Whether young or old in the faith, unanswered prayer is a great challenge. Pouring our hearts out to God, believing his promises that he hears us (Lk. 11:10) and will give us what we ask for and then finding no answer–how do we wrestle through this? Sadly, I believe many reformed Christians far too quickly chalk up unanswered prayer to the unsearchable will of God. “Well,” we think, “God must have a different plan than this.” While this certainly can be true, it fails to understand our own place in the work of prayer–in other words, the Bible teaches us that unanswered prayers are often our own fault! While this can be hard truth to take, owning our part of unanswered prayers is the first step to, well, answered prayers. In a couple posts, I hope to share seven reasons God’s Word gives for unanswered prayer.
The first reason for unanswered prayer is is basic unbelief. Jesus told us, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mk. 11:24) And while we may naturally focus on the promise (“it will be yours”), we also naturally avoid the premise (“believe”). One reason our prayers go unanswered is that we don’t believe sincerely in God’s power or goodness or availability or maybe all three.
Here we need to be careful: many in both the faith-healing and health-and-wealth movements have done untold destruction to weak saints through a twisted form of this teaching (“If your faith was stronger, you would be healed!”). Just because your prayer is unanswered doesn’t necessarily mean you lack faith. However, we who aren’t in those movements need also a willingness to exam ourselves: “Do I believe God can do this? Do I believe God’s promises? Do I sincerely believe? Does my life show the obedience that comes from faith?”Above all, we must sincerely believe.
And take heart: God isn’t looking for a faith that runs the circumference of the universe–just one big enough to take on a mustard seed. If you find yourself lacking faith, ask for that first; it is a gift God loves to give (Eph. 2:8).
The second reason is disobedience. In Psalm 66:18 we sing, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” God doesn’t stop being holy when we pray to him. He doesn’t stop knowing everything about us and seeing everything we do, hearing everything we say, knowing everything we think. This is why we pray in the name of Jesus–not as a formula to end our prayers, but in the reality that without Jesus’ righteousness imputed to us, God is not able to dwell with us in mercy as he loves to.
But when I cherish iniquity–when I refuse to really repent, when I hold onto my pet sins, when I push away the convicting work of the Holy Spirit–then I can’t really say I am praying fully in Jesus’ name. Because the imputed righteousness that justifies will always transform. And if I’m not living in the freedom of Christ’s righteousness, how can I pray in his righteousness? So the Psalmist is clear: when we cherish iniquity, God will not listen.
Therefore, every unanswered prayer is a call to examine ourselves for hidden or rebellious sin (2 Cor. 13:5), to ask God to examine us for the sins we may not find (Ps. 139:23), and to repent of both our sins and our sinfulness. Let this be a warning to all of us, whether or not our prayers are unanswered: Are you dealing faithfully with your sins by truly repenting and looking to Jesus in faith? If not, why would God answer your prayers?
[to be continued]