God is not a cosmic genie who promises to answer every request if we just believe strongly enough in His power.
I get a little impatient with super-spiritual saints who leave the impression that they have a deeper grasp of prayer than most. Such folks teach that if other believers just understood God’s Word better—or had more faith in prayer—God would answer all their requests. They would never suffer illness or poverty again.
Such leaders seem to ignore the fact that Jesus was poor and the Apostle Paul struggled with a thorn in the flesh throughout his life. Paul prayed for God to remove the pain, but the Lord did not answer this petition.
There are qualifiers. Someone once said that God answers prayer in one of four ways:
4) “You’ve got to be kidding Me!”
The following are seven biblical reasons why God doesn’t answer our prayers as we request:
1. Unconfessed sin.
“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.” (Isaiah 59:1-2)
2. An unforgiving spirit.
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25)
3. An unbelieving heart.
“But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (James 1:6-8)
4. Improper motives.
“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3)
5. An alienated marriage relationship.
“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” (1 Peter 3:7)
6. An anemic effort.
“So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” (Acts 12:5) “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.” (James 5:17)
7. The sovereignty of God.
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Romans 9:15-16)
Trust and obey.
These principles are on my mind because of the death of Kristen Sauder, a woman from an article I read about recently. The article stated that thousands of Christians prayed for Kristen to be healed of cancer. They not only prayed, they fasted and prayed. The elders anointed her with oil and prayed.
While Kristen lived a few months longer than doctors projected, her condition continued to deteriorate. She died at age 45. Seemingly unanswered prayers left many perplexed as to why God doesn’t always answer in the affirmative. Considering the number of righteous people who prayed with intensity and with pure motives for her recovery, I can only conclude this was not God’s will. That may not make sense to us, but God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8).
Job challenged God’s fairness and asked why so many horrible things happened to him when he had lived a righteous life. God finally responded by asking Job where he was at the dawn of creation or if Job could explain the formation of a baby in the womb. God didn’t give any clear answers. He just reminded Job that He was God and Job should trust Him to work things out in the end.
The Lord Jesus provided ample evidence of His love by coming to earth and suffering and dying for our sins. He gave us proof of His power by rising from the dead. So we have good reason to believe that “all things work together for good to those that love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
God doesn’t promise that all our prayers will be answered just as we express them. He does promise that He hears our prayers and in the end all will be made right. In the meantime, ours is not to understand or explain, but to trust and to wait. This is a lesson every church leader should be teaching to members of the flock.