilt or sense of unworthiness, or your own busyness keep you from praying. If you come with a thimble He can fill that. If you bring a bucket He can fill that too. If you bring a 100 gallon barrel that is no problem for Him. You have not because you ask not.


It is true that we are commanded to ask for what we need (Lk 11:9). It is not because God needs reminding nor is it because we know better than he does what we need. It is because by asking we express our dependence upon him and that reminds us we are dependent upon him. This is a very real condition that God wants us to believe is true especially because in our sinfulness we forget naturally and deliberately. Satan got a bad start choosing equality with God instead of remaining dependent. So did Adam/Eve. Is God then holding out on us and put his love in ? for us when he does not give us what we ask for? One reason may be he wants us to see that he is the one who has provided our needs so that we will be appropriately grateful to him (Like I was when some time passing I received a new bike, kids, job, opportunity, deliverance etc.,). Another may be that asking and waiting builds interest in us so that when he finally does provide we will never forget his goodness. And that capacity to become this is different with all of us and God knows just exactly how long that will take. Another may be fostering persistence since that demonstrates our faith in him. And if we never receive what we are asking for does that mean God does not love us? The measure of God love is not the number of gifts he gives us. The measure of his love is his commitment to give us only what is best for us (Lk 11:11-12). How can the denial of a baby, bike, deliverance be good? I cannot answer that but God says it is. We should never measure Gods love by his gifts. Calvary is proof of that.


Even in this passage we learn that God will not participate in our pleasure seeking from our association with the

world (4:3-5). Our motive is to spend what asking for on our pleasures and prayer will not help because God will not enter into our quarrels. Any place you pursue pleasure you will have quarrels (marriage, career, family, car). Your interests will collide with Godís. He wonít participate in that. Scripture clearly gives conditions for answered prayer. When we meet those God will answer. The first condition for receiving something from God in prayer is asking for it. We do not have many of Gods answers simply because we fail to ask him for them 4:2. It is important to God that his children ask him for things in prayer that he commands us to do so (1 Jn 15:7). Second to abandon the means God normally uses to answer our prayers may frustrate his granting an answer to them. God has always worked thru means more often than he has worked immediately. Refusal to do all we can to obtain our prayer requests (Ask, seeking, knocking) is not an evidence of great faith. Instead it proves we either do not understand Gods ways or are not serious about obtaining our requests. Asking God to heal me and then neglecting to take my medicine is a foolish procedure. Helplessness is an attitude needed as an effective condition for answered prayer (jn 15:5). All people feel helpless occasionally and this moves them to pray. What is that?

1. Determination will motivate this person who will not feel content to present his need once and then forget it. Subject for next week. 2. Humility also a natural product of helplessness. The words used convey idea of begging and imploring admitting my helplessness and lack of ability and sufficiency for this. 3. Fervency increases our seriousness about the prayer. The examples in scripture are not half-hearted, absent-minded requests that god hears and answers but of fervency, earnestness that moved him to respond. 4. Shameless praying is praying from awareness of helplessness. It is not afraid to acknowledge great need and to call upon God boldly to meet it (Lk 11:5-13; Heb 4:16; 1 Jn 3:22; 5:14-16). If you do not feel your need deeply you may feel embarrassed telling God that he has some seemingly trivial need and may not pray at al. So it will be unanswered and the need unsatisfied. 5. Trusting God with the conviction that he can grant it if he chooses to do so (1 Sam 1:18; 1 Chrn 5:20; Matt 21:20-22; Mark 9:14-27). This faith is not necessarily the confidence that he will grant the request unless he has promised that he will. We can never be sure God will answer our petitions unless he has promised to do so since this would require a complete understanding of the whole decree of God. However we must believe that he can grant them and if we do not he may not. 6. Obedience to what we already know is Godís will essential to receive answers (Num 21:7; 1 Jn 3:22). This does not mean that we must be sinless. If that were so no one could ever receive an answer from God. But it means living in fellowship with him (Ps 66:18; 1 Tim 2:8; 2 Tim 2:22). Involves confessing sin immediately and repenting again and again toward complete change. 7. Sincerity in prayer is essential (Mt 6:6). When we pray we must pray to and for God, not to make an impression on other people or simply because it is the time to pray. God promises to be near those who call on him from the heart and to fulfill the desire of those that fear him (Ps 145:18-19). 8. Love toward other people must be behind our prayers to God. That means we must have a forgiving spirit toward others (Mt 6:12-14; 18:21-35). This is demonstrated by praying for those who antagonistic toward us (Matt 5:44), by doing them good, treating them righteously, justly (Isa 58:1-9, Jn 13:34-35). By husbands who live with wives in understanding way so their prayers will not be hindered. A double-minded person who refuses to forgive his bro and yet pray to the Lord. Doing Godís will in some areas of his life and his own in others. This one should not hope to receive anything including his prayers from the Lord Js 1:7-8). 9. Prayer offered in the name of Jesus Christ to receive an answer (Jn 14:12-17; 15:16; 16:23-24). These kinds of prayers are ones that Jesus himself could pray reflecting his understanding of the Father, his desire for Gods glory, his submission to Gods will. Prayers viewed from who God is as he has revealed himself in and thru his son and his teaching. They appeal to God because of the sons atoning work. When the will of God is unknown the way to pray in Jesusí name is to ask subject to Godís will (Mt 6:9-10; 17:19-20. James says we are better served asking God for what we want than taking it from another. Having asked God he may not give it to you if he determines that you ask amiss. So on the one hand you do not want to ask for too little and on the other you often do not know your motives well enough to know if you ask amiss. The best way to resolve this tension is to agree with God that if He does not want you to have it (not in his will for you) you do not want him to give it.