Daily Devotionals / Prayer

When Prayers Go Unanswered

One of the hardest topics to unpack is the perceived success rate of prayer. We measure God’s yes versus His no’s, without always understanding why God has chosen one direction over another. Each time that God says yes, there is a sense of joy and relief that enters our hearts. Yet when God says no, we’re left to unpack those emotions, which often include anger, grief, and frustration. Nevertheless, it is the waiting periods that can be the toughest. We don’t know if God is saying no, or if we need to exercise patience in order to receive our yes. In our despair, we search and we search, reading scripture after scripture, bargaining with God to secure a yes. In the silence, it can seem as though God isn’t hearing us and that some of our prayers are going unanswered. What if it’s true?

What if our prayers aren’t making it up to God’s ears? Could we be the reason for our unanswered prayers?

The Cause and Effect of Prayer

The Bible contains many scriptures on prayer. There is no shortage of devotionals (including my own), sermons, and podcasts that discuss the topic of prayer because we’re still asking questions. When left to contend with the outcomes, it can feel appropriate to wonder about the effectivity of prayer. Because of that, I’d like for us to consider the following verses:

  • James 5:16: Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 
  • James 1:5-8: 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.
  • Philippians 4:6-7: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
  • Matthew 21:21-22: So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”
  • Proverbs 28:9: One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, Even his prayer is an abomination.

Not Every Prayer Makes It

When we take a look at these scriptures and meditate on God’s word – we start to realize that prayer has requirements of us. Righteousness, faith, belief, thanksgiving – all of these choices have an impact on how we come to the throne, and how our requests are received. James 5:16 confirms that our character matters. A righteous person’s prayers help many situations, which means that our actions also have the ability to hinder the outcomes. James 1:5-8 provides an even stronger perspective. We are told that doubt in prayer delivers a no. It’s not that we aren’t allowed to come to the throne with our sorrows, but we can’t let our emotions block us from believing in God’s ability to answer our prayers.

If we take a look at Philippians 4:6-7, we learn about the role of our gratitude in prayer. We won’t find peace in the darkness without it. Matthew 21:21-22 reconfirms the need to remove doubt when we put our requests before the throne. Christ also adds in the requirement of belief.  Why belief? Is it not inherent to not having doubt? Not necessarily. We can believe that God hears us, but Christ is asking us to believe that God will show up. Often we trust our own capabilities or what our eyes can see. It takes faith to believe that the impossible is now possible, and that’s the kind of faith we’re called to have when we go to God in prayer.

And in closing, I included a scripture feature from last week’s devotional – Is It Enough to be Good People. Proverbs 28:9 is a stronger reminder that not every prayer makes it. Should we choose to turn away from God, our actions – including our prayers – become an abomination in His sight.

I Never Knew You

Turning away from God is an interesting topic, because it’s often painted as atheism or sins that we label as extreme. We think of murders, pedophiles, and thieves. Yet Christ offered additional perspective in His sermon on the mount, that started in Matthew 5. Targeted at believers, we read the following caution in chapter seven:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

Matthew 7:21:23

Lawlessness can look close to God’s will, but it’s still an imitation rooted in self. It can look like us believing that we can have healthy and well-adjusted children without them having meaningful relationships with Christ. We just don’t want to put that kind of “pressure” on them. We’ll consider ourselves to be “good people”, thinking that our self-defined goodness should be enough for God. We’ll make decisions that are easy but not necessarily right for us because life is tough. We’d like to minimize the pain where possible. In doing this, our Christianity becomes rooted in comfort and contentment. We trade deep reflection for cliches, Instagram quotes, traditions and aspirational views of self. The end result is that we find ourselves mixing this world’s theology with God’s word. We start to drift from God, but the real concern is that we might not even see it anymore.

When Prayers Go Unanswered

In this state, we’ll find our prayers going unanswered, but for different reasons than we might have previously thought. Sometimes, it isn’t about God or some master plan, it’s about us. It feels good to assume that every prayer makes it up to God, but scripture calls for us to own our part in the process. Take, for example, someone who’s telling you they love you. We check to see if the actions match. If they don’t, we question when they make requests of us. Are they using you? Trying to manipulate you?

Are we those people when it comes to God? If we prioritize self over His law, but then go to Christ in prayer when life gets tough, we’re trying to use God – and no one likes to be used. Christ knows the true intentions of our hearts, and because of that, He is well justified if He has to say – I never knew you, because… well… He didn’t. We tried to create a one-sided relationship, and in that space we cannot expect our prayers to land at His feet.

In Closing

When I think of my relationship with God, I liken it to a television with antennas (I know – old school). When the antennas are positioned correctly, the signal works and the screen is clear. It’s like having all of the bars on your phone versus one. When the signal is low, we can feel the disconnect, but prayer alone doesn’t fix that. Obedience does. And in order to be obedient, we also have to be honest – with ourselves and with God. In doing so, we start to improve our signal, and when that happens we become more in line with who God would have us to be – which is who we are without the weight of sin impacting our decisions.

It is in this space that our prayers reach God, and the Holy Spirit enlightens us with understanding. And this isn’t about perfection, it’s about intention. Do we truly desire to seek God or are we just hoping God is okay with us choosing self? Maybe when we are abiding in Christ more, it’ll become less about the yes’s and no’s, and more about God’s will. We’ll find peace with the outcomes, knowing we’ve done our part before we even utter our prayers.

#GodBless from #LovesAnAction

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