What If Our Prayers Go Unanswered?


James wrote, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16). With this in mind, many people pray to God hoping that their prayer will be answered. They want to have a divine response that is visible and tangible. When we pray for the sick, we want to see the sick recover. When we pray for someone’s safe travel, we want to see that they reach their destination without incident. When we pray for help finding a job, we want to actually find a job. There are many other examples as well. We pray and let our “requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Since “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much,” we expect to see – at least some of the time – real and positive responses from God to our prayers.

But what if we do not see this? What if our prayers, as far as we can tell, go unanswered? This is likely something that most of us have perceived at some point. It can be discouraging, but we should not allow it to shake our faith in God. After all, Paul wrote, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). It does not say that true faith comes as a result of something happening that we determine must be God’s answer to our prayer. Sadly, many allow their faith to be either established or shattered based upon their own labeling of certain events as being God’s answers to their prayers. This is purely subjective. This is not true Bible faith.

The faith we are to have is based upon God’s word (Romans 10:17). Therefore, the basis for our faith will not change (1 Peter 1:25) and it is the same for all people of all time (Mark 16:15). Faith can be produced for anyone through the revealed word of God. So even if one believes his prayers are not being answered, there is no need to be discouraged. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). We can still put our complete trust and hope in Him.

When people believe their prayers are not being answered, they sometimes jump to various conclusions. But we must be careful not to assume the wrong thing.

  • It does not mean that God does not hear us – If we are righteous, we know that God hears our prayers. Peter wrote, “For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears attend to [are open unto, KJV] their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12). We know that God hears us; but this verse does not say that if we are righteous, God will respond to our prayers in the way that we have determined that He should. This is important for us to remember.
  • It does not mean that we have done something wrong – After saying that the Lord hears the prayers of the righteous, Peter said, “But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:12). If we cannot see a real, positive response from God to our prayers, should we conclude that there is some sin that must be preventing Him from answering us? No. Of course, self-examination is always good and necessary “to see if [we] are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5); but that examination must be based upon God’s word, not on our arbitrary judgment about how God has answered our prayers and how He has not.
  • It does not mean we are not praying hard enough – Some conclude that if their prayers go unanswered, it must mean that they are not praying fervently enough (the King James Version uses the word fervent in James 5:16). After all, when Peter was in prison and facing execution, “prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God” (Acts 12:5). Later, God miraculously delivered Peter out of prison. We need to be fervent in prayer. But just because we think there is something that should happen as a result of our prayer, and it does not happen, that does not necessarily mean we were not praying hard enough.

Any answer to prayer, whatever that might be, will be according to God’s will. John wrote, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (1 John 5:14-15).

Consider the apostle Paul with his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). He told the brethren in Corinth, “Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me” (2 Corinthians 12:8). The next verse indicated that God did not remove it. But why? Did God not hear him? Did Paul do something wrong? Did Paul just need to pray harder? No, no, and no. Being an apostle, Paul received this direct answer from the Lord: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Did Paul allow his faith in Christ to be shaken? No. Instead, he wrote, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Even when we do not see a divine response to our prayers, prayer is still able to “accomplish much” (James 5:16). These are some of the benefits of prayer:

  • Prayer can bring us peace – Paul told the brethren in Philippi, “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 comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). The act of making our requests known to God, coupled with an expression of thankfulness for what He has done for us, should give us peace. Look back at all of the blessings that God has given you. Look forward to the blessings in the future, particularly the eternal reward in heaven. From this perspective, our troubles will surely appear “momentary [and] light” (2 Corinthians 4:17). This should bring us peace.
  • Prayer can help us focus – In teaching about prayer, Jesus said, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). He then went on to give them an example of prayer. This included praying for the kingdom, our physical needs, and our spiritual needs (Matthew 6:9-13). But why should we pray for these things if God already knows what we need? First, we need to pray because He told us to; but there is another benefit for us as well. We do not pray in order to give God any information about our needs that He did not already have. He knows what we need before we pray about it. But coming to God in prayer for these things helps to focus our minds on the things that are truly important and on our reliance upon God. If we neglect prayer, we will slowly lose focus of these things.
  • Prayer can strengthen our trust in God – As Jesus prayed to the Father in the Garden before His arrest, He said, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus’ prayer serves as an example to us. We ought to pray for God’s will to be done in all things. This thought was also in the example prayer Jesus gave to His disciples: “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). God’s will is going to be accomplished, whether we pray for it or not. But in following the Lord’s instruction and example about prayer, we can be reminded each time we approach the Father that His way is best and that we need to put our complete trust and faith in Him.

Do you sometimes get discouraged when you do not receive the answers to your prayers that you expect? Do not be. Instead, remember the benefits of prayer. Remember that God’s will is best. And remember that the basis for our faith is not to be a handful of events that we have determined in our mind must be God’s answer to our prayers. Rather, the firm foundation of our faith is Jesus Christ and His word. This is the faith we must have if we want to please God and be rewarded by Him when this life is over (Hebrews 11:6).

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