God commands us to pray. And many of us do pray. We pray for a stable job in an expensive city, peace in the midst of daily conflicts, healing for a dying relative, money because of financial difficulties, victory in a lawsuit case, etc.
There are many things we ask of God, but sometimes we think: Is any of it effective?
Does God always hear me? Why do I feel like my prayers go unanswered?
As many Christians have learned, the typical divine answers to prayer are Yes, No, or Wait. It is in the No response that we get flustered and sometimes begin to question God altogether. Why exactly does God answer No to certain prayers? No human being knows all the answers, but the Bible gives us instances in which God closes His ears off to our prayers. If we are to receive a No to our prayers, it is better that we receive a No doing what is right than a No doing what is wrong.
Here are 7 instances in which God does not answer our prayers:
1. Praying while still in an unsaved state. Many people believe in the existence of God and pray to Him, but have not been justified and reconciled to God via faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Jesus said that no man comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6), which implies that He is not obligated to answer the prayers of agnostics or people who practice other religions. If you think about it, it makes sense. Why should a judge be obligated to honor the requests of a criminal? Until we are made vindicated before God, we stand condemned and deserve nothing but God’s eternal wrath. Sadly, multitudes pray to God (many of them even professing to be Christian), yet they pray with a doubting, faithless heart (James 1:6-8). There is no power in such prayers.
2. Praying with an unrepentant or prideful attitude. Believers sometimes go for seasons without confessing anything to God, which puts them in an awkward position before the Creator. Over time, unconfessed sins of lust, anger, greed, jealousy, and assortment pile up. This is an unhealthy trend that causes believers to get puffed up in pride over time. They soon begin to pray as if they deserve all the good things they are asking for. God does not honor such prayers (Psalm 66:18). This is why confession is important in prayer. We must pray with a repentant heart, seeking to be cleansed daily. This discipline fosters humility and achieves practical restoration between God and man.
3. Praying for public attention. It is certainly not wrong to pray in public, but it is wrong when we are praying only in public. In Matthew 6:5, Jesus rebukes the practice of the Pharisees of praying in front of people for show. They pray in order to draw attention to their supposed piety. Christians can fall into the same temptation. We can pray for the sole purpose of impressing others and showing how religious we are. When done not for God but for man’s praise, prayer is not honored by God. That is why all prayer, especially if done in public, must be sincere and God-focused. We must have the right motive when praying in front of others.
4. Praying with meaningless repetition. This was another practice that Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of in Matthew 6:7-8. They were guilty of praying with meaningless repetition, as if repeated words and incantations can draw them closer to God. There was nothing genuine, personal, or interactive in this style of prayer. It is not wrong to pray with structural formulas or repeated requests (such as seen in the Lord’s Prayer), but when done when our hearts are not into it, it becomes an empty, meaningless tradition. Christians can fall into this trap during creed recitations and meal prayers. It’s easy to mouth the words, but not really mean it. That is why prayer must be real and undertaken with the intention of interacting with the living God instead of reciting empty words to Him. Thoughtless words will not impress or move God to action.
5. Praying with a covetous or lustful heart. All of us pray because we want something from God. That is a big part of our prayer life. Desire is not a bad thing. But a covetous desire is. Instead of praying for what is in the best interest of God’s salvation plan and for the welfare of others, we fall into sin when we pray for selfish things: Money, sex, fame, drugs, materialism, luxury items. God is not obligated to answer Christians who pray with wrong motives or desires (James 4:3). Not all things are beneficial for believers. Some things are plainly wrong and wicked. This is is why our hearts must be pure and sincere. We must not pray to fulfill the lust of the flesh, of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).
6. Praying while mistreating your spouse or family members. It is hypocrisy to pray for God’s good treatment over your life when you are not treating others well. God cares for the weak, which is why abuse of them is abhorrent in God’s eyes (1 Peter 3:7). Many times, we pray to God while we are verbally or physically abusing our family members. If we want our prayers to be heard before God, we must stop abusing our loved ones and dishonoring our parents. We can expect nothing but God’s chastisement if we continue hurting people while we pray hypocritically to the Lord.
7. Praying while harboring hatred or bitterness towards another brethren. Conflict is bound to happen in a believer’s life. Relationships are broken due to quarrels and misunderstandings, which lead to bitterness. When there is an unsettled issue with another person that calls for a reconciliation, or for forgiveness to be sought, we are called to make amends before we offer any prayers or sacrifices to God (Matthew 5:19-26). If we don’t, we not only get rejected by God, but become liable to judgment and trouble from other people. We are never more like God than when we forgive, which is why we must in the forgiving business if we constantly want to see God’s grace poured out in our lives.
This is not an exhaustive list, but some of the major reasons why prayer is not answered at times. May we examine our hearts every time we pray so we can receive God’s richest blessings on our lives.
Steve Cha is the teaching pastor of Grace City LA.