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What should I do if my prayers aren’t being answered?

While there are certainly times when God does not immediately answer our prayers because He chooses to respond in a more important way for us (compare 2 Corinthians 12:7-10), the Bible also clearly reveals that sin will affect our prayers.

It is important to understand that God has promised to respond to His people, and we find this very fundamental but absolutely vital condition set forth in the Book of Zechariah:

“‘The LORD has been very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Return to Me,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets preached, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Turn now from your evil ways and your evil deeds.’” But they did not hear nor heed Me,’ says the LORD’” (Zechariah 1:2-4).

God is always abundantly ready to help us in our times of need, but by sinning we can cut ourselves off from God and from Him hearing or answering our prayers:

“Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2).

An example of this is set forth in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18, verses 9-14. The Pharisee thought he was righteous and without blame before God (Verses 11-12); however, the Tax Collector openly and with heartfelt humility pleaded, saying, “‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” (Verse 13).

The Bible has many other explicit examples of how sin separated individuals and nations from having contact with God—so that He would not and did not answer their prayers (compare John 9:31).

In examining our own relationship with God, a FIRST STEP is to STOP SINNING! That means we must turn from disobedience to obedience to have God answer our prayers:

And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22).

A SECOND STEP in having God answer our prayers is DON’T GIVE UP! Jesus taught us that we should be tenacious in our prayers to God:

“‘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 he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened’” (Matthew 7:7-8).

Just such an example of one who prayed with persistent determination is that of Hannah, the mother of Samuel the prophet, and her remarkable story is found in 1 Samuel, chapters 1 and 2. Hannah was childless for many years and was constantly chided by the other wife of her husband, Elkanah, who did have children. Finally, Hannah did conceive and bore Samuel as well as other children. Hannah did not give up, and God did answer her prayers.

The Bible tells of many others who were faithfully praying for years before God dramatically intervened in their lives:

“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:1-2).

This man, his family and friends, were chosen by God to be the first of the Gentiles to “‘hear the word of the gospel and believe’” (Acts 15:7). It is evident that Cornelius was steadfast and faithful in praying to God, and God answered him in ways far beyond what he might even have hoped—a fact that applies to those who don’t give up in praying to God.

Remember how willing God is to hear and answer His servants:

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20).

Also, note how God responded to King Solomon’s prayer:

Then God said to him: ‘Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you. And I have also given you what you have not asked: both riches and honor, so that there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days’” (1 Kings 3:11-13).

Remember, we must never give up in praying to God (compare Luke 18:1-8)—even if we don’t get the answer right away. Trust God completely to answer you in the way that is best.

A THIRD STEP in having God answer our prayers is to BELIEVE GOD! Sometimes, perhaps, we simply need to re-examine the fact that God requires that we believe Him.

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Jesus taught about how to have our prayers answered:

“‘Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them’” (Mark 11:24).

James writes of how we should pray, using the example of requesting “wisdom”:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8).

Jesus was asked to heal a centurion’s servant, and He agreed to do so:

And Jesus said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’ The centurion answered and said, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, “Go,” and he goes; and to another, “Come,” and he comes; and to my servant, ‘”Do this,” and he does it.’ When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!’… Then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.’ And his servant was healed that same hour” (Matthew 8:7-10, 13).

We can have great faith and truly believe God if, when we pray, we are doing the following:

“Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14).

Finally, we have the supreme help of Jesus Christ in having our prayers answered:

“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Lead Writer: Dave Harris