We have all prayed prayers that we feel like have not been answered. Maybe you are praying one of those prayers right now. Maybe you’ve been praying:
…for a job, but it seems that no one wants to hire you.
…for your finances to finally be enough to live comfortably.
…for your loved one to finally let go of the addition.
or the most common one I hear:
…for your loved one or even for yourself to be healed.
Jesus says, “You can pray for anything and if you believe that you have received it, it will be yours.” Don’t believe me? Check it out.
22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. (Not in man, your job, your money, your addition, even you.) 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.
Now Jesus wouldn’t have said this if it were not true. In fact, it would seem impossible to actually pick up a whole mountain and move it into the sea, yet Jesus used that illustration to show us that God can do what seems to be absolutely impossible for us because literally nothing is impossible for God.
So, if He can move mountains, why are some of our prayer request not answered? As we talked about last week through Jesus’ example of praying The Lord’s Prayer, you maybe praying regularly, privately, sincerely, specifically and your mountain is still standing over you!
Reasons why our prayers may not be answered
Now, there are several reasons why our prayers may not be answered. And let me be very clear, that for some requests we may never know why they aren’t answered. But we are given some reason of why some prayer requests are not answered. So I believe it’s worth looking at the reasons we do know of.
Some prayer requests, no matter how well intended, are just plain unfitting. But don’t feel bad because Jesus’ disciples did it too. They were not immune from making misguided requests. Not even the three that were the closest to Jesus – Peter, James and John. They made some pretty, wild requests…a few times.
- In one incidence, Peter, James and John were on the mountain top with Jesus and all of a sudden God’s glory descended upon Jesus, and He glowed like the sun. And suddenly right with Jesus, stood Moses and Elijah, two men who had been dead for many, many years. Moses lead the Israelites out of slavery, and Elijah was a prophet of God. These were two men who had been gone for many years.
And right in the presence of these guys, Peter had a bright idea. He said, “Hey Jesus, this is so awesome! If you want I’ll build alters right here right now one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah so we can remember this very moment forever.”
Okay, that was not all bad, because that was typically something they did. If God did something great, you built an altar and dedicated it to God so that every time you came to that place, you remembered what God had done. But Peter’s timing and understanding was completely off.
But Jesus didn’t even need to respond because God did. A thick cloud came over them and a voice from that cloud said, “This is my dearly beloved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground. And the next thing they knew, Jesus came over to them, touched them and said, “Don’t be afraid” and helped them up off the ground.
They started walking back down the mountain and Jesus said, “Don’t tell anyone what you saw until I have been raised from the dead.” Stunned, the disciples change the subject.
In an essence Jesus was says, “No, this is not a reasonable or appropriate request, Peter. It’s not the right time.” Peter wanted to remember this moment of seeing these two guys with Jesus forever with those alters, so that every time he’d walk back up that mountain, he would remember what happened.
But God’s words had a bigger purpose than just building an altar and remembering this moment and place. Those words were words to move forward with. They gave authority to Jesus’ words. The words that He was going to give to them with the instructions of how to live their lives, how to make disciples.
You see, this was a brief glimpse of the true glory of the King. This was a special revelation of Jesus’ divinity to the disciples, and it was God’s divine affirmation of everything Jesus had done and was about to do. (Matthew 17:1-8)
- In another incidence, James and John, and with the help of their mother, asked Jesus if they could reserve the two best seats in his kingdom for themselves. They wanted to be Jesus’ guests of honor. One sit on His left and one sit on His right when they got to Heaven.
Jesus said, “Uh….no. You don’t know what you are even asking for. Besides, that’s not my place to say who will take those seats and my Father’s already got that worked out.” (Matthew 20:20-23)
- Now James and John seemed to have a knack for requesting the wrong thing because Luke (9:51-56) recounts yet another time they did so. Sometime after the transfiguration, Jesus and the disciples were denied passage through a Samaritan village. This irritated James and John so much that they asked Jesus to destroy the whole village with fire from Heaven, and they were serious. But once again, Jesus denied their request. In fact, He rebuked them for even making it.
