Oh, the frustration of unanswered prayer. I’m acutely familiar with the cries of, “Why, God?” “When, God?!” and “What is taking so long, God?” I’m also familiar with Him replying with silence, His gentle nudges to be patient, and those clear indicators He sends to show me that I’m missing it completely.
I ran into one of those indicators recently, and it occurred to me that these are not the questions I should be asking. And, as I reminded myself that I am praying to a loving Father who wants to answer His children, rather than a distant God who seeks to control and punish His people, I had a revelation. I landed on these six questions to help guide me when it seems my prayers aren’t being answered. Let’s see if they’ll help you too.
- Have you asked in faith? I can’t be the only one who has prayed hoping-and-wishing prayers. It’s so easy to treat the Father like a wizard or a genie, coming to Him with fingers crossed, unsure if He is listening. He invites us, instead, to come boldly, believing that He hears us and He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Doubt is a roadblock to answered prayer, but faith (even the tiniest bit of faith) clears the path for us to receive. [See this in scripture: Hebrews 4:16, Hebrews 11:6, Matthew 17:20]
- Have you asked according to God’s will? One of the more remarkable promises in scripture is that if we ask God anything according to His will, He not only hears us, but He will give us what we ask. And, while the idea of receiving what we ask is exciting, the “according to His will” part can often be quite perplexing. We’re often left wondering if what we’re asking for is really okay. We’ve learned to tack on “if it be Your will” to the end of our prayers just in case. I have a hunch that the Lord doesn’t make this part easy because He wants us to do the work of diligently seeking Him. The secrets of His will are found in deliberate study of His Word, where we discover His promises, His character, and His track record of answered prayer. [See this in scripture: 1 John5:14-15, Psalm 103:2-5, James 4:14-16]
- Are you asking Him to violate someone else’s free will? We each get to choose whether to say yes or no to Jesus. The same grace that’s available to each of us is available to all of us, meaning if God is not forcing me to obey, He’s not gonna let me convince Him to force you to obey either. We readily accept that God gives us a personal choice to refuse or comply, but when we’re praying for a change in someone else, we often forget that person has a choice as well. Thankfully, God always remembers. He works by His Spirit, through circumstances and situations, and with patience and lovingkindness that we can scarcely understand. And, even when it seems the person we’re praying for is resisting God’s advances, we can remain confident that He hears us and will keep pursuing them as only He can. [See this in scripture: Joshua 24:15, Deuteronomy 30:15-19, Matthew 19:16-22]
- Is there someone you need to forgive? God cares so much about our relationships with each other that He’s factored them into our prayer time. He tells us that when we begin praying, our first step (FIRST. STEP.) ought to be forgiving anyone we’ve held a grudge against (Mark 11:25). He goes on to say that releasing that forgiveness is a prerequisite to receiving His. Along these same lines, you’ll also want to be sure you’re aware when you need forgiveness from God and others. Unforgiveness is not only an obstacle to answered prayer, it’s a hindrance to living in peace. So, when it comes to forgiveness, don’t withhold it and don’t hold out on receiving it. By the way, while you’re asking this question, you might want to also ask if there is anything else in your heart that might threaten your connection to the Father and hinder answered prayer. [See this in scripture: Mark 11:23-25, Matthew 5:23-25, Matthew 18:21-22].
- Is there something the Lord needs to change, fix, or develop in you first? This is not an easy question to ask or answer. We may not always know when God is working on us, we may not want to know when God is working on us, and it’s difficult to know whether or not the work He’s doing in us is directly connected to a prayer we’ve prayed. Even with all of that in mind, it’s important to take the time to ask this question and trust God to give an answer. Early in my marriage, I’d often pray for God to bless us financially. He was faithful to answer those prayers, but not before He showed me that what we needed more than money was a better understanding of how to manage the money we had. Blessing us with money when we were unable to steward it wouldn’t have been a blessing at all. Now, I don’t often ask for increased income without also asking for increased wisdom to manage it. While you might not be praying about money, this principle holds true for a number of things–promotions, a move, a new relationship, more of this, a better that. Ask the Lord if there is a step you’re missing or some way in which you need to grow to be better prepared to receive what you’ve prayed for. [See this in scripture: Deuteronomy 8:2, Jeremiah 12:5, Matthew 19:16-22]
- Is He just asking you to wait? This last question poses more of a challenge for me than any of the others (except for that one about forgiveness). I’d much rather have the Lord ask me to do something instead of simply asking me to wait. I know in my heart that while I’m waiting, He’s doing what only He can do, but I’m a helper–I want to help, and waiting is just plain hard. Yet, God uses waiting to teach us and to mature us. It can also be a time of rest if we’re able to quiet our minds enough to receive that. I suspect there might be a correlation between our willingness to wait and God’s timing in answering prayer. Ask yourself if what seems to be an unanswered prayer is actually a prayer that He just hasn’t answered yet. [See this in scripture: James 1:2-8, Luke 18:1-8, Psalm 27:13-14]
And in case those don’t do it for you, here are a few bonus questions to ask when your prayers aren’t being answered: Is there something you need to surrender? Are you asking Him to do something you can do on your own? Are you asking Him for something that wouldn’t be good for you or something you really don’t need? Are you seeking the provision more than the Provider?
I’ll leave you with the reminder that started this all–God is a loving Father who wants to answer His children. He is not a distant dictator who seeks to control or punish His people. He’s a good Father with perfect timing, and He knows how to give good gifts (Matthew 7:11). So, keep praying, trusting that He hears you when you pray.
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”Matthew 7:7 NLT