Why doesn’t God answer prayer?
For starters, He does—I can attest to that. But sometimes, or according to some people, God seems to not answer particular prayers. Why is that?
What Prayer Is
Part of it is because many people—myself included, for a long time—have a misunderstanding of what prayer is. I talked about this in more depth last week at Watermark (which you can watch here), but prayer is simply a conversation with God. It is talking with God, and its purpose is largely to help align us with what God is doing as He invites us to play a role in it.
Questions about why God doesn’t answer a prayer are always about times when we ask God to do something. And for some people, that is all prayer is: a room service line, or perhaps a 911 call. It’s all requests, all the time. To me, that doesn’t sound much like a conversation.
I’m certainly not saying you should never request anything from God, but that is not the only thing prayer is about. Instead of a room service line, prayer is more like a walkie-talkie on a battlefield. We constantly radio in about the situation, and ask God what He would have us do: charge over there, bind someone’s wounds over here, or wait over in this area. God is up to something, and we get to take part—but we’re not giving the orders.
Can You Hear Me Now?
All that said, there actually are places in the Bible where it talks about God not hearing people’s prayers. Not that He can’t hear, but that He doesn’t listen.
As it says in Isaiah 59:1-2,
Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.
The chapter kind of goes on from there to describe the people in ever-less-flattering terms. Basically, if you are committed to living in unrepentant sin, you are not really concerned with God’s plans and shouldn’t expect Him to include you in His work. You won’t hear from Him, because there is too much static on the line.
The Bible includes other examples of when God will not hear your prayers:
When you are focused on the appearances of religion, rather than caring for others (Isaiah 58:1-12).
For married folks, if you are not considerate of your spouse, which is God’s will for marriage (1 Peter 3:7).
If you do not trust God (James 1:6).
If you ask for something with selfish motives, and without regard for what God wants (James 4:3).
Related to the above, if you ask for something that is not in accordance with God’s will (1 John 5:14).
I always thought that was a cop-out Christian answer to why doesn’t God hear my prayers. Now, I realize that prayer is as much about understanding His will as expressing ours. Jesus provides a good example for us (of course). Facing knowledge of His own impending crucifixion, He went at night to a garden and prayed:
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” – Luke 22:42
Now, if God was going to answer the prayer of anyone, it would be Jesus, right? I mean, it’s His only Son we’re talking about, and the only person who never did anything wrong. So did God answer that prayer?
Yes and no. God did not take away that “cup” of crucifixion, so it might seem like an unanswered prayer. But Jesus also prayed that God’s will be done, and it was; God’s will was to use the crucifixion to save all of us from the penalty of sin. Through Jesus’ death, we get eternal life. That’s a really good plan long-term, but I'd have a hard time seeing that in the moment..
God is up to something, and someday we will see the “why” behind every seemingly unanswered prayer.
Oh, and there is one other reason why God would not hear our prayers, and it is probably the most common reason of all: because we don’t pray.
What are you praying for?