Unanswered Prayer

God does not answer all prayer.

In fact, some prayers likely offend Him.

Many times I have heard that God always answers. The answer may be Yes, No, or Wait, but He always answers. “Every cry of the heart and every request reaches His ear,” I’m told, but 2 Chronicles 7:14 might suggest otherwise.

If My people, who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

If…then. It’s a conditional statement. If this, then that. If not this, then not that. Simple enough.

Scripture is replete with examples of unanswered prayer.

If we pray to false gods, YHWH does not make concessions. He is unimpressed by prayers to statues, wood blocks, or gods of other names. If our prayers are to impress others, they likely go nowhere (Lk 18:11). If we embrace wickedness, it impacts our prayer (Job 27:1-9; Matt 7:21-23). If we treat others dishonorably, it hinders our prayers (1 Pet 3:7).

God is not the genie in the bottle. He refuses to hear prayer that is mere performance or grounded in pride. Perfunctory prayer is better not uttered. It won’t be answered.

But if we will humble ourselves, seek Him, and pursue righteousness then He will hear, forgive, and heal.

On this National Day of Prayer here in the United States, we would do well to recall that repentance supercedes eloquence and that humility exceeds intensity. Authentic prayer is, after all, first a matter of the heart, long before it is a speech delivered by the lips.

The little wall plaque states “Prayer Changes Things.” James tweaks that common saying and reminds us that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (Js 5:16).

How’s your prayer life today? Feel like your prayers are bouncing back? No one at the other end? Perhaps our struggle with prayer has less to do with the hearer and more to do with our heart. Just something to ponder.

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6 Responses to Unanswered Prayer

  1. Tim Ross says:

    David, This is an excellent post. For years prayer was somewhat of an enigma for me. I prayed and some prayers were not answered. Prayers that I thought were good prayers like keeping my parents from divorcing, keeping a loved one alive, etc. But God’s will is somewhat difficult to discern on those matters at times. But God’s will is not difficult to discern on what He wants from me. He wants my heart fixed on Him, He wants my words and actions kind, patient, loving, caring, compassionate, and faithful. He wants all to know Him. If my prayers align with these then I know I am aligned with His will. I may not keep a job, a loved one might not be healed, and people might decide to go their separate ways. But I can choose to pursue His ways and pray in that same regard for myself and others. This way I know He is hearing my prayer. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart. I will be found by you.” (Jer 29:13-14). Good post David.

    • David Timms says:

      Tim, thanks for your note. You grasped the heart of what I hoped to say — that our hearts must guide our mouths in authentic prayer. I’m now reflecting on those whose hearts are earnest but still feel that their prayers go unanswered. It’s another (perhaps more complex) part of this experience we call prayer. Blessings, my friend.

  2. Phil McKinley says:

    Thanks Dr. Timms. This week on C-Span, I was watching Admiral Adams (Senate Chaplain) addressing a wide variety of questions. He responded with scripture until he was asked the question as to whether chaplains should be allowed to pray in Jesus name. To this question he responded with a philosopher. In the name of religious sensitivity, he thought it acceptable to pray without reference to our savior. It’s a shame. It takes me back to the first century when the Christians were called to reject Jesus. Their salvation did not depend on a philosopher. Let’s not forget the Creator and Mediator of our salvation when we pray.

  3. Cathy Comeaux says:

    Thanks, David, for the thoughtful reminder of what is required of ME. Introspection is as important as petition, but, I might say, a little more difficult and time consuming! When it seems that God doesn’t answer, I find myself remembering back to Job, and relying on my trust in God’s character and omni-attributes and the fact that I am not He. Easy? No. Comforting and reassuring? Yes.

    • David Timms says:

      I like that Cathy. If prayer were entirely about the state of my heart, I might despair. The consistent character of the Father is certainly the core of the equation.

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