In all of these situations, the request was not appropriate, and therefore Jesus would not grant it. If Jesus’ disciples were capable of making wrong requests – requests that were self-serving or immature – I feel sure that we are too.
Fortunately, God loves us too much to say yes to inappropriate requests. And I wouldn’t want a god who would do it any other way. In fact, we should praise God for telling us “no” and never answering those crazy requests. And I know, most of us would never approach God with the intention of making a bad request, but still wrong request float to Heaven all the time.
Before bringing a request to the Lord, it’s a real good idea to find out what your motivation is behind it. Ask yourself: If God granted me this request, would it bring glory to Him and His kingdom, or just to me? Would it actually help people? Would it help me to actually grow? Or would it just satisfy me for this time?
There’s a great confusion in most of us between wants and needs, rights and favors, justice and grace, and convenience and God’s will. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us the first request should be that God’s kingdom come, that His will be done, not ours.
So the idea is that our requests need to line up with God’s character and His will, or He’s going to tell us no. You may say, well how do I know if it lines up with His will? We find that out in scripture, in prayer, spending time with Him, listening to Him. In all honesty, it’s not always that our requests are wrong, sometimes just our timing is wrong.
TIMING IS WRONG
We live in an instant society, always trying to do everything faster. We have all sorts of ways to get things done faster. But yet for some things, we still have to wait.
Parents know that children rank the words ‘not yet’ as nearly the most awful words ever, second only to the word “no.”
For example, a trip in the car.
“Are we there yet?”
Or, “Can I open my gift now instead of waiting till my birthday party tomorrow?”
Or, “Can I have dessert even though dinner will be ready in a little while.”
Children really do not like to hear the answer ‘not yet’. And I believe there’s an impatient child in all of us, a child who wants God to meet every need, grant every request, move every mountain RIGHT NOW.
However, God is not impressed with our lack of patience, and instead says, “I want you to trust me. I know what I’m doing, and I have my reasons. Sometimes God delays in order to test our faith. Sometimes God delays so that we can modify our requests. Over time, as we understand the situation better, we may see that the original request wasn’t quite lining up to God’s plans. Sometimes God delays so we can develop character qualities – endurance, trust, patience – qualities that come only when we wait patiently and trust in His timing.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
Often, I thought God was saying “No” only to find out later that He was saying, “Not yet.” All so that He could orchestrate a greater miracle than I even had the faith to pray for in the first place.
It’s unlikely that ALL of our requests are inappropriate. Likewise it’s unlikely that our timing is ALWAYS off. There’s a third reason our prayers may not be answered. Sometimes the reason why we’re not getting the answer we want is that our prayers are blocked. Not by God, but by us. It is possible that something is wrong on our end.
US IN THE WAY
- The most common cause of unanswered prayer is – Prayerlessness. Have you ever decided to pray about something, added it to your prayer list, maybe even told a friend that you’d pray for them, but then never actually got down on your knees and did it?
In that case, why isn’t God answering your prayer? Because you haven’t yet prayed regularly, privately, sincerely, specifically.
When was the last time you prayed diligently over a period of time for your spouse, your children, or for someone to come to know Christ? Or that God’s power would cause a revolution in our church? Or that God would put you to work for His glory?
- Another way that we get in the way of answered prayers is through our – Unconfessed Sin. Sin that cuts off our communication with the Father.
“Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.”
If you let even a little sin into your heart, it’s going to contaminate your prayers. The best thing you can do is first confess. Ask and receive the Lord’s forgiveness, and then you’ll have a clear conscience, a clear heart, and God will be able to communion with you.
- Now a third reason we are in the way is – Unresolved Conflict. This is how important this is.
Matthew 5:23-24 says,
“If you are offering your gifts at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother then come and offer your gift.”
