God answers every prayer — but he often says “no.” Why does God sometimes not answer your prayers the way you want him to?
There’s more than just four reasons, I’m sure. But below are a few things that come to mind. Some may apply to you, some of them won’t.
1. Because You’re Not a Christian
God is merciful, compassionate, and gracious. Prayer is a means by which you can access this great and grand God. And since God is the Creator, and we are his creatures, that means any creature anywhere can call upon God and have his or her prayers heard and answered right away, right?
The access to prayer that Christians enjoy is not the same as unbelievers.
Wayne Grudem writes: “. . . God has nowhere promised to respond to the prayers of unbelievers. The only prayers that he has promised to ‘hear’ in the sense of listening with a sympathetic ear and undertaking to answer when they are made according to his will, are the prayers of Christians offered through the one mediator, Jesus Christ (cf. John 14:6).”
Of course, God does sometimes answer the prayers of unbelievers. But nowhere in Scripture does he promise to do so.
For the Christian, this should bring an immense amount of joy. Because of Christ, you have a right relationship with God and 24/7 access to the throne of grace. Deep communion with God is an incredible privilege reserved only for his children.
Should you encourage nonbelievers to pray? Absolutely. Better yet, you should encourage those who don’t know Christ to repent and trust in Christ so that they can enjoy the many blessings that are awaiting them if they turn from sin, one being right access to God through prayer.
2. Because Your Prayer Doesn’t Align With God’s Will
God is a planner. He works all things out according to a plan that he’s already ordained. And somehow, through God’s amazing wisdom and power, he allows prayers to be a means by which his plan is accomplished. But sometimes we ask things that don’t align with his plan.
The verse is in 1 John:
“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.” (I John 5:14-15)
Notice John says “according to his will.” Since God knows better, he is obviously wise for not granting the requests of things that don’t align with his will.
God is a wise papa. I mean, what kind of father gives his son Mountain Dew at midnight? Or what kind of father gives his child permission to drive at age six? God is a father, and we are his children. And like children who make ridiculous requests, we often do this in prayer, even though at the time of making the request it seems perfectly legitimate. Often, we don’t realize the stupidity behind our prayers until years down the road. And sometimes not even then.
Praise God for the times when he answers your prayers exactly how you prayed them. He does this often. But, also praise God when he doesn’t answer your prayers the way you prayed them. It may seem painful, but we must trust that God is wiser than us, and he simply knows better than we do.
When he doesn’t give you what you want, he often gives you something better. And even if he doesn’t, he has already given you the greatest gift: himself.
3. Because Your Motives Don’t Align With God’s Ways
I doubt I’ve ever done anything with 100% pure motives. I’m a sinful guy. But I want to be conscious of what I’m asking for and why I want it. Here, you don’t want to get overly introspective. You don’t want to be the guy or girl who is so crippled by the thought of potentially doing something with the wrong motives that you end up doing nothing at all. If God only uses those with perfect motives, nothing would ever get done. God can spank you (i.e., discipline) when he wants. Just pray and do stuff and put yourself out there and trust God will convict you and help you when you’re motives aren’t good.
Nevertheless, it’s good to check our intentions.
“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 passions.” (James 4:1-3).
Ask — that’s what James says. But if we ask wrongly — namely, to get something exclusively for self-benefit and for the wrong reasons — we shouldn’t be surprised when the request is denied.
4. Because You’re Not Showing Your Wife Honor and Living With Her in an Understanding Way
That’s what Peter says:
“. . . 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.” (1 Peter 3:7).
The footnote of my ESV Study Bible says: “If husbands do not treat their wives in a godly way, the Lord will pay no heed to their prayers.”
In a day where many husbands verbally and even physically abuse their wives, the Christian husband’s call is to treat his wife like a precious queen, like a daughter of the Most High God. Yes, the husband is the leader. But, Christian leadership looks like caring for your wife’s every need and showing her honor and loving her like Christ loved the church. If this is neglected without repentance, your access to God in prayer will be distorted.
Christian, pray and pray a lot. It’s better to pray than not pray at all. Don’t let your sin keep you from coming to God. Instead, continually come to God in prayer regardless of what you’ve done. Confess your sin and repent often. Examine yourself, but not too much. You’ll go crazy if you do. And most of all, trust God’s timing, trust God’s wisdom, and trust God’s character. He really knows what he’s doing.
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