June 11, 2023
There’s not a person who has not experienced the phenomenon of unanswered prayer, or I should say, “apparent unanswered prayer.” There are times when God’s answer is a “no,” or a “wait,” or even a “there is something better for which I am preparing you.”
As the title indicates, we are dealing with the “no” aspect. I want to first consider the graciousness of God in saying “wait” or “there’s something better for which I am preparing you.”
Matthew 7:7–11 (ESV) — 7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
It’s often implied by some that we should just name it and claim it when it comes to prayer. However, Jesus points out in the instruction above that there are things we think we need but are not good for us and God, being the loving and gracious Father who cares for us often says “no” to our foolish desires as He works on us to desire what is best.
Romans 8:26–27 (ESV) — 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
As we wait on the Lord, He works on us through the Holy Spirit applying the word of God, so we desire what is best according to the will of God. Therefore, a “wait” is not a turning away from our prayer to make us suffer, rather a way to help us to draw near to Him and seek to know what is best.
Regarding an outright “NO,” let’s consider some reasons behind it.
1 Peter 3:12 (ESV) — 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Although there may appear some evidence that those who have no interest in serving God are apparently enjoying prosperity in life, the Bible is clear that God is clearly against those who do evil and will bring them to judgment. Therefore, we are not to set the wicked up as a standard for “prayer success.”
Proverbs 16:4 (ESV) — 4 The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.
For those who are following God and seeking to do what is right, who take comfort in the words, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer” must look first at themselves if they are not experiencing answers to prayer.
The first thing to note is sin. The believer cannot have fellowship with God, even in expressions of prayer, if one is holding on to sin.
1 John 1:7–10 (ESV) — 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Psalm 66:18 (ESV) — 18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.
Isaiah 59:1–2 (ESV) — 1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; 2 but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.
1 Peter 3:7 (ESV) — 7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
James 4:3 (ESV) — 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
This would include looking at our tendency to hide our sin, which is not hidden from God, to try to cover some hidden sins of the heart as in our intentions that keep driving us to flirt with temptation, even our mistreating others such as a man and his wife, and even so far as the motive behind our prayers. Ouch! No wonder the cry of the Psalmist was for God to search his heart and root out any evil within so it can be confessed, and fellowship restored.
Psalm 139:23–24 (ESV) — 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
When approaching “apparent unanswered prayer” not only should we seek out whether any unconfessed sin dwells within us, there should also be a knowledge of how important a humble and utter dependency upon God is when it comes to prayer. Jesus gave the example of how important it is to persevere in prayer, knowing God is looking for that demonstration of faith that seeks after Him with all your heart.
Hebrews 11:6 (ESV) — 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Hebrews 11:6 (KJV) — 6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
(Note: The KJV uses the words, “diligently seek him.”)
Luke 18:1 (ESV) — 1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.
1 Peter 5:5–7 (ESV) — 5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Those last words from 1 Peter 5:7 are important to keep in mind as we face what appears to be “unanswered prayer.” God does not arbitrarily hold back to see us suffer, rather He may be holding back as He will not be mocked by our holding onto sin and trying to appear to be righteous. He more than likely is building our character of depending upon Him as we persevere in prayer and as we humbly seek after Him.
Bob Brubaker, Pastor