The Bible gives us several reasons why prayers may not be answered. Here are a few. In addition, we can learn to live a life of answered prayer. I’ll cover that later.
If we have enough faith to pray, but then are unbelieving about the issue, then go back and forth, then we won’t receive anything from the Lord. James 1:6-8 tells us, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
Another instance of why we don’t get what we ask for is because we “ask wrongly” according to James 4:3, which says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” These “passions” are the passions of the flesh, not the Spirit. They are all about us and what we want, not about God and His will.
We might ask for forgiveness from God and find our guilt strangely unrelieved. That’s another area where we may have unanswered prayer. After Jesus taught His disciples the Our Father prayer, which includes the request, “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” He warned, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” If we want our prayers of forgiveness heard, we need to make sure we are showing mercy to others who have wronged us.
How can we make sure God answers our prayers? In Matthew’s gospel, we hear the phrase “the kingdom of God” repeated. It is referring to the saved life, the life where the believer is at rest in the will of God. For instance, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33) is the mindset of the saved person. This person is desiring all his heart, soul, mind, and strength being brought under the reign of God.
This is different, for example, with the person whose whole life is about me, myself, and I. That person is the center of his universe. He is most concerned with his own tastes, opinions, feelings, and desires. This is the normal life we have all known while growing up. In contrast, the child of God is a new creation, and old things have passed away. Paul mentioned an important characteristic of this new creation when he wrote, “and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15). The person in the kingdom of God — the saved person — now puts God’s will first. He did not have this mindset before.
So when we read of the positive promises regarding prayer throughout the gospels, they are assuming this mindset, that we are praying to a Father above and desire His will done above all. This will affect what you pray for and how you pray. As a young child, you will ask for things you want. As a mature child, you will be working alongside your Father, engaged in His work, and talking about the work and your part in it. The Lord Jesus Christ had this mind toward the Father. The Holy Spirit is laboring to bring all of us into this mindset. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
The world, of course, has its own effect on us. It relentlessly teaches that this life is the only life worth living for. Social media can swallow you up in a digital world where God does not work. There is no spiritual reality. You can be satisfied if you buy this product or use that one. In the world, self or the “global village” is supreme, not the kingdom of God to come when Jesus will rule supreme. Which mindset will see the most answered prayer? What are you living for day by day? Whose plans are most important to you, yours or God’s?
In our examples at the beginning, we found several reasons why we don’t get answers to prayer. Having the mindset of the kingdom of God resolves these issues. James 1:6-8 tells us it is because we don’t have steadfast faith in what we believe in. What is the remedy? Faith is confidence. If we have the kingdom mindset where we put God’s plans first, we’ll develop faith in God and our part in His work. A Spirit-anointed teacher, for instance, can pray in faith for his work, that he would learn the scriptures, communicate his message with power, and expect God to work in his life.
We gave a second example of unanswered prayer in James 4:3, which tells us we ask wrongly, asking for things to satisfy our passions. With the kingdom mindset, we will not pray for the passions the world has cultivated in us, like being insanely rich or increasing our prestige or possessions. Rather, we read the scriptures, see the will of God, and pray for lasting fruit in us and others. If we are convinced of our ministry, which may be prayer for revival for instance, then we will focus on that day by day. If not, then not. We may let it go after one prayer; God has not laid that on us at this time, so there is no faith to continue.
Regarding the lack of forgiveness, the third example of unanswered prayer, the kingdom mindset resolves this. God desires all to be saved. He desires us to be the agents through whom He saves. Working with the Holy Spirit, we make sure to keep the door open to reach the people around us, including not letting hurtful things turn us away. As God has forgiven us, so we can forgive others. As we live in the freedom of sins forgiven and its power broken, so we won’t focus any more on our hurts; the will of God is greater. We can be hurt and show mercy because we have hurt God and received mercy.
What about prayer for the sick and dying? How about prayer for disasters and human misery of all kinds where we don’t know what God wants to do? We know that ultimately all the Christian believers will be resurrected with new bodies to sin no more. Death and resurrection will bring about the full salvation we’ve always wanted. But for this life on earth, God can still work miracles of healings. If God has not told us that He will heal that person, then it will be hard to have faith for healing and continue praying for it. Still, we should pray for all areas of difficulties; for instance, emergency vehicles beside the road, natural disasters, and broken families, for we do not know the extent to which God wants to work. Each prayer for a broken and hurting world is an invitation for God to work in our midst.