Why won’t God answer my prayers?
Over the past few weeks, I have received multiple questions that all circle around the same main theme. Although using different words, the essence of each question is this: “People tell me that I should worship Jesus and pray to him. I am doing that, but my prayers are not being answered. Am I doing something wrong? What is worship? What is prayer? What can I do in order to have God answer my prayers?” I want to break this question down over the next few weeks. This week, we will look at “Why won’t God answer my prayers?”
There are plenty of people in this world who are praying desperately for good things - for family members to be freed from addiction, for loved ones to be healed from disease, and for positive change to be made in this broken place. There are also those who treat God like a genie, praying to win the lottery, find an attractive mate, or for the Eagles to finally win the Superbowl. The emotional charge behind this question can vary, so I want to be sensitive in my response.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
The reality is that God is not like us. Were God like me, the answer to all of my prayers would be a swift and dramatic “YES”, most likely with devastating long term consequences. This is important to realize because God does indeed answer the prayers of his children, but not always as we might expect. Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes the answer is no, and many times the answer is not yet.
Part of expecting such a wide variety of responses from God is to realize that God knows you better than you know yourself, that he knows what you need more than you do, and that he is weaving together a tapestry far beyond our puny minds can fully comprehend.
Through the midst of the billions of prayers happening in this world, God has a master plan - a mission that he has been working out since before the foundation of the world. His ways are different than your ways or my ways. Our prayers, in a spectacular way, are not so much changing his ways or altering his thoughts as if we were armwrestling a reluctant God. On the contrary, the process of prayer is relational process of being lined up with the heart of God.
In Psalm 37:4, King David wrote, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Often people take this to mean that if they do the right things, God will answer their prayers, but that is not what the verse says. Delighting in God - not performing religious duty - is the foundation here, and there is a catch. As you delight in God, your heart will change. You will crave differently.
As you delight in God, you won’t care to pray to win the lottery because you will have learned the secret to contentment: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12-13)
You won’t feel tossed about with every trial and circumstance because you know that he is greater than the ebb and flow of life. Indeed, knowing him, delighting in him is the greatest of delights. The Apostle Paul, who wrote about half of the New Testament (the second half of the Bible) wrote this, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…” (Philippians 3:8-9)
As your heart changes, you pray for different things. Your heart becomes more like God’s heart. That doesn’t mean that you are perfect, but it does mean that you change. You begin to realize a profound truth: “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” (2 Corinthians 1:20)
Some beautifully good prayers are never answered according to expectations. As to why, I cannot say. What I can say is what I know to be true, that our hope is primarily a future hope. That is why it is a walk of faith. In the meantime, we trust that God is good, God is sovereign, and his ways are not our ways.
My advice is to begin with a prayer that God always answers: “God, show me who you are” and then seek after him as he has revealed himself in his Word. Want to start reading the Bible and don’t know what to do or where to begin? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would love to point you in the right direction.
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