Reasons for Unanswered Prayer and How to Correct It.

Unanswered prayers can leave you confused and oftentimes disheartened about your relationship with God. Understanding why God does not answer your prayers is essential if you are going to thrive as a Believer. With that in mind, this article will show why God may not answer your prayers and what to do to correct it.

The Bible clearly identifies five reasons for unanswered prayers. They include, (1) sin in your life; (2) not praying according to God’s will; (3) lack of faith, (4) praying with the wrong motives; and (5) marital strife. Below is an explanation of each one and what to do to help correct it.

Reason #1: Sin in Your Life.

Scripture teaches us if we have sin in our life, God will not listen to our prayers. For example, the Bible tells us in Psalm 66:18, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (ESV). In Isaiah 59:1-2, the Bible explains, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear 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” (ESV).

According to these passages, sin hinders us from communicating with God. You might ask, “I thought if I was a Christian my sins (past, present, & future) were forgiven.” How come God will not listen to my prayers if I have sin in my life?” Think of your relationship with God like that of a good parent to a child. When a child disobeys his parent, it does not mean the mom or dad is no longer the child’s parent, it just means the relationship has been hindered because trust has been broken. The child must admit what he did and apologize to the parent in order for the relationship to be strong and for trust to be restored. It is kind of like when a kink in a water hose stops the flow of water coming out of the hose. Until you correct the problem by unkinking the hose, you will never get what was intended. In a similar way, when we sin it stops the flow of our communication with God because He is like the perfect parent not allowing us to live in sin without consequences. Until we correct the sin problem God will not listen to us.

How do we correct our sin problem so God will hear our prayers? 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confession is key! Confessing our sin is simply admitting we did wrong before God and asking Him to forgive us. However, we must not think we can trick God. Confession is not a “get out of jail free card” whereby we try to deceive God knowing that we intend to go back to the same sin as soon as possible. True confession has an element of repentance to it – meaning with God’s help you try your best not to commit that sin again. When God sees you admitting your wrong and really trying not to sin again it opens the communication lines between you and Him and He hears your prayers.

Reason #2: When You don’t Pray According to God’s Will.

1 John 5:13-15: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward 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 that we have asked of him.” (ESV)

This passage serves as an important reminder that praying in accordance with God’s will ensures that God hears and answers our prayers. Sometimes, when we say God did not answer our prayers, we are not saying our prayers were unanswered, but that God did not answer our prayers the way we wanted. In other words, sometimes God answers our prayer with a “No” or “wait” when we wanted a “yes” answer. The Apostle John helps us understand in the passage above that if we want a “yes” answer to our prayers we must pray according to God’s will. I provide a great example of this truth in my article, “Four Steps to an Exciting and Powerful Prayer Life.”

How do we pray according to God’s will? The first place we go to find God’s will is in His Word. If we want our prayers to be answered with a “yes” we need to make sure we are praying in harmony with the Bible. For example, don’t expect God to give you a “yes” answer to something that is clearly in opposition to Scripture. God will never lead you in a direction that is contrary to His Word.

There are times, however, when the Bible does not address our prayer requests specifically. For example, the Bible does not tell you what college you should attend, or which job should you take, especially if you have several offers. I have found that most of our prayers are not so much about right or wrong questions, but more about knowing God’s will for a specific question or decision in life.  Let me give you some basic guidelines for knowing God’s will when your decision it is not specifically addressed in the Bible. For a more extensive treatment, check out my article, “Knowing God’s Will.”

  1. If the decision you need to make is going to lead you into sin -it is not God’s will.
  2. Make sure you confess any known sin in your life and pray for God’s clear guidance and wisdom.
  3. Look for the Holy Spirit to bear witness in your life about the direction of your decision. In other words, are there any “red flags” that you are detecting. Do you have a peace about it in your life? If you don’t have a peace about it, you made need to wait or do more research before you make the decision.
  4. Seek wise counsel. The Bible says there is wisdom in much counsel (Proverbs 11:14).
  5. Finally, after sincerely working through the previous four steps, trust God and step out on faith and make your decision. Ask Him to close the door if it is not the right direction for you.

Reason #3: Lack of Faith

Mark 11:20-25: 20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received[c] it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”(ESV)

James 1:6-8: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (ESV)

There is an old saying, “Pray and believe and you shall receive. Pray and doubt and you will do without.” I think that saying is reflective of the truth found in the passages above, but I do think we need to qualify it in at least three ways. First, you can pray in faith, but if it is not God’s will do not expect Him to answer it according to your wishes (see previous point). Second, God’s timing is not always our timing. God may be asking you to wait before your prayer is answered even though you are praying in faith. Third, I do not think Jesus’s words in Mark 11:20-25, or the truth found in James 1:6-8 is best understood as a “free ticket” to get all your prayers answered as long as you have faith. There are a number of variables that play a role in how God answer a person’s prayer. In fact, Mark 11:25 (see above) addresses one of the variables of forgiveness. I think the best way to understand Jesus’s words is that faith is a requirement for answered prayers. Jesus wants us to a have full assurance that if we pray and believe (have faith) He will answer our prayers in His timing, according to His way, and for our good.

Reason #4: Praying with Wrong Motives

James 4:1-4: What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passionsYou adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (ESV). 

Praying with the wrong motives is another factor why our prayers may go unanswered. Unfortunately, many believers attempt to treat God like a genie, thinking He will answer their prayers according to their wishes. But Scripture is clear, if we ask with the wrong motives God will not answer our prayers. In the case mentioned in James 4:1-4, these Christians were asking God to answer their prayers for selfish ungodly reasons. The best way to combat selfish tendencies in your prayer life is to ask yourself if your prayers can bring glory to God. Too often, much of our prayer life revolves around what we want instead of asking how God can get greater glory through our prayers. For a more detailed explanation check out my article on The Lord’s Prayer.  

Reasons #5: Marital Strife and Neglect

1 Peter 1:3-7: Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (ESV)

Proverbs 21:13: Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor
    will himself call out and not be answered. (ESV)

In 1 Peter 1:3-7, the Apostle Peter helps husbands understand the importance of treating their wives with kindness and honor. God’s intention for marriage, at least in part, is that it would provide a glorious picture of how Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). However, when a husband neglects his role and does not treasure his wife it impacts how the world understands the gospel. Therefore, God tells husbands their prayers will go unanswered when there is martial strife in the family, especially when the husband is at fault.

In a similar way, Proverbs teaches us that when we neglect the cries of the poor our prayers will go unanswered. The general principle in this verse is that if we have the means to help the poor, but completely ignore them, God will ignore our prayers. Certainly, there are cases, especially in America, where people are poor because they have not taken responsibility for their lives. We do not want to enable them to continue in that condition so we may have to practice tough love. But when someone is truly suffering and has no control over their circumstances we should try to help if possible. If we refuse, what does that say about our relationship with God. Much like the husband who neglects his wife, if we neglect the poor, it provides an inaccurate picture of God’s love. Thus, God disciplines us by withholding answers to our prayers until we correct our attitudes and actions.  

Let me encourage you as you evaluate your prayer life do not to get discourage if you feel like God is not answering your prayers. First, go through the list above to make sure nothing is hindering God from answering your prayers. If you know all is good, trust God’s timing. Sometimes, He may require you to wait to strengthen your faith or to arrange certain circumstances to bring more glory to His name and greater good to your life.  

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