Don’t underestimate how committed God is to building and maintaining a loving community, a family. He adopts us in to his family, and He wants us to carry our relationship with Him into our relationship with others. Of course, it isn’t always possible to make amends, but Romans 12:18 encourages us to try: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
If your attempts have been wholehearted and honest, God will NOT let the broken relationship stand in the way of your prayers. But if your reconciliation attempts have been halfhearted or self-serving, then you should try again – and for real this time.
- Another reason we are in the way is our – Uncaring attitudes. Proverbs 21:13 says, “Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need.” And that’s not the only scripture that says that.
God is committed to developing a people who will reflect His character in this world, and His character always expresses concern and compassion for the afflicted. If your ear is open to the afflicted, God will keep His ear open to you.
- The last reason I want to look at is back in Mark 11:23-24. Inadequate faith or belief. Doubt.
They all stop us short. Is God able? Is He all powerful? If you don’t own the doctrine that He is, you’re going to miss it. Before getting on your knees, go to scripture and look at what God has done for His people. Then review His track record in your own life, looking for His power and faithfulness.
Because when you tune your mind to God whom you are convinced is able, you will see how able He really is to move that mountain. And the more convinced you are of God’s ability, the more He demonstrates His ability to you. Jesus never told His followers just to throw wishes to Heaven. Instead He said, when you pray, plan on seeing a mighty demonstration of God’s power.
22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.
If the truth be known, often you and I are the only obstacles standing in the way of our prayers. Our requests may be right. The timing may not be a problem. But when our lives are wrong, God says, “Before I grant your request, I want you to grow. Put that sin away, reconcile that relationship, change your attitude, and stop that practice.
I must talk about those times that we don’t know why our prayers are not answered. Sometimes the motivation behind our request are NOT necessarily wrong, the timings not wrong, and we aren’t in the way, but in the mystery of things, unfortunately the outcome still seems to be that our prayers are unanswered.
Every day, Godly people are stricken with deadly diseases, praying parents die without seeing their lost children return to God, unspeakable tragedies afflict believers and non-believers alike. For reasons we don’t understand this side of Heaven, God may choose to deny healing from happening and allow tragedies to happen.
As awful as these realities are, they’re nothing new. This is not just our world today. Luke 13 tells us that 18 Jews were crushed and killed when a tower toppled on them. Acts 12 tells how the apostle James was beheaded while Peter was saved. Many Christians wonder why God wouldn’t save these people. Why wouldn’t He hear and answer these kind of prayers from His believers?
It’s important that we remember that despite the victory God has achieved over Satan and this ugly world, not everything is submitted to God yet. The enemy is still active.
Even Paul said he had a thorn in his side, something that he was suffering with.
2 Corinthians 12:7-9
“To keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”
Satan causes much suffering, and he often seems to have the upper hand, but make no mistake: God will have the final say. In the end, as God’s adopted children, WE WILL WIN! Because of this ultimate victory, Christians have the assurance that those very prayers that remain unanswered in this life will receive spectacular vindication in eternity!
God lets some things happen in our lives. Things that may give us strength, teach us to rely on Him, and even things that are used to develop our faith. The worst things in our lives are often the very things that draw us closer to God, build up our faith and give us strength to face the next trial unafraid. So trust God that He sees the bigger picture. He knows what is best for us. So yes, He will let us go through trials. And when it’s right, He will answer prayers. And that’s the part we need to focus on. That even when it seems He’s not answering, He is. In His way.
So how do you pray a prayer so filled with faith that it can move a mountain? You shift your focus from the size of the mountain to the sufficiency of the Mountain Mover, and then step forward in obedience. As you walk with God, your faith will grow, your confidence will increase and your prayers will have real power.
Prayer reminds us we are not in control and keeps us close to the One who is. – Craig Groeschel
If the request is right, the timing is right, and you are right, God says, “Go!”
I believe nothing motivates people to develop their prayer lives more than answered prayers. And once the barriers are dealt with and gone, the way is clear for God to answer one prayer after another, after another, after another.