Reasons for Unanswered Prayer

I was recently talking to a friend about how she prayed fervently for something and the Lord did not give it to her. She was perplexed. That reminded me of the time when we received a referral for a little girl in Ethiopia and, after hearing that her case was in jeopardy, I begged the Lord that he would cause everything to go through smoothly so we could adopt her. I laid out my case before the Lord reminding him of his promise:

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

John 14:13

So I came to him as my loving Father, asking in Jesus’ name to allow this orphaned girl to be placed in our Christian home, believing that he would give me what I was asking for.

And he did not. Instead, our adoption agency recommended we take another little girl (now our beloved daughter Makyra) because the first little girl’s case was held up in court.

Honestly, I was stunned and, after talking to my friend today and remembering a Q&A session I heard with Francis Chan, I decided to do a little research as to why the Lord does not answer some prayers.

What Reasons does the Bible give for Unanswered Prayer?

1. We do not Ask. “You do not have, because you do not ask.” James 4:2

2. We ask with Fleshly Motives. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” James 4:3

3. We may be Ignoring God’s Commands. “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.” Proverbs 28:9

4. Husbands may not be Understanding towards their Wives: “Likewise, 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

5. We may be Promoting Murder (i.e. abortion): “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.” Isaiah 1:15

6. We could be Cherishing Sin in our Hearts: “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Psalm 66:18

7. Perhaps we are not Saved: “The LORD is far from the wicked but He hears the prayer of the righteous.” Proverbs 15:29

8. We are not Enduring in Prayer. We simply give up too easily. When grow tired of praying for the same thing over and over so we give up. I am convinced that the Lord “holds out” giving us what we ask for so that we will grow in the area of enduring in prayer.

There are two parables in Luke that the Lord penned to keep us persistently asking, seeking, and knocking until he gives us what we are asking for (they’re long but they’re worth it!):

The Persistent Friend:

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence [or persistence] he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Luke 11:5-10

The Persistent Widow:

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

Luke 18:1-8

9. We’re not Praying in Faith. “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:24

What I am not saying is that every unanswered prayer is easily explained away because of the reasons above, but unanswered prayer is a good time to examine ourselves. I know, in my flesh, my gut reaction is to look to God and ask why he did not answer my prayer, but I think based on these passages I should do just the opposite. Instead, I should look to myself and ask why. In the words of Francis Chan:

“So when I don’t get an answer, I first look at my life. I want to challenge you to really look at your life. I look at my relationship with my wife. I check my motives. I look at my personal holiness and faith. I look at my theology and check my heart. I am always looking at myself. And even things that I want so badly, like my daughter’s salvation, I have to surrender my will to God’s will, knowing he is good and sovereign.”

So then, should I appeal to my own righteousness when asking God for things? Oh no- we appeal to Christ’s righteousness, to his standing before the father, to the power of his name. And if our prayers do not get answered it is not because Jesus is an insufficient high priest or because the Holy Spirit is not interceding for us, it is instead likely because of us.

So, going back to our adoption scenario, why did the Lord not answer my specific prayer to adopt that little girl? And, the answer, after this huge long blog entry—I do not know. But I know that if there was a problem it was with me and not with God. Perhaps my motives were not pure, or I was cherishing sin in my heart, or I was ignoring God’s commands in one area of my life, and so on. And there may not be a problem at all-perhaps the Lord has a secret, hidden reason for not answering this prayer that I do not yet know.

But at the end of the day, if I am examining my heart, if I am enduring in prayer, praying in the name of Jesus, and still I am left with unanswered prayers, I will keep enduring, praying in faith and trust that the Lord is good and his promises are true even when my circumstances seem to call his character into question.

The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their cry.

Psalm 34:15

Author: Stacey Hare

Stacey is a servant of Jesus Christ as well as a wife, mom, linguist, and Bible translator among the Kwakum people of Cameroon.