Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Why does God not answer some prayers?

How many people have said or thought, “I prayed for something, but God did not answer”?  This has been a stumbling block for many who have attempted to begin or grow in a relationship with God, but feel like God let them down.  Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in my name, that will I do” (John 14:13).  So, why did God not answer my prayer?  Below are some of the reasons God does not seem to answer prayers. 

We must believe and have faith in God that He will answer the prayer.  “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:6-7).  Jesus said, “if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will happen.  And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:21-22).

The name of Jesus
We must pray to God the Father, in the name of Jesus, as we saw in John 14:13.  However, this should not be interpreted formulaically.  Simply by saying the right words, whether they are “in the name of Jesus”, or “Hail Mary full of grace” or “abracadabra” will not automatically guarantee a positive result with God.  We must first have a relationship with Him and answered prayers are an outgrowth of that relationship.  A key principle of Biblical interpretation is that individual verses must be understood in the backdrop of the entirety of scripture.  There is more to having prayers answered than believing and speaking in Jesus’ name.

We must pray with the proper motives.  James, the brother of Jesus, stated, “You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3).  It is important that we always seriously consider the reason we are asking.  Praying for God to make me rich, famous, or successful to feed my own ego and hedonistic tendencies would seem to fall under the purview of this verse.  Prayer for a legitimate need is certainly acceptable, as the word states, “my God will supply all your needs” (Philippians 4:19).     

Stumbling blocks to prayer
Some issues come between us and God which interfere with having prayers answered.  “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear”, Psalm 66:18 states.  Isaiah similarly stated, “your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).  We are also informed that God will not converse with those who harbor sin:  “these men have set up their idols in their hearts and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of their iniquity.  Should I be consulted by them at all?” (Ezekiel 14:3)  Refusing to turn from unrepentant sin will hinder our prayers.  But, given the fact that most of us sin with disappointing consistency, how can anyone have prayers answered? 

Fortunately, John informs concerning those sins committed after salvation, “if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).  The writer of Hebrews addresses this also by saying, “we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).  None of us is perfect, but when we do sin, we need to repent and confess that sin to God to continue in relationship with Him.  Then, our prayers will be heard. 

Delayed answer
Sometimes God does answer the prayer affirmatively, and the answer is coming, but not immediately.  A glimpse into the spirit world was given to us when Daniel prayed to God.  An angel came to Daniel and said, “"Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.  But the prince of the Persian kingdom (an angel of darkness) resisted me 21 days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia” (Daniel 10:12-14).  God had sent the answer to Daniel, but the response took time due to delays in the spirit realm.  In another example, God said to Abraham,"look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them" and He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’  Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:5-6).  But, Abraham had to wait 25 years for his first son to be born.  Sometimes we need to be patient and wait for God’s timing.      

What is God’s will?
If I pray for something that is not within His will, I cannot expect to receive what I ask.  We are informed by John that, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14).  How do we know His will?  If it’s in the Bible, then it is His will.  The Bible states that it is God’s will for all to be saved.  God does not wish for “any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9) and if someone repents, their sins will be wiped away (Acts 3:19).  So, if someone offers a prayer of repentance to God, that person can be assured according to His word, God will save him and wipe away his sins. 

But, what if my request is not in the Bible?  For example, someone may pray for God to help make a decision concerning whom to marry or what job to take.  This is where the separation is made between God’s general will (written for all persons in the Bible) and His specific will (for each of our individual lives).  In these types of cases, He promises to give us wisdom if we ask for it and do not doubt.  We are informed in James 1:5-6, “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 he must ask in faith without any doubting”.  An important point here is that we should not normally look only to one scripture verse for a conclusive answer.  For example, God will give wisdom if we ask in faith, but we may receive that wisdom from others.  Proverbs 15:22 informs that, “without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.”

Relationship with God
As we develop our relationship with God, we increase our ability to discern His will for our lives.  Jesus said, “"If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).  In John 16:26-27, Jesus told His disciples, “In that day (after the resurrection) you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf.  No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”  Do these verses apply to all people?  No, Jesus is speaking to His followers.  If we are followers of Jesus today, these words apply to us.  We can still abide in Him through His word, Spirit, and prayer.

What is God’s purpose?
Here’s a key question we must ask:  What is God’s purpose in my life?  Is it His responsibility to give me a comfortable life?  If something does not go my way, am I justified in blaming God?  Is it God’s job to sit inside the lamp and, whenever I rub it, He pops out to grant my wish?  Unfortunately, many drop out of relationship with God because of misguided expectations.  He stated through the prophet, “I am God and there is no one like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, my purpose will be established and I will accomplish all My good pleasure” (Isaiah 46:9-10).  God did not say He would establish my purpose, but His.  It is vitally important that we align our purpose in life with His.  It may difficult for us to hear, but God does not live to serve us.  We live to serve Him.  Our primary motivation in life should always be as Paul said, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).  If that is our motivation in prayer – and in life – God will accomplish some great things through our prayers.

[Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible.]

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